Wrote this Sunday whilst recovering from prior evening’s show.
CHICAGO (7 Apr 2013) — Saturday night Modestep stopped by the House of Blues on their first North America headline tour. They played in Chicago last September at Union Park’s North Coast Music Festival. Their mix of hard, indie rock and dubstep was the perfect hangover cure as last summer’s final big, outdoor party before the winter. They have grown over the past 7 months, releasing their first studio album, Evolution Theory, earlier this year, and returned to shake Chicago’s Electronic Music scene out of its winter doldrums to get us ready for the epic electronic summer ahead.
Arrived at the show near the end of the first opener: Knuckle Children. They and Popeska the second one, each had fun, unique electro sounds that almost any other night in Chicago would be enough for me to fill my need for new noise … except that Modestep was playing next, so I kept my excitement and energy down, saving it for the headliner.
Modestep formed in London in 2010 around brothers Josh (pictured above) and Tony Friend along with drummer Matthew Curtis and guitarist Nick Tsangis. Josh is the lead singer who also does production and keys. Older brother Tony rocks a Guy Fawkes style mask that looks like it was dipped in radioactive acid and plays guitar in addition to his main role as DJ. For the show Saturday he donned a Chicago Bulls cap over on top of his mask and a Derrick Rose jersey, showing respect for the city (albeit this year it would of been better to don a jersey of a Bulls player whose actually played in 2012-13, but we will give the Londoner a pass and appreciate the gesture).
Roughly 30 to 40 minutes after Popeska left the stage Modestep began slowly adjusting instruments and making their way on stage. The feeling something great was about to happen was palpable, and the band did not disappoint.
Skipping the foreplay they immediately injected oterhworldly electronic sounds surely born in Hades directly into our eyeballs with “To the Stars.” We did not even have a chance to breathe as we were immediately jumping and fist pumping like we had never done it before in our lives.
Quickly afterwards they came with a remix of Prodigy’s “Smack My Bitch Up” that got everyone smacking themselves. It was the most I have really let myself go completely wild on a dance floor jumping and bashing into strangers as they pushed me back into where I was standing in turn. At one point I realized I’d been hitting a cute girl in red multiple times as I pointed with my arm to the heavens and it moved in a rhythmic fervor it’s never before experienced, completely outside my consciousness.
She was down, though, giving me a quick kiss on the cheek and telling me not to worry.
With Electronic Dance Music, or EDM’s, growth in popularity over the past 18 months everyone is now familiar with the traditional build and drop. The DJ picks a melange of sounds, plays them slow to draw the audience in, collects the energy, then unleashes, or drops, a much harder, louder and faster beat as everyone goes insane.
Think of the build up as shaking a coke bottle and the drop as unscrewing the cap and spewing liquid over your enemy.
Modestep puts a twist on this formula with the drummer, guitarist and lead singer. While most DJs build with a pre-recorded melody and sounds, Modestep does it live with Josh, Matthew and Nick. Tsangis shreds on the guitar violently like he’s in a Metal band, Curtis pounds on the drums while Josh croons in a high, but in no way weak or feminine, voice that draws you in. Later in the night as they covered Coldplay’s “Paradise” he sang a slow, personal interpretation of Chris Martin’s chorus. As we all drew our breath and relaxed Tony was making his way over to the DJ table (bounced between there and guitar all night). Once we are all comfortably enjoying a beautiful rock Tune, Josh yells “CHICAGO: BRACE FOR IMPACT!” and then Tony drops a beat that would shatter teeth in less hygienically minded cultures.
They worked through all the big songs including “Feel Good,” the new “Saved the World” and “Show Me A Sign.” As Josh demanded all of us throw our lighters in the air and we willfully followed, a pleasing mix of butane and ether rose above us taking our spirits as high as Josh’s range would allow (much more fun doing that song in the dark at House of Blues than the first time they did it during the day at North Coast).
Josh’s stage presence was ridiculous all night, commanding us to his will, including during the encore of “Sunlight” where he had us all get down to the floor. Hundreds of us crouched down waiting …
for permission to jump just as Tony dropped the hammer’s fucking hammmer, and we leaped into a cacophony of elbows and emotion leaving nobody’s reality in tact.
Panting and sweating through my pink shirt I thought I had nothing left, but somehow I jumped and jived higher than I had all night for their final, triumphant exit.
Josh was speaking very kindly about the city all night. Calling Chicago something to the effect of his favorite fucking city and that he would love to live here. He thanked the city countless times during the show, including inviting all of us to come with them and get drunk after the show.
True to form, all 4 band mates came amongst the people afterwards, joining the staff in the merch shop/coat check room. Fans jostled for positing to get signatures and speak with the group. I was such a fan boy I actually bought a CD and got all 4 members to sign the disc, despite a personal policy of not asking celebrities for signatures.
From left to right: guitarist Nick Tsangis drinking; DJ Tony Friend in (barely visible) Bulls Hat; singer Josh Friend in Chicago’s Wild Onion Villains white t with back turned & drummer Matthew Curtis laughing.
Hung around a little later to offer to buy the band a shot, but by that point it was multiple, cute, scantily clad EDM female fans to each member and I wussed out, feeling they’d be more interested in the ladies.
It was the most unique Electronic show I have seen and following a couple years of Skrillex/Swedish House/David Guetta, mixing traditional rock and cutting edge dubstep, that I think is the “new” sound in pop Electronica, or at least it is the “now” sound.
Overall my friend Mike attending his first techno show said it best:
“They made Dubstep palatable.”
For anyone interested, they’re coming back to Chicago for Friday of Lolla. Cannot wait to have you back in the Chi gentleman.
- Modestep @ Wellington Square (1/10/2012) by Stuart Sevastos on Flickr! Republished with permission of its CC BY 2.0 License.
- Image of band backstage by Jeffrey Danoff. Chicago (7 Apr 2012). All rights reserved. Republished with permission of the author.