I've recently started paying attention to Delicate Steve, so I already learned that this was the moniker of one guy, Steve Marion, making use of lots of musical toys and effects to create entirely original instrumental compositions. I really liked everything that I've heard from him so far, but projects like that often translate really differently live. After Gypsyblood loaded out, all these people came out of the woodwork to set up for Delicate Steve. I started thinking that this was a lot of setup for a one man show, so either he's got a full band or he's more of a serious multi-tasker than I imagined. The former, most reasonable option turned out to be true. The drums were positioned at the front of the stage facing sideways, and totally decked out with gadgets of all kinds of sampling/drum machines capabilities. The other side of the stage was the synth corner, and the front and middle of the stage held room for two guitars and a bass/other random percussion. Delicate Steve himself started sound checking a junior electric guitar, producing what sounded more like synth sounds. This made me assume that he would just make bizarre baby guitar sounds with it, but I assumed too soon, because from the very first song Steve made it sing.
I've never watched someone shred on a guitar so small, but Steve got more metal, classic rock, and tropical sounds out of that thing than I would have ever thought was possible. Often, he withdrew what looked like a shot glass from his pocket to play some slide guitar. At times, it literally sounded more like a kettle drum. I can't explain why or how, but he did it. There was really so much going on between all players on stage that I almost forgot to take any photos. When I could bring myself back to reality to remember I should be capturing this, it was almost impossible because the crowd was SO into it. The majority of my photos had hands or flying hair blocking the band, but this only made me smile, because how can I really be mad about that? Good for them.
During their last song, "Butterfly," off their the latest release Wondervisions, they literally had everyone in front clapping, stomping, and jumping. The band communicated their gracious farewell, but the kids yelled, "Encore!" Steve made a polite, awkward man-curtsy and shuffled off stage. The kids were in heaven. For the latecomers, I could hear their friends relaying, "dude! you just missed an AWESOME band!"
Maps & Atlases is another great artistic endeavor to come out of Chicago. It's rare for a contemporary band to create a sound so impressive and unique to themselves, but this band pulls it off. Largely considered a math-rock band until recently, Maps & Atlases is a very tight, technically sound ensemble. Every member of the band is extremely proficient in their part of the whole, and they manage to weave it all seamlessly together. I appreciated Maps & Atlases before I saw them, but their live show blew me (and pretty much everyone else in the crowd) away.
Dave Davison handled vocals with his distinctive folksy voice while finger-picking or tapping his guitar. Erin Elders primarily played the rhythm to Davison's riffs on guitar, but also simultaneous finger tapping. At times he switched between guitar, samples, and snare drum. Shiraz Dada was on palpitating bass lines, and dancing the entire time - no joke. He put his bass down on one song to bang a bass drum like a gong. However, I have to give some serious drummer cred to Chris Hainey, who is basically a percussion wizard.
Most of their set was comprised of songs off their last LP, Perch Patchwork. They opened with "Pigeon," and immediately girls were screaming, "I Love You!" and throwing their hands in the air. Well, there was one audience member in particular who was more fanatic than the rest, but eventually the fanaticism caught on, and everyone was dancing and singing with every ounce of energy they had. They knew all the claps in all the songs, and all the other intricacies. They sang the words AND the instrumental parts. In general, there was a great sense of camaraderie at this show, with total strangers looking at the people next to them and singing the words to each other - connecting over the fact that they both loved this band.
The movement in the crowd got even more intense when Maps & Atlases played "Ever House is a Home." Not quite a mosh pit, but some strong fist-pumping head-banging swaying action was happening while Davison sang "...on the way home / clipping your nails like a metronome." Then he strummed his guitar strings behind the bridge to create high-pitched harp jings. Just another inventive bit to throw into their original compositions.
They ended on "Solid Ground," and then the clamoring for an encore that ensued was deafening. "I'm gonna cry!" one kid yelled. The band only made us wait a few seconds before coming right back out to play three more songs; the first of which was a cover of Elvis Costello's "Radio Radio." They immediately segued into "If This Is," with every voice in the room singing the lyrics "you're just like everybody else, you're sleeping pointlessly alone." They ended their amazing set with "Was."
Besides the sheer amount of technical proficiency woven into Maps & Atlases' songs, the lyrics are something to take note of too. That and the fact that they execute all of this while dancing, rocking, moving the entire time. Basically, they are on point in every possible way, but the live setting is really where they thrive the most to showcase all of that. Even after they were off stage, the crowd barely moved. It was as if everyone was so dazed by what had just happened they could barely wrap their brains around it, let alone shuffle outside. Maps & Atlases had blown our minds.
Maps & Atlases and Delicate Steve have two more dates together, after which they split and M&A end up in Harrisburg, VA on April 22nd. Delicate Steve is nearing the end of what has been a lengthy US tour, with a handful of more dates in the northeast, including another Bowery Ballroom date May 22 with Dirty Projectors, Dan Deacon, and St. Vincent. Gypsyblood's album Cold in the Guestway was just released this month, and they are on tour with Maps & Atlases until the last show.