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« Review/Photos: Tomorrow Never Knows - Chelsea Wolfe, The Amazing, King Dude & Sabers @ Schubas Tavern 1/19/13 Preview: James Murphy DJ Set at The Mid, 1/25 »

Tomorrow Never Knows Sun Jan 20 2013

TNK Fest Recap: Night 3 - Free Energy @ Schubas, 1/18

"Free Energy" is such a great band name. Whether the phrase evokes an open offer for fun or a thermodynamics concept, it all pretty much describes what happens when you listen to the band's music or see them live.

On Friday night, cozy little Schubas turned into a sold-out celebration of pure, dumb rock and roll, thanks only in part to Free Energy's unapologetically feel-good set. I don't know about all of the other five venues that had music on night three of Tomorrow Never Knows Fest, but I'm going to guess that Schubas had the rowdiest bill. With a solid lineup split between two local and two non-local acts, the people at Schubas were in for a night of increasingly building energy, in which glowsticks abounded and where there were at least two different instances of band members leaping up onto stacks of amps around the stage, turning Schubas into as much of an arena-rock jungle gym as possible.

Free Energy kicked off this year with the release of their long-awaited follow-up to 2010's debut album Stuck on Nothing, which introduced us to a band in love with big, dueling '80s era guitar riffs, youthful lyrics, and V-neck tees. Love Sign, finally self-released after some label transitioning, finds the band digging their heels into the same classic sound while also aiming for an even broader appeal with slightly more hooks and a lot more production gloss.

But those minor details were irrelevant at Schubas. The band took the stage shortly after midnight with an evenly mixed set of songs from both records that removed any stylistic distinctions between the two. Love Sign's "Backscratcher" and "Electric Fever" opened with a strong one-two punch before launching directly into Stuck on Nothing tracks "Free Energy" and "Dream City". Between the opening few songs, there was an enough cowbell to satisfy even the most demanding Bruce Dickinson. Anyone feeling slightly uncomfortable with glitzier sheen of the band's new album would have been relieved to hear Love Sign's songs played with the same rough edges as those heard on Stuck on Nothing.

I remember watching videos from Free Energy's earlier tours and noting how frontman and main vocalist Paul Sprangers would sometimes struggle to hit simple notes. He seems to have since improved his voice, though, and he's now a perfectly confident frontman, capable of managing and sustaining crowd energy while also singing on target. But as a live band, the members of Free Energy are an explicit portrayal of the concept inherent in their band name. As the lead vocalist, Sprangers often scours the audience looking for eye contact with people who are as into it as he is. The eye contact is intense and reassuring. The band feeds off this energy, and gives it back in the form of electric, celebratory rock and roll.

But all of this happened after a gradual increase in both energy and weirdness from the other three bands on the bill that night. Chicago band Wedding Dress opened the evening with welcoming, tuneful indie rock that exposed subtle intricacies between colorful keyboard lines, high bass notes, and otherwise steady walls of sound. But even though their set was strong, they ended up being the tamest, least interesting band of the night. Winnipeg's Boats suddenly demanded everyone's attention with skittish indie pop songs featuring singer Mat Klachefsky's unsettlingly high, cartoonish voice. Boats offered a great example of what might happen if twee pop ever got really angry.

The biggest surprise of the night came from Elmhurst natives The Orwells, who immediately proved themselves as one of Chicago's most talented young bands. And by young, I mean that the members of The Orwells are literally all 17 years old. But they are freakishly skilled for that high school age. The band was relentlessly weird and confident throughout their set, which concentrated on playful garage rock and themes of youthful mischief. Singer Mario Cuomo Cuomo dedicated their set to the recently jailed Chief Keefe, "because he's just a kid like us." Cuomo then proceeded to lead the set with his bizarre shenanigans, often rolling his eyes into the back of his head or climbing up onto the amplifiers to further reinforce his band's rebellious weirdness. Those are all old tricks in the rock and roll book, but The Orwells embraced it all with an incredible sense of self-confidence--especially given their age. In fact, as their set went on, they had plenty of balding 30-year-olds pumping their fists.

Despite a long set-up time after The Orwells, Free Energy was an excellent headliner for the Schubas bill for the third night of TNK Fest. Before launching into "Hope Child" towards the end of their set, Sprangers took a moment to revel in the excitement of this particular festival night.

"This is a sweet music town," he said.

Especially when so many good bands of all ages come together for a week-long festival hosted at six different venues around the city, I couldn't agree more.

Read all our Tomorrow Never Knows coverage.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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Alarm Magazine
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