Varsity, at West Fest / photo by JCB

Editor's Note
Welcome to issue #18 of Chicago Crowd Surfer! Thanks for the vacation Surfers. It was well deserved. But now we’re back with a slightly double issue giving you reviews and updates on all the music that came out while we were gone; including big studio albums from Jim James, Let’s Eat Grandma, and Red Baraat. Along with 90’s veterans The Essex Green, The Innocence Mission, The Rock*A*Teens and Damien Jurado. We have three new contributors - JB, JC and KR - who took in the Radiohead show at UC, along with write ups on local act Varsity at West Fest and the Welles / Pylons show at Schubas. It’s good to be back Chicago. 

Seeing live music gives us joy, and it is our mission, in these trying times, to spread some of that joy to you. We don’t just want to spread it, we want to share it; which is why we are a crowd-sourced publication. We want you to join us: to write about, and share pictures of, the shows you attend, the new albums you love, the bands you adore, and any other thing that has to do with seeing, performing, or experiencing music in Chicago. Please send any submissions to We are now up to seventeen contributors and are always looking for more! We may not publish everything we get, and we reserve the right to edit, but will always try and seek the submitters’ approval. Our mission is to be a positive publication, so if you have negative things to say - please look for another forum in which to express that opinion. We aim to wade through the bullshit of this modern life to find what good is left. See you at the show Chicago.

Keep Seeing Live Music!





West Fest

July 7th

Varsity, at West Fest / all photos by JCB


West Fest is not a street fest I usually go to. It seems to always fall on a weekend with copious amounts of family gatherings. Last weekend was no different, but I was able to sneak in for hometown indie-twee band Varsity's set. Theirs is a sound that is perfectly suited for a Chicago summer street fest curated by Empty Bottle. The music is upbeat and sunny, but features a blistering wall of guitars that slowly builds until it envelops you. Just like Chicago, Chicago Summers, and The Empty Bottle.

Keyboardist, lead vocalist and bandleader Stephanie Smith stepped on stage in a multi-colored flowered dress, sporting baby blue heart-shaped sunglasses; clearly understanding how to set the mood  on a scorching Saturday afternoon.  The band quickly launched into their brand of indie nostalgia, like more mainstream bands Real Estate or Tennis. Just like those two bands, Varsity is catchy as hell; and the band is having just as great a time as the audience. In between dancing together for the choruses, the guitarists would time their rock-god miming while grinning ear to ear. It's a crowded space in the indie nostalgia scene, but Varsity is a band Chicago can be proud to be home to.


radiohead KC.jpg



United Center

July 6th

Radiohead / photo by KC

Radiohead / all photos by KR

Right before a concert my husband, TB, likes to listen to the band we are about to see. At first, I didn't like this tradition. I didn’t want to be “that guy” listening to a band on the way to their concert. I felt like expectations could rise from listening to a recorded album, ultimately skewing the live music experience.

Personally, I think the best mindset to seeing a band live is with zero expectations. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard them a dozen times over a decade or not at all. Having an open mind and open ears at a concert is everything. It forces you to present with unconditional acceptance.

Comically, I have since grown to love his tradition. You get to revisit old albums or fall in love with new ones! With a band like Radiohead it forces you to dig deep into their discography’s musical “gems” or albums you would play in full without skipping a track, taking you back to a certain place and time.

So, the ultimate pre-concert question when seeing a band like Radiohead is: What do you think they will play? Song predictions are not only fun for super-geeky fans, but they are grounds for bragging rights. 

With this I predicted that Radiohead--kicking off their North American tour in Chicago a  United Center--would play Exit Music (for film). Ultimately they would play it for night two. Night one was heavy on songs from In Rainbows and A Moon Shaped Pool which is their most recent release. 

