I became truly obsessed with music as a high school student. Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was constantly trying to get my parents to let me go to a concert downtown or drive myself to a show at an arena on the weekends. While they were pretty lenient with my passion, they also did not allow me to venture out into concert venues that doubled as bars very often, especially never on weeknights.
I wasn’t fully able to immerse myself into Chicago’s music scene until I got to college. Part of the reason why I wanted to attend DePaul University so badly was because I knew I would be able to go to concerts and local shows whenever I wanted to (and when my dwindling bank account allowed it – working part time in retail and restaurant jobs doesn’t fund many concerts).
One of my first real experiences stumbling across a brand new music discovery happened just a few months into my freshman year of college. A good friend of mine who I grew up with wanted to attend a live taping at a place called JBTV – Jerry Bryant Music Television – to see a band called Bad Suns perform. I had never heard of the studio nor the band, but it was on a random Saturday afternoon in January and I didn’t have much else going on. Why not?
Little did I know that this experience would be one that shaped my passion for music for years to come. I ended up becoming a MASSIVE fan of the band and also ended up interning at the same studio just a few months later. Funny how life works like that!
If you’re not familiar with the band, Bad Suns is an indie rock band formed in 2012 by members Christo Bowman, Gavin Bennett, Miles Morris and Ray Libby. The bands’ debut album, Language & Perspective, was released in 2014 under Vagrant Records. The band credits artists like The Cure and Elvis Costello for influencing their sound.
The band’s first single, “Cardiac Arrest,” was released online and went viral – it currently sits at nearly 59 million streams on Spotify. Next up for the band was the release of their first EP, Transpose. Not long after, Bad Suns successfully secured a spot opening up for The 1975 in the spring of 2014, all before they had even released their debut album. However, it eventually arrived: Language & Perspective was released in June of that year. It peaked at #24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was named one of the best albums of 2014 by The Huffington Post.
Bad Suns embarked on a headlining tour in the beginning of 2015 and debuted at Coachella. Their second album, Disappear Here, was released in the fall of 2016 and they toured extensively with Coin to support the album later that year. While it seemed like nothing could stop the band after multiple successful tours and two positively received album releases, Bad Suns’ third album was not released until earlier this year, making it about 2.5 years in between releases.
Bad Suns announced a lead single for their third album, Mystic Truth, in the beginning of 2019 and shared news that they had signed to a new label. The album would be released in March (now out) under Epitaph Records. The band’s Mystic Truth headlining tour kicked off on April 3 in San Diego with support from Carlie Hanson, hitting major US cities and selling out their biggest show to date in Chicago at the House Of Blues last weekend.
I hadn’t been to a show at the House of Blues in literal years: I have bad memories of trekking to this venue for shows when I was a teenager in my pop punk phase and dealing with mosh pits as a 13 and 14-year-old. Ironically enough, Bad Suns’ show was the first of not two, but THREE shows at the House of Blues I would be attending in a 8-day span (I saw Léon w/ Morgan Saint two days later and I’m seeing Aly & AJ this weekend as I type this).
Despite my previous experiences at the venue, this time around it was smooth sailing. I immediately was taken aback by the wide variety of people in the audience in terms of age, gender and race. I saw 12-year-olds who stood in front of me during the set, two couples who were probably in their 50s just a few feet to my left, you get the gist. This was really cool to see, considering I have to admit that the majority of the shows I attend are mainly white people in their early 20s to early 30s.
Carlie Hanson, an 18-year-old pop singer from Onalaska, Wisconsin, whose voice freakishly sounds like Julia Michaels, opened the show promptly at 7pm. Despite her energy being high and her stage presence infectious, the crowd seemed lifeless as she gave her 30 minute set everything she could. I would say it only was the last one or two songs that the crowd finally seemed open and accepting of her performance, which was a shame because she really has that star quality to her. I’m sure she’s already bounced back by now.
Bad Suns’ hit the stage a few minutes late as the floor of the House of Blues started to quietly bounce as the opening notes of “Away We Go” kicked off the set. The title of the track encapsulates what song you should pick to start your set with, really.
Next up was “Daft Pretty Boys,” a song about chasing a girl who only chases the, well, daft pretty boys. For the subject matter sounding so cliche, it’s one of my favorite Bad Suns songs, and judging by the crowd’s reaction, they felt the same way. The opening notes of the song are unmistakable, the first line probably one of the strongest out of the entire track list of Disappear Here. “She’s a sunrise dressed like dusk…”
The majority of the performance was made up of songs from the band’s most recent album release, which makes sense of course. This seemed to please the majority of the audience, who seemed unfamiliar with the band’s older songs, like “Transpose,” “Cardiac Arrest” and “Salt,” which are three that happen to be some of my favorites. High points of the set include the performances of “Rearview,” “This Was A Home Once” and “Heartbreaker.”
Bad Suns clearly has created a fan base that allows them to grow in their sound and return to cities to perform in bigger venues. It’s interesting to see the dynamic of an audience and trying to analyze who knows what songs, how long they have been fans, etc. This was my 6th time seeing Bad Suns perform over a span of five years (wild) and being able to attend their biggest show in Chicago was a really amazing thing to witness.
It’s no surprise that Bad Suns list post-punk bands of the 70s and 80s as their influences: they have a certain type of stage presence and charisma of an unflustered, put together classic rock band that still allows for crowd surfing and wifebeater tanks (I wish I knew the PC term for this tank top). Bad Suns have that quintessential sound that has been alive in corners of the indie pop/rock scene of the industry for years that isn’t easy to encapsulate – but if it’s done well, it will garner positive results (and now I totally understand why there were older people in the audience).
Everything came full circle to me during the band’s performance of “Starjumper” as Christo asked the audience to turn the flashlight effects on their smartphones to hold up into the air to mimic the way the sky looked when he first wrote the song. I noticed some older gentleman, probably in their 50s or early 60s, start smirking as they looked around the crowd and one of them pulled out a lighter.
This show was reminiscent of how it was in the 70s and 80s: people didn’t have iPhones or even iPads in their hands for the majority of rock shows to record songs and capture snapchat videos: they held up lighters in one hand and a beer (or cigarette, but that’s illegal to do indoors now) in the other. While times clearly have changed, it was cool to see how Bad Suns’ musical influences has impacted the way they create music today and how a traditional rock show has changed to fit into the pop cultural landscape of 2019.
All photos shot for Chicago Haze by Nic Kosirog-Jones.
May 5 – Aly & AJ
May 6 – Matt Maeson
May 8 – The 1975
May 14 – Imogen Heap
May 22 – Weyes Blood
May 24 – Local Natives
Thanks for reading!