Features | Festivals

Tomorrow Never Knows 2012

By Kaylen Hann | 7 February 2012

Come Midwest mid-winter I am indistinguishable from some hermetic, weird, and pasty-skinned apartment-witch who barely remembers what it’s like to talk to someone not over text message—who barely recalls what her own toes look like, even. No one wants to go outside and I, myself, too busy huddling in a hot bath, do not want to force their arm. And like that, we remain mysteries to one another ‘til spring.

The silver lining? The world is split between the few who care about something enough to brave the weather-gone-bullshit and the many who fold, all: fuck it. Which generally means, if I manage to muster the requisite layers of alpaca and momentum to go somewhere, I wind up more or less in a warm music venue with its beer and high-bass floor tremors, sighing, “Take me in your arms and give me a merciful death.” Like the heavens shrugging and throwing me a bone, the bone conveniently within walking-distance from my apartment, Schubas launched its annual five-day music fest, Tomorrow Never Knows, in the latest iteration of said terrible mid-winter.

It is not the best fest, nor presenter of the most consistently intriguing lineups, but it is, as of this year, the only fest that I have attended religiously, annually, since moving to Chicago. Buying a five-day pass was just a given—pay a hundred bucks for a five-day pass ahead of time and I will be both too obligated and too broke to do much else but get pretty-faced and go merge lanes with similar humans who need to be reminded they’re humans.

First year I attended, each night featured a boggling five- or six-band lineup: it was kind of like going out and watching someone’s eclectic Youtube mixtape shuffle through its tracks; which means it was hit or miss, with the occasional sets and happenings lodging in the mind. Like one year? Owen Pallett—back when he was still Final Fantasy—shared a lineup with Sharon Van Etten, solo, before she was accompanied by her band. That dude from Bear Hands picked me out a t-shirt and wanted to talk about Canada; I hooked Seapony up with Al’s Italian Beef sandwiches, etc.

The years following, as the event expanded across much larger sister-venue Lincoln Hall and then to Metro, lineups still held tidbits of the familiar. And I can’t see why or how this has changed, except for the goddamn weather being so…goddamn glorious this year. This year, this blessedly mild and temperate winter we had, for a time, has had two consequences: the body count of people willing to forage for entertainment increased and my desire to go out—as the temperature suddenly, abruptly plummeted right around the time of TNK2012—decreased unspeakably. And as my desire dredged along in its injured and fractionalized state, everyone else’s verve seemed to fucking soar.

Schubas: Com Truise with Chandeliers, Lazercrystal, Dom
Also in attendance: Mike Gutierrez of QRO Magazine and Mike Gutierrez’s mustache (it is a hell of a mustache!)

Front-heavy in enjoyment, Wednesday night began with local band Chandeliers delivering a lo-fi pop set in tune with previous years’ affable openers Pomegranates, Vacations, and Netherfriends. If you live in Chicago, you have seen these bands open for everyone, and it is never a bad thing. I peeled out of my coat, elbowed to the front, and sunk into a double-fist portion of PBR while waiting for Mike to show. I met him (and his beefy cut of man-mustache) stage-front halfway through the set and mused at how the lead singer was rocking a not-distracting-until-you-notice-it, Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights vibe.

We nodded along in a thickening crowd of ordinary looking people (a couple girls with that oddball, raspberry red My So Called Life tint to their hair). These were people who appeared utterly forgettable until Lazercrystal’s synth beats (every song like a less-danceable version of Men At Work’s “You Can Dance if You Want To”) began oozing into the atmosphere. The crowd began swooning and noodling their arms around like intoxicated anemones, closing their eyes. We realized: oh, oh, these are ravers. As you can only smirk so much at ravers and make so many “But can a robot band… learn to love?” jokes, we began edging backwards from the stage and into a crowd that was curiously and distressingly “boheem-douche” in flavor.

Next, Dom kept me firmly planted balls deep in “meh,” with the one standout pop track being “Bochicha,” which makes my face explode into dimples…

...before the next song delivered me squarely back to “meh.” At that point, Mike and I were on tip-toes by the back doors behind a bro with a braided rattail, getting elbowed repeatedly by people pushing through to the stage. And we mutually decided three songs into the headlining set to just cut our losses and hit the bar.

Lincoln Hall: Tycho with Abstract Science DJs, Ant’lrd, Active Child
Also in attendance: Veronica Murtagh of Creamteam, John Khuu of the Lightning Collective, and Micha Ward of CHIRPRadio

With a cloud of waning enthusiasm, an impending headcold, a drop in temperature, and grimy snow up to my knee-pits even on the sidewalks, the second night kicked off with tacos and ambivalence at a far more expansive venue, Lincoln Hall. We mingled around the spacious and low-lit top floor, pawing through my generous five-day packet complete with free rum token, a bud-light beer ticket, and some cool earplugs I will never use; we only really snapped to attention by the time Active Child got going. A ginger dude with a harp and an angel-come-to-earth voice that is 90% amazing and occasionally 10% reminiscent of Mrs. Doubtfire singing, Active Child stood head and shoulders above anything else we’d seen that night. Ambivalence and overcrowding not lending well to ambient sets with modular video shows, and with Khuu practically falling asleep on his feet, we, again, checked out in the middle of Tycho. Some movies, some bands you are better off watching alone—whether actually alone or just so far up front you can disappear into the whites of the keyboardist’s eyes. Tycho is that kind of outfit for me. It sounded incredible; I will probably never see them live again. Second night in a row, the company was better than the concert.

