It was a sellout crowd at the Empty Bottle on Monday, June 15th. For most bands that would have been a coup in itself on three counts: (i) Monday night show, (ii) their schedule had them coming through town just a month later for Pitchfork Festival, and, most importantly, (iii) Lower Dens was squaring off against a Stanley Cup-deciding match between the local Chicago Blackhawks versus the Tampa Bay Lightning (Blackhawks win, 2-0).
But, hey, this is the Lower Dens, and the Empty Bottle is a cozy jewel of the Chicago rock venue circuit that probably runs at least a size too small for a band like this outfit out of Baltimore. Hence, the quick sellout and community vibes running through the hall. Brooklyn’s TEEN and Chicago’s Landmarks opened before the Empty Bottle, as has been their wont of late, cleared out the barstools to make room for the headliner.
Jana Hunter, per usual, ruled the roost. The singer/songwriter/guitarist has the kind of all-around chops and vision that sparks the admiration of fellow musicians and the dreamy acquiescence of fandom. Her style – and the style of Lower Dens – has grown considerably more streamlined and pop-fit since the growly drone twang of Twin Hand Movement, to the spaced out and Spartan Krautrock-lite of Nootropics, to the decidedly humming ‘80s synth-pop of the latest release Escape From Evil.
In the middle of the set Hunter shared an offhand anecdote about buying multiple pounds of organic turkey at a farmer’s market. There was no decisive conclusion or punchline – more like a ‘slice of life’ story, which, if nothing else, testifies how content the audience was to merely bask in Hunter’s personality. That natural attraction, though, has the predictable consequence of diminishing the presence of the rest of the band. At times it was difficult to discern the musical personality of the supporting cast. If the band keeps heading in this direction, it’s not impossible to envision a Natalie Merchant/10,000 Maniacs moment (or, Edie Brickell & the New Bohemians moment): the rise of the frontwoman at the expense of the band ethos.
Why all the moralizing? There’s no ‘I’ in team, but there’s more Ringos than Johns. C’est la vie. The night was tight, the music was right, and the Blackhawks won. Hat trick.