Once upon a time, Chicago’s Congress Theater showed movies. Those days are long past. At some point, however, somebody got the bright idea to turn the huge, decaying building into a live music venue – making it the perfect arena for the colossal party that is a Hellogoodbye show. On Mother's Day, May 13th 2007, the band and some of their good friends put on a stellar performance there to a full house.
Hellogoodbye's current touring ensemble includes several stellar warm-up acts, including pop-rock newcomers Boys Like Girls, who thrilled the audience with a short but animated set. For the most part, BLG's songs sounded straight off their self-titled 2006 debut [Columbia/Red Ink], which, if the crowd's word-for-word singalongs were anything to judge by, was a good thing. Favorites like “The Great Escape” gain a lot from the live setting, from the shouting and cell phone waving and just the sheer volume. It's little wonder that when singer Martin Johnson asked the crowd who'd be joining them at Warped Tour, he received a theater-wide cheer.
Next up were Chicago natives The Hush Sound, who played to an appreciative, if docile audience. Much of the strength of The Hush Sound's music comes from variety – guitars and keyboards playing off each other, and alternating male and female lead vocals. With the simple charisma of hometown heroes, they made good use of their last night with Hellogoodbye's tour. The band played some new tracks along with old standbys, mentioning their plans to record a new album very soon. In honor of Mother's Day, The Hush Sound invited their mothers out to help play the last song (on maracas, mostly). It was an endearing ending to an endearing set, but the best was yet to come.
At first glance, when Hellogoodbye took the stage the crowd in the theater didn't seem as impressive as the one that packed into the House Of Blues for their last Chicago outing. Then we looked around and realized that the Congress Theater is, in the words of keyboardist Jesse Kurvink, “retarded big”. HGB claimed several times to be nervous about playing such a large venue – chalk it up to modesty. The band played a brilliant show with their trademark goofball attitudes intact, even inviting some giddy fans onstage to dance throughout the set. One early highlight was a slower “remixed” version of “All Of Your Love”, the opening track from Hellogoodbye's debut LP, Zombies! Aliens! Vampires! Dinosaurs! [Drive-Thru]. To liven things up, singer Forrest Kline slipped in lyrics from R. Kelly's “Ignition” during the bridge. Later on, Forrest performed the bluesy “Oh, It Is Love” as a solo, providing ample time for a sea of phones to sway along before the rest of the band came in. The best moments of the band's performance were right at the end – the last two songs were “Shimmy Shimmy Quarter Turn” and the smash hit “Here In Your Arms”. Excitement in the theater reached a fever pitch, and crowd surfers were thrown around like beach balls. For an encore, Hellogoodbye played “Touchdown Turnaround”, a brief, super energetic party starter. While the band played, the crowd members still present on the stage had a pillow fight and spectators looked on in gleeful admiration. Everyone in the theater left tired, sweaty, and grinning.
This reviewer is firmly of the opinion that Hellogoodbye is a hard band to dislike. Indeed, if you can resist their synthpop-revival hooks, unconditional optimism, and unbelievably danceable beats, you're probably not fond of puppies, kitties or rainbows either. The band's live show is a near-perfect translation of their recorded material to a live setting, with all that entails – not just well played music, but engaging performers and a roomful of friends to share the fun. You'd be hard pressed to find a better way to spend a Sunday night.
pictured: Forrest of Hellogoodbye with pillow-fighting fans. Photo by David Jackson