Below is the set list in full: 

SETLIST: Radiohead @ United Center, Chicago 6/6/2018

Desert Island Disk
Ful Stop
Morning Bell
All I Need
Pyramid Song
Paranoid Android
Decks Dark



Let Down
The Numbers
How to Disappear Completely
Lotus Flower
Everything in Its Right Place

Burn the Witch
Weird Fishes/Arpeggi
Fake Plastic Trees
15 Step

Encore 2:
Blow Out
(first time live since 2008)
No Surprises
There There

welles 2.JPG

welles / pylons


June 26th

Welles  / all photos by KPL

As we entered Schubas' back room venue, we were greeted with the pounding of John Pardo’s drums, and Gretchen Hannum at the mic singing her heart out. But, none of local act Pylons songs last long and soon they were launching into “Addicted to Garbage”. Sam Fadness stepped up to the mic to snear “I’m addicted to garbage, I’m addicted to trash, I’m addicted to bullshit, there’s a monkey on my back.” The rest of their set screamed through the speakers, as they rolled through a bunch of their catalog; including standouts “Arson”, “Nuclear Horizon”, and personal favorite “Giving Up” which finds all three at a mic as Hannum and bassist, Karen Mooney, echo Fadness with “ahhh’s” while he relishes in his state of giving up.  This growing punk act is really finding themselves, getting cleaner with their sonic onslaught every time we’ve seen them. It’s too bad they weren’t playing for a packed house, because they kill every show. 

The turnout for the whole show was a bit unfortunate. Whether it was the thunderstorm right before, or the mid-summer Tuesday night, who knows; but Pylons sure rocked it for the thirty or so who showed up early. (If you call 8pm early. Which I supposed some do.) Schubas was so light that night that we found a seat at the bar right after the set, and waited out the change over on nice cushioned stools. Surfer rule number 23: One must rest frequently to make it through a weeknight show. It is essential. 



Welles just released one of the best straight up rock albums of this year (that was put out by a male musician that is . . . ) Both LPL and I were looking forward to the grunge / 70s rock combo that makes up his sound. Elements of Deep Purple and Black Sabbath blended with Nirvana mystique, Screaming  Trees riffs, and the fuzziness of that only Green River album make up the distinct sound that is Welles.

He and his touring band tore through a good portion of the recent album, and even gifted us with a new track. Hair waving back and forth in front of the mic, and rending the air with his chords; treating us to an hour of solid rock n’ roll. They shined brightest on power ballad-esqe “Seventeen”, a five minute plus rumination on youth and despair, and the made for radio “Rock N Roll” (if radio played new rock anymore, but that’s a subject for another day.) 

After a couple of stints as front man in Dead Indian and Cosmic-American, his chops are fully formed and he put on a damn good show. Even if the the crowd was slim there were roars of appreciation as they ended their set with a bombastic “Crush 19”.

As we stumbled back out onto Belmont Ave, the rain sitting in puddles around us, we knew the thirty or so of us had just witnessed something special: A band at the start of a rise. One that will continue to climb as more come to appreciate the balance of rock influences that have formed Welles into such a powerful performer. 


Welles is opening for Dead Sara at the Beat Kitchen on September 29th.
Pylons is playing the Empty Bottle on July 24th opening for No Men and Lumps! Glitter Creeps presents! Nice gig!


the essex green
hardly electronic

The Essex Green’s last album, 2006’s Cannibal Sea, was a monumental album for me in college. Strumming guitars, catchy as hell organs, and the beautifully melodic voices of Christopher Ziter and Sasha Bell helped define my musical tastes as they exist today. I feel like I’ve talked about pivotal bands from my formative years a few times in the last 6 months, and I hope that trend continues for the next 6. I need 2018 to be something looked fondly back on, and stellar bands coming out of hibernation with quality content will do just fine.

It may have been 12 years, but Hardly Electric immediately reminds me why I loved The Essex Green so long ago. Heartfelt lyrics sung beautifully over carefully crafted chamber pop is definitely an early 2000s sound, reminiscent of post Elephant 6 era bubble gum tunes. And while Ziter and Bell are still the stars of the show here, Jeff Baron’s guitar work is no less than exemplary – check out “Catatonic” for some wonderful background riffs that power Sasha’s dreamy-folk vocals, that have some real edge come chorus.

I talked earlier this year about my love of Belle and Sebastian, and I’ve always thought that The Essex Green was a step ahead of those wonderful Scots, producing the best damn 60s psych-folk pop songs in the late 90s/early 00s. I’d call it their ‘Best Of’ record, or a great intro disc to a bygone era, if they didn’t switch things up just enough to remind listeners they haven’t been wasting the past decade. “Don’t Leave it in Our Hands” is straight up punk, and has your standard-for-this-year political undertones, but still maintains the lush arrangements – proving that you don’t have to be ugly to protest. “Bye Bye Crow” is another 2018-staple country song, complete with slide guitars and doo wops.

