Openers: Bleached & Porcelain Raft
I must admit, when I first saw Smith Westerns at Lollapalooza in 2011 they appeared awkward. Their stage presence didn’t really exist and front man Cullen Omori’s vocals seemed weak when coupled with Max Kakacek’s powerful guitar solos that appear in nearly every song. Needless to say, going into their first ever headlining show in Chicago, I was nervous that Smith Westerns would be nervous and perhaps crumble under the pressure. They’d never headlined a show here before, only previously appearing under the shadow of bands like MGMT and the Arctic Monkeys. That being said, they appeared to be more energized than ever to be wrapping up their tour in their home town of Chicago, playing favorites from Dye It Blonde as well as a few selected songs from their first self-titled album.
First on the bill was a band by the name of Bleached, which created a solid wall of sound supported by the same driving guitar chords. This band was good, and their female vocalist seemed extremely at ease on stage. That being said, their sound varied very little between songs, sometimes sounding like they repeated the same songs over and over. Overall, however, Bleached was a dreamy opening set…and a good one at that.
Porcelain Rift was next on the set in the 10:00 slot. This duo from Brooklyn provided the most surprising set of the night, which paired synths with drums and extremely distorted guitar. If I had to compare Porcelain Rift’s sound to a band currently prevalent, I would say they’re kind of like Phantogram mixed with Justin Vernon’s vocals. They got everyone in the Metro dancing with their sound check, alone. As they ripped through their balloon and dance-filled set, their music just kept getting better and better showing elements of shoegaze and electronic styles.
Finally at 11:00 came the band we had all been waiting to see, the Smith Westerns. As the stage became flooded with colored fog, these Chicago dream rockers came out with the utmost energy, excited to be playing a premier venue at home. They opened with the wonderful and playful “All Die Young” followed by nearly every song from their critically acclaimed (and my personal favorite of 2011) album Dye It Blonde. Along the way they threw in several songs from their first album, including “Dreams” and “Be My Girl”, which have obviously matured a lot since their days recording the album in a friend’s basement.
Lead singer Cullen Omori’s apparent inebriation seemed to loosen him up as opposed to making him seem unprofessional, and the crowd really fed off of that, bouncing to the band’s seemingly carefree attitude.. The band wrapped up the show with their break out hit “Weekend”, and as Omori sang “Weekends are never fun, unless you’re around here”, the whole crowd had to agree that this weekend was fun because he was around here.
After “Weekend”, for the first time ever, Smith Westerns played an encore. During this encore they played a new song which had never been heard before, followed by “Dye the World” which is the final track of Dye It Blonde. This seemed like an incredibly apt ending for someone who had listened to their album as much as I have.
Overall, Smith Westerns rocked their hometown show. The fame from their album has thrust them into the spotlight and forced them on stage, which has in turn had made them an infinitely better live band. Their new album will definitely be on my radar in the upcoming year, and it will be a pleasure to watch this band musically mature and grow.