While Chicago is a fabulous city for summer music, I realized early on that this summer’s concert lineup at festivals like Lollapalooza and Pitchfork didn’t impress me enough to warrant shelling out my precious finances. Instead, I chose to take advantage of the many free concerts the Windy City had to offer. Here’s what I saw:
The Head and the Heart/Iron and Wine at Millennium Park
I was so excited about this one that I didn’t even bother unpacking the day after moving back home so I could show up early. Unfortunately, even that wasn’t early enough. I had to crawl through the bushes to reach my friend, who had just barely gotten a seat on the sidewalk just inside the gates. We weren’t supposed to sit there, but the area was just as packed as the grass, so finally the cops on Segways gave up trying to make us leave.
It was virtually impossible to hear the music due to the crowds. Every so often during The Head and the Heart’s set I’d hear a bit of a song I recognized, but it wasn’t worth it to try and listen. Sam Beam of Iron and Wine mainly played songs from his new album, none of which I recognized. I couldn’t even tell if he had a band with him or if he was just doing a solo set. At one point I could just make out the guitar part of “Boy with a Coin.” But Beam’s characteristically soft voice? Nothing.
Low/Glen Hansard at Millennium Park
Oh, right, I didn’t get to go to that one. All the weather channels predicted huge storms, which kept me away. The storms never came. Le sigh. At least I got to see The Swell Season at Ravinia last summer.
Grant Park Chorus at Harris Theater for Music and Dance
This concert was indoors and ticketed, though it was free. It was, by far, the most successful of the free concerts I attended this summer. The concert, which consisted entirely of a cappella choral music, featured music by composers Abbie Betinis, Lee Kesselman, Ned Rorem and Eric Whitacre, among others. Though it was a bit overwhelming sitting between a pair of Lawrence voice majors who became prematurely excited about each piece, the chorus was spot-on and provided quality entertainment. I was able to geek out over Stacy Garrop’s “Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy,” which set to music poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, including one of my favorites, “I shall forget you pleasantly, my dear.” Another highlight was “Five Romantic Miniatures from The Simpsons” by Paul Crabtree, which featured short pieces based on lines from the TV show. The crowd favorite was the third, a musical take on the line, “Marge, you make the best pork chops. Mmmmmm, pork chops.”
Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus at Millennium Park
I expected this show, Broadway Rocks!, to be exactly what I’m looking for in a summer concert. It was free and it was outside, so I could get up and walk around if the Andrew Lloyd Weber was too much to handle; I could be silly and dance around; and I didn’t have to feel guilty about spending money on it. Unfortunately, except for the free part, these things ended up not being true.
The entrance to the park was swarming with the most unpleasant crowd I’d ever experienced. I wouldn’t have even stayed, except that they wouldn’t let anyone out, either, and my group was already inside. I ended up having to be “claimed” by a friend at the gate, who literally had to pull me through the fight between a screaming woman and the security guard.
Once we all got in and found a tiny patch of grass to sit on, the concert was fun, as much as a campy Broadway revue can really be called fun. I don’t know if there was dancing because I couldn’t see to the stage. I got to hear highlights from Hairspray, Phantom of the Opera and a bunch of other shows I couldn’t name. If it had been less crowded, I would have enjoyed the concert, but ultimately the free music wasn’t really worth the stress of getting in.
The Weepies at Park West
Okay, so this one wasn’t free. But sometimes it ends up being true that you get what you pay for. This was my first opportunities to see The Weepies live, and it couldn’t have been a more rewarding concert. My mom jokingly sent me a text prior to the concert saying, “Have fun and don’t weepy.” It would have been funny, except that I was a bit weepy by the end of the night.
While Deb Talan and Steve Tannen’s co-written music is often criticized for being sickeningly sweet, it’s amazing to see the dynamic between the two in person, especially as it was underscored in the low-key atmosphere of the acoustic show. They really are the happiest people I’ve ever seen. They are naturally quiet people, and many of the transitions between songs were marked by nothing but a brief pause and a look exchanged between the two.
My first introduction to the band was through some of the solo music by Talan, which got me through some particularly angsty teenage moments, so I was pleased to see both Talan and Tannen play some of their early music. Talan’s music can be heartbreaking — “Faded with uncertainty, no longer young and not that pretty how will he ever find me?” — until you see her in the present coupled with Tannen. He accompanied his early songs with stories of the girls who broke his heart and influenced his music before he finally met Talan and they wrote their first song together (“Rocks and Water”).
As evidenced by the variety of songs played throughout the night, the musical styles of the two combine to form the characteristic sound of The Weepies. While the set primarily included music from their most recent album, “Be My Thrill,” they didn’t leave out any crowd favorites, playing an hour and forty-five minute set that started with “Nobody Knows Me at All” and ending with, as Talan called it, “yet another love song” — the hauntingly beautiful “Somebody Loved.”
Talan and Tannen state that the name of their group came from their mission to evoke a number of different emotions in their listeners. While they acknowledge sadness as an inevitable part of life, even their most depressing songs tend to have an optimistic edge to them. I got up close to the stage for the last half hour or so and seeing the two so close up was magical; I found myself t
earing up and smiling at the same time. One would sneak a covert glance at the other in the middle of a song, and you could hear their smiles come out in their voices.
The Weepies are a band worth seeing live. The connection between Talan and Tannen is intensely beautiful and only fully experienced when the two share a stage in front of you. When Talan sings, “You turn me into somebody loved,” you know she’s not lying, and that’s enough to make any person with half a heart — well — weepy.