Frog Eyes / Sunset Rubdown
Schubas; Chicago, IL

Wolf Parade's Apologies to the Queen Mary was my favorite album of last
year, a title that was cinched after seeing the band live at Chicago's best
small venue, Schubas. It was at this show that I realized who the heart of the
band was: Spencer Krug, the phenomenal voice of "I'll Believe in Anything,"
one of the best songs I've heard in a long time. For the entirety of that
show, I was unable to take my eyes off his passionate, intense singing and
keyboard playing. When I found out he had another project, Sunset Rubdown, I
couldn't wait to hear it, and the recently released Shut Up I Am Dreaming
has not disappointed in the least. I haven't been this excited about a
musician since I discovered the Dismemberment Plan in college. When I heard
Sunset Rubdown was touring with another band Spencer's been associated with,
the wonderfully bizarre Frog Eyes, I couldn't wait to see that intensity on
stage once again.

Even with those high expectations in tow, the show proved to be the best I've
seen all year. The venue was full, but surprisingly not sold out, for Sunset
Rubdown's set. After a prolonged sound check, the show kicked off when Spencer
got behind his keyboard and said, "This song is a Wolf Parade song, but before
that it was a Sunset Rubdown song" and proceeded to play a stripped-down
version of "I'll Believe in Anything," just him and the keyboards, while I
proceeded to drop my jaw in disbelief and amazement and possibly wet myself. I
still can't believe he started out the show with the original version of Wolf
Parade's best and biggest song, and I couldn't be happier that he did. The
song quickly bled into "Snakes Got a Leg" as the rest of the band joined in
(made up of Jordan Robson-Cramer and Michael Doerksen, who switched on and off
between guitar and drums, and Pony Up!'s Camilla Wynn Ingr, who added
additional sound effects, bells and backing vocals), and the next 45 minutes
of music were pretty unreal. Spencer put on much of the same humble,
passionate, super-intense performance behind his keyboards that I loved when I
saw Wolf Parade, eventually picking up this ratty looking mini-accordion held
together by duct tape for the stunning epic, "The Men Are Called Horsemen
There," which made for a great visual spectacle. They also played a brand new
song (something about "chaos") that was possibly, dare I say it, better
than anything I've heard of theirs yet. There's just something about Krug's
unique and powerful voice that makes it hard for me to concentrate on anything
else — it's like nothing I've ever heard before. He could put the phone book
to song and I'd pay to hear him sing it.

After Sunset Rubdown's set, the ongoing trend of recent buzz bands
overshadowing the headliners they tour with (see: Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and
the National) continued as the crowd shrank substantially, which is really too
bad for those people who left, especially since the two bands' sounds
complement each other so well. With Spencer joining his former band on the
keyboards, Frog Eyes put on an at-times hilarious and equally intense
performance somewhat fueled by the self-deprecating angst that singer Casey
Mercer spilled forth between each song. The first thing you notice about
Mercer when he steps on stage is how little he looks like a frontman. He sort
of looks like Philip Seymour Hoffman — more specifically, the creepy, Lara
Flynn Boyle-stalking Hoffman of Todd Solondz's Happiness, because
Mercer is creepy, let me tell you. When he's yelping and howling during his
bizarre and exciting songs, his bright red face scrunches up and his whole
body seems to tremble and shudder as he's pounding away at his guitar and
waving his finger in the air like a madman. In between songs he'd either
regale us with some ridiculous tale that made no sense or endlessly mock
himself ("You're old and no one wants to see you play!"), Spencer ("Why don't
we do things like Wolf Parade!"), or an audience member ("I just drank tequila
for the first time!" after she yelled out "Wolf Parade!"), and he'd do it in
this really high-pitched, evil-sounding whisper. Meanwhile, his band seemed to
sort of look around nervously in the background as if they weren't used to
seeing this odd behavior on a daily basis. Beyond all the theatrics, however,
Frog Eyes sounded really great, and the lengthy, brand new song they ended
with was weird and ambitious and fantastic, giving me high expectations for
their next album. To my delight they eschewed the encore, instead opting to
join hands and take a dramatic bow before leaving the stage.

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