REVIEW: Diet Cig's Kanye West Tribute

I’ve lived in Chicago my whole life, and I’ve been frequenting shows at the Bottom Lounge since 2012 when I saw Bowling For Soup perform a really intimate set (on a school night of all nights). I speak for most Chicago concert-goers when I say, no one is really that stoked to see a show at the Bottom Lounge. I mean, it definitely has all the perks of a smaller venue, but there is a built-in discomfort in the anatomy of the building that has always made me feel awkward at shows. However, the Bottom Lounge has never felt less like the Bottom Lounge than last Thursday at the Diet Cig show. I don’t know what kind of pixie magic, lead singer, Alex Luciano was casting, but I found myself in a completely transformed and reinvigorated space. In my head I kept having to ask, “Is this really the Bottom Lounge?”

The room was completely packed with an eclectic assortment of people, ages ranging from 17 to 40. When I first walked in, I was assessing what kinds of assholes I’d be dealing with in the crowd (as one does when they make the initial plunge into the sea of humans surrounding the stage). I was oddly surprised by the polite demeanor of everyone I encountered on my quest for the perfect spot. People were too busy focusing on the stage, in an intense anticipation, to feel anything other than an excited bliss.

The lights flashed purple, the band took the stage, and the crowd went nuts. Alex Luciano practically danced her way onto the stage, wearing a red beanie, and more glitter than I have ever seen on one human in my entire life -- and it was magnificent. Meanwhile, Noah Bowman took his seat at his drum kit, slightly removed from the spectacle that is Alex Luciano. Before even beginning to play music, or any formal introduction, Luciano did not miss a beat and made an announcement about her expectations for how the audience should behave. The ground rules: no touching anyone who does not want to be touched, no invading another person’s space, and above all else, no being a dick. And with that, they broke out into the song “Sixteen.”

Maybe it was the size of the venue, or maybe it was the larger than life presence of Luciano, but the I felt like I was at a house show among great friends. The commentary between songs was absolutely unreal, and definitely contributed to the intimacy of the show.

Luciano’s quips were hilarious, and her interactions with the audience were candid. At one point in the set, Luciano made the classic, “Wow Chicago is my favorite city to play shows in” comment that every visiting artist makes (but doesn’t really mean). But she didn’t stop there! She went on the talk about Kanye West, Kanye’s baby, Space Jam, and most importantly, “Midwest charm with that city slicker booty.”

That moment was a turning point in the evening. It was as if, all of a sudden, the clouds parted ways, the sky opened, and great voice said: “thou shalt dedicate the evening to Kanye West.”

The show was a pop-punk montage of high kicks, Kanye references, shoutouts to “all the shitty dads out there,” something called, “Leo magic,” and tales of 21st birthdays gone wrong. A ceramic penguin hanging out on an amp in the corner watched over it all.

The song “Scene Sick” was introduced as a tune about being “petty.” Noah Bowman, started playing the drums for but a second before Luciano exclaimed: “I know y'all feel petty… Kanye is from here!”

The introduction to the song “Apricots,” from their newest album, Swear I’m Good At This, went similarly. Luciano has the crowd quiet down for a “tender” moment.She let the crowd saturate in introspective silence for a moment before announcing: “This is dedicated to the future Saint West.”

On a more serious note, amidst the playful nature of Diet Cig’s live performance, was an effort to lift up marginalized voices. The culture of seeing a pop-punk concert is very male-centric, and the pop-punk community is pretty exclusionary towards non cisgendered men. Pop-punk shows are typically thought of as a place for violent moshing and crowd surfing; when you are in the pit at a pop-punk show, you are in no-man’s land and it’s very much every man for himself. Diet Cig not only prevented this kind of oppressive violence, but made an active effort to call attention to those who don’t have the privilege to thrash around at shows and still feel safe.

I’m not going to lie, I definitely cried a little bit when Luciano said, “Thank you to all the non-cis white males. You make these spaces so much more special! You don’t take up space!

The night was beautiful. I mean, they closed it out with a cover of the classic Semisonic song “Closing Time.”

Who could ask for anything more?

REVIEW: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya, SPORTS, and Diet Cig at SubT

IN ORDER: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya by A Klass, SPORTS by Jess Flynn, Diet Cig by Andrew Piccone

IN ORDER: Nnamdi Ogbonnaya by A Klass, SPORTS by Jess Flynn, Diet Cig by Andrew Piccone

by Jess Mayhew

Going to a show that features three artists you’re excited about isn’t the easiest to cover. I’ve been having a love affair with Nnamdi’s DROOL for the past few months, but I’ve been digging Diet Cig’s discography for a while – not to mention all the great things I’ve heard about SPORTS. So which one shines in a review? Which one gets the bigger word count, or the brighter verbiage? As it turns out, all three of the performances glittered in different ways, highlighting their uniqueness as musical acts.

Nnamdi Ogbonnaya opened the show. If you’re unfamiliar with his work, it ranges from indie guitar music a la “Art School Crush” to the avant-hip-hop, synth-heavy stylings of DROOL. And most people at Subterreanean that night weren’t prepared for such a leap in genre, let alone Obgonnaya’s outward performance. At first, singing and rapping over tracks off of his iPod, we got the goofiness of the “let gO Of my egO” music video, with perhaps a little less grandiosity.

But then he picked up his SG and let loose a cacophony of noise, with the help of his drummer and bassist, throwing in full-band covers of DROOL tracks, older songs, and some jamming that could have opened up a Bongripper show. While the audience might not have known what to make of it, it was dramatic, dynamic, and all-around enjoyable.

SPORTS was up next, and I have to say, I was intrigued not only by their sound but by the fact that I hadn’t seen a band successfully snag the name “SPORTS” before. Thankfully, they lived up to my interest and provided some solid, fiery indie rock with a polite punk attitude. With most songs clocking in at a little over two minutes, they ran through a gamut of them in their half-hour slot. It was like speed-reading through my college journal, but in the best way possible and if I had been witty and brave enough to throw shit at the people who deserved shit-throwing.

Guitarist/vocalist Carmen Perry drew most of my attention with a powerful voice capable of dishing out scorn and snark while still remaining vulnerable, and some lightning-quick guitar skills. Not to mention she plugged right into her amp. Right into her amp! No effects! Definitely a cool thing to see in an age where pedalboards weigh about 40 pounds.

Finally, of course, Diet Cig comes out. The stage is relatively bare, with Noah Bowman on drums in the far back and the pixie-esque Alex Luciano on guitar and vocals and high-energy magic. Face painted in glitter, Alex Luciano has officially taken the cake for how many high-kicks and jump-twists can be done at a pop-punk show. Plugged into a wireless system and free to move about the empty stage, her energy was utterly unmatchable. And the energy she managed to work out of the crowd matched her own.

With a sweet, lilting voice that sometimes swells into a belt and a reckless abandon in her playing, the lyrics she sings are mirrored back by a frenzied, joyful crowd. Starting out with the searing “Sixteen” and moving on to others from previous their repertoire, including Diet Cig’s newest album Swear I’m Good At This, each song is dealt out like an ecstatic blow to the crowd, which happily takes it and swallows its energy. Of course, the music is what brought us all there that night, but it seems like the rush of watching Luciano and Bowman combust into elated energy was the real delight.