Oxford, England quartet A Silent Film, on their second trip to Chicago, graduated from the intimate Schubas Tavern to the more spacious Lincoln Hall on the Friday following Valentine’s Day, and impressed the many stalwarts who stuck it out until their 11:45 p.m. start.
Led by the dynamic frontman Robert Stevenson and his earnest baritone, the foursome sashayed through highlights of their first two records with aplomb and impressive dynamic intensity. Although they clearly draw their inspirations from the anthemic “new wave” hits of the 1980s (and indeed seemed to be a reincarnation of Simple Minds as their set began), they still provided winning songs with memorable, piano and guitar-laden hooks.
After a bit of an orchestral (and strobe-heavy) intro, A Silent Film began their performance with “Reaching The Potential” from their latest release, 2012’s Sand & Snow, and indeed, aside from two numbers drawn from their 2010 debut and one cover, their set was entirely dictated by the songs on their sophomore release. “Potential” provided a solid jumping off point for their U2-like modern pop songs awash with earnestness, and fittingly, aptly demonstrated their potential.
Aside from their keyboard-and-guitar heavy modern rock sound, the songs of A Silent Film are distinguished by innovative word play, such as on the next song, “This Stage Is Your Life,” which rather than a meditation on life stages, takes metaphors from the world of theatre and applies them to life. On “Harbour Lights,” Stevenson sang (after some nice “oh whoa whoas), “you were my rock, never my stepping stone” in a nice Bilblical-meets-Monkees trope.
“Cuckoo Song and “Anastasia” found them at their most Coldplay-like, although the album track of the latter is more reminiscent of Passion Pit, possibly due to an element of studio trickery afoot. Drummer Spencer Walker provided fitting backing vocals to Stevenson off and on throughout, and when the lead singer moved from the keyboard to picking up an electric guitar, A Silent Film gained another, more sonically aggressive dimension.
Stevenson sang in a rich, broad, British baritone, and if at times he seemed too pleased with himself, it was largely forgivable as one could chalk it up to his voluble exuberance at the palpable reception from the crowd.
The band concluded their initial set with “Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well,” and returned with a Springsteen cover. While “The Streets of Philadelphia” might seem like an odd choice from The Boss’s canon, it suited A Silent Film perfectly. From their cinematic philosophy to the inspiration of their moniker, it provided a suitable climax. They finished the night with “Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat,” and although the crowd had thinned out a tad at that point, the stalwarts provided an enthusiastic ovation.
Australian quintet Gold Fields preceded the headliner, and at the beginning of their set seemed like they had listened to a lot of early Killing Joke and The Cure. The second song of their set was even more tribal-like (accentuated by having two drummers), but Depeche Mode-like on the choruses and reminiscent of Twitch-era Ministry on the verses. The stand-up percussionist switched to keyboards on a few numbers to nice affect, and with the group’s angular, slicing guitar parts, they provided a sound akin to The Fixx circa Reach The Beach.
Carousel, a duo from Brooklyn, took the stage earlier in the evening, leading the crowd through a set of electronic dance rock so ’80s inspired that a sighting of “Miami Vice’s” Crockett and Tubbs would have been unsurprising. The lead singer’s breathy tenor and occasional vocal harmonies from the guitarist graced the top of their Boom CHACKA boom programmed rhythms, and although the guitar part could have been higher in the mix, Carousel still inspired many on the floor of Lincoln Hall to dance and clap along. Highlights of their set included the aforementioned vocal harmonies and one song that featured a keyboard part that sounded like a hyena playing a kazoo.
A Silent Film at Lincoln Hall on February 15, 2013 setlist
- “Reaching the Potential”
- “This Stage is Your Life”
- “Driven by Their Beating Hearts”
- “Cuckoo Song”
- “Queen of a Sad Land”
- “You Will Leave a Mark”
- “Thousand Mile Race”
- “Love is a Wrecking Ball”
- “Harbour Lights”
- “Danny, Dakota & the Wishing Well”
- “Streets of Philadelphia” (Bruce Springsteen cover)
- “Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat”