In a sonic collision of noisy rock, shoegaze punk, brooding grunge, yearning indie-folk, and the frenzied stomping of hundreds of Doc Marten clad attendees, the teen DIY Chicago music scene came together under one historic roof. Bands Post Office Winter, Friko, and Lifeguard—all Chicago-based groups and all close friends—set the stage at Thalia Hall for headliner Horsegirl as they debuted songs from their first full-length album, Versions of Modern Performance.
It’s rare to see this much young talent in one room. It’s rare to feel it so palpably, so tangibly, energy so strong it’s like you can touch it. Lots of noise surrounds this underground Chicago indie scene—murmurs of the “greats,” the iconic sounds that they are reminiscent of. Friko, a revitalized Leonard Cohen; Lifeguard, a modern punk Tortoise; Horsegirl, a reinterpretation of [insert any 90s British rock band here]. The comparisons are complementary and deserving ones. Yet they also feel inadequate. Though the groups bonded over shared loves of renowned indie-rock, punk bands the likes of Sonic Youth and Flying Nun, their reach extends beyond the past. More than a simple re-imagination of an olden indie-rock scene, Post Office Winter, Friko, Lifeguard, and Horsegirl, especially, are carving their own innovative path in the industry, creating their own space, and establishing a new, young, much-needed sound.
Indie rock trio Post Office Winter kicked off the night, stringy guitars and dreamy vocals delicately prying open the space, allowing the music to softly seep into the crowd. Lucid, intricately ambiguous lyrics were laid over loose percussion, mysterious and calming all at once, crackling embers on a dim fire. Their set was that of an open-ended question, each person in the audience holding their own specific interpretation of the music. Yet, despite the nuance that filled the sound, there was an underlying feeling of comfort, each person, regardless of whether they came from a different neighborhood or city or state, being uniquely reminded of home.
Pouring gasoline onto the flame that Lifeguard set was Friko, a college-aged trio originally from Evanston. Layers of distortion and reverberation enveloped an amalgam of indie-rock, melodic punk, and indulgent pop, positively igniting the night. Friko frontman Nico Kapetan’s gritty yet smooth voice, like honey-soaked gravel, weaved its way through wailing guitar, pounding percussion, and demanding bass. Rolling chord progressions seamlessly slipped into vivid harmonies, creating an emotional atmosphere that managed to feel both calculated and chaotic, and entirely consuming. The oldest of the bands present (and by “old”, I mean a ripe 22), Friko’s experience does not escape them. Imaginative storyboards of lyrics came to life over masterfully crafted arrangements and deft production. And these skills aren’t contained within their own band—Nico Kapetan engineered Horsegirl’s hit Ballroom Dance Scene in his basement back in 2020.
Punk group Lifeguard followed Friko, bringing with them a haze of mosh pits and head banging and near-catastrophic crowd surfs, sweaty hands lifting even sweatier backs up on top of the crowd. Clamoring lyrics resonated in cacophony with shrieks and cheers from the audience. Horsegirl singer Penelope Lowenstein’s younger brother Isaac is a member of the band, and it’s evident that talent runs in the family. When describing Lifeguard’s attitude on stage, energetic is an understatement. Compelling doesn’t begin to cover it. With shattering waves of overwhelming bass lines and frenzied percussion, one can’t help but feel engulfed by Lifeguard, torn away from shore by their sonic riptide.
And, finally, Horsegirl. Thalia Hall is known for its history of decorated performers, the hallowed breaths of legendary vocalists and instrumentalists seeped into its walls. When Horsegirl took the stage, it felt as though they were feeding off these years of pent-up energy and artistry. Song by song, breathy hook by breathy hook, they stripped down the sheet metal of Thalia Hall, cracked open its limestone, and reached into its core.
Songs like the fuzzy “Antiglory” and the jangly “World of Pots and Pans” churned with anticipation, buzzing delicately, like the ground of a train station seconds before the first car appears. Except, with Horsegirl, you can never quite guess what’s coming. Commanding lyrics volleyed with smooth, methodical riffs, evoking ethereal and nostalgic sounds only to suddenly tack on a layer of grit and grunge, resounding instrumentals boiling over the pot, sizzling with noise. In songs like “Option 8” and “Billy,” overlapping melodies stumbled over loose percussion yet never lost their balance. Throughout the night, Horsegirl seemed to constantly surprise the audience, but never in an off-putting or alienating manner, only bright and promising, like good news from an old friend.
Horsegirl singer-guitarists Nora Cheng and Penelope Lowenstein, with crisp, assured tones, floated around drummer Gigi Reece, their percussion like gravity, holding down the group. By the end of the set, they had rebuilt Thalia Hall piece by piece, dreamy vocal by dreamy vocal, in near-exact form—the only change was their small but powerful mark on the iconic venue.
By Catherine Duncan