The album might be a bit long for this kind of music, but if I have to get a couple extra songs every 10 years to hear 5 of my favorite 2018 tunes…. I’ll deal with it. This album will be in the top of my Best Of 2018, and I can’t wait to talk about it lovingly in 2030.

Only 12 minutes to spar? Check out these 3 tracks.

Sloan Ranger


Don’t Leave it in Our Hands


Postscript: It’s unfortunate that The Essex Green was out of the scene for over a decade, and most people probably didn’t notice. I noticed, guys, so don’t make me wait so long again, k?

They are playing Sleeping Village on Oct 9th and tix are only $14. They better pack that place! 


let's eat grandma
i'm all ears
let's eat grandma , Transgressive

Two friends from Norwich, England start making music together at 13 as part of their everyday playtime. Fast forward six years, after playing out several years and their first album gaining some critical success, they return to the studio. And, what comes out is near perfection. At 19, Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingsworth are making gorgeous pop music with unabashed strangeness and beauty wrapped together in an easy to digest package. It’s not their maturity that surprises as plenty of teenagers have been producing great music for decades. What sets them apart is their musicality, songcraft, and compositions. Layers of synths wash through the ears on the instrumental opening track, “Whitewater”, before bashing you with beats from their first single “Hot Pink”. They end the album grabbing you by the throat on tunes like nine minute plus electro ballad “Cool & Collected”, solo piano backed story song “Ava”, and gorgeous closer “Donnie Darko” which, at eleven minutes, isn't long enough. In between, they wow at every turn. Producing one of the best albums of the year so far.  


The Empty Bottle will proudly present them on September 6th. This is the show to go to!


john coltrane
both directions at once: the lost album
verve , umg

Per usual, I'm going to approach a review of a jazz album that could justify hours of drunk JCB babbling in the simplest way possible. John Coltrane is maybe the greatest musician to have lived. Nothing I can say will sway your opinion of him, of jazz, or music in general. He was legendarily adventurous in a live setting, but made sure to keep the label happy with records that sold well. This Lost Album is available in two formats - one with just the tracks Impulse! would have sold us in the early 1960s, and one including the alternate takes. The new songs on this album are untitled, appropriate for the raw, unfinished sound Coltrane and company put forth.

It's particularly interesting to listen to this album in the context of where it fits chronologically. It's part mainstream bop and part avant garde jazz, and when thinking about early 60s Coltrane vs mid-late 60s Coltrane, that's what it should be. This isn't an album to introduce you to Coltrane, or even jazz as a genre. It's a historical lookback at one of the great players figuring out where he wants to go next. That's not to say it isn't good music. Even when he's figuring shit out, Coltrane's team play as if the record is ready for release. That's when you know someone deserves all the hype they get - when their 'lost records' are better than mere mortals can hope to achieve.


Unless anyone knows any Voodoo, the legend will not be appearing.


the innocence mission
sun on the square

Continuing their long devotion to folk dripping with lyrical storytelling, The Innocence Mission put out their 10th studio album with Sun on the Square. Husband and wife Karen and Dan Peris along with childhood friend Mike Bitts on bass have been producing music since 1989, and they know how to craft a song. Acoustic fingerpicking layers over Karen’s thinly fragile vocals producing a sound that harkens back to sixties folk with a distinctly modern feel. This is not a casual listen. To truly appreciate their music one must pay attention. This is a deeply affecting record. These are extremely talented songwriters at the top of their game. They have influenced countless musicians, and Sufjan Stevens is an unabashed fan. 


They are currently not touring. Please come play a show in Chicago!


red baraat
sound the people
rhyme & reason

Led by towering dhol jazz drum figure Sunny Jain, this Brooklyn-based Bhangra fusion band has been packing clubs all over the world for years. Their sixth studio release arrives at the end of June just in time for the explosions of fireworks all over the country. They create a feel all of their own by combining Bhangra with jazz, funk, afrobeat, and even marching band. Each member brings a different element together to create this satisfying stew of cultural clash. It’s like Gogol Bordello without the attitude and punk influence ran through a Bollywood studio. NPR has dubbed them “The best party band in years.” I can only imagine how great they are live. And it looks like we’ll get the chance to find out soon! 


