It was a hell of a week for heavy music fans in Chicago. Two of the heaviest hitters in any heavy genre rolled through, and I was heavy…er, lucky enough to catch both shows:
1. Baroness–Durty Nellies, Palatine, Illinois, July 23, 2019
This was my first time at Durty Nellies, a venue name that pops up a lot for Chicago-adjacent shows, similar to The Forge in Joliet. Unlike Joliet, though, this is easily accessible by Metra, so I hopped on them shits around 7 and got there as the opener was ending. I can’t remember as I type who it was, which is not a great sign (it was Torche).
The venue is directly off of the train, which is good. The viewing area was also completely inaccessible due to an immediate crush of people at the only entrance, which was not so good. Once the opener ended, I made an immediate push to the opposite end of the room. And of course, the opposite end is nice and open and comfortable. People are dumb.
The venue had good sightlines from the floor and was nice and wide, but was probably just a little too small for the band. Bottom Lounge-ish. Good beer list though, and a good mix of people. Not just jaded city jerkoffs like myself who are over being at the show–much of the audience was fuckin psyched to be out, even if it was Tuesday night, and that energy did the show well.
I missed Baroness the last few times around, so this was my first look at the new line-up. They haven’t missed a beat. New guitar player Gina Gleason brought a palpable energy. She may not be quite the virtuoso that Peter Adams was (though no slouch for sure), but the joy to be where she was more than made up for it. She apparently also brings a lot to the songwriting table, so it seems like an excellent addition.
The set was a little heavy on Gold and Grey, and the crowd lagged some because of it. The material was strong enough to sustain the positive energy, though a greater nod to Red and Blue would have been appreciated. Thankfully, some great inclusions at the start and finish propped the set up. Everything is primacy and recency, and here the band nailed it. March to the Sea up top, Take My Bones Away and Isak at the back.
It is hard not to evaluate Baroness through the prism of coming back from the bus crash. The sheer appreciation for the ability to still put on shows like this radiated from John Baizley. His role as a frontman has been there from jump, but now he is willing and able to play it. A story about how Durty Nellie’s was one of their first ever shows as a band contributed to the full circle feeling of the evening. This was not the best I’ve seen Baroness or the best show I’ve seen this year, but it was downright inspirational in vibe. Positivity in life and excitement for music on a goddamn Tuesday night. Fuckin a.
2. Khemmis–Reggies, Chicago, July 26, 2019
Friday night brought another show. Fucking Chicago won’t let you catch your breath, but that’s the point. Reggies seems to be Khemmis’ Chicago home. This was the third straight headlining gig Khemmis has played at the venue. Having seen them all, I can confidently say they have improved each time. Stage presence is the big factor here. For some reason, many in the crowd seemed to have no idea who Khemmis was (local openers bringing a loyal crowd?). In past instances, the band would have struggled to uncross the arms of these fuckers, but not tonight.
They have grown into the live headliner role that the quality of their records suggests–better set pacing, better dynamic presence, better crowd involvement, and of course better material. Though the highs weren’t quite as high on Desolation as on Hunted (and I remain baffled by the first song; it is legit like I can’t hear it, Westworld-that-looks-like-nothing-to-me style), Isolation and Flesh to Nothing bring that goddamn ROCK that the best doom always has. The show is better for it.
And they remembered to keep the Hunted title track in the set, which is where it needs to be permanently. That is your Hallowed be thy Name boys, don’t forget it.