Story and photos by Ian Keller
Seafoam Walls is a band that is difficult to place in a box sonically, but I find the band’s self proclaimed description of ‘Caribbean Jazzgaze’ to be quite fitting. The band is made up of Jayan Bertrand on guitar and vocals, Dion Kerr on guitar, Joshua Ewers on bass, and Josue Vargas on a drum machine. The Miami based group draws influence from many different genres, from hip hop, to shoegaze, to jazz and indie rock. The band’s sound is truly unlike any other. The band’s description online states that the music demands to be heard live, and I believe that you can only fully appreciate a band once you see them in person. So, when I found out they’d be supporting Unknown Mortal Orchestra in Chicago, I needed to check it out.
The atmosphere at Radius Chicago is just right for a night of spacious distorted guitars. The high ceilings and dim lighting of the venue set the mood nicely. While Seafoam Walls prepares for their set, the venue fills up as the crowd enters the building, purchases drinks and line up for merchandise. I made sure to get myself a t-shirt and a drink before nestling into my spot in the crowd, trying to get as close to the front as I could.
As the opening set began, the lights faded from orange to a rich oceanic blue, introducing the crowd to Seafoam Walls. More than a thousand concertgoers were instantly entranced by the soothing vocals of the aptly named ‘Sound Check‘. They were officially ready to rock. One standout song of the set was definitely ‘You Can’t Have Your Cake and Ego Too,’ whose driving lead guitar was hypnotizing the crowd. The uncut strings on Kerr’s guitar waved erratically as the band jammed through the song and into another standout, ‘Dependency.’ The song is a bit slower than its predecessor. However, that energy is made up with an infectious vocal hook that the crowd began to sing along with.
‘The only thing that’s definite, is that we’re not infinite.’
The band continued mesmerizing the crowd with their set, and before we knew it the set was almost over. Before the final song, they mentioned that they had left the previous venue immediately after their set and drove through the night from Minneapolis to Chicago. This really stood out to me. The dedication of touring acts like Seafoam Walls to get tours to go on without a hitch is really impressive to me.
The final song the band performed was the outro to their album, titled ‘Rushed Rain.’ The instrumental track begins simply on the foundation of slow drums and spacious bass lines. Throughout the song the band goes in and out of different, more complex arrangements. Then, about halfway through the song, the tempo totally changes. The song crescendos into a beautiful orchestra of guitars and drums. This song was definitely my favorite performance of the night. Being completely spellbound by this final performance, I almost forgot there is another band playing afterwards.
Between the first and second set, I decided to change my position and I am sure glad I did. Because by pure chance I (almost physically) bumped into the band as I was making my way back towards the stage. At this point, I am in a state of shock. I didn’t quite know what to say other than ‘great set!’ They were all really nice but I didn’t hold them up because they seemed to be quite busy. I made my way a bit closer to the stage, only until I was able to see the giant orange glowing ‘V’ made of light bulbs up on the stage.
At last, after a bit of waiting, the lights dimmed, and the room filled with smoke. Out came the band’s lead, Ruban Nielson, washed in a thin sheet of orange, silhouetted by the arrangements of lights behind him. Lights that had changed to spell out ‘UMO.’ His other bandmates, Jacob Portrait on bass, Kody Nielson on drums, and Chris Nielson on keys, joined him on stage for a performance of the new album’s intro track ‘The Garden.‘
UMO’s set lasted for about an hour and a half, performing a solid mix of older material, and newer songs off the recent record V. Fan favorites such as ‘So Good At Being In Trouble‘ and ‘The Opposite of Afternoon’ of course made an appearance, with some slight twists to keep the audience on their toes. The band got off stage at about 10:00, but the crowd stuck around, continuing to cheer after the set. We all knew there had to be more to come. After about five minutes, our encouragement paid off because the band returned to the stage for an encore.
The encore opened with a favorite of mine, ‘Meshuggah.’ An extremely groovy cut that led perfectly into my favorite song of UMO’s set, a cover of Grateful Dead’s ‘Shakedown Street.’ As a longtime deadhead I nearly passed out when I heard Ruban say ‘This is a Grateful Dead song.’ I managed to my composure long enough to see a brilliant performance of a really great Dead song. Jacob Portrait on bass completely stole the show with what I believe to be one of the coolest bass lines of all time. After that, the band had a few more fan favorites up their sleeves with ‘That Life‘ and ‘Hunnybee,’ and finished the set with ‘Can’t Keep Checking My Phone.‘
After seeing these two bands live for the first time, I can safely say that each band is absolutely worthy of your time. Whether it be the radiant tones of Seafoam Walls, or the psychedelic funk of UMO, if you have the chance, I highly recommend checking out both of these bands live.