Saves the Day and Chicago have had a weird relationship when it comes to the shows they’ve played here lately. From being personal highlights of Riot Fest 2012 or Warped Tour 2014 to hammering in a bizarre ten minute breakdown during “Get Fucked Up” (complete with singer Chris Conley disappearing a few minutes in, only to return to the stage laughing maniacally) while on tour with Say Anything. They peaked last year with the baffling decision to play a Chicago Bears tailgate party. I’m not sure exactly what the fuck happened that night, but according to setlist.fm, they managed thirteen songs. That seems like a pretty generous estimate considering how much of their set was dedicated to celebrating all of us being there together at that moment. Also, to cat ears.
Given that history, I couldn’t wait to see the next chapter in the Saves the Day Saga of Strange. This latest tour was in support of their newest full length, 9, and featured a solo set from Kevin Devine as well as powerhouse duo, An Horse. Chicago was also fortunate enough to have Airstream Futures opening up the night. I finished my pre-show burger hoping there would be a photo pit that night (there was!) and not knowing what to expect. This was going to be a hella fun night, regardless of what Saves the Day had mind. I kept my fingers extra crossed we could all move on from the last few shows, but secretly wouldn’t have been disappointed if this night also ended up going off the rails.
I love Airstream Futures so friggen much. One of my favorite Chicago bands, they get better every time I see them and are always a smart choice to make any bill stronger. Between singer Devon Carson’s explosive vocal performances and guitarist’s Jeff Dean’s literal exploding kick maneuvers, Airstream Futures dominates the stage and demands your attention. Tonight was the debut of their new bassist Katie Karpowicz. It’s sad to think of future shows without Megan Lynn radiating fun onstage, but Katie is going to excel and I can’t wait to see what comes next for the group. Airstream Futures were the main reason I came out early and given how good the new songs sounded, that trend will continue as long as they keep playing shows.
Up next was An Horse. I had never heard of the Queensland combo before this show, but apparently they were kind of a big deal several years ago. I love a good two-piece band and anxiously awaited to see what this pair with the grammatically awkward name was all about. Their driving, indie power-pop sounds filled every corner of the venue with warm and inviting notes the way a cartoon pie cooling on a windowsill does. Apparently, Kate and Damon haven’t played together in a while, but you wouldn’t know it to see their chemistry on stage. It was an absolute pleasure watching the two of them playing off one another as they revisited their old catalog. When their American cousin, Kevin Devine, joined them on stage for new single “Get Out,” the energy they had been harnessing throughout their set came out in a tantalizing performance that left me hungry for more.
Seeing Kevin Devine is a guaranteed good time. Whether with his Goddamn Band or alone, there’s no denying Devine is a potent force of nature onstage. Known for his deeply introspective lyrics and revealing storytelling, Devine delivered exactly what the doctor ordered. Much of the crowd was lost in a world of political allegory and captivating vocal delivery throughout. It was a bit of an emotional roller coaster and culminated with Devine’s regular drummer and guy who just finished his set with An Horse, Damon Cox, coming out to give a few songs an extra oomph. Shifting part of the burden from just his shoulders allowed Devine to open up a bit more and explore the limits of the stage, as he tends to do with a full band. Ending with an impassioned performance of “Brother’s Blood” left a haunting sensation hanging over the crowd. It was very much a high point of the evening.
After a brief set change, the moment the strangely not-packed house had been waiting for arrived. It was time for Saves the Day! What was going to happen? The sunglasses and bomber jacket that Conley donned didn’t exactly fill me with confidence, but I decided to reserve judgement. All reservations flew out the window when the band kicked things off with their biggest hit: “At Your Funeral.” Playing this felt like a perfect way to shake things up and immediately engage the crowd, both young and old. From there, it was off to the races as the band flew through a 25 song celebration of their history.
Having listened to 9 a few times before this show, my assessment of the album was that I liked it better than most of Saves the Day’s recent work. In fact, I was actually excited to hear how songs like “Kerouac and Cassidy” or “Side By Side” would come off live. The band did a fantastic job of balancing their set between the classics like “Cars & Calories,” “Holly Hox,” & “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic” with the newer songs like “1984” or “Ring Pop.” Hell, even Sound the Alarm got some love. That album is dark as shit and one of my absolute favorites. Hearing three whole songs from it pleased me the most out of anything that night.
This is the most stable lineup Saves the Day lineup in years. Granted, none of them besides Chris have been around prior to 2009, but this version of Saves the Day has been getting better and playing tighter together over the years I’ve seen them. One of my favorite things about Saves the Day songs is the complex, yet complimentary bass lines running throughout. It’s refreshing to hear all of them so well preserved in this current lineup. It was especially amusing seeing Conley for the first time without a guitar around his neck. He looked like he’s been itching to ham up being a frontman for a while and, now that he can, it’s been a bit novel finding his footing. The crowd didn’t seem to care. The room was clearly filled with people who wanted nothing more than to shout their feelings back at the man who so expertly encapsulated them at one point or another.
I can’t imagine it’s easy for a band like Saves the Day to live up to the agonizing expectations fans must put on them to stay what they were. They now have nine full lengths under their belt, but I only really like four of them. It’s just so hard for me to enjoy the person I loved for their ability to craft morbid imagery, singing about how beautiful the world is on the same level. Despite that close minded attitude, I feel like I will always hold a special place in my heart for this band. So many names have come and gone for me, but Saves the Day is still going strong. We may have drifted apart in some aspects, the songs that carried me through my own darkness will always be worth revisiting. Tonight proved that Saves the Day is perfectly suited to carry on their legacy of youthful sorrow while offering plenty of fresh takes for anyone in mood for an extra dose of saccharine alongside.