A host of indie-rock fans came to the ES Jungle this Friday night to see Chicago act Company of Thieves. It was a perfect Friday night for an all-ages show: the evening reeked of the promise of summer as young folks danced inside and mingled outside, enjoying the opportunity to be together and experience the work of some talented musicians.
As Company of Thieves started off their set with a catchy sing-along, the crowd exploded into a pogoing throng of dancers that matched vocalist Genevieve Schatz' every note. Guitarist Marc Walloch strutted with hollow-bodied guitar before an expansive pedalboard, detonating blasts of alternating fuzz, distortion, reverb and echoes. He flirtatiously switched from lively strums marked by feathery downstrokes and complex upstrokes to cocky leads that kept the audience's feet moving.
Not surprisingly, Schatz's unbelievable voice and poetic lyrics were the highlights of the show. A tiny gamine, Schatz has a set of lungs allow her to range stunningly from seductive, half-swallowed soul to perky bright power pop without a hint of effort. A true performer, she gave herself to the audience with practiced abandon.
Despite Company of Thieves' rapid rise to radio airplay, the band expressed deep and sincere thanks to Piradical Productions for their help. It was one of the last opportunities to see this exponentially popular band play in a place as intimate as a church basement.
Three locals - Wolfy, Jascha and Pleasant Run - opened for Company of Thieves. Fresh from a trip to Italy, the gifted, piano-led group called Wolfy offered a full, orchestral sound comprised of familiarly-played keys, electric cello and violin backed by bass and powerfully yet subtly pounded drums. Electric strings added heartbreaking harmony and drama to the high-pitched, breathy vocals of keyboardist Greg "Wolfy" Johnson and his full, pregnant chords. Drummer Matt Wilson toggled between inconspicuous rhythms and flashy, syncopated tom and rim hits. As their set drew to a close, the audience began to clap along to the thoughtful, angelic sound of this Maroon 5-influenced pop group that managed to push out song after song with full and lovely clarity.
One-named lead singer Jascha took the stage next, backed by four pieces. Band members garnered attention when they lifted an accordion onto the stage along with both an acoustic and electric guitar and the standard bass and drums. The group opened with vocal harmonies in thirds and fifths before Jascha took over, strumming his acoustic, singing high and smooth, sometimes in falsetto, face framed by a scruffy beard and hot pink Ray Bans. Rhythms that were heavy on the snare, sticks and brushes alternating, gave the band a pop sound, while the bass remained understated. Much of the band's talent lay with the accordionist, Lauren Moore, who charmingly and mellifluously harmonized while effortlessly plying her instrument. The complexity of this unapologetically indie group was reminiscent of Elvis Costello and Bright Eyes, with a smattering of Nickel Creek thrown in for good measure.
Newcomers Pleasant Run opened the show to a small but appreciative audience. After the set, statuesque singer Sarah Michaelis glowed with pleasure and exertion. Pink-cheeked and grinning, she said she was excited to play with a band as critically acclaimed as Company of Thieves, and that despite her band's youth and obscurity, the promoters of the show, Piradical Productions, "treated them as professionals." Asked her opinion about the performance, Michaelis quietly smiled and said simply that "it was fun," but the excitement in her eyes belied such an understatement.