Night two of the Chicago International Movies & Music Festival (CIMMfest) featured roughly fifteen shows/musical performances, but deciding which to check out should have been a little easier since MWA ran this show preview a week earlier (you can still check it out- it’s packed with streaming music and videos!). I did get wrong thing wrong though: MC/DJ/producer Fess Grandiose was there in DJ capacity, providing the sounds between the sounds, rather than a live set on-Double Door’s stage. A little bit of a bummer, but the man did an excellent job with the duties facing him, and all’s well that ends well.
Psychedelic rock band Smoker got the live portion of the night kicked off, warming the crowd up with some spacey, (London) Suede-esque ballads. The group played selections from Manchu, a project that will see them release one digital single (with b side) each month for twelve months. The soaring, dreamy “O.S.I.S.” was mesmerizing live, but Smoker saved their best for last. From the November installment of Manchu, the group conjured up the pounding, desert-acid trip that is “I’m Not The One.” Evan DePue stretched a gurgling bass line over a steady beat, while the guitar players dropped a fuzzed out reggae hook. Stephen Paul Smoker’s stood at the center of the jam with the vibe of a sharply-dressed shaman, letting his body fall marionette to the music as he delivered a perfectly mystical vocal performance.
Second up were Detroit trap-pop outfit Jamaican Queens, who came armed with new tunes and a fourth dude. They opened with their brand new one, the glistening, sweetly dark “Love Is Impossible.” Like much of the band’s catalog, the song juxtaposed ear-worm melodies and body-moving beats with rather cynical, occasionally depressing subject matter. That aesthetic is especially interesting in light of what’s happening in Detroit culturally and politically, or maybe this is just a really creative outlet for a bad break-up and I’m reading into things too much. What I do know is that the melodies are bright, the songs catchy and free and psychedelic (and almost hopeful), and it makes them an effective vehicle for the vulnerable or bleak words slipping through. Jamaican Queens’ new material, the aforementioned plus “Bored + Lazy” and “Joe,” sounded just as great live as their Wormfood material usually does. Their next record, Downers, comes out June 2nd.
Chicago electro-rockers My Gold Mask have an incredible Depeche Mode-meets-Castlevania sound that’s all-consuming coming out of headphones and totally energizing in person. Singer Greta Rochelle has the perfect voice for the band, at times deep and haunting and at times damn near cheery. She makes full use of that range across the waves of lush synths, pounding, club-friendly beats and spiraling melodies provided by James Andrew and Jack Armondo respectively. My Gold Mask shifted seamlessly between towering, throbbing ballads with and fist-pumping pop jams throughout the evening, including a couple of awesome new tracks.
Hip-hop infused jazz/soul group Sidewalk Chalk lived up to the lofty expectations set by their recent album Shoulder Season, which is full of excellent live cuts from a number of performances. The horn players were perfectly smooth and boisterous, while vocalists Rico Sisney and Maggie Vagle swapped vocal duties from track to track. With so many musicians (8?) you’d think it’d be hard to stand out, and yet it seemed that by set’s end each player had had a moment to shine. Sometimes the beat drove the song, or a melody or tap-danced percussion piece stood out. Sisney certainly snagged some spotlight with his flair for performance and magnetic flow.
Closing out Shotwell Booking’s CIMMfest showcase was Windy City rock trio Bailiff, who bring a variety of world influences to their bluesy, grungy style. One of a few standouts was the band’s performance of “Helicopter,” a twirling, guitar-driven jam from their 2014 release Remise. The song sounded absolutely mountainous, and was successful in showing off Bailiff’s ability as both songwriters and live performers. “Love Like Mine,” also from the same album, was even more rich live than on record, with Josh Siegel’s warm, earnest delivery appealing to the audience in a way that felt electric.