Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett— and their band of Sea Lice–closed out their three night sold out streak in Chicago at the legendary Empty Bottle. The pair took the stage just around 9:30, forgoing an opener, to perform songs from their recently released collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice. Their stunning performance began with Vile and Barnett’s debut single from the aforementioned album, “Over Everything.”
From the get go, the crowd at the intimate venue radiated their excitement, displaying as much enthusiasm as a crowd of a larger size. Vile and Barnett radiated a similarly infectious energy, and an electric current of chemistry flowed between the duo and their other bandmates, which included Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney. While the pair performed songs from their Lotta Sea Lice album, they also bounced back and fourth between performing their own songs and covers from other artists. Although they both performed songs from their past albums, Barnett and Vile reworked their songs to make them duets, with Barnett taking on parts in Vile’s songs like “Life Like This” and “On Tour.” Vile also contributed to the live performances of Barnett’s songs like “Depreston” and “Dead Fox.” While they performed, the two would often back away from their microphone stands to meet in the middle of the humble stage, facing each other as they strummed their guitars. Whenever they did this, the musical chemistry between them only grew stronger, making the show that much more special.
Other highlights of the set included the performance of Belly’s song “Untogether” and Gillian Welch’s song “Elvis Presley Blues.” The latter opened up the band’s three song encore, and Vile and Barnett performed that cover as a duo without their band. The stripped back performance allowed for the duo’s harmonies and flawless vocals to really shine through. As the night wound down, Barnett mentioned that the Empty Bottle had been where she played her first show in Chicago, so it was great to be back. The set closed out with two more of the pair’s own songs; “Pretty Pimpin'” and “Avant Gardener.”
The pairing of Barnett and Vile on this album and the accompanying tour showcases the magic that can happen when artists come together and instill a sense of community and camaraderie in the music industry. If you missed out on the spectacular evening, check out our photo gallery of the show below.
See the rest of the Courtney and Kurt tour dates here, You can also snag a copy of Barnett and Vile’s collaborative album at the shop, order it from the webstore at any time right here.
This article was originally published via ANCHR Magazine
Indie rock groupWidowspeakjust released their fourth studio album Expect The Best on August 25th. The Brooklyn-based duo of Molly Hamilton and Robert Earl Thomas have been making music together since 2010, but this latest album brings their fullest and most developed sound to date. In support of the new record, the pair and their live band will kick off an extensive North American tour this week, followed by a UK tour. Before the tour hits Chicago, we chatted with Molly Hamilton all about the new album and upcoming tour. Check our chat with Widowspeak now to find out the biggest lesson they’ve learned in their years of making music, what makes this new record different, their ideal night out in NYC, how they prep for tour and more!
Rachel Zyzda: So your new album Expect The Best just came out last month! How did the writing and recording process for this album vary from your previous records?
Widowspeak: For this one, I still wrote the songs separate, from voice memos and notebooks and random ideas pieced together, knowing we would then expand on that and make them more intricate eventually. In the past, it has mostly been Rob figuring the latter part out, but this time we played with the regular touring band in the studio.
RZ: After releasing a few albums and being a band for several years, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a musician?
Widowspeak: I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is just to be kind to people, which seems obvious, but… We are really laid-back as a band and always super appreciative of people we meet on tour, whether that’s the people running the shows or going to them. We’ve heard stories about other bands, whether ones we know personally or are fans of, being jerks or just generally difficult to work with, and that is a total bummer. It’s so important to be good to people.
RZ: Where did you find yourself drawing inspiration from for the new songs, whether it be musical or non-musical influences?
Widowspeak: The new songs I wrote sort of in a big batch of them all at once, and I think they are all sort of about feeling stuck in various feelings or states of mind. It’s not uncommon at all to have those sorts of thoughts, but for me personally I wanted to write these songs more directly about that because it was getting increasingly hard to do anything, let alone music. Some of them are more concerned with the symptoms of those feelings, like being unproductive, or looking at social media, and others are about trying to figure out “why.”
