Montreal’s TOPS has one of the most distinct sounds in modern indie rock. They simultaneously occupies the same guitar driven, vaguely lo-fi skin of artists like Mac DeMarco or Ariel Pink and the tried and true trappings of your parents’ favorite light rock radio station.
This might seem like an odd pairing, but its yielded two terrific records (2012’s Tender Opposites and 2014’s Picture You Staring) and a number of ethereal, soulful singles that blend warm, gooey synths and chugging guitars with ear worm hooks from singer Jane Penny.
Needless to say, TOPS’ music is engineered for an intimate venue, and the quartet had the perfect space in Chicago’s Lincoln Hall. The venue is tall and a bit cavernous, but certainly not deep, ideal for David Carriere’s clean chords and tastefully restrained riffs to carry.
Although bathed in soft purple light and the haze of a few eager fans vaping in the front row, the band’s songs bristled with a welcome bite and an undeniable live energy.
Riley Fleck’s drums hit harder, and Penny’s vocals, which sometimes blend into the instrumental almost too well, were center stage.
The band primarily stuck to Picture You Staring songs, although their records flow so effortlessly into one another that seeing them live is more one holistic experience. What would become monotonous in the hands of lesser songwriters instead is immersive in the hands of TOPS. Four or five songs into their set and you feel transported somewhere timeless.
Of course, there were some particular highs during dreamy performance. Single “Change of Heart” stands out for its juxtaposition of gorgeous, upbeat guitar and direct, emotional lyricism, and Penny’s live performance only highlighted that dichotomy further.
The syrupy “Sleeptalker” glistened in new and exciting ways, while “Circle the Dark,” and its Police-esque guitar had an undeniable sense of urgency.
TOPS rounded out their set with a rousing cover of The Pretenders’ “Don’t Get Me Wrong” before ripping into “Turn Your Love Around” with as much vigor as they could muster. Carriere’s guitar on the breakdown was particularly spellbinding, and as the organized chaos of the outré wound down it was clear that the band was leaving the audience somewhere different than where they’d started.
There were a couple of notable absences from the setlist, including “She’s So Bad” and “Way to be Loved,” but ultimately TOPS’ show is so engrossing that no individual song’s absence is that glaring.
Despite just having added bassist Alana Marta DeVito, TOPS’ chemistry is a thing to behold. You’ll want to catch them in these kinds of close quarters before the band graduates to roomier accommodations, which is an inevitability if they keep producing and performing music at this level.
Maybe you’re going to Pitchfork Festival this weekend or maybe you’ll be sitting at home daydreaming about it. I’ll be doing a bit of both, to say the least. Either way, there are a lot of great acts to not only catch live but have a listen to even if you’re not there. The diversity at Pitchfork Festival is definitely clear, one second you’ll be dancing and the next you’ll be in a soothing trance. There’s a lot to hear and see so here’s a little guidance. Here’s my list of must-sees, some obvious choices and some that may have you newly hooked:
Frankie Rose will be sure to have you’re attention with her lo-fi indie jams. Definitely no need to get too worked up in the heat during her set because it’ll be cool, chill and the perfect beginning to the weekend.
Mac DeMarco and summer festivals are two things that go together like peanut butter and jelly. Cheesy thing to say? Sure, but I merely speak the truth here folks. Mister DeMarco will be sure to bring his spunky indie rock to the stage this weekend and get people to perk up in that dazzling sun.
Does it get more obvious than this pick? We all love the guy around here, if you couldn’t tell. Will his set be a total party on Saturday? Is that even a real question? Really though, Ryan Hemsworth will be sure to get the party started at Pitchfork and no one will be able to deny it.
Solange is a firecracker with soul and some serious fierceness. I’m sure this comes to no shock when you’re part of the Knowles family. Solange is known to put on quite the energetic, fabulous show so you’d be crazy to miss her rock it.
Sky Ferreira is what you would call a triple threat. Whether she’s modeling, singing or writing, she’s ridiculously awesome at it all. Her music varies from pop, indie, to just pure rock. She’s a star on the rise and a definite must see at this rate.
After falling helplessly in love with their sophomore release Something, I knew Chairlift would become a band I couldn’t ever get sick of. From trippy 80’s sounding pop songs to simply beautiful ballads, they can get you feeling all sorts of things. If you want something fun and unique this weekend, Chairlift can give you that craving.
This list has a dash of everything but don’t forget to see all the other great acts too. (I know everyone will be getting their booty shaking on at R.Kelly, I see you). Enjoy this weekend if you’re going, or even if you’re just pretending to go in your mind.