Another band hitting Sleeping Village! Do we have another hipster venue in town?! On Wednesday August 15th this killer band from the Big Apple will hit the stage. It’s $16 in advance & $18 at the door.

recommended re-issue

green river
1984 demos

Aptly dubbed “the first grunge band”, Green River dug the hole for the planting of the tree that would become the Seattle Sound. Out of their ashes rose Mother Love Bone, Mudhoney, and eventually the juggernaut that is Pearl Jam. This collection of their first recordings captures the raw post-punk sound that would come to be the hallmark of grunge.  

It is true that they released this album on vinyl in 2016, but it just now became available on streaming services. Welcome to the 21st century Green River.


Yeah, unless someone can produce a miracle we’re never getting to see them, but at least we have the recordings to jam to. 


kamasi washington
the choice ep

These five songs were given to first pressing buyers as a free EP. A week later he gifted it to the rest of us by releasing them on streaming services. It’s more subdued than the album they accompany, he includes a cover of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” that bears little resemblance to the original, and a version of “Ooh Child” that is cosmic jazz at it’s mellowist.    

Mr. Washington is playing the Riv on Saturday November 3rd. How are there still tickets left to this show Chicago!


A disco romp that makes you dance and feel sad at the same time. It’s such an incongruous feeling that it works. Mitski is constantly surprising. We can’t wait for new album Be The Cowboy. It drops August 17th.

She is dropping by The Vic on Thursday October 25th with Jessica Lee Mayfield in support. Tix are $25.

valley queen

The third single this year off the anticipated debut album from this L.A. folk rock quartet. It’s coming out this week! We know what we’ll be listening to tomorrow.  

The Hideout is hosting them on October 10th! Tix are on sale for $10

probcause and lembo
way up ep

Funky hip hop made just for the summer. Cruise Logan Blvd and blast this one. It might make you feel like you’re in Miami or LA for a split second.  

No tour dates for the Chicago MC at this time

madison cunningham
beauty into clichÉs / so long, frank lloyd wright

A stunning classic single from this up and coming folk talent. She has a way of grabbing your attention the same as legends like Mitchell and Baez. 

She is visiting the Symphony Center with The Punch Brothers on September 7th. Tix are $35 - $95.



  • Christine and The Queens - Doesn’t matter

  • Real Friends - Unconditional Love

  • Like Pacific - In Spite of Me

  • The Chamanas - Le Verdad

  • Prophets of Rage - Heart Afire

  • Marrón - No Other Place

  • AHI - Straight Ahead

  • Amy Shark , Mark Hoppus - Psycho

  • Tinliker - Dream With Sombody

  • Trophy Eyes - More Like You


the interrupters  /  fight the good fight  /  hellcat

Classic ska punk from these LA rockers. Full of sing along choruses and political and social lyrics, it’ll have you skanking up and down the block while screaming “This will go down in history as the age of outrage!”  

Another band hitting up Warped Tour at Tinley Park on Saturday July 21st. If it wasn’t Pitchfork weekend . . .


john mark mcmillan  /  the mercury sessions  /  lionhawk

Last year talented musician John Mark McMillan transcended the Christian label with Mercury & Lightning, a truly great album that made the mainstream critics pay attention. Now he gives us a reimagining of the Mercury half of the album. This collection of demos and alternate versions, along with commentary on each track at the end, is a refreshing look into the process of an artist at his peak.   

He is stopping by Bottom Lounge on Friday September 7th. Tickets are $16 ($36 for VIP)


jim james  /  uniform distortion  /  ato

Decidedly unproduced and personal this collection of songs from the My Morning Jacket frontman is the best work he has put out on his own. A cohesive album from start to finish full of garage rock gems.  

November 9th he’ll be at The Vic. It promptly sold out but there are plenty of tix on third party sites. 


damien jurado  /  the horizon just laughed  /  secretly canadian

Adding to his impressive discography Mr. Jurado gifts us with this stunning record capturing all of the doubt and desperateness we are living with at the moment. 

