Tag Archives: Lincoln Hall

Review: Joe Pug at Lincoln Hall

21 May

Joe Pug. In a vest.

Few men can silence a room by simply playing their guitar and harmonica. But that’s just what Joe Pug pulled off repeatedly last Friday night at Lincoln Hall, extinguishing the conversations of drunk teenagers and fathers by dropping his music down to the barest possible finger-picking — reducing a rowdy weekend crowd to absolute calm as every member strained to catch Pug’s lyrics.

Much has been said about Pug, and many have fallen for the singer-songwriter harder than a Chicago Bulls starter crashes to the floor in the playoffs. This phenomenon probably has something to do with Joe Pug being one of the best new songwriters in America, and the fact that the man does everything right with his music, from the recording and distribution of his songs to his stellar live performances of them.

Joe’s second full-length album, The Great Despiser, is barely a month old, and it is already the embodiment of all that is good in music. And Pug, the man who used to cover the postage to mail burned copy of his EPs to fans who requested them, knows that the best way to publicize an album as amazing as this one is to tour the living shit out of it. Which brought Pug and his touring band to the confines of Lincoln Hall at the same time summer weather and unwashed protestors were flooding into Chicago. Coincidence? Probably, but all three made my life much more interesting.

Plenty of singer-songwriters know how to poorly fingerpick, play harmonica, and come off as “Dylanesque,” but Pug knows how to do all of these things well. These are the qualities that are laid bare in Pug’s live performances, backed up by a killer touring band transformed into a force to be reckoned with thanks to oodles of talent and the conviction that comes with touring behind music of this magnitude. Together, Pug and his band transform the boundaries of folk, country, and rock n roll all in one blistering rendition of “Speak Plainly Diana.”

They brought the Lincoln Hall crowd of hipsters, empty nesters, radio DJs, and college students covertly sipping on Keystone Light to the edge with killer versions of songs like “The Great Despiser” or “Nation of Heat,” but had the capacity to bring immediate peace to the audience with a performance of one of Pug’s numerous hymns. I swear, that man has written more hymns than most Methodists can even conceive of.

It’s next to the place where Dillinger was shot.

I’m not the only arrogant douchefeather who holds this opinion, but the only artist currently working on Joe Pug’s level is Justin Townes Earle. The two are impeccable song-writers, crafting their music that gives due deference to the canon they harken to while simultaneously pushing new boundaries, kicking ass, and taking names like their Woody Motherfucking Guthrie III. It doesn’t hurt that the two can finger-pick like Merle Travis if he had grown up listening to Bruce Springsteen and both men are about as American as PBR and Republican primaries. But far more palatable.

Lyrically, Pug remains ambiguous enough to maintain an elusive quality that heightens each song’s value, but tangible enough to feel like a line directly referencing your individual situation. To be honest, I still can’t tell if the lyrics to “Nation of Heat” are about America’s abuse of the lowest rungs of society, his mother, or Sylvia Plath.

Across from the prison and beside the great lake
Below the rooftops and above the highways
The spirits pay rental on the basements they haunt
And the pages just draw pictures of the things that they want
I cook my dinner on the blacktop street
I come from the nation of heat

Maybe all three. Who cares? It’s a great song, and I love it, and Pug and his band killed it last night. Also, the bassist looked like he was having an orgasm the whole night every time he played a long tone, and the drummer sometimes looked like a pissed-off Zach Galifianakis. These are all good things.

But the best part of the night came after the show, when Pug shook hands and chatted with every last audience member next to the merch table. It’s how Pug does business — give your fans an amazing musical performance, then spread the good word through personal connections. And sell a lot of vinyl LPs while you’re at it.

Best Coast/Wavves at Lincoln Hall

9 Feb

They're really cool bands. You've probably nev -- oh fuck it.

The strength of weed and power chords should never be underestimated. Three-minute songs that are saturated with the sounds of summer, boredom, overly distorted guitars, nostalgia, and the California seaside are forces to be reckoned with too. If you love any of these aforementioned characteristics in your music, enjoy making sure your friends know that you’re going to see bands perform that they’ve never heard of, or are simply a disaffected youth from the Chicago suburbs, then the Best Coast/Wavves show at Lincoln Hall on Tuesday night was for you.

