Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, February 5

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Kendrick Lamar and the Company He Keeps Shakey Graves, the Consummate Austin Entertainer, Enthralls Thalia Hall »

Review Fri Nov 06 2015

The Features Earn Their Name At Subterranean


The Features knew why the crowd at Subterranean last night was there, and it wasn't to hear them talk. Some bands add substantially to their live performance with quirky asides or preachy messages between songs, but those moments need to be perfect to justify their existence. Maybe The Features don't think they could say anything interesting enough to justify breaking up the flow of their set. So aside from the occasional "thank you," they spent their hour-plus blazing through almost twenty fun songs, letting the crowd's energy provide all the auxiliary aspects of the show--and the crowd was bursting with energy.

The first opener to set the stage for the headliners was local outfit Low Swans, who packed a dense sonic wallop but were somewhat neutered by the inconsistent vocals of Jon Scarpelli. At his best moments, he sounded like a good Thom Yorke impersonator; at worst, he howled like a pained dog and often struggled to hold his pitch. Such inconsistencies aren't so surprising when one considers that Low Swans record as an electronic duo and Scarpelli has the benefit of studio production. Discounting the vocals, though, Low Swans presented an interesting sound centered on synthesized beats, electro-violin leads and, most significantly, Scott Simon's outstanding vibraphone work. It's fairly unusual to see a vibraphone used outside of a jazz/classical context, but the instrument added a subtle pearly sheen to Low Swans' music. The violin melodies, though, would have been more effective on an acoustic violin--the cold tones Peter Graef coaxed from his bow clashed with the warmth of the vibraphone. That said, when Graef hopped on the electro-Theremin for the band's finale, he created a warbling intensity that pulled his bandmates up a level and drew significant (and well-earned) cheers.


I was rather surprised to see The Evening Attraction's Miles Mailn descend Subterranean's spiral staircase alone with an acoustic guitar--"acoustic set" is probably the last idea that comes to mind when I think of Subterranean--but he told the sympathetic crowd that his bandmates had been unable to show up and he would be playing the songs "as he wrote them." Dressed in a wide-brimmed hat and denim jacket, Mailn looked the part of lonesome folk singer and sang it even better. His voice, plaintive and earnest and slightly jazzy over the course of his mostly doleful set, had an incredible combination of power and clarity in the higher registers. Some of that was showcased in the attention-grabbing scatting breaks that may have been replacements for guitar leads in the The Evening Attraction's recorded material. Though the audience was understandably chattier given Subterranean's utter lack of being a coffeehouse, Mailn definitely turned a few heads when he strapped on his harmonica for "The Kids Don't Care," and the desperation of songs like "Making Me Ill" and "Lost Inside My Head" held the front of the room in a trance.


Finally, The Features set up their equipment--no roadies for these veterans--and began playing without much warning; the crowd quickly realized what was happening and screamed accordingly. The first thing I noticed about the band was its fascinating live dynamic. Keyboardist and texture master Mark Bond remained seated and nearly emotionless the entire time, his focus completely on filling out The Features' sound. Even when he provided background vocals, he merely leaned into his microphone, opened his placid mouth for a second or two, then returned to his station. Meanwhile, drummer Rollum Haas provided steadiness without too much embellishment, as the songs themselves incorporated enough stylistic diversity to keep him plenty busy. Of particular note were his rim-shot-filled performances on "Big Mama Gonna Whip Us Good," which featured an awesome swing-time breakdown, and his shuffling boogie rhythm on "Don't Take After Me." It was left to guitarist and frontman Matt Pelham, who vaguely resembles a bearded Christopher Walken and sports a Caleb Followill-type voice, and bassist Roger Dabbs to bring the energy--and they did so, for the most part, without addressing the crowd.

For the most part, they didn't need to. This was an extremely friendly audience, comprised mostly of fans who knew every word and were not bashful about singing along. To be fair, the catchy wordless melodies that populate songs like the new wave-inspired dance anthem "This Disorder" and "Lions" were certainly composed to be sing-alongs. But even the less club-ready tracks elicited a strong response. The dark, neo-tango "Whatever Gets You By" got everyone clapping along, and the hard-rocking surf tune "Leave Me Alone Tonight" had them headbanging like punks. The most impressive aspect of The Features' set was their ability to guide the audience through multiple style shifts and dynamic changes and keep them fully engaged throughout--even when only one song, "The Message," was introduced by name. My one complaint about the performance is that occasional pauses permeated the room as the band huddled around the single setlist on Bond's keyboard to coordinate what was coming up next, but even that aspect lent itself to a refreshing naturalism that everyone in the room favored.

The Features earn their keep by featuring their music above all. In an age when many artists feel like they need to make the stage a soapbox, it was nice to see the idea of rock band returned to its roots.

GB store
GB store

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 »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
Live Music Blog
Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
Pop Matters
Resident Advisor
Sound Opinions
Sun-Times Music Blog
Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


Abbey Pub
Andy's Jazz Club
Aragon Ballroom
Auditorium Theatre
Beat Kitchen
Bottom Lounge
Buddy Guy's Legends
The Burlington
California Clipper
Concord Music Hall
Congress Theater
Cubby Bear
Double Door
Elbo Room
Empty Bottle
Green Mill
The Hideout
Honky Tonk BBQ
House of Blues
Kingston Mines
Lincoln Hall
Logan Square Auditorium
Mayne Stage
The Mutiny
Old Town School of Folk Music
Park West
The Promontory
Red Line Tap
Reggie's Rock Club & Music Joint
The Riviera
Thalia Hall
The Shrine
Symphony Center
Tonic Room
Uncommon Ground
The Vic
The Whistler

  Labels, Promoters
  & Shops:

Alligator Records
Beverly Records
Bloodshot Records
Dave's Records
Delmark Records
Drag City
Dusty Groove
Flameshovel Records
Groove Distribution
He Who Corrupts
Jam Productions
Jazz Record Mart
Kranky Records
Laurie's Planet of Sound
Minty Fresh
Numero Group
mP Shows
Permanent Records
Reckless Records
Smog Veil Records
Southport & Northport Records
Thick Records
Thrill Jockey Records Touch & Go/Quarterstick Records
Victory Records

GB store


Featured Series


Transmission on Flickr

Join the Transmission Flickr Pool.

About Transmission

Transmission is the music section of Gapers Block. It aims to highlight Chicago music in its many varied forms, as well as cover touring acts performing in the city. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Sarah Brooks,
Transmission staff inbox:



Transmission Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15