The first opener of the night was indie-rock artist, Sam Soto. What stood out first about Soto was his incredible style and particularly, his round glasses that he kept on throughout the entire course of the night. For opening purposes, he was perfect. His electro music completely lifted the crowd, which isn’t always easy almost two hours before the main act.
Alongside his talented guitarist, Soto’s catchy music, which blends electronic beats with soft-rock instrumentals, made for a captivating performance. Even better, Soto spent the rest of the night in the audience. Seeing his round, dark glasses moshing along with the crowd was incredibly fun, and illuminated the down-to-earth creative he is.
As the second opener for The Polar Boys, you’d have no idea One South Lark were a bunch of college students who flew in for an impromptu Chicago concert at the Subterranean. Their musical precision, coordination and energy was remarkable— and left me surprised the New Orleans band hadn’t been on tour with The Polar Boys this whole time.
They started out with “Hollow Summer,” off of their 2020 debut album Vista Beach. As the red hue of the stage light shined down on lead singer Robert Freeman, he closed his eyes and his smooth voice drove the upbeat, beachy vibe of the band’s music. Guitarist Grayson Worley introduced himself to the audience with a dynamic solo, adding a fantastic string touch to the feel-good energy that is Vista Beach.
The set picked up with “Vacation,” and with a quick note from Freeman saying that “It’s terrible. We hope you really don’t like it,” they were off. The band’s sense of humor didn’t stop there; it creeped into the performance, and showed us how much fun these four high school friends were having on that stage. Adding intense energy to the groups’ performance was Bassist Cole Herrington, who put his all into his impressive guitar riffs and made his passion clear. The audience could feel that enjoyment in front of them and joined in. Some were reciting every word, and everyone was having fun.
Drummer Tabor Brewster made the spotlight during “Traffic.” At first the drums added a pleasantly upbeat touch to the song, but during his solo, the speed and vigor coming from the stage in front of me was stunning, and Brewster’s talent was unmistakable. He continued his showcase into their at-the-time unreleased single, “(Kinda) thought you were the one,” which came out last Saturday. The song is similar to their other buoyantly beachy music, but with new vocal and tonal depth— I’m excited to see what the band has in store for us next, and hope it’s their long-awaited second album.
They finished out their show with a cover of “Valerie,” by Amy Winehouse, and their first ever released single, “Japanese Soda.” The crowd exploded with energy at Freeman’s call and response to the lyrics of “Valerie.” Then they closed the show as cohesively as the group of friends are; working together to execute one last song on that stage, and have as much fun as they could with it, together.
As soon as The Polar Boys entered the stage light, I knew their intimacy was uncuratedly real. Nearing the end of their World Domination tour at the Subterranean in Chicago, the boy-band trio: Andy Zambrana, Andres Baquerizo and Alex Ramon, are breathing fresh air into the world of pop-rock. With their incredible fashion, relaxed demeanor and refreshing take on strong, yet beachy music, I can see the Miami band making it to much bigger venues on their next tour.
The band’s emphasis on string instruments made for a definingly unique sound for the performance. Not only did the band’s bass and guitars’ sounds blend beautifully together, but they looked even cooler. With colorful hand-painted psychedelic designs, which the group made sure to credit their graphic designer, Val, with, it was clear the groups’ vision stretched far beyond their music.
Getting deeper into the set, they moved onto “Obvious,” Ramon’s personal favorite. A bit slower and beachier, the dreamy guitar sounds and smooth vocal tones helped deliver on Ramon’s promise. Their set was overflowing with intense drums, captivating energy and upbeat lyrics. At times the music was somewhat nostalgic of 2010s alt-pop, sometimes more psychedelic rock, and sometimes even dream-pop; they blended genres with ease to create a set that never seemed random or out of place, and was always entertaining.
Perhaps my favorite part of the evening was feeling like I was getting to know the band through their performance. At one point, Zambrana had the whole crowd sing happy birthday to his dad, Edwin. At another, they took a 60-second huddle to decide on what song to sing next. They were creating their setlist in real time based on requests from the crowd and how they were feeling. It could’ve been partly due to the audience size, but I have never seen a live performance that was able to create so much intimacy and closeness between them and the crowd.
That’s how their fanbase’s devotion became exceedingly more comprehensible throughout the night. There were high schoolers there whose parents had driven them from Wisconsin and fans who knew every word to every song. For a small band from Florida— their mark on the Midwest was still evident.
Toward the end of their performance they pulled out what they told me was their secret weapon: a good cover. “I Love You Baby” made the small crowd shake the floor beneath us. Dancing and creating remarkable energy all night long, Baquerizo continued to lift the crowd up with jumping and head-banging into the end of the performance. When they gifted the crowd with “Nothing Has Changed,” for their last song, everyone was genuinely sad to see them go.
In an interview after the show I was able to ask the band why they make music. Ultimately, they said, it’s the ability to make people feel something. To write down what you’re feeling and then go to Chicago where you know no one in the crowd and still have people singing the lyrics back to you. It’s the connection they make— and if the Polar Boys did anything, it’s make a connection.