The all-ages show started near 7:00, presumably to get all the high school kids that came out in droves to support two rising and youthful independent rock bands home before their parents’ curfews. No Joy opened the evening with a presumably solid set, considering the musical company they keep, but we unfortunately were not able to make it to the Fullerton Red Line stop in time for them.

All that liberal arts education and PBR. WASTED!!!!

By the time we arrived at the club — cheeks a-tingle from successful pre-gaming combined with the effect of Chicago temperatures in lower digits than Gery Chico’s mayoral polling statistics — Bethany Cosentino and company of Best Coast were winding down their set. High Schoolers awkwardly lurched in front and hipsters apathetically nodded in back whilst loudly discussing the relative merits of Deerhunter versus Yeasayer, but the band was firing on all cylinders.

Considering how much she likes weed, this is an artistic rendering of what she would have seen.

Despite occasionally wallowing in a lo-fidelity quagmire on past releases, Cosentino’s voice was melodic and clear in person while belting out lyrics that have become increasingly well known as Best Coast slowly acquires national independent attention. The interplay of the dueling guitars of Cosentino and sideman Bobb Bruno also worked together to bring out the distorted — yet surprisingly intricate — harmonies that pack so much pop appeal into Best Coast’s heavy surf-rock couture. Their sound may occasionally be formulaic (verse about a boy, catchy chorus, verse about drugs, catchy chorus, sonic freak-out, catchy chorus; then put a shit-load of cats in the music video), but damn does Best Coast do it well.

Post-Stage Dive

Then came Wavves, and the torrent of noise and ecstatically youthful vigor unleashed by members Nathan Williams (guitar/vocals), Jacob Cooper (drums), and Stephen Pope (bass/vocals) provided me with my first experience of feeling like the oldest person at a show. Which can either blow or feel totally exhilarating, depending on your outlook. We decided to enjoy the hell out of our Tuesday night, and eventually dove into the mosh pit of teenagers reeking of sweat, marijuana, and exuberance. They may be snot-nosed teens, but so am I, and ricocheting about sans abandon, while a band in their early 20s swaggers around and enjoys themselves on stage too, felt pretty great. I even got an inflatable alien out of the deal.

Keep in mind that this is the same guy who threw a shoe at his drummer, and sells weed grinders at certain shows.

But it was the influence of the youthful bombast and strength that made Wavves so unpredictably enjoyable to watch. Listening to their albums, especially the recently critically acclaimed “King of the Beach,” it was always difficult to move past the nasally anger and clear California and punk influences of Williams’ music. But live, what mattered most was enjoying yourself and the community that rose up with the sound of Wavves’ slamming rhythms and hard-hitting solos, coupled with falsetto choruses, stage dives, and beach ball attacks.

That isn’t to say that self-image isn’t important for the band or their fans. In an era when the term “hipster” is both a condemnation and an achievement, a Best Coast/Wavves show highlights the importance of everything from fashion to musical taste to post-show meal (all the cool kids go to McDonald’s) as a means of both distinguishing oneself as an individual while identifying with a larger alternative subculture. But I’ll save such issues for the sociologists of the next decade.

A cat after watching Dana Carvey on SNL

For now, what’s important is that even if Best Coast or Wavves aren’t the most technically endowed bands, they certainly know how to write, record, and perform a kickass song. And their fans, from disaffected 15-year-old hipsters to the wine-swilling patrons in the balcony, will eagerly sell out Lincoln Hall for a chance to see the rock musicians their future snot-nosed kids might nostalgically appreciate some day. And let’s be honest here, what grandchild wouldn’t want to hear about how fucking awesome his grandpa’s music taste was back in the day? Mine sure as hell will.

Best Coast and Wavves combined their weed and California-induced musical prowess to put on a great show at a great venue. Lincoln Hall is rapidly becoming one of the most popular musical venues in the Chicago area, thanks to its impeccable sound quality, comfortable and spacious design, and willingness to bring respected alternative acts to the city at a relatively cheap price. For only $17.50 in ticket and transportation costs, I saw two up-and-coming great bands with ardent fans, all on a Tuesday that promised little more than a dreary study session at the library at best.

Did we mention that both bands really like cannabis?

Overall Rating: Government-grade, Colorado-grown medical marijuana. But cheaper, more exciting, and longer lasting.