Jurado was just here in May at Lincoln Hall and has a Euro Tour slated for the fall. Hopefully he’ll be back in the winter or spring! 


joshua moss  /  the metro  /  joshua moss

An introspective collection of modest modern folk tunes that can rend your heart. With influences ranging from Damien Rice to Bon Iver this debut should garner him a new set of fans. 

We couldn’t find any tour dates at the moment. Sad but true . . 



charles lloyd & The marvels with lucinda williams / vanished gardens / Charles Lloyd , UMG , Blue Note

Legendary saxophonist Charles Lloyd has out done himself on this one, teaming up with star Lucinda Williams to produce a country jazz album. There really is no other way to describe it. Jazz with pedal steel and dobro makes for country jazz. 

The Closest this iteration of Lloyd & The Marvels with Lucinda Williams is coming is Ann Arbour Michigan on December 8th.

drake / scorpion / young money/cash money

Synth pop has been a massive genre over the past decade, and this British trio have perfected it. Their second album brings frontman, and LGBT hero, Olly Alexander’s voice to the forefront; and the beats never really let up, making for a great party record.    

Currently there are no U.S. tour dates for these Euro pop sensations.

florence + the machine / high as hope / universal

Those pipes are unmistakable. No one sounds like Florence Welch. In their most personal and political album to date they urge us “to hold onto each other.” 

She is bringing her pipes to the United Center on October 19th. Tix are $60 - $80 (Floor is going on resale for $151. Yeah you’re reading that right.)

drake / scorpion / young money/cash money

If you don’t already know this album broke streaming records and billboard chart records within days of it’s release. Is it as good as the hype? Of course not. Is it good though? Yes, it most definitely is. 

This record breaker is hitting the United Center for three nights, August 17th., 18th, and 20th. With Migos in support. We didn’t even look at prices. Substantial we are sure.

the rock*A*teens / sixth house / merge

90’s folk rock precursors produce their first album in 18 years and it’s incredibly solid. 

We’re not getting a reunion tour with this album quite yet it seems. Only one date slated so far.

gorillaz / the now now / gorillaz , parlophone , warner

Essentially now the Damon Albarn solo project, well was it really ever anything else, the first and still only “virtual band” puts out a solid record. Is it their best?  No. But not their best is still damn good. 

They are returning to Chicago October 16th at The United Center.

yungblud / 21st century liability / locomotion , geffen

Between pop, punk, and hip hop is the realm English artist YUNGBLUD resides in. The polarizing musician (you’re either going to dig it or hate him) drops these dozen tracks of mania and protest. 

He is playing Lollapalooza on Saturday August 4th and the House of Blues Lolla after show on Friday August 3rd opening for Catfish And The Bottlemen

the wild feathers / greetings from the neon frontier / reprise

Sometimes 70’s influenced country rock is just what you need to get through the day, and this record has it in bunches.  

Currently there are no Chicago dates on their slate. 

the milk carton kids / All The Things That I Did and All The Things That I Didn’t Do / anti

Acoustic duo Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale took a band into the studio with them for the first time and what they produced is an album full of relevant songs that take on a whole new dynamic than just their two guitars could. 

They are making a stop at Thalia Hall on October 23rd. Tix are going for $32.

tropics / nocturnal souls / fours

Chris Ward’s third record as Tropics is sonically warm, atmospheric and satisfying.  

There are no dates at all for Tropics at this time. 



Hey there Surfers! Welcome back after our stint of vacation! Here is some news that hit while we were gone!


    Taste of Chicago is this weekend. Remember that all shows are free on the lawn! See our Summer Fest Guide for more info!

  • Wicker Park Fest is coming up in a couple weeks and the lineup is killer! The full schedule was released this week and it got us super excited for Against Me!, The Get Up Kids, Porches, Snail Mail, Turquoise Jeep and Ezra Furman among all the other local and touring act that will be featured over three days on Milwaukee Ave!  


