Young Chicago indie rockers Smith Westerns rolled into Brooklyn last Wednesday night for a show at the Music Hall of Williamsburg. The band has been riding a wave of attention since releasing their third album, Soft Will, on June 25th. Although they began as a scrappy Chicago garage band, they've matured significantly in the past few years, and their latest album exudes a professional polish. They gave Brooklyn a taste of that new sound on Wednesday.
Wampire, an indie band from Portland, Oregon whose members sported oversized button-down shirts, started the night with a quick set of brash and subtly melodic rock. It happened to be their bass player's birthday, so naturally the crowd joined the band in singing an enthusiastic, if slightly off-pitch, version of "Happy Birthday."
A little after ten, Smith Westerns sauntered onstage to begin their 14 song set, which contained a mix of older favorites and recent hits from Soft Will. They kicked things off with "End Of The Night," a cut from their sophomore album Dye It Blonde. Setting a precedent for the rest of the show, Cameron Omori laid down a heavy, bouncing bass line while older brother Cullen belted out the vocals with his fresh, smooth voice.
After encouraging the dance-challenged hipster crowd to "move around a little bit," Cullen Omori and the band launched into "Only One," another track from Blonde, and then played "Fool Proof" and "Best Friend" from Soft Will. Lead guitarist Max Kakacek was a standout on "Best Friend," churning out slow, fuzzy hooks and working up an infectious groove during his solo.
The mood shifted during the middle of the set, when they played some slower, more somber numbers. Before playing "All Die Young," Cullen Omori warned the crowd not to drown in their tears, saying "this is a real sad song." Despite the dark lyrics, he gave his best vocal performance of the night, shifting into a sweet falsetto for some impressive high notes. Even the crowd got excited, and everyone joined in to help him sing the song's chorus.
The band gave the crowd a special treat by playing "My Heart," which Kakacek wrote in the band's garage days. It was a fast-paced, riff-heavy, and roaring track which had me thinking of the Ramones. This slice of Midwestern teenage angst was the closest the crowd came to actual dancing (more like furious head-bobbing).
Smith Westerns slowed things down again with "White Oath," a ballad from Soft Will. Kakacek faded in with hazy chord strumming to open the song before the rest of the band joined in. "Idol" and "Glossed" completed a mid-set trio of songs from their latest album. Kakacek's swirling guitar sections and Cameron Omori's heavy, steady bass lines balanced each other nicely on all three tracks.
The band rounded out their set with three final songs in lieu of an encore: "just pretend we walked offstage and came back," said Cullen Omori. Kakacek played some shredding guitar licks over the dreamy vocal "oohs" of "Weekend," the opening track from Dye It Blonde. Afterward, they launched into "3am Spiritual," a single from Soft Will. It was sweet and spacey, with an especially groove-worthy bass line. Finally, they capped off the show with "Varsity," another single from their most recent album. They kicked the synth into overdrive on this one, with keyboard lines so atmospheric it sounded like they were beamed in from outer space. Although the crowd was a little tame, it was a memorable night for the promising young band.
Smith Westerns are continuing their tour with gigs in Philadelphia, Cambridge, MA, Montreal, Toronto, and Chicago before playing a slot at Lollapalooza in August. You can find tickets for these shows on the Smith Westerns official website.
End Of The Night
Fallen In Love
All Die Young