Despite my predictions for a gloomy holiday season, Christmastime in Chicago turned out to be just short of blissful.
With nary a snowflake or raindrop in sight and with temperatures lodged in the 50s, a near-record decline in the Chicago murder rate, a new ( and well received ) Star Wars installment in movie theaters, a booming retail season and with presidential impeachment proceedings inching forward, the year end holidays offered glad tidings and a cautious hope for the new decade. As a seeming indicator of all this joy, local live music events rewarded fans who ventured out into the warmth.
First was blazing hot local band Whitney, who pulled off five sold-out shows at Thalia Hall on Dec. 4-8. The duo of Julian Ehrlich ( on drums and vocals ) and guitarist Max Kakacek ( on guitar ) went all out for these shows with a horn and string section augmenting their sound and a lowkey sartorial elegance to match. During the Dec. 5 show, Ehrlich sang his heart out and demonstrated how the band has managed to breathe new life into ’70s-era soft pop rock without sounding wimpy. The show, which was in support of the just released Forever Turned Around ( on Secretly Canadian Records ), had the gently swaying throngs singing along and nodding their heads in unison. They did not, however, whip out their Bic lighters and start a human wave.
Far more kinetic and cheeky, Welsh alternative rockers The Joy Formidable stormed The Bottom Lounge on Dec. 12 to celebrate a decade together. Frontwoman Rhiannon “Ritzy” Bryan ( on vocals and guitar ) proved that she’s still the jolliest woman in the United Kingdom by cracking jokes about the impending Brexit vote and tearing through songs from all four of the band’s albums. It didn’t hurt to have Rhydian Dafydd ( on bass ) and Matthew James Thomas ( on drums ) to join in on the mirth and music, which the near-overflow crowd loved.
Even more joyful was rapper Roy Kinsey’s packed show at Schuba’s on Dec. 17. This concert served as a showcase for new ( opener Eli Major, making his live debut ) and local talent ( rapper Semiratruth, adding an explosive female vibe to the show ) and a preview of Kinsey’s upcoming follow up to his wildly celebrated full-length Blackie ( on Not Normal Records ). Kinsey kicked off the show by saying, “This new recording deals with what it’s like to be a young man growing up queer and Black in America right now.” Although the new Kinsey: A Memoir features a lot of warm reminiscence with Kinsey’s smooth rapping providing a silken sheen much as he did on Blackie, this time he ups the energy with edgier fare. The slow groove of “I Don’t Beg,” the boiling energy of “Fetish” and “She/Her” and the fiery “That Bitch, She Ain’t Your Friend” are destined to become queer anthems.