Espolon North Stage


9:00 - 10:00    Combo Chimbita
7:45 - 8:30       Dos Santos
6:30 - 7:15        Nikki Lynette


8:45 - 10:00    Sir The Baptist
7:30 - 8:30     Jonathan Toubin
6:00 - 7:00     Turqouise Jeep
4:45 - 5:30      Sidney Gish
3:30 - 4:15       DRAMA
2:15 - 3:00       Kaina
1:00 - 1:45         Bardo

8:45 - 10:00     Porches
7:15 - 8:15         Ezra Furman
6:00 - 6:45      Remo Drive
4:45 - 5:30       Mother Nature
3:30 - 4:15        Frances Cone
2:15 - 3:00       CJ Run
1:00 - 1:45         Dream Version

Goose Island Beer Co. South Stage


8:30 - 10:00     Against Me!
7:15 - 8:00        The Brokedowns
6:00 - 6:45       Sincere Engineer
5:00 - 5:30       Typesetter

9:00 - 10:00   The Get Up Kids
7:45 - 8:30      Lemuria
6:30 - 7:15       Snail Mail
5:15 - 6:00       Rozwell Kid
4:00 - 4:45       Mykele Deville
3:00 - 3:30      Manwolves
1:00 - 2:30       School of Rock Oak Park      

9:00 - 10:00     Red Fang
7:45 - 8:30       Windhand
6:30 - 7:15        Off With Their Heads
5:15 - 6:00       Spells
4:00 - 4:45      Slow Mass
3:00 - 3:30     Outrun The Sunlight
1:00 - 2:30      School of Rock Chicago

Tom Neubauer Center Stage



8:30 - 10:00    Reggae Gold
7:00 - 8:30     Gizzae
6:00 - 7:00     Dove Muzik
5:00 - 6:00     TBA


8:45 - 10:00    DJ Orión
(Discos Peligrosa)
8:00 - 8:45     Pachanga DJ's
7:00 - 8:00     DJ Sound Culture
6:00 - 7:00     Sandra Trevino
5:00 - 6:00     Dolor Folktronico


8:00 - 10:00    Emo Nite LA
6:45 - 7:30      Retirement Party
5:30 - 6:15       Mark Rose

  • The first ever Big Evanston Block Party, curated by SPACE, released their full lineup this week. The free fest will be at Dempster and Chicago right off the Purple line in downtown Evanston on August 25th and 26th. Headliners Guided by Voices and Old 97’s lead an impressive lineup that may just get us up north for a day or two.   




Saturday, Aug 25
Guided By Voices
Dos Santos
Waco Brothers
Split Single
School of Rock

Sunday, Aug 26
Old 97's
Liz Cooper & The Stampede
Flat Five
School of Rock

  • Stay Tuned next week for our Pitchfork guide.

  • As has been the case we are still working on our new calendar but till then here is our recommended shows of the week! 

    Thursday July 12th: 
    Radiant Devices / Wax Chattels / Dendrons
    The Empty Bottle  8:30PM doors  $8

    Haley Heynderickx / V.V. Lightbody
    Martyrs’   8PM   $15 

    Friday July 13th: 
    Square Roots Fest (see our Summer Fest Guide for more info) 
    Windy City Smokeout (see our Summer Fest Guide for more info) 

    Black Star / Madame Gandhi
    Taste of Chicago  5:30PM   Free or $18 - $50 for seats

    Video Age / Glyders / The Hecks
    The Empty Bottle  9PM  $8   $10 day of

    The Jayhawks / Sima Cunningham
    Thalia Hall   7PM doors   $26

    Saturday July 14th: 
    Square Roots Fest
    Windy City Smokeout
    Roscoe Village Burger Fest
    (see our Summer Fest Guide for more info) 
    The Flaming Lips / La Butcherettes / Half Gringa
    Taste of Chicago  5:30PM   Free or $18 - $50 for seats

    Sunday July 15th: 
    Square Roots Fest
    Windy City Smokeout
    Roscoe Village Burger Fest

    George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic / BJ the Chicago Kid / The Boy Illinois
    Taste of Chicago  5:30PM   Free or $18 - $50 for seats

    Monday July 16th: 
    Lauren Sanderson / Former Vandal / Sizzy Rocket
    Schubas   7PM  ALL AGES   $10

    Tuesday July 17th: 
    Sam Moss / Minor Moon / Her Crooked Heart
    The Hideout   9PM  $10

    Wednesday July 18th: 
    Dinosaur Jr. / Purling Hiss
    Thalia Hall   7PM doors  $30

    Jackie Cohen / Jungle Green / Baby Blue
    The Hideout   9PM  $10


See you at the show Chicago! 

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