Chicago’s House of Vans has only been open for eight months, but it didn’t take long for it to become one of the hottest underground venues in the city. “Secret gigs” and last-minute extravaganzas had already created quite a buzz around this West Loop venue, so when The National announced an intimate free performance ahead of their appearance at the Obama Foundation Summit, the heat turned to smoldering. With a dedicated squadron garnishing the back alleys of the venue in 40-degree temperatures hours before the band’s Monday night set, inside the sprawling lair felt crystalline and somewhat spooky — not unlike the cover of 2007’s Boxer.
BY ERIN MALYSA
PHOTO BY ALYSSE GAFKJEN
Bully’s sophomore album, Losing, struggles endearingly with the same ideas and situations that popped up on their debut offering Feels Like, in which singer Alicia Bognanno screams and coos into the mic so truthfully it almost hurts. Partially driven by dating truths and exposing the things we try to hide, “Running” deals with anxiety and wanting to tell the person you care about that you “get it” (and possibly even “get them”) with words that sometimes fall on deaf ears or emotionally closed hearts. On “Kills to be Resistant,” the guitar work by Clayton Parker shreds into the chorus and allows Stuart Copeland to thrash and fill the song with rhythmic beat rocking. Meanwhile, Bognanno opens up a bit but maintains defensive walls for protection, softly oohing a heartsick sigh that builds and releases into a snarling “fuck you” scream.
The room was obscured by haze from a dead-end smoke machine that truncated the light and swirled around the tense room like the mist rolling off the sea in the fictional town of Anacita — a place that singer Joe Casey visits again and again over the course of three albums. Oscillating between whiskey in a plastic cup, Budweiser and Miller High Life during their set, Protomartyr cast waves of nervous excitement over the crowd before solemnly taking the stage at 9:34 p.m. with bowed heads, black shirts and Casey in a full suit. Without one wasted word, they laid into nine out of 12 songs from their latest LP, Relatives in Descent. After chuckling at his own joke about keeping those who would throw tomatoes far from the stage, Casey launched into “The Chuckler,” a dry and witty commentary about the loneliness of daily life on the grind. Alex Leonard rolled the drums into submission, catching and releasing the beats to “Pontiac 87” and “Staring at Floors” while Greg Ahee and Scott Davidson took turns leading with precision on “What the Wall Said.” By the time they took the stage for a raucous encore of “Why Does it Shake” and “Scum, Rise!”, the entire band was red-faced, shaking and intent on engaging the audience to the point of delirious elation, slicing the earlier anticipatory haze with clarity of purpose and unmistakable intent. BY ERIN MALYSA
The Riviera filled quickly as The Descendents walked quietly onto the stage. Looking more like aging scientists than hardened punk rockers, they wore black t-shirts and buttoned-up short-sleeved shirts complete with graying hair and wrap-around glasses. Touring in support of 2016 release Hypercaffium Spazzinate, the new decision by Milo to leave his scientific career and focus on the band once more caused fans to turn out in droves. The band started off the set with crowd favorite “Everything Sucks” (and made a quip that it was for Cubs fans everywhere, since they lost that night’s game.) As the set progressed, the crowd was moshing, crowd-surfing and dancing with a frenetic energy which amped up Milo as he stalked the stage bending down with one hand on his knee singing into the mic. The generational love for this band is off the charts (I stood next to a dad and his seven-year-old daughter, who knew every word and bounced with delight at every song.) The idea of giving up the ghost never occurred to these guys, and for good reason. The poignancy of their work resonates in every lyric and note, from old albums to new. BY ERIN MALYSA