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Review Thu Oct 08 2015

Glass Animals Turns The Riviera Into A Jungle

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It was a wild night on the North Side last night, and not just in the streets of Wrigleyville. Just a few stops away on the Red Line, British indie trip-rockers Glass Animals were dropping the Riviera Theatre into the middle of an Eden-esque jungle. Palm trees lined the edges of the stage, huge one-tentacled jellyfish lanterns hung from the ceiling, and the requisite rain forest humidity came from the sticky crowd that got down to every sexy song.

Terrible traffic (thanks, Jake Arrieta) forced me to arrive in the middle of Spanish band Hinds' opening set. The all-female outfit brought to mind 1960s SoCal garage rock, or perhaps Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys if Brian Wilson had insisted on using 99% fewer instruments on the record. The onstage chemistry between guitarist/singers Carlotta Cosials and Ana Garcia Perrote radiated sunshine and beachy vibes--the palm trees were just as appropriate as they would be for the headliners, albeit in a very different context. I didn't particularly get into Perrote's simple, choppy guitar leads, and drummer Amber Grimbergen looked antithetically moribund behind her kit, but the group maneuvered through tight tempo changes with ease and you would have needed a frozen heart not to smile at their energy.

After a short break, the room dimmed and the stage filled with fog as the audience ramped up its cheering. A single purple light illuminated the stage as ominous jungle noises filled the air. Glass Animals singer David Bayley has said that the band's most recent album, Zaba, was inspired by William Stieg's children's book The Zabajaba Jungle and other adventure novels. The atmosphere they created and into which they transported the crowd was far more sensual than a children's book should be--with Bayley's bedroom-whisper voice and booming bass, things were going to get sensual--but the stage design and exotic beats ensured that this was no ordinary grindfest.

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Bayley, as a frontman, expertly soaked up the energy of the room and sprayed it back out onto the audience. His vocal delivery felt more like a rapper's than a singer's, every word articulated percussively and accentuated with a frenetic gesture. I was reminded of some weird hybrid of M.I.A. and alt-J's Joe Newman--Bayley had the seductive animalism that you'd expect out of Glass Animals' singer, but it was laced with a taste of eccentricity, delivered in the form of ghostly harmonies, strangely inflected melodies, and Bayley holding a pineapple as he sang "Gooey" and "Wyrd." Apparently he actually recorded these songs with pineapple in hand. No matter his idiosyncratic tendencies, though, Bayley knew how to get the audience fired up, walking into the crowd and inducing ecstatic screams on "Pools." His tone and character perfectly matched his band's music.

Even after seeing them live, I'm still not sure how to classify Glass Animals, though the band's genre-blending follows a trend of interesting sonic mixtures in the indie pop world. This music wasn't quite electro-hop, particularly when Bayley and Drew MacFarlane were ripping off dueling bluesy guitar solos on 'Intruxx" and "Toes," but it was far from the Platonic form of rock music. At times, the minimalist, tribal rhythms reminisced upon Lorde's debut album. But in reality the precise sounds utilized by Glass Animals prohibit any true comparison. "Hazey" featured a click that fell somewhere between a cricket's chirp and the world's most delicate woodblock. MacFarlane's guitar strums on "Cocoa Hooves" sounded like crystal raindrops. Ranging from glassy snaps to tabla-like synthetic drums to oriental-inspired chimes, the band's beats showcased their worldly influences and kept the music--which, stripped down, is just auditory sex--intellectually stimulating.

A highlight of the set was "Gooey," clearly the band's most popular song based on both Spotify stats and the crowd's reaction when it began. Innocent, dreamy-sounding synth bells led into Bayley's most beckoning falsetto of the entire set, though it was hard to distinguish his voice from the voices of over a thousand people singing along. The image of "peanut butter vibes"--a phrase the band features on its merch--didn't exactly jive with the intensity of Bayley's movements onstage, but this was a case of Bayley recognizing how engaged the audience was and mirroring that energy.

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Another surprising highlight came at the beginning of the encore, when Bayley asked if the band could perform another cover (they had played "Gold Lime," a delightfully funky and husky Erykah Badu x Yeah Yeah Yeahs mashup, earlier). They then launched into Kanye West's "Love Lockdown," putting their distinctive stamp on the classic from 808s and Heartbreak. With Yeezy's heart-thumping percussion and piano chords replaced by a sped-up but half-time beat and pulsating synths, the song would have been unrecognizable as the original if Bayley hadn't told the crowd.

The only aspect of the performance with which I had any issue was the vocal harmonies, which at times sounded demonic and a little off-key. But if the goal of a concert is to move the listener into the performer's zone, Glass Animals succeeded beyond measure. It was easy to forget that the Cubs were playing in a do-or-die game and that the Blackhawks were raising their Stanley Cup banner. None of that matters in the jungle.

 
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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.

Read this feature »

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