It’s almost the end of winter, so artists are coming out — literally. Sia and Missy Higgins recently joined our queer music canon, and out guitarist Kaki King is releasing her new album, Dreaming of Revenge, this month (look for an interview with her soon). In this edition of Sound Check, I review Sia’s live show as well as new releases from punk rockers the Shondes and folksinger Ellis.
Australian singer-songwriter Sia (pictured left) was in Chicago for two days during her tour in support of her latest album, Some People Have Real Problems. She stopped at Borders bookstore on Feb. 28 for an in-store performance, donning a long, men’s style button-down shirt and rainbow scarf that a fan had given her a few nights prior.
“Does anyone need anything?” she cheerily asked the crowd, who remained seated on the floor for Sia’s mellow set. Even with a full band, her music is low-key pop, but it’s through live performance that her vocals are best experienced. Her smooth voice flew flawlessly from note to note, and her runs rivaled those of any jazz or soul songstress.
Sia started her set with “Little Black Sandals,” a groovy, repetitive song about walking away from a tired old romance, and ended with “Breathe Me,” the hit single from her previous album, Lady Croissant. With time for only a handful of tracks, Sia obliged an audience member with a request by telling him she’d play it at her concert the following night, promising it would be much more dramatic in a larger, dark venue.
Nonetheless, the audience was pleased with what they received for free in the downtown bookstore, and they lined up eagerly to get their CDs signed and photos taken with Sia.
Later that night and across town, Le Tigre offshoot MEN were deejaying at Sonotheque. Hoping for a performance of some kind, attendees were disappointed by the lack of anything more than a sighting of J.D. Samson and Johanna Fateman. They wandered in and out of the DJ booth, playing hits from the 1990s like “Tootsie Roll” and some mainstream hip-hop, but failed to do much more.
J.D. Samson (left) and Johanna Fateman of MEN
Samson, who also deejays solo as DJ J.D., has been rumored to be Sia’s love interest, but there was no sighting of Sia at the show even though she was in town on the same night.
Queer quartet the Shondes have a Jewish edge to their dark punk rock, and though that might sound odd, it actually works. On the band’s debut album, The Red Sea, they sing political songs about New York City and their home borough of Brooklyn, as well as about high expectations for love and life. Fans of Sleater-Kinney will swoon over the Shondes, especially with vocalist Louisa Solomon’s Corin Tucker–like croons about socially conscious living.
The violin on songs such as “Your Monster” gives an extra punch to the art pieces, and The Red Sea is an album that, despite its innate queerness and feminist, riot-grrl leanings, could surely cross over into other areas of indie rock. Luckily, those factors are an added bonus for queers who enjoy radical punk rock.