Peaer at Subterranean

By Oliver Henry

19 Oct, 2019

Peaer, the brainchild of lead singer and guitarist Peter Katz, sounds extraordinarily close to the default ‘white indie-rock outfit’ sound that everyone is oh so familiar with. Y’know, the sad sad tunes with the kind of impressive but not all that cool guitar playing frontman, accompanied by the blandest rhythm section on the East Coast? Yeah, Peaer is really really close to that, but it’s not. And it’s that similarity coupled with that incredibly hard to pin down difference that makes them really interesting. They played on Saturday night at Subterranean, a dive music bar in Wicker Park. 

After my adventures trying to catch the Blue Line in the middle of a massive parade in downtown Chicago landed me in Wicker Park about 30 minutes after the concert started, I arrived to catch the second opener, Moon Type. Walking in, the standing crowd of about 30 coupled with the barely raised wooden stage and cracked Bud on an amp told me that this was going to be an intimate music experience. Moon Type is like listening to an indie rock version of the Buzzcocks with a math rock guitarist, which turns out to be actually pretty good. The bassist and guitarist were both insanely skilled, the guitarist to the point of showing off in places where he really shouldn’t have been. They finished up and joined the audience for the main event.

Peaer comes on, and I first want to describe what these guys look like. The drummer, Jeremy Kinney, is a real gentle giant, making his drum kit look like a kid’s when he sits; the bassist, Thom Lombardi, has the wild curly hair and beard of a modern Starbucks poet; and finally, Peter Katz is Jason Schwartzman meets Jeff Mangum, a guy whose eyebrows furrow everytime he sings like every word is going out to someone he loves in the audience. 

They start off with the opener of their new album, A Healthy Earth (the source of all but one of their songs for the night), and as the music blares, “Circle” sounds almost exactly like it does on the album. The hysterics and the nasal delivery are all there, but there’s a certain clarity and note-perfectness to Katz’s singing that just isn’t on the album; take that as you will. After beckoning us to get closer to the stage, they played “Like You,” and the album’s flirtation with synths and other electronic instrumentation became noticeably absent from the stage. They mimicked the sound as best they could with some guitar effects, but it just was not the same. They played “Commercial,” whose defining feature on the album is the way the vocals are buried, but with the vocals front and center, a decision that was more different than it was good or bad. 

Katz took a moment at this place to tell the audience a joke: “Is this the Brooklyn part of Chicago?” Boos all around, and one voice cried out “It’s the Williamsburg!” which caused a minor laughing fit on stage. Next, they played “Don’t,” which is where Jeremy Kinney really started to shine on the drums. This guy gets into it, jaw clenched, full body swinging along with his hand. It’s really fun to watch and listen to. Unfortunately, it also became really apparent at this point that Thom Lombardi, the bassist, just didn’t have a whole lot to do. He wasn’t playing poorly, but strumming the same three notes over and over again for a song doesn’t strike me as particularly interesting; it fell more on the writing of the songs themselves than on Lombardi’s personal skill, as the bored look on his face suggested that he’d rather be playing something else. Peter Katz also started to get just a little too close to the mic, the vocals dominating the stage. 

Katz announces “I forgot this one, it’s an old one” before consulting with his bandmates as to what the song they’re supposed to play is. They finally start into the one song off an older album, and it becomes very noticeable that — hey, the bassist is actually playing complicated stuff now! Short-lived though it was, it was still very refreshing to hear. 

Katz retunes his guitar before starting “I.K.W.Y.T.,” which was pretty good until Katz stopped the song to keep fidgeting with the tuning. They quickly recovered though, and finished what was probably the best song of the night. They played “In My Belly,” which was fun but also a bit unremarkable, before closing with “Have Fun,” which was introduced by Katz declaring, “I hope you all have fun.” At the end, the crowning moment of the night happened as the drummer turned to reveal a tiny xylophone kit that had been hidden on stage the whole time, pounding out the last few notes of the song with a comical awareness of the surprise of the reveal and how much larger he was than this tiny kit.

I walked out feeling pretty good about the whole thing. It was a bit by the numbers, and the ways in which it differed from the album didn’t always feel like the right decision, but the lyrics by Katz and the drumming really make them an act worth seeing.