A lot of great music is on the calendar for Chicago this summer, including many street fairs as well as the big rock fests, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza. Best of all, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park has a ton of free concerts, including rock, classical, jazz and world music. And as in the last few years, the city of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs has done an exceptional job in booking some really interesting and noteworthy acts at this beautiful venue.
The summer concert season officially began Monday night (May 24) with the first of the “Downtown Sound” shows — a series that focuses mostly on rock, with a surprising amount of critically praised indie rock.
The double bill last night started with the Ponys, a Chicago band that’s been on hiatus for the past few years. It’s good to hear them playing again, with sharp guitar hooks and reverb-laden vocals by lead singer Jered Gummere echoing in architect Frank Gehry’s pavilion. The place wasn’t exactly packed — there were plenty of empty seats, which wasn’t surprising considering how big the place is — but when a small crowd of fans began dancing near the stage, it felt festive. The Millennium Park security seemed to be more casual than usual about letting people dance up in that area near the stage, which is a smart idea.
The headliners were the Besnard Lakes from Montréal, who make music with a sweeping sense of drama and high-flying melodies. Singer-guitarist-keyboardist Jace Lasek hit some impressive falsetto notes with something close to perfection. (I laughed when a member of Chicago band the 1900s tweeted last night that they were expecting Lasek to bust into that Conan O’Brien comic tune “In the Year 2000” at any minute.) Bassist Olga Goreas also sings some of the lead vocals, and that mix of male and female voices was beautiful. Deftly moving from delicate passages of music into louder rock, the Besnard Lakes played many songs from their new album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night, as well as some tracks from their first two records. Lasek shook his hair and grimaced like a classic-rock rocker.
Check out the schedule of upcoming Pritzker Pavilion concerts at www.millenniumpark.org.