Soft Speaker @ Beat Kitchen (11/19); Ra Ra Riot @ Metro (11/18)

credit: Soft Speaker's Facebook

Sweet baby Jesus. I’ll come right out and say it up front: Soft Speaker’s record release for Vortrobos Saturday night was the best show I’ve been to this year. Hands down. No rebuttals. Done-zo.

The thing is, I’ll Tend Your Garden and Vortrobos — both full lengths, and both, amazingly, released in 2011 — set the bar real high. So high, in fact, that I had etched the show on my calendar a few weeks back and then, well, intentionally forgot about it. A hasty, yet apparently favorable way to stave off expectation.

This isn’t to say I avoided Soft Speaker altogether. The opposite is nearer to truth.

You see, I run up and down Lake Shore daily, and have found that my stamina is best fed when I partner the exercise with tunes saved to my iPod. The tempo needn’t be quick and the music needn’t be dancey. Whatever it is just has to get me from A to B and then back to A.

Soft Speaker, I’ve realized, is an excellent soundtrack for my after work activity. Their music is catchy and unexpected and, best of all, just breathes because its makers want it to. They let it be. Most, not all, songs exceed five, six, seven minutes. It’s wonderfully entertaining.

This story’s moral: I’ve listened to a lot of Soft Speaker recently.

Even so, I managed to avoid ruminating on what they might be like live by pretending like Beat Kitchen wouldn’t be hosting their record release on the 19th. Fuck it; it wasn’t happening.

Soft Speaker hit the stage around 11:30 or so and then never let up — literally — through the encore. What didn’t take long to realize is that Soft Speaker isn’t chatty under the lights nor do they bore their audience with narrative and reflection. There might be a moment or two between songs to, you know, breathe. But that’s it. Soft Speaker’s a rock band, so they just do their thang and rock it.

And when Soft Speaker doesn’t need that breather, they do away with a break altogether. Such was the case last night when they chopped off the end of “Pagan Pastimes” and affixed, seamlessly, “For a Handsome Price.” If you’re familiar with these tracks and, like me, consider them to be the best parts of I’ll Tend Your Garden, then the result is as special as you’d imagine it to be. That moment, that gentle transition into “For a Handsome Price,” that happy understanding that hey, “For a Handsome Price” was happening out of nowhere, was the best part about the show.

The evening’s only crime was a little hoopla totally out of Soft Speaker’s hands. The venue’s ceiling thought Saturday as good a night as any to issue steady streams of some kind of liquid. (Water was the hope.) Whatever it was got collected by a giant bin plopped in front of stage left, impeding the ability of some attendees from getting too close.

I wasn’t the only one who had a good time, of course. The space was filled and loud, and after Soft Speaker played an “Ask the Guild” encore, there was a big demand for more. I don’t doubt that Soft Speaker would have kept on going. Beat Kitchen has to eventually call it a night, you know.

I wish I had video or even a photo to compliment this piece, but I was too busy getting all silly and stupid up in front to care. Perhaps at Soft Speaker’s next gig, which, as of yet, the group hasn’t firmed up.

Well done, guys.

Ra Ra Riot @ Metro (11/18)

It saddens me to think about the Ra Ra Riot experiences I missed out on that, I can only imagine, will never happen again. As big as they are now, Ra Ra Riot won’t be playing any apartment shows for Syracuse students any time soon. Scratch them off Funk ‘n Waffles‘ calendar, too.

I was a full-time student at the upstate New York university planted in their hometown when Ra Ra Riot formed and began. I knew their name because everyone talked about them. But I guess, and I can laugh about this now, their sound was too “eccentric” for me when I was going through. Well that, or I just stubbornly listened to other things.

When my friends would go off and see them in spaces greatly smaller than Metro, I politely declined to join them. I’m so unbelievably mad about this!

I imagine there’s still a sense of intimacy at a venue like Metro, but I wouldn’t know from Friday — my first visit there — because a friend and I arrived just as Ra Ra Riot was taking off. As if the band had patiently stood there on stage, refusing to play until we were inside and comfortable. We hit the bathrooms, grabbed beer at the bar and BAM! Ra Ra Riot started.

The shame in this is that by the time Metro opened its doors a few hours earlier, the evening had sold out. As much as I like to be as close as possible to the stage, every time, this wasn’t happening Friday. We were relegated to the walkway that lines the back wall.

Nevertheless, from what I could see, Ra Ra Riot puts on a good show. They’re as high energy as you’d expect from their records. This is especially true of their violinist, who bops around and around with a full head of hair as she jerkily slices her instrument with her bow. She was a real delight to watch.

I don’t know the band personally, nor do I really know much about them as people. But the friend who accompanied me made a quick comment that there’s something distinctly Christian to their sound, how uplifted it makes you feel, from the slant of its messages to what comes out of using violins and cellos full time.

Anyway, I had to agree with her. And if anything at all, Ra Ra Riot sure makes me feel real good. There’s a real power to their material.

I had to chuckle when Ra Ra Riot’s encore happened to be a pair of songs from The Rhumb Line. Yes, it’s more common to play material folks are familiar with. Yes, a tune like “Dying is Fine” ends a show well. All night we’d been saying that their marvelously fantastic Rhumb Line is better than The Orchard, released last year. I’d like to think that that encore is a sign of Ra Ra Riot saying, “Yeah, we know.”


  • Soft Speaker, based in Chicago, is: Joe Daley, Paul Foreman, Blair Douglass and Nick Rocchio.
  • Check out my review of Vortrobos. It posted here two weeks ago.
  • Soft Speaker’s website directs you to downloads of Vortrobos, I’ll Tend Your Garden and other music. Go here for that.
  • Listen: “Jeju Island” and “Ask the Guild.”

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About Eric

Hello there. Email your things to chicagotunes[at]gmail[dot]com.
This entry was posted in Beat Kitchen, Metro, Ra Ra Riot, Show Review, Soft Speaker. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Soft Speaker @ Beat Kitchen (11/19); Ra Ra Riot @ Metro (11/18)

  1. Pingback: My favorite sets of the year: 2011 | Chicago Tunes

  2. Pingback: Secret Colours, Apteka @ The Empty Bottle (1/7) | Chicago Tunes

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