Last Night: Smith Westerns At Fitzgerald's

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Smith Westerns Fitzgerald's February 6, 2011

We're guessing Fitzgeralds' Sunday crowd was either comprised of pleased Packers fans or the athletically apathetic, because minus a few audible team shout-outs, one could barely even tell the Super Bowl took place. Instead, fans - of music, not football per se - crammed into Fitz' snug downstairs room to catch a set from Chicago buzz band Smith Westerns.

It's tough to write about Smith Westerns and not at least acknowledge their tender ages; none of the band could so much as (legally) enjoy a beer onstage when their self-titled debut album was released in 2009. In fact, they still can't. Smith Westerns introduced the band's lo-fi gritty-yet-glam sound; the album was fittingly recorded in an actual basement, which is maybe as close to defining true "garage rock" as it gets.

Aftermath had seen Smith Westerns' show at last year's Pitchfork Music Festival and noted that, although they played a strong set, their age and 'rookie-ness' showed. The band needed time.

Fast-forward seven months (which is like, years to teenagers) and Smith Westerns are now touring in support of their sophomore release, last month's Dye It Blonde. The record continues where Smith Westerns left off: It's fuzzy and grainy, and full of glam-rock guitar tones; however, Blonde's tracks appear more polished than their predecessors, while successfully managing to preserve the band's grit and youthful abandon.

Naturally, we were curious whether this progress would transfer live, especially since it's been announced the band will support alt-rock deities Wilco on their upcoming tour.

The fresh-faced foursome kicked off their set with Blonde track "Still New," an evident Ziggy Stardust nod with a singsong melody and wailing guitar riff. Front man Cullen Omori donned a psychedelic-print button-down, his tousled hair covering his face as he sang; the get-up seemed to only confirm his palpable '70s influences a la Bowie and T. Rex.

Omori led the band, with limited banter, through a solid set of mostly new tracks, with a sprinkling of older additions like "Dreams," "Tonight," and Smith standout "Girl in Love." "Weekend" shone, with its efficiently divergent vocal harmonies, sunny chorus, and distorted guitars.

As the set progressed, it became clear that Smith Westerns were maturing - and improving - before our eyes. They have a better grasp of their songs and delivery since last year; the addition of the Blonde tracks certainly helps the quality of their set as well.

While we cringe at the thought of the world witnessing our maturation, we take pleasure in watching budding bands develop musically--so long as they're progressing in a positive direction, which, if Sunday's show was any indication, this band seems to be doing.

Ultimately, Smith Westerns delivered equal parts age-appropriate earnestness, exploration, blitheness, and concurrent angst in their live set; so it's no surprise they received a collective groan of disapproval from the crowd when they announced "Smile" would be their last song of the night.

But the band dove right into it, unfazed, as front-row fans sang along with every word. Afterward, the mum foursome promptly thanked the cheering crowd and left the stage, leaving their fans emphatically requesting an encore that never came.

Smith Westerns toyed with our emotions the way only 19-year-olds know how to; they withheld a much-desired encore and left us wanting more. Or maybe we're reading too far into it--maybe they simply needed to make curfew.

Personal Bias: I love the dichotomy of their merry ooh-ahh harmonies and crunchy, howling guitars.

The Crowd: Evenly divided between hot-pink wristband wearers and non - hot-pink wristband wearers (20-somethings and teens).

Overheard in the Crowd: "Da Bears!"

Random Notebook Dump: If I hear someone shout "Free Bird" at a show one more time, I'm going to be sick.

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