It’s been hot in Chicago lately. The kind of heat that keeps babies and bald guys indoors, makes people sweat through their clothes, and slowly cooks their skin. It could be worse though. The temperature in Austin is unrelenting (at 99 degrees even when it’s raining), which is a lot like the bands the city breeds. Last night’s show featured two Austin bands with absolutely unrelenting sets. …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and Ume came to Double Door in Chicago’s Wicker Park, bringing the heat with them.
“Hey, We’re Ume” cooed Lauren Larson, the band’s singer-guitarist and rock ‘n’ roll powerhouse. This modest introduction did nothing to prepare the unknowing audience for what was about to hit. While she looked as though she should be fronting a tinkering indie-band with sing-song melodies, her playing destroyed every pre-conceived notion fools have about what rock music looks like. A second after speaking, she whipped her long light hair forward and tore into the first of many crushing riffs that would dominate Ume’s set. Distorted guitar and scratchy vocals created the mix for the first songs of the set, and Larson’s stage presence was another level from her band mates. It was next to impossible to not to stare at her.
In a world where actresses want to be called actors, Larson makes no mistake that she wants you to call her a front-woman. She wants to be, and very much is, a rock star. She thrashes about the stage, unless she’s strutting back and forth to the mic, batting her eyelashes and cooing. Larson embraces her persona, and she uses it like a weapon to turn every head in the room. Once she has the audience though, they stay for Ume.
The crowd was interested from the start, though it took a few songs to win them over. For a while, Larson was the only head banger in the room. The first three songs moved forward with the same intensity, as the audience just observed with their mouths open. The fourth song of Ume’s set grinded to a slow, dirty and distorted riff, which got the heads moving. Larson’s voice is sweet and sultry when she wants it to be, which is barely ever. The audience never got more than a taste of it, as she pushed her voice into a screechy wail for more intense moments.
It’s not easy to pick a genre in the rock spectrum in which Ume won’t be setting the bar higher. While that may not seem like a lot to the casual Pitchfork goer waiting to see Conor Oberst do whatever he does, Lauren Larson and her band will be moving up the ranks among metal bands, blues rock bands, alternative rock bands, post-punk bands and more. If one had to pigeon-hole the band, Ume is an unrelenting attack of alt-post-heavy-metal-punk-rock.
Fans had time to cool off from Ume’s set. While the band before was a pleasant surprise, it was clear the majority of the audience was there for the headliner, and they knew what they were in for. Walking out to a pre-recorded apocalyptic march, Trail of Dead was met with a reaction nearly as intense as the band would produce.
Known for their insane live shows, Trail of Dead did not disappoint. Opening with “It Was There That I Saw You,” the band’s singer-guitarist Conrad Keely, screamed the lines “What became of you” until his voice went hoarse and his neck veins popped. This was a perfect indicator of the show to come. After “How Near, How Far” off of 2002’s Source Tags & Codes, Keely introduced a block of new songs off of an upcoming studio release, the band’s 9th studio album. “We just finished making this record in Hannover, Germany. It’s a nice little town,” Keely said. At this time, drummer Jason Reece became guitarist and vocalist Jason Reece. Guitarist Jaime Miller became drummer Jaime Miller. Throughout the show, these two would switch, with only Keely consistent on guitar and Autry Fulbright II on bass.
The new songs debuted had less dynamics of loud-quiet-loud-louder than the band’s back catalog. Instead Trail of Dead opted for “loudest.” From the third song on, the band was warmed up and Trail of the Dead did in fact become unrelenting, though a better word might be unhinged. I would know this show by a trail of the bruised, given the tight group slamming into each other at the foot of the stage. The burly built Reece, now on guitar, didn’t think it was enough, and jumped into the crowd to rile them up more, giving Keely and Fulbright the run of the stage.
Trail of Dead was at its most ferocious with Reece on Guitar and Miller on drums. Miller is so precise and powerful that it breathed a metal spirit into the songs. The full force of his body went behind every cymbal crash, a complement to the effort Keely displayed vocally. Keely’s singing sounded painful on higher notes, though it didn’t stop him. In fact it added extra breathiness to quieter verses, like when the vocals come into “Will You Smile Again For Me,” the most anticipated and popular song of the night. When the first of notes of the song were played, the crowd went crazy, bringing the heat inside Double Door to new levels. But again, this is a band from Texas, and it only fueled the fire.