Gareth Emery Drives Chicago’s Concord Music Hall into a Frenzied Friday Night
In the middle stretch of his US tour for his second artist album, Drive, Gareth Emery brought his new sounds to the Concord Music Hall. The Concord opened its doors nearly a year ago in a neighborhood familiar to Chicago music lovers. Situated on North Milwaukee Avenue between Wicker Park and Logan Square, the venue has successfully filled the void left by the closing of the historic Congress Theater last August.
Less than a block down the street from that spot, the Concord has already provided the setting for a wide variety of acts. But despite its similarities with the historic site, the Concord Music Hall has managed to achieve something unique. You’d be likely to mistake the interior of the hall, which has a 1600-person capacity, for another addition to the already long list of Chicago nightclubs. There are tables for bottle service, balconies on either side, and another slightly raised area in the rear of the main floor. But it’s impossible not to notice the stage, a feature which separates it from the clubs despite the fact that it offers table service.
On this night, the sizable stage was put to use in a particularly appealing way to accommodate the continually growing dance scene. A large LED screen split by the decks displayed a plethora of fast-moving lights that kept most eyes fixated. This was doubly true during Gareth’s set, as the familiar album art of Drive was cut and embellished with spiraling vortexes and countless scenic motion shots of highway travel. The only thing the thousand-plus guests enjoyed more were the cooling bursts from the C02 cannons. The sound was solid for the space of the room, though I suspect they may have made changes both sonically and structurally since Datsik famously blew the roof.
This stop was the last of only two nights in which two of the Drive Tour’s three supporting acts were present. Christina Novelli, known for her vocal contribution on Gareth’s track “Concrete Angel,” took the ones and twos as the crowd was still filing in. Her set was a bit of surprise, but a pleasant one, with most of her selections favoring crowd-pleasing remixes from Jay-Z to Red Hot Chili Peppers instead of the vocal progressive house and trance tracks that so many producers have featured her on recently. She was definitely successful in getting the dance floor moving, and she earned an enthusiastic ovation from the nearly full house before turning over the stage to Michael Woods.
With the crowd properly primed, Woods used his 10+ years of experience to keep the attention of the room. His hits “CTRL” and “Clanga” grabbed that attention and lifted it into an exalted celebration of the big room sound. That’s not to say he left the stage with all the crowd’s energy spent. Michael seemed to intentionally create a journey for his audience. The balance of energy packed peaks and technical mixes throughout a progressive soundscape, giving the crowd plenty to get down to enthusiastically while still leaving them wanting more. Gareth was happy to oblige.
Gareth Emery’s connection to his fans is well known to any listener of his self-titled podcast. He takes the time every week to read personal messages sent to him by his fans and thank them for their support. He comes off as genuinely humbled by the adoration and praise he receives in these moments, and here he was the same way, accepting the reigns–and the honor of finishing off the night–to raucous applause.
After all that had lead up to this point, I’m not sure he could have done wrong. Simply watching the reaction on the floor conveyed the righteousness with which he controlled it. Both his anthems, new and old, and the harder sound of some songs from his sophomore album were met with utter adulation until the final beat. At the end of the night everyone who thought they had a feasible shot pushed forward in an attempt to shake the hand of a man who is trying to lead the scene by example. His message is clear: put the fans first, everything else second, and international DJ polls behind all of that.
You can catch Gareth Emery in the upcoming weeks when he continues his USA Drive tour. He’ll be joined by Christina Novelli in both Las Vegas and San Francisco this holiday weekend and he’ll also hit San Diego and Ottawa, CA, before he heads down under, where the Aussies have already sold out two of his seven scheduled stops.