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Nelarusky 2012

written by: on August 2, 2012

Nelarusky is an annual live concert meant to raise both awareness and funds for the Special Olympics. This year’s edition took place at Chicago’s legendary Club Metro on August 1, 2012, featuring an all-star line-up of bands from LA to Sweden and a couple of locations in between.

Organizer Lauren McClusky started the event five years ago when she was only 16 years old, and has continued the concert every year. Nelarusky alumni include Cold War Kids, The Constellations,  Gold Motel, and Flosstradamus, plus a range of up-and-coming local acts. Each year the show attracts bigger acts, bigger crowds, and raises more money for Special Olympics.

The 2012 edition featured headlining act Alabama Shakes from Athens, Alabama; as well as supporting acts First Aid Kit from Enskede, Sweden; Dry The River from Stratford, England; and Filligar from Los Angeles, California.


There was a modest crowd at the start of the set for LA based band, Filligar. Pair this with the band’s limited mobility (The men performed in front of three bands worth of gear) and one might expect issues. To the band’s credit, it didn’t phase the musicians a bit. As the crowd grew throughout the 30 minute set, the band’s energetic singer-guitarist, Johnny Mathias, increased his energy and the band followed with standard blue riffs peppered with hard rock accents.

Song to song, the guitar parts sounded very similar, with few tempo changes or unique sounds setting them apart. The hooks in Filligar songs came from memorable lyrics like “There’s a little bit of truth in every false alarm,” delivered with sincere intensity. Mathias’ voice was strong and fit the sound well, with an appropriate amount of hoarse gristle for good measure. Most, if not all, of Filligar’s songs had supporting harmonies to fill in the sound.

By the end of the ban’s set, Filligar was playing to a sizeable crowd, who responded well to its energetic efforts. In one of the last songs, Mathias encouraged the audience to go wild and enjoy the rest of the great Nelarusky line-up by screaming the lyric “Knock Yourself Out.” While the knock-out didn’t take the stage until the end of the night, the music ahead packed a punch.

Dry The River

After releasing the debut album Shallow Bed at the beginning of 2012, Dry The River is touring the world relentlessly in support of it, with the world supporting the band right back.

photo courtesy of Samer Almadani

Of all of the bands to utilize harmonies throughout the night, no group did it better than Dry The River. At the start of the song “Weights & Measures” lead singer Peter Liddle, bassist Scott Miller and guitarist Matt Taylor relied only on their voices, not adding instruments until the start of the first chorus. It was one of the few quiet moments that night that the particularly chatty crowd paid attention to.

While the beautiful voice of Liddle is capable of silencing and hooking a crowd, it’s the full band’s dynamic swells, builds and crashes that win over an audience once and for all.

This characteristic was best exemplified at the end of songs like “Demons” or “Lion’s Den.” “Demons” seems to be the turning point of every live set for this band, as the band finally loosens up and gets loud, allowing the crowd to acknowledge Dry The River’s capabilities.

“Lion’s Den” is the constant show closer, starting as quiet as possible with Liddle cooing over slight guitar melodies. The song reaches a crescendo as Liddle switches from melodic singing to screeching, belting the words “You took me to the lion’s den and waited for the beast to begin.”

First Aid Kit

First Aid Kit’s melody maker and younger sister Klara Soderberg didn’t take to the crowd noise quite as well as the band before them. The Swedish duo had few (if any) moments in the set where their volume beat out the audience’s white noise. Keys player and harmonizer Johanna Soderberg had a vacant expression as the crowd, clearly in attendance for Alabama Shakes, refused to pay attention.


photo courtesy of Samer Almadani

Klara was visibly and audibly more upset than her older sister. “This last song goes out to all of the people who actually listened,” she said before the band played its last song, adding, “We’re back at Metro on September 24, I hope the ones who actually listened come out to that show.” If only the audience were paying attention, they’d have caught the sniping dig.

Despite the band’s apparent frustrations, the songs did not suffer. Metro attendees, unfortunately, never knew what they were missing.

The Soderberg sisters are superb singers. The two harmonize on nearly every note, floating and falling effortlessly between breathy head voices and their full voices. Dressed in dazzling matching dresses, First Aid Kit, assisted by a drummer and fellow Swede, played a flawless set of almost all original songs from the album The Lion’s Roar, released earlier this year.

The set highlight was the song “Emmylou,” a tribute to the ban’s influences (June Carter, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons), all named in the song’s chorus. This song may have been the catchiest song played all evening, if only the crowd was open minded enough to catch it.

Alabama Shakes

While the evening started at 7 p.m. with a sparse crowd, by the time the headliner took the stage after 10 o’clock, Club Metro was at capacity. The crowd wasn’t exactly impatient throughout the night, but it was clear that this band, led by powerhouse Brittany Howard, was the reason Nelarusky sold out. If unwelcome audience participation continued, you couldn’t hear it over the heavy handed drumming of Steve Johnson and riffs of amplified guitar and bass from Heath Fogg and Zac Cockrell.

Maybe the crowd just wasn’t in the mood for quiet melodies and introspective lyrics this evening. Maybe they just wanted the powerful wail and high energy shake-down of the headliner. Maybe they just wanted to rock.

Ask and you shall receive, courtesy of Alabama Shakes. As if the band could sense the crowd needed a shot in the arm, Howard and Co. responded by playing their hit “Hold On” early in the set. The mass of people danced to the changing grooves, waving their hands and singing along. In sharp contrast to the delicate dynamics and a modest, if not meek, stage presence of the opening bands, Brittany Howard had a commanding presence and a booming voice.

Armed with her own guitar for most of the set, she moved all around the length of the stage. It was the few songs when Howard put the guitar down that you could really get a sense of her natural gift as a front-woman. She belted without regard for technique, hitting high notes with a raw energy that whipped the now quite responsive crowd into shape.Even after the hour long set came to a close, the crowd was clearly just getting started, having waited the entire night for the electric release provided by one of the “bands to see” at Lollapalooza this weekend.

Nelarusky 2012 was a resounding success. This year’s successes sets the stage for both future shows and more support for Special Olympics. The highlight of the night was watching the bands back stage, casually interacting with each other, trading stories and mutual respect. Even better was watching each band react with the event organizers, happily shaking hands, signing posters and supporting Special Olympics and it’s champions.

Want to be a champion yourself? Visit www.nelarusky.com to learn more about how you can help, or donate.