Yes, L’Rain’s latest album “I Killed Your Dog” offers an incredible listening experience at home or on the road. But nothing captures the energy and fullness of the band’s songs like hearing them perform live. At least that was my experience on Friday night during L’Rain’s headlining performance at Schubas as part of the Tomorrow Never Knows festival. Bringing together a mix of local, national and international events in the dead of Chicago’s winter, this ongoing music festival is a perfect testament to both Chicago audiences’ love for experimental music and the concert-going experience.
Last night’s performers and audience were no exception. In fact, bandleader and musician Taja Cheek, who plays L’Rain, noticed this midway through the set.
The band’s second stop on their new tour is Chicago, and the last time they were in the city, L’Rain’s show was cancelled. But Chicago audiences rallied to keep the show going, and the band played a last-minute show at Cole’s Bar in Logan Square. Cheek celebrated Chicago’s unique community, and audiences celebrated his warm and friendly charm during this hour-long show.
L’Rain opened the night by declaring that there were two rules: the audience had to be there – be in the room – and their howl. And so the people howled. It was just convenient. This energy exchange continued throughout the night.
During the song “I Killed Your Dog”, the band paired dogs screaming in the background with the band members’ layered vocals to create a moody and evocative tone. The dreamy, extended outros between later songs helped shape them into something grander. This also helped the band and excited listeners get into the subtle rhythms of tracks like the jazzy “Knead Bee” from L’Rain’s last album and the older “Two Face” from L’Rain’s second album, “Fatigue.”
On record, L’Rain’s music has a jaunty, experimental flair; This makes songs like “Pet Rock” and “Uncertainty Policy” sound unique and compelling. But the live experience reveals something more raw and guttural in Cheek’s music. L’Rain is known for blending genres and styles, but the live show makes this clear, as the audience can hear and witness the songs being formed from the ground up. It’s easy to pinpoint jazz, soul, and psych rock (which feels like there’s plenty of it tonight) when you see the artist and his band transform disparate sounds into fleshed-out masterpieces.
Last night’s show focused on the elements that make L’Rain’s songs stand out, from a pulsating guitar echo to a drifting percussion rhythm to the smooth saxophone that weaves in and out of tracks on “I Killed Your Dog.” With Cheek’s vocals, the songs take on a new life. Her smooth and sharp vocals soar through the air, piercing through layers of instrumentation and mesmerizing the audience.
Some technical difficulties caused moments of frustration throughout the evening. The drum monitor was having problems and one of the band members broke a string or two. “Our instruments are rebelling against us at this point,” Cheek said. But this seems to have deterred neither the band nor the audience.
“Can you all do me a favor?” Cheek asked. “Close your eyes for two seconds. Shake your heads and bodies. It’s even better if you make noise.” Patrons perked up, just as L’Rain wanted, and refocused themselves on the room’s pulsating energy. “I know you’re alive now,” she said.
Britt Julious is a freelance critic.