RZ: I really love the cover art too, and the limited edition vinyl you put together with the purple lava lamp splatter. How involved are you with the visuals that the band puts out, and how does the cover tie in with the theme of the record?
Widowspeak: I’m usually really involved in the visuals, if not doing everything except the technical layout myself (sometimes, as with our last record, we use someone else’s art). This time, I took the cover photo and all the other photos in my apartment in Tacoma. The lava lamp is actually my stepmom’s that I borrowed (and that broke!) I had this weird feeling that the corner of my apartment, with a lava lamp, should be the record cover and had no idea why, ha.
RZ: Are there any songs from the new record that you’re particularly excited about performing live? Any spoilers you can give about the set for the upcoming tour?
Widowspeak: I’m excited to play all of them, honestly. I feel like because these songs were originally recorded with the band, they are already really full of that energy. Sometimes we have to try to figure out how to play a song live that was more sparse, or where the instruments aren’t represented by the four of us. This time everything feels more natural, also more high-energy. For tour surprises, I will say we are trying to figure out a new cover… hope we get it figured out in time!
RZ: Are there any cities you’re especially looking forward to playing?
Widowspeak: We love playing our respective hometown cities (Seattle/Tacoma, Chicago, Des Moines, Detroit) as well as our new hometowns, NYC and Kingston, NY (upstate), because so many of our friends are there. But it’s also great to play shows anywhere and to be surprised by the people you meet there, or how cool a venue or their staff are. Tour is crazy and full of things you didn’t expect, so I’m just going into it excited to play the songs and hoping the van doesn’t break down.
RZ: Speaking of touring, I saw you recently posted on Facebook about a taking a roadtrip (and tour is essentially one big roadtrip itself), so what are your go-to road trip activities, tunes, and essential snacks?
Widowspeak: Yeah, we got a new tour van which is also a great camper van, and we’re excited to bring it on the road! Generally we listen to a lot of podcasts, especially comedy or science ones, because they tend to be things people can all agree on (but also tune out if they want to). Music-wise, the van has a tape player so I’m excited to bust out the old cassette collection and go foraging in the bins at thrift stores. When we’re on tour we like to research ahead of time to see if there is a must-try local restaurant/food truck/etc. that is around, because no one wants to be figuring out how to eat breakfast from the things they have at a gas station. We try to plan ahead. So we definitely sometimes will go through a National Park or something, if it’s sort of on the way, or we’ll go swimming or thrifting or play pinball.
RZ: Since the album is called Expect The Best and you’re based in Brooklyn, describe what you would consider your best night out in NYC?
Widowspeak: I would say the best night out in NYC definitely involves knowing where to go so you don’t spend too much money, because the city is crazy expensive and it takes finesse and skill to do it right and not be broke. First, getting some snacks somewhere where there is happy hour food. I really love dollar oysters, and there are a bunch of places in Brooklyn that have them. Or honestly just grabbing something from a deli and finding a good spot in the park or something to people-watch. Then I’d say maybe go to someone’s roof if you know someone with a cool roof, unless it’s raining. There’s nothing better than watching the sun set over the skyline and bridges. But that’s kind of where my idea of the perfect evening devolves, because the best NYC night out would be unpredictable and you’d end up a lot of places you didn’t expect, like random apartments and bars you’ve never been to, or other boroughs from where you live. I will say that later, when you’re crawling home, I would get tacos or halal from one of the trucks, depending on where you are. That’s the classic NYC night-ender.
RZ: On a similar note, who are some of your favorite NYC bands at the moment that you would recommend to your listeners?
Widowspeak: Well, we just moved back into town, so I can’t totally speak to any of the newer bands that are just starting out (as we haven’t seen ‘em yet), and also a bunch of the NYC bands are now somewhere-else bands, but EZTV, and also there’s this band Poppies I like, Cut Worms, our friend Renata Zeiguer, who used to be in a band with Rob, is incredible. Other than that there are a bunch I’m not thinking of, I’m really glad to be back in the area though, lots of new bands to hear.
Listen to Expect The Best in full here, or grab the physical record in the shop or on the webstore!