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Review Sat Oct 31 2015

MisterWives Rocks The Vic, May Be The Best Live Band In America

MisterWives

An amazing concert weaves a narrative of emotional moments. It isn't just a repetition of studio recordings played live--as moving as the songs themselves might be, the live atmosphere requires a different, more emotive form of storytelling.

MisterWives, just three years into its career, has proven to be masters of this art. Tied together by overt messages of self-love and compassion, their show at The Vic Theatre was not only an astounding musical performance, but also an unmatched, unforgettable interactive experience for the audience. Excuse me, because this might sound like hyperbole, but I haven't seen a better show this year, or perhaps ever. It deserves a blow-by-blow recap.

The night surprisingly began with indignation as I arrived just before the stated show time of 7pm expecting to see the evening's first act, CRUISR, but instead walked in to the final notes of their last song. Openers are part of concert experiences and deserve to be a part of concert reviews. More importantly, though, the band's early start probably cost it a sizable portion of the crowd, and what opening bands need more than anything else is to make as many new fans as possible. I won't pretend to know why the early start happened, but if it was a conscious decision by The Vic, I'm disappointed in the venue on behalf of CRUISR.

[Update: I checked CRUISR's Twitter account and they knew they would be starting at 6:30. Why, I wonder, wasn't the show called for 6:30?]

So it fell to WATERS alone to set the tone for my experience of the evening, and the San Francisco-based quintet delivered--both figuratively and literally, as keyboardist/tambourine animal Sara DaMert tossed flowers out to the crowd upon taking the stage. The band reminded me of their California brethren The Mowgli's, what with their heavy usage of unison vocals polished wall of guitar-driven sound, but mixed in a tinge more melancholic introspection on songs like "Over It" and "Feel Everything." Frontman Van Pierszalowski directed the crowd like a camp counselor, his enthusiasm seeming a little deliberate at times but for the most part evoking genuine excitement. By the end of the set, his voice was ragged from the intensity of the quasi-screams that ripped through "Up Up Up" and "Mom and Dad." Meanwhile, DaMert commanded attention simply by whirling around the entire time, at home in the wild child role. The crowd seemed to dig WATERS' set, with maximum participation coming from the band's excellent, chunky cover of "Wrecking Ball."

MisterWives

The delay between sets seemed lengthier than usual, but that may have been a function of MisterWives' intricate set design, which featured a house backdrop lined by flowering trees. Success breeds more resources, and the band has grown to the point where it can now invite its guests into its home. With the themes of mutual respect and love stressed throughout the show by a preaching Mandy Lee, The Vic became a unified house of worship, its attendees exalting the charismatic goddess before them. And yes, Mandy Lee is a goddess of the stage, all the more sanctified for her accessibility. There may not be a better frontperson in today's music world when it comes to forging a connection with the audience: unlike Taylor Swift, Lee's #squad comprises every single person at the show.

Willy Wonka's "Pure Imagination" introduced the band to the stage and the raucous crowd, and almost immediately they launched into the jubilant, ska-laced "Best I Can Do." In typical MisterWives fashion, the outfits they wore reflected their ethos of pure fun; bassist Will Hehir sported a shiny Robin costume, drummer Etienne Bowler donned a pair of glowstick glasses, and keyboardist/trumpeter Jesse Blum rocked his usual bow tie. Lee belted out the lyrics like the higher-pitched, more foreign-sounding Aretha Franklin she is--fifty years ago, "Best I Can Do" would've been slowed down and given the Motown treatment by Berry Gordy's machine. And the crowd, without her bidding, was already swaying and waving its arms in sync with the beat.

Over the next few songs, MisterWives showcased their mastery of the energy dynamic on stage. Lee stepped back and let the crowd do her work on the bounding chorus of "No Need For Dreaming," merely acting as the focal point of their voices, but she reentered the sonic space to absolutely dominate the complex, soaring vocal runs on the otherwise chilled out, reggae influenced "Oceans." She, Hehir, and guitarist Mark Campbell led the crowd in a goofy snap-dance before launching into the zenith of both Lee's singing and the song's emotional intensity, and afterwards received an ovation that lasted almost a minute. After the third song, the crowd was already cheering on MisterWives with no end in sight.

Lee used breaks between many of the songs in the middle of the set to explain the band's philosophy and try to bring the audience on board. "This song is for everyone who does not give a flying fuck what people say about them," she announced as Bowler launched into the beat for "Hurricane" and Hehir flounced, then cartwheeled, across the stage to prove her point. With an uplifting Campbell solo bringing that song to an end and the crowd in an excitable, talkative mood, MisterWives instantly adapted to the lull with a stripped-down version of "Coffins" that featured Bowler on a cajon and Lee sitting on the edge of the stage, creating a personal moment for the lucky folks in the front row. But Lee's magic is such that every attendee felt like the lucky folks in the front row.

Then "Vagabonds" began with a sing-along that reengaged the crowd--a crucial move to combat the typical mid-set lull--and after that Lee launched into her signature pre-"Not Your Way" routine, which proceeds as such: "Did you ever feel" (pushup) "that society's standards" (pushup) "for women" (pushup) "and for men" (pushup) "are complete" (pushup) "and utter" (pushup) "BULLSHIT!" The song itself was one of the musical highlights of the show, a cheery yet defiant No Doubt-influenced throwback with some playful interaction between Hehir and Campbell. Even better, though, were the artfully placed pause after the bridge, the brief chorus line kicks that followed, and the blastoff back into the song's rollicking pace.

MisterWives

"Queens" came next, with a monologue about homesickness beforehand by Lee and the second extended ovation of the night afterward. The band had a hug-it-out session--the effect on a crowd is amazing when the drummer leaves his post to go embrace his bandmates, it's as if the band has become unmoored from the stage and needs even louder cheers to be held fast --and Lee shed some very real tears as she beamed out at the most deafening applause I've heard all year at a Chicago show. It was the ultimate realization that the relationship between artist and listener goes both ways, an affirmation of fandom's power to affect the art it supports, and it made Mandy Lee vulnerable and therefore all the more relatable.

The band did cover two songs: a medley of The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face" and Michael Jackson's "Pretty Young Thing" after they recovered from "Queens," and Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" at the beginning of the encore. Both put a fun and unique twist on the originals, particularly with the accents of Blum and saxophonist Mike Murphy, and the covers allowed even the people who weren't MisterWives fans to begin the night to get in on the singing.

After the band played its hit single "Reflections" and simply let the audience's energy carry the day, it was time for the set's climax: "Our Own House," the title track of their debut album. Last time I saw MisterWives, in July at Park West, the song opened the show, but using it as the closer allowed it to expand into a nearly ten-minute epic. Lee invited the crowd to sing the bridge's "take it all, take it away" over and over as the music behind her swelled to a fever pitch, then, with the room in an ecstatic frenzy, she and all her bandmates pulled out drumsticks and morphed into a percussive tribe. When the song ended, The Vic shook with screams for more. And the band, of course, obliged, pumping out the Whitney cover and then moving seamlessly into "Imagination Infatuation," which featured a Blum and Murphy horn party, some of Lee's highest notes of the evening, and few members of the audience being invited to dance onstage as representatives of the people. The house went bonkers for them.

Usually when I see people leave a show, there's an urgency to their step, a hurry to get themselves away from the throng that was welcome during the concert but now becomes an annoyance. This was not the case at the end of MisterWives' performance, as their radiant positivity had filled the soul of everyone at The Vic. They clearly had the time of their lives on stage, but that wouldn't have mattered if they hadn't brought the audience along and created a band of over a thousand members.

 
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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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