Subterranean, a small venue off the CTA Damen Blue Line stop, fostered an intimate and culpable energy tonight as the Chicago stop on IAN SWEET’s Crush Crusher tour with support from YOUNG JESUS and BAD HISTORY MONTH.
Ian Sweet, the project of Jilian Medford, bridges the gap between dream pop and noise rock. Her new album Crush Crusher is an incredibly vulnerable album, made for and by Medford. It’s easy to pigeon hole the album as a break-up album; however, the album is much more dynamic than simply a testament to heartbreak. It speaks to the relationships, the parts of ourselves, and states of mind that can sometimes lead us to forget ourselves. In it she grapples with love, existential crisis and self-worth.
The performances tonight are thought heavy.The theme of loss and confusion in this tumultuous era permeated through each act as we participated in the musical musings about grappling, learning, and growing from loss. This was a tone set by Sean Bean of Bad History Month , before he began the last song of his solo performance.
“There’s a lot of hatred going on in America and everywhere else and I think it stems mostly from hating yourself and needing to find somebody else to f*** over so you can feel better about it,” Bean said, “Hard to live up to your values man when there’s a whole culture telling you you’re a piece of sh** for the way you look.”
Each of these bands have their own unique performance style. True to form, Bad History Month ushered us in with chaotic nihilism during a layered acoustic set. Bean’s lyricism is characteristic of a free verse poem, creating linkages between the epically dismal and the euphorically sanguine.
Young Jesus, a four piece rock quartet, matched Bad History Month with their unfettered improvisational skill. This post-rock band emotes just as much with its instrumentation as it does with its lyricism. They embody perplexing jam band electricity, drawing us in with their obvious relational chemistry. Yet despite their playfulness, many of the songs they performed off their new album, The Whole Thing is Just There, which lyrically John Rossiter wrote after the death of his grandmother. While this philosophically heavy band can sometimes go over our heads, songs like For Nana allowed us to relate to Rossiter’s internal strife. At the same time, Deterritory, gave us a glimpse into Rossiter’s political frustrations as he yelled ‘“it’s not enough to hate the world we live within!”
Like Young Jesus and Bad History Month, Ian Sweet has their own rock dialectic. Medford’s fierce vocals assist in the seamless tonal push and pull the band has mastered. Despite a guitar malfunction that resulted in Medford having to borrow Rossiter’s guitar - a task similar to figuring out how to drive your friend’s car in Chicago traffic, only worse - she had us locked in from the moment she got on stage. “The last time I played Chicago I threw up during the set,” Medford said. “I feel like this place is maybe cursed.”
The organic way Ian Sweet songs are able to embody ups and downs without feeling forced came to the forefront in their performance of Crush Crusher, the title track of the new album. The song began with a solo by Medford, her bandmates having abruptly left the stage, singing over a prerecorded beat. But towards the end, Medford picked up her guitar, her bandmates reentered the stage and we were flooded by a sonic climax incomparable to the LP recording.
In an age where music is so easily accessible, sometimes indie rock bands can bleed together. Lucky for us these bands are known for pushing the boundaries in their musical experimentation. What breaks apart the monolith are these type of live performances, when we can go beyond mastered recording and see the people and the degree of emotional labor they put into their music. When organizing line ups, in this writer’s experience, it’s a delicate balance for both the venue and the performers to keep the audience engaged and these bands achieved that tonight at Subterranean.
Perhaps one of the sweeter treats of the night was the sense of community in the venue. It was a testament of the small world of indie rock when Lillie West of Chicago band LALA LALA, came on stage in between sets to embrace members of Ian Sweet as they assembled their gear.
In the middle of the Young Jesus set, vocalist and guitarist John Rossiter both thanked his family for being present as well as lamented on how important the venue had been to his music career.
“This is where Eric [Shevrih] and I grew up and I spent a lot of time today reminiscing about the amount of shows I’ve played in this room over the past ten years,” Rossiter said. “This was the first place I felt like, ‘Dang we can do it.’”
Photos by Ally Hembree