Sick Puppies are storming across the U.S. in support of their newest album Connect. If there’s one thing I could say about the entire tour that night, it’s that each and every band connected with the crowd. Whether people were fans of Sick Puppies, 10 Years or Charming Liars, the energy in the room was felt loud and clear. Everyone in attendance that night were there for a rock show. Oh, I should probably mention it was a Wednesday night and the place was packed! One thing I’ve noticed more than once over the years is that there aren’t a lot of weekend only shows anymore. Bands tour every day of the week and more times than not, if you want to go see your favorite band, you’re going to have to go out on a “school night.”
First band of the night were Charming Liars from London, England. While I would have to guess the majority of the people that night were not familiar with them, unless of course they caught their set at Uproar over the summer, after the first couple of songs, the crowd appeared to be into their sound. With five band members on stage, each with their own personality and contributions to the music, I enjoyed their energetic set. Lead singer, Charlie Cosser’s non-stop movement across the stage during their 30-minute performance really got the crowd warmed up. Whether he had one leg propped up on the monitors, was standing at the edge of the stage or jumping around, his interaction with the crowd was constant. Their time on stage was short, so he let their music do most of the talking.
Half way through their set, they played The Desperation. With a catchy chorus of “We Won’t Give Up, Won’t Give Up, Won’t Give Up” the backing vocals from guitar players, Karnig Manoukian and Nick Krein, really brought this song to life. All night, drummer Zack Riel looked as if he was in pain while playing. However, I knew it was just how he showed his intensity. I love when there are expressive players in a band and bassist Mike Kruger also showed just how much he was into the groove that night. Before playing Fingers Crossed, Charlie asked if anyone had an ex-boyfriend or girlfriend that they hated. Apparently the topic of the song and there were lots of cheers from the crowd along with arms raised in the air to signify a loud YES! Once the song was over Charlie thanked everyone for supporting Rock and Roll. Towards the end of their last song, the title track to their new EP New Disorder, Charlie jumped down off the stage and stood on the security rail to get up close and personal with the crowd.
Next on the bill were 10 Years from Knoxville, TN. No stranger to the Chicago area, having played there over the summer, and many, many times in the past, their 45-minute set felt like it lasted 10 minutes. For me, this is usually the sign of having a great time. With the stage flooded in red lights, the band started with a powerful opening. They played two songs from their latest release, Minus the Machine, including the title track and Backlash. Lead singer Jesse Hasek was his usual serious and intense self. However, bassist Ryan Collier, with his long dreads flying everywhere like angry snakes striking, was a madman. He is definitely the most energetic on stage. During Fix Me, from their Feeding the Wolves release, Jesse jumped down to security rail to get closer to the crowd. At some point I noticed the amount of red tape that was sure to keep the cord connected to the actual microphone. Between jumping off the stage, not to mention all the cord twirling and whipping Jesse does, it’s definitely needed to avoid any technical issues. However, that didn’t keep something from giving guitarist Ryan “Tater” Johnson some problems. For the majority of the first two songs, his tech was constantly trying to help out with some guitar issues. Eventually the problem was fixed and he could focus on the crowd and his performance. Drummer Kyle Mayer, whom I had seen filling in for Brian Vodinh a couple months ago, was still back there keeping time and giving it everything he had. Second guitarist Chad Huff played with a calm but persistent stance
They played two more new songs, Knives and Dancing With the Dead before going into a personal favorite of mine. Not sure what it is about Now Is the Time (Ravenous), maybe it’s the combination of Jesse’s calm vocals offset by Tater’s angry screaming vocals during, “Dumb, deaf and blind, Fall back in line.” Regardless, they nailed it and Jesse had the crowd clapping along. Jesse then dedicated Beautiful to all the fans that had seen them time and time again, all the way back to the beginning. After the song, Jesse asked Tater to tell everyone what he had found in the dressing room earlier but somehow the conversation turned to talk of bathroom usage, Tater’s thoughts on the lack of crowd movement (Jesse was quick to tell him “they’re watchers”) and before I knew it Tater started singing a bit of the chorus of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight” while the band played along. It was a little bit of an unexpected fun moment. Tater wanted to sing more but Jesse told him he only got one Phil Collins song per night.
Next they went into Wasteland from their Autumn Effect album. Always a crowd favorite and this time was no exception. In the past, Tater and bassist Lewis Cosby would perform double jumps at just the right moment during the song. I’m glad to see that Ryan and Tater have continued the tradition. They ended their set with Shoot It Out. Once again, Jesse jumped down to security rail but this time though, instead of just standing on the step, he balanced himself on the top of the actual rail with some support from fans. Ending their set with this intense song, which included a second and third set of double jumps from Tater and Ryan was a great way to go out. However, the show wasn’t quite over yet. Jesse left the stage but the band played a pretty heavy outro of sorts before finally leaving the stage.
