Hoops at the Metro

By Lucas Kaplan

18 Jan, 2020

Tomorrow Never Knows (TNK) Fest says on its website that since its inception in 2005, they’ve “proven for over a decade that music fans will brave the brutal Chicago cold for a good show.” That statement proved true as Metro drew a packed house filled with craft beer, beanies, and long beards as the extremely indie-driven lineup of Varsity/Hoops/Black Marble took the stage during the fourth night of TNK Fest. TNK aims to run the “most welcoming and affordably priced” festival that it can each January, and considering Metro was just one of five different venues hosting an event for TNK Fest that Saturday night, the energy in the building was impressive.

While I mainly showed up to my previous interest in Hoops, a soft-alternative rock project from Indiana, I have to give a ton of credit to Varsity for bringing that energy with their opening act.

I honestly hadn’t heard of Varsity before Saturday night, but I am definitely a fan now. They played a lot of songs from their sophomore studio LP Parallel Person, with “A Friend Named Paul” and “Alone in My Principles.” Unlike what those melancholy hipster-ish song titles might have you believe, Varsity played an upbeat and very lively set. The aspects of standard indie-pop definitely stood out, but not without some upbeat rock and folk influences also present. Drummer Jake Stolz went pretty hard and was a nice contrast with Stephanie Smith’s comforting voice. Varsity definitely gained a few new fans after their performance.

Interestingly, Hoops played the longest set Saturday night, but was the middle act of the three performances. Of their ten songs, Hoops played three unreleased tracks, which was nice to hear after the band spent a year on hiatus (which ended last fall). TNK definitely knew the artists to group together, because it was only a short break between Varsity and Hoops, who immediately picked up the tone Varsity had just set. Myself included, people just showed up to hear some smooth melodies and vibe a little. Hoops’ live sound captured less of the dream pop prevalent in their recorded stuff and more of the rock side, but they still sounded melodic enough for people near the back to sip IPAs and sway with the music. I really enjoyed being up front though, as Hoops tours with a six-person ensemble, and the dual guitar work was pretty hype.

As with each band who played, their recorded music has a softer mood, but Hoops definitely made a strong impression on the crowd after songs like “Sun’s Out” and “They Say.” My friend and I agreed he’d found “a new band to add to his chill lo-fi playlist.” Hoops and TNK really nailed their target demo on this one.

Closing act Black Marble took the stage after a bit of a delay due to some technical issues. The musical project of songwriter Chris Stewart played about half their songs from the 2019 Bigger Than Life, but mixed some older tracks in; more uptempo and abstract songs like “Pretender” and “Iron Lung” kept the now-fully-packed venue alive and energetic.

TNK delivered a three-band lineup that progressively got more abstract and moody while staying within the realm of an indie-pop umbrella. All three bands were really impressive, although a 3-hour showtime just about reached the limit of how long you can gently sway along to bar chords before tiring out. It was a successful night at Metro, though, as Hoops & co. gave great performances in front of a very satisfied crowd. 

Hoops Set List:

  • (Unreleased Song)

  • 4 U

  • All My Life

  • (Unreleased Song)
  • (Unreleased Song)
  • Crazy

  • La La La

  • Gemini

  • Sun’s Out

  • They Say