Schubas: Gauntlet Hair with Like Pioneers, Prussia, Cavemen
Also in attendance: some drunk girls who kept hitting me in the face with their hair, coats, flashes; some drunk guy shouting, “ME LIKEY”

After having given up, gone to forage for emergency Nyquil around 4am, the formula for the remainder of the fest’s nights was established: spending all day in bed sleeping in a self-made nest of tissues and depleted teabags and about an hour before the next set began I’d take a handful of Nyquil, down a Red Bull, put on my heaviest winter wear, stuff my coat with tissues, and march on out. Making it in time for Cavemen, I immediately broke that “no more than two beers or severe liver damage” warning on the Dayquil box, as I downed two immediately, and a nice boy bought me a third and forth. Then he said something about LCD Soundsystem and that’s right around when we stopped having anything to talk about. Fortunately, Cavemen put on a mood-reviving set with a delightful ratio of people to drums, multiple bodies bent over percussive surfaces.

The highlight of this night, and, honestly, of maybe the whole fest, was headliner Gauntlet Hair. The TNK event runs like a well-oiled social media machine—tweeted, Instagram’d, Facebook’d, fun games embeddd in each medium—and while this usually creates a kerfuffle-free environ to get my humanity-merging on, this year it was a little too clean-cut, too over-populated, and instead it was the moments of slippage that stood out (also the free rum?). For instance, only half of Gauntlet Hair made it to the fest, and having only a couple weeks to prepare, the two embarrassed and wincing bandmates (drummer Craig Nice and vocalist/guitarist Andy R.) hadn’t practiced any/all of their current album’s material. Admitting they had “maybe fifteen minutes worth of played material,” the surprise was: they produced some of the best music I’d heard all week. It was nothing more than Craig Nice drumming with dry heaves of sweaty, shirtless, cymbal-slaughtering verve and Andy R’s squelched-face vocals over some abrasively fast guitar noisework—nothing else. The duo set-up broke up the clog of chillwave distortion all over their last recorded output so maddeningly well, the bandmates didn’t seem to acknowledge or roll very enthusiastically with it, to all our dismay. Consenting to an extra song or so, they rubbed their faces in confusion and produced a cool but needlessly short set given how good the rough renditions came off.

(Note: that guy screaming “ME LIKEY”? Yeah, he was right behind my ear. It is a good example of how I have gone from being the most grateful person to be there to being the least.)

Metro: Walkmen 10th Anniversary Show
Lincoln Hall: Grouplove and Hospitality
Also in attendance: possibly the worst bachelorette party entourage in the Multiverse; some guy who looked at my big furry hat and shouted “FUCKING HIPSTER” (I was sick—lay off the hat, asshole)

Saturday the singular goal glowing in my mind was to see Walkmen. When I showed up, it was stuffed beyond capacity and no one, including the beastly, tattooed woman at the entrance, was thrilled to see me. The crowd was melting out of the humid-with-sweat main hall and drooling down the staircases in a drunken trickle and I, or at least my big-ass furry hat that I bought while I was drunk and waiting for hamburgers, got a gruff “FUCKING HIPSTER” upon entry. Startled, having to stand near this asshole, seeing fuck-all besides the backs of people dancing, being in a sour mood, and liking Walkmen but not two hours of Walkmen necessarily, I left pretty early and took the complimentary trolley to Lincoln Hall for an alright last few songs by Hospitality, followed by Grouplove. Grouplove: never mind the ensuing technical difficulties with lights going out, three of the four mics not working, it was mostly the songs like “Love Will Save Your Soul” and “Get Giddy,” deployed in their broad-grinned and free-spirited hippie-pop, that sealed the deal on me checking out early and setting a new record on how many headliners I’d passed on.

Lincoln Hall: Two Gallants with Death Ships, Boy, Carter Tanton
Also in attendance: some nice guy who offered to share his table, bought me more Guinness than the back of the Dayquil box recommends, and who was also insanely, refreshingly into Carter Tanton

Prying my half-corpse from bed I made it down to Lincoln Hall for the closing night with mixed emotions about Two Gallants. Having been a disgustingly vivacious dorkface for The Throes (2004) and What the Toll Tells (2006), and maybe half-interested in Adam Hayworth’s material since, I figured it could go either way, but the odds seemed against it. Opener Boy was a polite, perhaps more pop version of Mumford and Sons that did nothing for me. Lamenting to my generous tablemate, he talked with excited Italian hands about Carter Tanton, who absolutely delivered, all Jonathan Meiburg-grade impressive vocals and a set that broke out last minute from rough-hewn guitars into sternum-vibrating jamz.

Wresting my attention from the audience this year was especially difficult and the downside of enjoying sets that I really did enjoy was being suddenly so acutely aware of just how loud and how overtly prick-ish the people around me were. Shouted heckles and what passes for quips at a concert, as Hayworth launched into a cover of Abner Jay’s “Depression” for his opener, made my otherwise palpitating heart deflate in my chest like a Charlie Brown sad balloon. With his vocals latched tight to that self-destructive gravelly fervor yanked from the rawest drags of Deer Tick’s John McCauley, the set spun through new tracks with a surprising number of people joining in on the chorus for “Las Cruces Jail”—and as much as I dislike it when people drown out the person I paid to hear with their own voices, it was a charming sentiment that glossed over the patches of douchery and made the walk home like the soul-satisfied equivalent of the longest cigarette break.

Sure, there were crappy-ass moments lumped in there, and the lineups often lived up to the brow-raising pre-fest blurb advertising it as more of less “up and coming Brooklyn lo-fi pop,” but given the drag and slump of winter and all my ham’s ague: there’s always been more cause to appreciate it than not, though this was the first year it felt like I was making a mental note to not hurriedly fork up cash for a pass next year. And maybe there’s no one to blame but the weather.