Thalia Hall Gets Strange with Bartees!

Article and photos by: Jess Post

This Tuesday, November 8, Bartees Strange rocked Thalia Hall. 

Over the past few years, Bartees Strange (he/him), signed by the indie label 4AD, has forged a name for himself in the alternative music scene. He’s opened for big names like Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and The National to name a few. 

While Pom Pom Squad was set to open for Strange, unfortunately, their tour bus was robbed in Italy and the band was unable to perform.

Alas, the show must go on. Strange found a new supporting act in Conor Murphy, aka Smidley. Smidley opened the show by flaunting his dynamic vocal range, and his new singles titled Another Devil and Table Rock Antichrist kicked off the night. 

Next came They Hate Change composed of Andre Gainey (he/him) and Vonne Parks (they/them). The band is a self-proclaimed post-punk disco duo and they dressed the part, sporting white jumpsuits that were accentuated under the black lights… I couldn’t take my eyes off them! My personal favorite from their set was From the Floor.

The night before traveling to Europe for Pitchfork London, Chicago native Kaina (she/they) graced the crowd with a classic indie pop sound combined with her velvety vocals to conclude the opening acts. During their song, Good Feeling, fellow Chicagoan NNAMDÏ joined her on stage. When the set concluded, I stopped by the merchandise booth to chat with her about her outfit – they plugged Tiempo de Zafra, a sustainable clothing brand from the Dominican Republic that made the skirt they performed in. Tiempo de Zafra’s Instagram page can be found here.

After the supporting acts, I was eager to see Strange take the stage. 

Strange was born to an opera singer and spent his summers at opera camp. His years at camp were well spent, as his vocals are indisputable evidence of this upbringing – the artist’s voice that reverberated off of every wall at Thalia Hall. On a two-foot-tall stage with the crowd surrounding him on all sides, Stranges’ set created an intimate space wherein he could connect with his audience and sing with the crowd rather than to the crowd. Strange’s set had the crowd vibrating and one thing became clear: if you’re not dancing at a Bartees Strange show, you’re doing it wrong (and if you’re doing it wrong, Strange takes it upon himself to jump into the crowd to right you). Before playing his hit song Heavy Heart, Strange took a moment to reflect on how quarantining during the pandemic changed his life. He recounted the shared feelings of grief we were all experiencing during this time, and how grateful he was to be able to find joy in making music.

Following this expression of gratitude, Strange covered Lemonworld, originally sung by The National. The song began as a classic indie dream pop track with rich vocals, but it strayed from the classic dream pop format when it crescendoed into a trademark Bartees Strange headbanger. The crowd fed off of Strange’s zeal, and everybody was dancing by now. Strange closed the show with a unique display of vulnerability in his song Hennessy. The track is about the subjugation he experienced as a Black man in a small town, and the stereotypes that governed his life. There was an intimacy to the layout of Strange’s show, and the intimacy in this final track was the ultimate way to conclude the show. 

I cannot call this an indie pop or punk show – The artists who performed at Thalia Hall on Tuesday defy genre. The concert was an immersive blend of alternative rock, indie pop, and R&B – if you’re in search of a tune that will have you jamming out to captivating instrumentals, check out any of these artists. 

Be sure to follow Bartees Strange on Instagram and stream his music below.

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