The Empty Bottle works with a wide variety of venues for their Presents shows, but perhaps none of them are as intimate and stunning as their Rockefeller Chapel concerts. For EBP this past Friday, Low took to the stage with opener IN / VIA. Both groups used the space to their advantage, crafting stark, emotionally wrought songs that were mollified by the Chapel’s acoustics.
IN / VIA, the solo synth project of Nona Invie, was an apt way to set the tone for Low. With swirling and twirling synth lines that were as mesmerizing as the vocals, IN / VIA created structured soundscapes that moved freely. Synth sounds warm and cool basked in the Chapel’s openness providing a lush backdrop for somber, heartfelt lyricism.
While Low didn’t use synths (their consistent instrumentation is guitar, bass, drums, and vocals), their set followed IN / VIA’s smoothly, with poise and admiration—for their opener, the Chapel, and the listeners. The fact that it was an EBP production was particularly resonant for them, as their first show in Chicago was at The Bottle about 25 winters ago.
Despite it being just the beginning of the cold months, the harmonies of Alan Sparkhawk and Mimi Parker (the group’s core members who are also married) instantly instilled the imagery and feeling of the last bit of snow and ice melting at the end of winter. Their haunting vocals are what really set Low apart, and experiencing these voices live—attached to their sincere sources and heard in the reverberant space—was a highlight of the show.
“It’s such a beautiful space, I can’t say anything to ruin it,” Sparkhawk said simply of the Chapel.
Much of its beauty was manifested in its sonic qualities, but both these and the visual aspects were only accentuated by the lighting that accompanied Low. Frequent collaborator and engineer/producer Tom Herbers (who has also worked with Andrew Bird, Why?, and many others) instead focused on the lightboard, controlling three panels of lights that reacted to the sounds with abstract textures and other visuals. The lighting echoed the evocative, solemn music well, playing a much larger role than lighting usual does at a concert.
About half of Low’s set was made up of their recent album, Septembers’ Double Negative. Sonically, the record is a huge shift from previous records, with different production and recording approaches greatly molding their sound.
But their Rockefeller Chapel concert showed that their distinct songwriting and minimal compositions were still at the heart of this new sound. Sounding more like previous records rather than Double Negative, Low’s feeling and energy is what is most important about their music, and the fact that they can convey that purely no matter the sonic approach is a testament to their genuinity and emotional sentiment.
*A review by Izzy Yellen
*Photos by @bblane_photography
This past Monday, the Thurston Moore Group and poet Krista Franklin shared new work at the Art Institute, and the two contrasting performances filled the sold-out room with rejuvenating and motivating power amidst the the Chicago snowfall and nation’s ever-present negativity. While Franklin conjured up these powers with weighted words, Moore’s band instead premiered a lengthy instrumental piece.
Franklin shared three poems to open up the event, each with a distinct style. The third led into the Thurston Moore Group perfectly. The poem was explicitly a call to action and reflection, and Moore’s new composition certainly allowed inward-looking and was rooted in activism.
The piece was entitled “Alice Moki Jayne,” after its three inspirations—musician Alice Coltrane, visual artist Moki Cherry, and poet Jayne Cortez—all key figures in the sixties due to art and activism. While Moore is known for his heavily improvised noise jams in his group and Sonic Youth, “Alice Moki Jayne” was much more restrained and conceptual, allowing him to explore his instrumental compositional voice and the sound of the 12-string electric guitar.
Joined by guitarist James Sedwards, bassist Debbie Googe, and drummer Steve Shelley (also a Sonic Youth alum), Moore “conducted” the group minimally, signaling new sections, segueing and stitching together the ambient and heavy seamlessly.
Opening with a minimal, reverb-drenched section, the group played to the room with no problem whatsoever. This elastic moment was disrupted by a strum of gravitas from Moore, moving the quartet into the second part.
The lush ringing the 12-strings brought to the palette were particularly accentuated by the venue—the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room—a boxy, resonant location.
The piece was a journey through many sections—some short soundscapes, some longer fuzzy jams—each one unpredictable yet satisfying. There was direction that came from its structure, but the variety of the sections kept the work snaking and hard to pin down. Not only that, but the maintained cohesiveness was even more impressive thanks to mixed bag.
With all the false endings from the movements, the actual end took the audience by surprise, and after awe and applause, Moore leaned into the mic for his only words—sharing the basis for the piece and his gratitude to Franklin “for sharing what’s on her mind” as well as the concert-goers. The Thurston Moore Group has performed “Alice Moki Jayne” a few times, so if a studio recording happens, you’d better keep your ears open.
*A review by Izzy Yellen
Love was in the air last Wednesday night as The Empty Bottle and Pacifico Beer hosted Chicago hip-hop favorites JOEY PURP, KNOX FORTUNE and DJ THELONIOUS MARTIN for a very special Valentine’s Day Show.
DJ THELONIOUS MARTIN, who was spinning on stage under the revolving shine of the disco ball, set the mood before anyone even had time to grab their first drinks. What a sweetheart. By the second sip he had the crowd grooving and swooning to everything from r&b classics, hints of remixed funk and even some Gwen Stefani. The transitions were smooth, and the vibe was set for the night.
After a couple rounds, Chicago producer and rookie album releaser KNOX FORTUNE took to the stage to bring his late-night sounds to the hungry and energetic crowd. The anticipation was palpable, the energy sapable, you could almost drink the excitement stirring about. Pairing tracks together like an expert mixologist, KNOX, in signature style, flowed the likes of Connan Mockasin, Miguel and even some left-field Beatles for a truly unruly set.
Last to take the stage was none other than the matchmaker of the evening, JOEY PURP. Alongside him was STIX and PETER COTTONTALE of THE SOCIAL EXPERIMENT band providing some live instrumentation, which created some very unique stylings of tracks from JOEY’s earlier recordings.
He mused the crowd like everyone was his soulmate, impressing at all costs playing signatures off “iiidrops”, bringing out fellow Chicago rapper KAMI to join the party and even teasing new music from his long-awaited follow up project “Quarter Thing”. To seal the deal, JOEY’S debut at the Bottle wouldn’t have been complete unless the crowd hauled him back onto the stage for a final nightcap track where he blasted his beloved song “Girls @” before finally saying goodnight.
Blood was flowing and the taps stayed pouring as another Valentine’s Day at the Empty Bottle came to a close, till next year ya lovebirds!
Review by Allen Stewart. Photography by Victoria Sanders.