Faiz Ali Faiz at Pritzker Pavilion

You didn’t have to understand the language or know the tenets of Sufi Islam to feel the power of Faiz Ali Faiz’s singing Thursday evening (June 18) at the Pritzker Pavilion in Chicago’s Millennium Park. This was, quite simply, an amazing vocal performance. by a Pakistani singer making his Chicago debut and touring the United States for the first time. More often than not, Faiz Ali Faiz sang with such full-on force that his face contorted and turned red with exertion. As he sang, his hands were in constant motion, making gestures that seemed almost like a game of pantomime.

Accompanied by tabla percussion and the droning chords of harmoniums, Faiz Ali Faiz engaged in a sort of call and response with the three other singers in his group — he was dressed in a shiny blue sort of tunic, while all of the other members of the ensemble were in matching gold-brown outfits. Most impressive of all was the way the music’s rhythms ticked and clicked into delightful and unexpected patterns. That was when Faiz seemed to take his vocals to even higher levels, singing in percussive, cycling series of notes that sounded like musical tongue twisters. The crowd broke out into applause at these moments and fans rushed forward, tossing dollar bills onto the stage.

Faiz paid tribute to the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the most famous artist in this style of singing, which is known as Qawwali and is based on the inspirational verse of Sufi poets. Near the end of the concert, Faiz performed “Mustt Mustt,” Khan’s best-known song, which generated another big round of applause. (Massive Attack’s remix of the song was once used in a Coca-Cola commercial.) By the time Faiz finished his encore, the stage was littered with money.

Photos of Faiz Ali Faiz.

The Love Language at the Hideout

The Love Language, a band from North Carolina, was one of the acts I hoped to catch last month at SXSW after hearing the group’s dandy pop track “Lalita.” I missed these guys when I was in Austin, but got another shot at seeing them last night, when they played at Chicago’s Hideout. It was a good set, and although the room could have accommodated more fans, the ones who were there were pretty enthusiastic. At times, the Love Language reminds me a bit of the Walkmen, but there’s more of a ’60s pop vibe to their songs, although with some Southern touches, naturally due to the band’s North Carolina origins. (Maybe a touch of alt-country, but nothing remotely like stereotypical Southern rock, though.) Singer-guitarist Stuart McLamb is clearly the band’s focal point, though the two female keyboard players helped a lot to liven up the show with their occasional dancing stints on tambourine.


The opening act was Mazes, a new Chicago band featuring a couple of the fine musicians already making excellent music in another group, the 1900s — Edward Anderson and Caroline Donovan — along with Charles D’Autremont. Mazes play ’60s-style rock, not that far afield from what the 1900s are doing, but less orchestral-sounding.


Photos of the Love Language and Mazes.