By Gabrielle Alava
Photos by Yasmeen Altaji
10 Jan, 2020
Surfaces’ Warm Winter Tour lived up to its name. Hailing from Texas, the jazzy, r&b pop duo comprised of Forrest Frank and Colin Padalecki brought their cheerful and sunny music to Chicago on a cold and rainy Friday night in January. This was Surfaces’ first time playing in Chicago, and they arrived to a sold-out show at the Metro after releasing their sophomore album Where The Light Is earlier this year. Inside the venue, the floor was packed. Teenagers, mostly girls, huddled close to the stage, while young adults stood in the back. A mix of ages was in the balcony, from parents with younger teenagers to adults. For most in the audience, this would be their first time hearing Surfaces perform live, and the energy of anticipation was palpable as fans waited for the show to start. Even when a member of the Metro staff would walk onstage to adjust some equipment, the youth in the audience would cheer with excitement.
The show opened with Conrad Hsiang, who performs as Public Library Commute. Conrad, who has helped produce a few songs for Surfaces, played a laid-back set on his electric guitar along to his jazzy hip-hop self-produced tracks. His relaxed, ambient sound had the audience swaying to the music, with phone flashlights on during his slow, daydreamy song “stoplights” from his second album Over Grey Skies. Public Library Commute sounded great live, switching between his soft singing voice and easy-going guitar interludes. I was glad to hear him sing with his natural voice since he usually uses auto-tune as a part of his recorded tracks. Visually, Public Library Commute’s performance did not command one’s attention, but his set was more about getting lost in the world of the music. Conrad, smiling frequently, enjoyed playing and sharing his music with the audience simply in that manner. He ended his set with his recently released single “mint,” which was just as refreshing as it was relaxing.
After Public Library Commute’s calm set, I could sense that the youthful and eager energy of the teenagers around me was building up as we waited for Surfaces to appear. When the stage lights went out and Surfaces’ intro soundtrack began to play, there was a loud cheer from the audience and everyone turned to face the stage, expectantly, with phone cameras recording. Suddenly, the stage was flooded with light, and Forrest and Colin burst onto the stage with big smiles on their faces. Cheers erupted from the audience as Forrest and Colin immediately got into the pit to greet everyone near the stage. The mutual positive energy was infectious, and it only increased from there. Pausing first to make sure that everyone was okay, Surfaces started their set with their happy and upbeat song “Loving,” to which the audience immediately began to sing along and wave their arms. Frontman Forrest sang with his clear and expressive voice while leading the audience, and Colin — “rocking his new haircut,” as Forrest said — played the drum pad, tracks, ukulele, and cowbell. The show also featured Lito Hernandez on saxophone and keys.
Surfaces continued the feel-good music with their swingy song “Grace” and the catchy track “Shine On Top,” both to which the audience eagerly sang and danced along. Throughout their set, Forrest jumped and danced around the stage while interacting with the fans, and Colin played steadily with just as much enthusiasm. Surfaces then transitioned into some more laid-back but still just as happy songs, such as “Good Day” and “Take Some Time.” This series of songs carried us away to tropical beaches, palm trees, and warm sunshine. Surfaces took a moment to thank the audience for their support before transitioning to their next song. “Y’all gravitate towards [our music], and because of that we’re able to be here, so thank you so much,” said Forrest. Surfaces then played their beachy track “24/7/365” from their first album Surf, “one of the first songs that really took off for us,” said Forrest.
Then the lighting changed to some darker tones as the mood of the music shifted. Forrest introduced the song “Low” by saying, “Colin and I were going through some tough stuff, and this song came out of it. It’s about… getting through your low points in your life.” “Low” featured deeper beats and rich saxophone riffs, and Forrest sang with passion and sincerity. Surfaces maintained their vulnerability with “Heaven Falls/Falls On Me,” which started as an uplifting, fuller track and ended stripped down and intimate, first with Colin playing the ukulele, and finally Forrest and Colin sitting on the floor of the stage performing simply with vocals and piano. While Forrest and Colin had written this music from their personal circumstances, it was clear that they also wanted the music to reach their fans with meaningful messages that they could relate to as well. The remainder of Surfaces’ songs became increasingly more upbeat, starting with “Where The Light Is” — a song with hip hop beats and tropical refrains — also featuring another summery saxophone break, and ending with their energetic recent single “Bloom.”
Afterward, the lights went out and Surfaces exited the stage, to which the fans responded by chanting “Sunday Best!” wanting to hear Surface’s most popular song. After coming back on stage, Forrest gave some important rules before jumping into their final song: “If someone falls down next to you, pick them up.” Then he yelled in excitement, “Take a step back because it’s gonna get crazy!” Of course, the show had an explosive ending with “Sunday Best.” The bass was booming, the saxophone was electrifying, and Surfaces and the audience danced together as one. It was an energizing, feel-good finale to the show.
Surfaces’ performance was excellent, authentic, and meaningful. Forrest and Colin cared for and connected with the audience, and fans left the Metro that night carrying the happy songs and memories with them. Despite the winter night in the Windy City, Surfaces had us feeling like it was summer. With a successful sold-out tour under their belts, music that continues to excite with each release, and their infectious cheerfulness, there is no doubt that Surfaces will continue to grow and bring joy to many more fans. I look forward to Surfaces’ third album release later this year.