At the stroke of midnight, Dan Black, a skinny Englishman in yellow pants and Adam Ant make-up, sauntered on stage at Schubas Tavern, flanked by bassist Frédéric Pruchon and guitarist Nick Peill. The intimate club on Chicago’s Northside was the penultimate show of Dan Black’s inaugural US tour. Black spent a few seconds poking around at two lit-up checkerboard USB controllers, which looked like props from the old Star Trek TV show, as the crowd waited impatiently to hear the man who wowed the South by Southwest Festival crowd with six performances. When the programmed drums kicked in for “Pump My Pumps” and Black wailed, “Let’s dance like we’ve been possessed,” the sold-out crowd eagerly complied.
Fresh off a performance at the South by Southwest Festival, the trio eschewed the more morose tracks from Black’s debut solo album ((Un)) in favor of upbeat club-bangers. Although the drums and samples were programmed, the show didn’t suffer for lack of the full five-piece band that Black toured with last year – even when he was multi-tasking by triggering samples or tweaking mic effects, Black exhibited more than enough charisma to carry the weight of the stripped-down performance on his shoulders. Black is a dynamic live performer reminiscent of Perry Farrell, a flamboyant persona at odds with the introspective character from the video for his current single “Symphonies”.
“I feel like we should talk about something,” Black said after blazing through a few tracks. “What do you want to talk about?” After a few audience members shouted out, “The Cubs!” (who had suffered a typically insufferable loss earlier in the evening), Black responded, “You always want to talk about the Cubs. Let’s talk about something different, like German philosophy.” Met with audience indifference, he said, “Let’s all just clap – it’s easier.” The audience responded enthusiastically, and Black launched into an explosive version of “Alone”. The excitement in the room reached a fever pitch two songs later during “Pass That Head Noize”, a cover of Missy Elliott’s “Pass That Dutch”.
The crowd, a mix of dudes in baseball caps and hipsters drinking PBR, pumped their fists and screamed “Yeah” between songs in thunderous approval. Black threw his fist up at one point and yelled “Yeah!” in imitation. “We’re picking up bad habits from your country. I’m saying ‘yeah’ now,” he said, laughing. To which the crowd responded with a collective “Yeah!” Black will return to Chicago this August for Lollapalooza.
DJs-turned-live duo Moneypenny, a fellow South by Southwest act, opened the show with an entertaining set of hook-heavy electro songs.