Akin to a dense fog, the Besnard Lakes lush music seemed to roll out from the stage and envelope the entire park grounds. And, despite the fact that the sun had barely eclipsed the Chicago skyline for the better part of their set, the performance completely lived up to the title of the band’s latest record, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night.
The band was in town to perform at the first, in a series, of free Monday night shows at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, dubbed “Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays” (see the complete summer lineup listed below). The evening was an extremely casual affair, both on stage and throughout the park. The crowd was made up of young and old — some with children, some with wine and some with both — with the majority of folks passing on pavilion seating and opting instead for a spot on the grass.
The first band to take the stage was Chicago’s own, the Ponys. Though the Ponys could hardly be considered “new music”, as the band has been active in various incarnations since about 2001 or so, they are just recently getting back in to the swing of things with a new EP, Deathbed + 4, after a two-year hiatus. There was also a better than average chance that, for many, it was their first exposure to the band’s music. What’s interesting is the statement it makes regarding the music series as a whole. While the Ponys are hardly what one might expect to hear at a free, city sponsored, concert in the park, they are not the exception but simply the first in an impressive list of diverse and talented acts that will take the stage this summer.
Conditions, mind you, were not ideal to take in a band such as the Ponys. Their dark, menacing garage rock is better suited for a dingy, tightly packed music club than in daylight on an immense stage that is capable of dwarfing even the polyphonic spree. These factors did little to diminish the band’s sound or sense of immediacy their music radiates as they ran through a number of songs, both new and old, with a purposeful intensity.
Montreal’s Besnard Lakes followed in the headlining spot, opening with “Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent, Pt. 1 & 2” from their newest record. “Part 1: The Ocean” is a minute-long musical intro that slowly builds, until everything is suddenly grounded in “Part 2: The Innocents” by lead singer Jace Lasek’s surprisingly pristine falsetto vocals. It eventually shifts gears yet again into a huge rock chorus, all while feeling firmly planted in the 1970’s. This is what the Besnard Lakes do best; combining elements of ’70s music, the tacky and the tasteful, and blending it together to make incredibly harmonious music that evokes that ominous vastness of an ocean, while maintaining that same fragility that comes from the sound of waves crashing onto the beach at night.
Before playing “Chicago Train”, also from the new record, lead singer Lasek announced, “We love Chicago. It always feels like home to us.” After a chuckle, he added “Although this song is about people leaving on the last train out of Chicago.” The band divided time on their set between newer songs and material from 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse, such as “Disaster”, “For Agent 13” and “Devastation” before closing with one from their very first album.
The opening night of the “Downtown Sound” Series proved what was already assumed from the lineup: this will be the best way to spend your Monday evening in Chicago for the next couple of months.
All shows start at 6:30pm unless otherwise noted*
6/21 The Books with Via Tania* 7:30PM Start
6/28 Huntsville and On Fillmore Featuring Nels Cline* 7:30PM Start
7/05 The Thermals with Disappears
7/12 Caribou with Budos Band
7/19 Kid Sister with Konono No. 1
7/26 Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens with Bomba Estereo