Crumb at Thalia Hall

By Susanna Kemp

6 Nov, 2019

More often than I’d expect, openers I’ve never heard of are the highlight of shows I attend because of my familiarity with the main act. This was the case at Crumb’s Nov. 6 show at Thalia Hall. Shormey opened with a short but enjoyable set, wearing a TLC sweatshirt in tribute to the 90’s girl group. Her disco is upbeat but relaxed and has an element of soul that makes her music feel simultaneously new and old. With titles like “Boogie Island” and “Party Down,” her songs are danceable and groovy.

Up next was Divino Niño, a quartet based in Chicago. Their sometimes Spanish, sometimes English love songs are reminiscent of the music of British boy bands like The Beatles and The Beach Boys, but with a psychedelic touch. The band lengthened most of their songs for their set with improvisation that felt natural and cohesive. The performance, sprinkled with surprises like drummer Pierce Codina’s bongo solo on “Foam,” felt like an experiment for the band in departing from the comfort of their recordings. Camilo Medina sang “Tell Me” with a voice changer that distorted his words into a growl, then he launched right into the sweet “Maria,” an unexpected transition. Divino Niño kept me on my toes.

After Divino Niño’s set, Thalia outfitted its stage with large spherical balloons for Crumb’s set. I wondered if this show was meant to be some sort of celebration, which seemed odd considering the lonely eeriness of Crumb’s music, and even odder when a recording of a melancholy lullaby played before Crumb took the stage. Was it the anniversary of one of their album releases? But, nothing especially celebratory had happened by the end of the performance, and Crumb was a bit disappointing. The balloons did match the high energy of the crowd, though, who were screaming their dedication to the band’s lead, Lila Ramani, before she’d even taken the stage. “I gotta do a PSA,” she said after the first song, gently correcting the audience’s pronunciation of her name. “It’s LEE-la, not LYE-la.”

Unlike Divino Niño, Crumb stuck to playing their music exactly as we knew it, but maybe this was for the best considering their crowd, which sang along to every song. Ramani is collected and has a calm manner, which I didn’t think fit her audience. She speaks in a seducing voice — it’s the kind of voice you’d want to lull you to sleep. Crumb’s audience was younger and more mainstream than I’m used to seeing at Thalia and smaller venues in Chicago like it, which I think is indicative of indie’s increasing embrace by more popular music. The audience moshed to “Locket,” which is Crumb’s most popular song, but I definitely wouldn’t consider it a banger. And while we waited for the band to come back onstage for an encore, the guy next to me shouted for the band to play Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.” A joke, of course, although I didn’t find it as funny as his friends did. 

Crumb has a distinct sound — dream pop with a lovely dissonance — that didn’t quite come through in their show. Everything was a bit too loud. It’s likely that a sound designer was to blame for this and not the band, but it was hard for me to get past. Ramani’s voice was too piercing on songs where she sang higher, like on the chorus of “Nina.” Her words were sometimes not discernible with the other instruments drowning her out. When Brian Aronow brought out his saxophone in the middle of “Part III,” none of the other band member’s quieted to give him a spotlight, and I strained to hear him. Maybe my expectations were too high, but unfortunately Crumb often sounded too brash to match their self-described — rightly so, I think — dizzying and hypnotic noise that I was looking forward to hearing.