Lotus, Schubas, Chicago, IL- 4/22
The first time I saw Lotus live was in February of 2003 at a small restaurant/bar called Thai Joes in Milwaukee. It was a friends recommendation and a sampler CD that brought me and few buddies to the show at the now defunct venue, and we were very impressed with the young bands performance. It was a sparse crowd that evening, but as we stood there sipping pints of tequila that they passed off as Long Island Iced Teas, we all had the feeling that this was a band that would eventually fill rooms. Even in their infancy, Lotus possessed a tight and cohesive sound, one that you could pinpoint to natural band chemistry.
I saw Lotus twice more at Thai Joes in the next couple of years, and sure enough, by the third show, the place was packed. The band was sounding better each time I saw them and starting to gain some much-deserved acclaim. As if on cue that it was time to move on, Thai Joes closed down (ironically due to a capacity violation), and I was happy to see the band play in some different local venues, ones with better sound and more elbow room. I was definitely becoming hooked on the Lotus sound, and after the recent release of their new album, The Strength of Weak Ties, I was anxious to hear how the new cut would translate onto the live stage.
Coming into Saturday nights show at the quaint Schubas Tavern in downtown Chicago, I had similar expectations that they would again raise the bar of their performance standards (the ticket-hungry fans lingering outside the venue were yet another sign that this was a show not to be missed). I had listened to a webcast of their performance at the Mirimar Theater in Milwaukee two nights before, and my tiny laptop speakers spouted a slightly different sound that was slightly more mature and slightly more complex. I was excited. Another Lotus show that would be better than the last.
However, tiny laptop speakers can be deceptive when one is trying to judge the quality of raw, live sound, and as the show began I was shocked to hear that Lotus had not slightly improved at all.
They seemed to have exploded exponentially.
It was like seeing a different band on stage. They almost appeared bigger in a way, towering over the packed room like warriors wielding electric weapons. They had swagger, command, and confidence like I have never seen, and their sound was huge, driving, and overwhelming. The quietly grooving band that I once knew was now roaring. It was like they had taken some sort of musical steroids.
The fog pouring from the back of the stage draped over drummer Steve Clemens, giving the impression that he was literally on fire, his drumsticks blazing in a red haze as the band launched into Jack it Up. Point/Electric Counterpoint segued nicely, and only two songs into the set, Lotus was already in full swing, clicking on all cylinders.
The first set also included an extended version of Tip of the Tongue, a new song off of TSOWT that featured the classic Lotus groove, but with trance-inducing programmed vocals and an edge of progressive guitar. Guitarist Mike Rempel, who was unable to play the show due to prior commitments, was filled in for by Brian Wilson of 1000 Vertical Feet. Aside from a few shaky moments (understandable considering the limited practice time), Wilson delivered in the clutch, nailing song after song, both new and old.
My favorite moment of the evening came with a rendition of the brand new When H Binds to O, a kind of Claypool meets Tortoise number that crept to an eerie and intense climax. The band fed off of Jesse Miller as his pulsing bass lines filled the entire room, stirring the crowd into a frenzy. Although it was early in the show, it was the evenings defining moment. It captured the bigness of what their sound had become and the plateaus of intensity that they could now reach. It was a testament to their maturity and progression as a band.
Set break came, and opening act DJ Harry provided a nice transition into the second half by setting up his turntables below the stage and in the masses. He fired up the tempo with his partying beats (prompting one fan to rip off his shirt and swing it around his head Anthony Kiedis-style) and even included a remix of the Phish staple First Tube. As the band filed back on stage, DJ Harry directed his assault of beats and rhythms into Kesey Seed, another new, sonic gem. The two musical minds worked very well together, and Ive already heard many fans mention that perhaps a MMW-DJ Logic-type relationship could come to fruition.
The show was not without its old Lotus classics however, and the second set featured strong versions of Plant Your Root, as well as the ambient Shimmer that rounded out the evenings performance. Overall the new songs were stunning, but the bands improvement was just as evident in the songs that have been around from the start, as they restored them like old, classic cars.
The encore was a short, but powerful version of Travel, a neurotic thriller off of 2005s Nomad. Jesse and Luke Miller set aside their battle-axes, preferring instead to compose the piece electronically by hand. In a way, it was a fitting finale to the evenings performance. Lotus has indeed traveled a road, one that has been marked by growth, discovery, and creativity, and its been a pleasure to see them rise up out of the dark shadows of Thai Joes and into the limelight.