Chicago hosts rockin’ indie fest

Six venues. 46 bands. Five days.

By Kiran Misra

January 14–18, Schubas and Lincoln Hall presented Tomorrow Never Knows, which can be concisely summed up as “a music festival for moderately, but not overly, obscure hipster bands.” It becomes clear that maybe they’re not so obscure when you note that past artists at the festival have included Bon Iver and Neon Indian. In its 11th iteration, the annual indie fest featured 46 bands and four comic acts at six venues over five days, gathering a number of both well-known bands and “up-and-coming local and national indie acts,” under the umbrella of a uniquely Chicago institution.

The headline acts of this year’s festival were Cloud Nothings, The Kishi Bashi String Quartet, and Jukebox the Ghost. The first is a lo-fi pop band hailing from Cleveland, Ohio. Since its inception in 2009, the band has released four popular albums, the most recent of which was titled Here and Nowhere Else. The second is a rock group featuring guitar, violin, and myriad other instruments. The third headliner, Jukebox the Ghost, is a pop-rock trio from Washington, D.C. who had a Friday early evening set at Metro Theater.

The night started off with rock and roll, by an almost all-female group, Secret Someones. Bess Rogers (guitar), Hannah Winkler (guitar/synth), Leila Broussard (bass), and Zach Jones (drums) played songs off their 2014 EP I Won’t Follow. Next up was Twin Forks fronted by Chris Carrabba. The Mumford and Sons–esque group garnered whistles and hand claps for its relatable and country-influenced songs.

After a moment of uncertainty over the functionality of the keyboard on stage, Jukebox the Ghost took the stage and the band hit the ground running with a piece from its recent self-titled album, which was produced by Dan Romer and Andrew Dawson, the same people who are responsible for the success of big names like Ingrid Michaelson, Kanye West, and Fun. With Ben Thornewill on keyboard, Tommy Siegel on guitar/bass and Jesse Kristin on drums, the D.C.–based threesome displayed their musical dexterity by switching seamlessly between songs you could jump up anddown to at your high school prom and more serious numbers fit for slow dancing at a wedding.

The group prominently featured songs from its 2014 album, including “Postcard,” “Sound of a Broken Heart,” “Made for Ending,” and “Hollywood,” as well as older crowd favorites “Hold it In,” “Victoria,” “Somebody,” and “The Sun.”

“We’ve always been the kind of band that juxtaposes darker lyrics with upbeat music, but this record feels a little more personal,” said Thornewill of the group’s sound. “You need pain to get joy, and joy to get pain; they’re inseparable.” This apparent contradiction is part of what has made Jukebox the Ghost so successful over the years. The three have performed for over a decade, playing 150 shows per year.

The highlight of the show was when corned beef hash was thrown into the crowd, to the delight of the audience members. TNK may have been an amalgamation of eccentric indie pop-punk personalities, but not eccentric enough to shower meat on the heads of unsuspecting 20-somethings. Hash was actually a stuffed dog, brought on tour by Kristin, a, “full grown man who still orders stuffed animals off Amazon prime,” according to Thornewill. Hash was tossed around the stadium to the band’s hit “Schizophrenia,” bringing a whole new type of crowd surfing to the North Side.

Jukebox the Ghost ended the night by bringing Secret Someones back up to the stage, where the two groups covered the song “Walk Like an Egyptian” together. Thornewill explained, “Sometimes, bands get together and jointly cover a song. And that’s how bands make love.”