Equalizer Chicago June recap: The Midnight Shows, Blane Fonda and Robbers.

by Ali Weiss
photos by Karla Svatos

Chicago music fans packed darkroom Friday night for the June installment of KEXP Equalizer. Local bands The Midnight Shows and Blane Fonda joined Robbers, on tour from Long Island, New York.

Robbers opened things up. In a sportsmanlike example of “the show must go on,” band members played the entire set without their drummer, who we’re told unexpectedly left the tour at the last minute. “We’re making the best of it,” said the young rockers from the stage, in a moment that tugged at the heartstrings like when Peter Brady had to perform his magic show without Cindy.

But let’s focus on the bright side. Drums are great, but we’ve all had moments of wondering what a live show might sound like if we could just silence the noisy little bastards. So Robbers got their chance to experience that interesting, if inadvertent, little experiment. The vocalists, three electric guitars and bass enjoyed their moment in the limelight, revealing an almost Neil Young-esque folk sound from an otherwise post-punk, ambient band. The musicians held the rhythm together, which must have posed a challenge without any percussion, while the chords and lyrics stood out.

Robbers will be back in Chicago for an already sold-out show at Subterranean on July 7, perhaps with a drummer in tow. In the mean time, we recommend checking out the band’s haunting new EP, Flesh.

As Robbers unloaded their gear, some of us pondered the boat captain’s hat on a guy near the stage: “Pride? Or ironic yacht rock?” It being Gay Pride weekend in Chicago, hat interpretation had become tough call. But soon enough, the headgear’s role became clear. Blane Fonda‘s frontman Mark Wetzel made his way to the stage in tinted shades, a hood and some sort of Rasta-ish wig. An above-average number of mini-dress wearers began to congregate. Finally, that guy in the yacht hat, Matt Witt, took his post behind the keyboard and picked up his trumpet. This was neither an ironic hat nor a Pride hat (not that there’d be anything wrong with that). It was clearly a party hat.

Recently formed by members of the critically acclaimed Sapiens, Blane Fonda already boasts a strong fan base for a new band. Wetzel especially reveled in the warm greeting at darkroom, pulling well-received rock star shenanigans like shouting “Spring break!” and stage diving. His deep, goth voice mixed with the band’s synth beats and brass for a sound ranging from Bowie to Bloc Party. Fans at it up, hurling each other in the air and engulfing the stage. Blane Fonda left its audience with catchy tunes in their heads, smiles on their faces and, in several cases, phone numbers in their handbags.

That’s a hard act to follow, but DJ Johnny Kesh kept up the party atmosphere with tracks by Electric Six and The Cure, perhaps in homage to what we’d just heard.

Then it was time for something completely different. There’d been no question as to the meaning of the fedoras in the crowd all night: Those hats were pure soul. The Midnight Shows headlined the evening with a blast of Motown-infused songs. Funky bass lines, Rudy Montclare’s raunchy lead vocals and sassy back-up singers made for a toe-tapping set. The act even prompted a spinning hippie in the crowd, who swirled happily around in short-shorts as though finding religion. This fun spectacle, combined with The Midnight Shows’ energy, kept the people dancing late into the evening.

Chalk it up to another job well done for Equalizer, which turns two years old next month. The event happens every final Friday at Chicago’s darkroom. Watch video recaps on Equalizer’s YouTube channel.

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