After selling out Schubas Tavern in an unprecedented short amount of time, alt-pop super group Divine Fits returned to Chicago in a befuddling venue choice—Logan Square Auditorium. Formed in 2012 by Britt Daniel (Spoon) and Dan Boeckner (Wolf Parade), the two cheery post-punk revivalists combated sound difficulties, an ambivalent audience, and torrential downpours to unearth the dark comedy of their shadowy synth pop.
High-tech punks Cold Cave seized a generous time slot to welcome the Fits to the stage. Their opening riff triumphantly burst through the speakers and immediately grabbed the audience’s attention by the quivering throat. These Philly rockers were waging sonic warfare, and the crowd was right in the midst of the battlefield. Frontman Wesley Eisold’s gloomy voice resembled The National’s Matt Berninger, forgoing Berninger’s steady diet of romantic calamity and merlot in favor of New Order records and absinthe.
The metallic darkwave beats of “Pacing Around The Church” engulfed the cramped hall. Ramones-esque vocals cloaked with emotional dynamism writhed from Eisold’s silver-clad throat in “Underworld USA.” The band showed no toleration for dead air, as they packed song after song without sparing the audience a single breath, making the high-power set all that more impressive. Eisold and his adept backing band captured the industrial punch of Nine Inch Nails with a synthy silver lining, especially evident in “Villains of the Moon” tapping into a pulsing raw nerve coupled with new wave sentiments.
If Cold Cave bared the unspoken dark side of the ’80s, Divine Fits showed the synth-soaked light at the end of the tunnel. Stalking onto a stage in a venue that resembled the ill-fated movie house in Inglorious Basterds more than a concert venue, Daniel stumbled though a clunky bass line and delivered muffled, flat vocals in the opening song, “Neopolitans.”
The strong staccato lead-in of “Baby Get Worse” maintained the crowd’s anxious intensity as the quartet wriggled out of equipment mishaps and visible discomfort. Boeckner’s vocals became clearer as he and Daniel initiated a call-and-response and the two settled into their comfortably pop-wrought mold.
The band quickly cycled through their acclaimed debut album, forgoing some of the squeaky-clean studio gleam and incorporating satisfying grit into the performance.
“What Gets You Alone” assumed a discreet musical identity, but Boeckner’s loud wails amped up the intensity of the otherwise downplayed number. The Fits maintained a restrained approach with tender harmonies on “Civilian Stripes,” a modestly distraught tale of what-could-have been and what-should-be love.
Not allowing their lack of original material to hinder the length of their set, the band cranked out a rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Lost,” bursting with twists and turns. Orange backlights charmingly nudged the audiences with a reference to Ocean’s acclaimed album Channel Orange. The set was also peppered with covers of Tom Petty and the Stones, emphasizing the group’s charming experimental attitude.
Boeckner’s punk-rooted mania complemented Daniel’s sunny-side-up pop inclinations, especially on the synthy single “My Love Is Real.” As he nodded out the electronica-leaning intro, Boeckner maintained a relentless, frantic stage presence as he scaled the small stage 8 Mile-style. Daniel flanked his hard-hitting band mate, but was forced to bow out to combat guitar issues. An irresistibly slinky bass line gave “Would That Not Be Nice” a new pair of seductively funky legs, but the magic was lost when Daniel’s guitar shorted out.
After a painfully visible emotional tug-of-war, the Fits took the stage for an encore, determined to fight through sound difficulties and the resulting disconnect from their audience. Boeckner graciously thanked the audience “for being so fucking nice to us,” a small consolation for the past sonic drudgery. The band breezed through two songs and promptly fled the stage, with fans conflicted whether to feel disappointment or sympathy for the hapless quartet. But Divine Fits seem to always strand fans in some kind of limbo, whether it’s somewhere in the aural purgatory of darkwave punk and guiltless indie pop, or the grey area lingering between dissatisfaction and hopefulness. Regardless, we all seem to want to hear more.
See exclusive photos of Divine Fits at Logan Square Auditorium here.