101WKQX: The Nights We Stole Christmas
Aragon Ballroom // Chicago, IL // November 29-December 9, 2018
Five nights of amazing rock, topped off with one of the biggest bands in the world!
Every year, Chicago’s alternative radio station 101WKQX gives us a few nights of killer music to help us ease into the bitter cold of a Midwestern winter. For 2018, we were blessed with FIVE nights of tunes, and each night had a completely different vibe. To start things off, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats headlined the penultimate night of November with Alice Merton and Houndmouth. Merton played her big hit “No Roots” and kept things chill and upbeat. She told the audience she was battling a cold as she stuffed her pockets with tissues, but her voice didn’t show any signs of it. Houdmouth have a sound that feels like a mix between Vampire Weekend and Umphree’s McGee. They’re a bit of a bluesy jam band, but their catchy indie rock riffs keep them from entering hippie territory. They were a great opener for Nathaniel Rateliff, who was mostly responsible for the first night selling out so quickly. Rateliff has been at the forefront of Americana music for over 15 years, but with the formation of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats in 2013, his star power has skyrocketed. His performance at the Aragon was soulful, heartening, and emotional.
Night 2 was a grab bag. Albert Hammond Jr. kicked things off and put on a hell of a show, but most of the crowd wasn’t there for him. They were there, of course, for the hometown heroes, Smashing Pumpkins. The crowd was mostly over 35 and predominantly men, and the vibe of the night was one of impatience and anticipation. It’s a shame, because Hammond Jr. is an incredible artist and did not get the attention he deserved. The second act, Grandson was just confusing. The politically-fueled young musician was not a good fit for this crowd, and he certainly shouldn’t have come on after Hammond Jr. I’ve shot over 300 shows, but this was one of the few times I can remember the audience booing an artist. Luckily, Billy Corgan and company came to the rescue to put on an incredible (and incredibly long) set for their city.
The third and fourth nights were loaded with great music from two of the biggest bands in pop rock. Walk The Moon headlined Night 3 and played their huge radio hits like “Shut up and Dance” while catering to their die-hard fans with modest, less well-known tracks. The band always put on an amazing show, but they were really on top of their game on Saturday night. On Sunday night, indie rock veterans Death Cab For Cutie played to thousands of fans, yet their performance felt incredibly intimate. The band has played with their sound for years, shifting from indie rock to emo and back again, all while keeping their old fan base and gaining new fans along the way. One of the highlights of their set was their 2005 hit “Crooked Teeth”, an upbeat song that you can still hear on the radio to this day.
The following Sunday, after a week of rest, I got all my gear back out and excitedly went to the Aragon for what I knew would be the best night yet. UK supergroup Muse were headlining an insanely small venue for their level star power, and they were one of the few bands I’d never photographed but so desperately wanted to. Speaking with fans in the front row, some people had been waiting for over ten hours in line to be just a few feet away from Matt Bellamy, Dominic Howard, and Chris Wolstenholme. With an incredible discography and a reputation for putting on one of the best live shows in rock, it’s no wonder people were willing to wait so long.
The band started off the night with “Algorithm”, a track from their new album, Simulation Theory. The album is an ambitious electronic rock tale of modern slavery and dystopian fear that clearly reflects the band’s feelings on the world today. “Burn like a slave / Churn like a cog / We are caged in simulations / Algorithms evolve”. Later on, Bellamy shouted “you can’t come to Chicago and not play a Chicago song!” as they played Smashing Pumpkins’ “Cherub Rock” before segueing into “The Dark Side”. Muse didn’t let up once, and their 90-minute set was the perfect closer to five nights of music. I can’t wait to see who graces 101WKQX’s lineup next year.