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Concert Wed Mar 12 2014
I doubt there is any way to fully describe the evening I had this past Monday at Empty Bottle. It was a collection of dark folk singers and punk madness. It didn't quite make sense to see Coins, Kyp Malone, and Ice Balloons on the same bill. Their individual styles are so different, running off to different sides of the musical spectrum. Nonetheless, it was great to see such diversity in one night. The grouping actually had an escalating effect, starting with calmer sounds before culminating in a frantic and obscenely loud set that straddled the line between lunacy and brilliance.
Coins started the night off with some hauntingly serene soundscapes. The local Chicago duo is quite a sight and sound to behold. Their brand of folk leans toward darker and slower tone, putting out a mesmerizing spell on the audience. You can definitely melt into their songs. Their lyrics are really fun and impactful, whether it's a depressing one about getting stuck by lightning or one about aliens. Angela Mullenhour's voice was strong and full while she gracefully played guitar, which at times dove into more rocking territory. Her laugh emanated through some the verses while Ellen Bunch's gentle keys carried the songs into a surprising sway, making their already likable style overflow. Coins are a great dark folk group that immediately grabbed the audience during their set.
Kyp Malone casually walked around the Empty Bottle before coming to the stage with no pretense. He quickly tuned his resonator guitar and strummed a few chords before starting his set. Malone looked like was performing at home, which was no surprise as he recounted his first time playing at the Empty Bottle, opening for The Fall with TV on the Radio on their first tour. He began his set with "Stork and Owl", a song he wrote for TV on the Radio's third album Dear Science. The song was stripped down to its core with Malone belting out the lyrics in his unique voice. In between his impressive guitar strumming, Malone was playful with the crowd. A shout of marry me resulted in Malone stating he's not the marrying type. He joked that he used to say he wouldn't get married until every one could and how it's looking like now he will have to stop saying that or get married. He finished up his solo set with "Give Blood", an energetic song showed off Malone's prowess.
I'm not sure how many people were familiar with Ice Balloons or their music. I have a feeling that Kyp Malone's presence is what attracted the crowd. After Coins and Malone's sets, the uninitiated may not have expected what Ice Balloons would bring to the table. No genre can truly define them. Ice Balloons is a collaboration of manic proportions, featuring members from Wild Yaks, The FuckEmos, and TV on the Radio. At times they are just punk rockers going completely off the rails, while other times the pop in their furiously loud noise is unavoidable. You just can't expect normalcy from a group fronted by a human fly in blue mariachi suit.
Ice Balloons' set was a nonstop assault of aural and visual insanity. They are a surrealistic painting come to life. Projections of scary dolls, fan dancers, and explosions filled the room as the human fly screeched through a distorted mic. There wasn't a single moment where the noise faltered. The band is hard to get accustomed to. I'm sure a lot people felt it was just noise for noise sake. But the fuzzed out and completely abstract nature of their songs mixed with the half human half fly shaking maracas above his head made for a great show. I'm still reeling from the experience. My hearing has just come back down to normal from the high helium pitch it was after the concert. The band is a genuine strangeness that is unforgiving and astoundingly fun. Their performance brought up a very interesting question: can you have an acid flashback without ever having taken acid? The answer is undeniably Ice Balloons (that's a yes).