As the stage was being set, the crowd was eager for the last band of the night to take the stage. Sick Puppies, originally from Sydney, Australia, are a 3-piece band that is one part great song writing, one part great musicianship and all parts awesome. Before taking the stage, during their intro music, bright white strobe lights lit up the venue showing just how packed it was inside the House of Blues. Their 90-minute set included a great balance from their last four albums. Opening with heavy-hitter and the first track on Connect, Die To Save You, it also included bassist Emma Anzai on backing vocals. Her delicate voice is a great compliment to vocalist/guitarist Shimon Moore’s. Emma’s bass playing though is where she really stands out. From her stance on stage, to the way she whips her head and hair back and forth to the way she crouches down while playing those heavy pounding notes, your attention to her is immediate. The constant flashing strobes and heavy white lights with low tones of purple during the first song changed to heavy red lights, almost as if to mimic the heavy subject of fast-paced Cancer from Dressed Up As Life. During There’s No Going Back, the first single from Connect, with its catchy chorus, the stage was flooded with green lights. Emma introduced Odd One, from Tri-Polar, and talked about how it was okay to be different and that you should just be yourself. Not a truer statement could be made and the crowd was more than willing to sing along during the chorus. The various times when Emma was singing backing vocals throughout the night, a fan was blowing her hair creating almost an angelic vision depending on the lighting. She really is quite striking to watch on stage not to mention she is 100% badass on the bass.
Shim, who had to mostly stand in front of his microphone, didn’t get to move around the stage a lot. The few times he did, was to either speak with the crowd or to briefly interact with Emma or drummer Mark Goodwin. The intensity from Mark was also quite apparent in his facial expressions. There were also a couple of songs that he helped with backing vocals. During My World, Shim wanted the crowd to chime in and sing “Screaming” after he sang “Kicking…”. Everyone sang along but towards the end of the song Shim said, “We’ve got one chorus left, you better melt my face when we get there.” Having seen Sick Puppies in the past, Shim has always gotten the crowd to participate with singing. If you didn’t know the words going in, you definitely left the show having helped out during a song or two. Before playing Maybe, another from Tri-Polar, Shim told the story of how the band got together. He mentioned that the reason he was able to even tell us the story was because everyone paid for a ticket to see the show. He thanked everyone very much for allowing them to do what they love and to prove to everyone at home that told them they’d never make it, that they had. He said they were living proof that you can do anything you want if you just spend the time.
Before going into the next song, Shim had everyone get out their phones to enter the guitar giveaway. Yes, one lucky winner was going to take home an Epiphone guitar before the end of the night. Unfortunately, it wasn’t me, but I did see the winner with the guitar after the show. Next was the title track from Connect which had Shim playing acoustic guitar. A more mellow track, this had a catchy chorus that was easy to sing along to, not to mention some fantastic guitar playing from Shim. They quickly switched gears and red lights once again flooded the stage and sirens could be heard before they started War. The surprise of the night came for me when they started Gunfight. Initially when I first heard this song when their new album was released, it was just an odd song to me and I didn’t really care for it. However, it really grew on me and I was excited to hear it live. I think it went over well. Another unexpected track was Pitiful from Dressed Up As Life. I’m glad to see some of their non-radio songs are getting play in a live setting. Another fun song of the night was Nothing Really Matters. Having heard this song earlier in the year at a festival, I was unfamiliar with it. Well, I now know why. It’s from their Australian only release of their first album Welcome To the Real World. The fun part about it is the rapping style singing Shim does during the song, which is totally unexpected. Another fun part was watching Shim get people to put their arms up in the air and then on the shoulders of the person in front of them. After all, it’s easier to jump up and down when you’ve got something to hold onto. Needless to say, the floor obliged and bounced up and down when asked and I even saw a few people behind the soundboard getting into it. This song also shows off the skills of both Emma, who was getting extra funky on the bass, and Mark on drums as they each had their own mini solo spotlight. The song ended with Shim yelling, “1, 2!” and the crowd yelling back, “1, 2, 3, 4!” before jumping up and down and getting crazy again.
The band eventually left the stage but only for a minute before they were back out for the encore. A very cool moment during the night came during All The Same. As some may remember the Free Hugs Campaign video from a few years ago, this was the song that was used. With a flood of blue lights, the song started and all throughout, the crowd did a lot of singing along with Shim. He even stopped for a bit and let the crowd sing on their own. In general, the crowd participation seemed to really have a moving effect on him as his reaction of his hand to his heart not to mention the smile on his face showed true thankfulness. He excitedly dubbed Chicago “Best Gig of the Tour!” Of course this sweet moment was then followed by high energy You’re Going Down. The crowd once again got crazy, and I even spotted a mosh pit up front on Shim’s side. Before the band left the stage, he had the crowd chant their band name and they took a group photo with the crowd behind them. Shim, Emma and Mark said good-bye and left the stage. From where I was standing, between the reaction of the band and the fans, I’d have to say it was another successful night of the tour.
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