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Live Review and Photo Gallery: Love and Rockets at Riviera Theatre • Chicago

| June 8, 2023

Love and Rockets

The Riviera Theatre

Chicago, IL

Tuesday, June 6, 2023

Review by Jeff Elbel. Photos by Curt Baran.

Few would have begrudged the reason, but many festival ticketholders were crestfallen when singer Peter Murphy stepped away for rehabilitation treatment and pulled the plug on Bauhaus’ summer tour soon before last year’s scheduled date at Douglass Park. Chances are, though, a large percentage of those Bauhaus devotees were also fond of Murphy’s three bandmembers who comprise Love and Rockets. Such fans were thrilled when the trio announced a monthlong tour in the wake of last month’s Cruel World festival in California. Some may have regretted having to choose between Love and Rockets or dark rockers the Sisters of Mercy performing across town at the Salt Shed, but locals snatched tickets and packed Tuesday night’s performance at the Riv. Attendees got in on the act, with many dressing to the nines for a vibrant evening of psychedelic pop, glam, and occasionally gothic alt-rock.

The band’s first visit to Chicago since appearing at Lollapalooza in 2008 has been timed to celebrate the reissue campaign of Love and Rockets’ catalog. The set list touched on everything from 1985 debut Seventh Dream of Teenage Heaven to 1998’s Lift, with the exception of the band’s experimental electronic album Hot Trip to Heaven. Goth undertones and overtones throughout the set were only natural since the players helped define the form, but Love and Rockets generally proved to be more upbeat, celebratory, accessible, and inclusive than their broody, spooky, and gloomy former personae. They were no less adventurous and thrilling.

Daniel Ash was dressed for his role as a guitar hero, appearing with spiked hair, a black suit jacket with white polka dots, strappy black pants, and boots. Bassist David J was bedecked in a three-piece red velvet suit and golden boots. Drummer Kevin Haskins dressed for work on his lofty riser in a plain black work shirt and black pants. Naturally, all three players kept their sunglasses on for the duration of the set.

Ash and J both played basses for the opening song “I Feel Speed.” Haskins hammered a clanging krautrock pulse to drive his bandmates’ twisted 12-bar blues during “No Big Deal.” J shouted, “All aboard!” as Ash switched to guitar for a grinding riff while hurtling through “Kundalini Express.” The crowd sang along eagerly, filling the room with a giddy “woo woo” train whistle call. Haskins’ rolling tom-toms thundered through “The Dog-end of a Day Gone By” as guitarist Daniel Ash and bassist David J joined voices in unison for a relaxed melody.

Read our Cover Story with Love and Rockets

“Judgement Day” juxtaposed watery rhythm guitar and fuzzed-out psychedelia. Following his vocal, Ash played a squalling noise-rock solo on guitar. J lead the Riviera audience choir through the romantic opening movement of “Haunted When the Minutes Drag.” Ash played sparkling 12-string acoustic guitar figures while J supported with rubbery fretless bass lines. The song resurrected memories of teenaged obsession and angst, with tailor-made mixtape lyrics like “This is for when you feel happy, and this is for when you feel sad, and this is for when you feel nothing.” Ash’s 12-string arpeggios rang through the subdued “An American Dream.” Haskins played emotive orchestral strings on his synthesizer before shifting to a wall-shaking drumbeat.

Next came the one-two punch of the band’s most popular radio hits. The audience sang fervently as the band performed urgent acoustic strummer “No New Tale to Tell” and the sultry “So Alive.”

“Because we played that song for you, we can play this deep cut for us,” said J afterward. “You might like it!” The band then dug into the moody and textured “Deep Deep Down” from its final album, 1998’s Lift. Next came the newly-released “My Dark Twin,” the title cut from a collection of songs created during the development of 1996 album Sweet F.A. “My dark twin is always there,” sang Ash and J. The song expressed guilt over the times we give in to our baser instincts at the expense of others.

The band was bathed in fog and flickering strands of light during “The Light.” Earth, Sun, Moon favorite “Mirror People” was a highlight, exploding as a clattering and cathartic blast of nihilism. “I wish I could be nothing at all,” sang Ash. Slashing guitar danced atop a captivating and muscular groove by J and Haskins. The main set ended with influential Express track “Yin and Yang (The Flowerpot Men).” Ash slathered caterwauling feedback across Haskins’ locomotive train rhythm.

The encore began with one of the band’s most whimsical songs. “Ya can’t get a suntan on the moon, but I wouldn’t mind a holiday there,” sang J while playing a brooding bass rhythm. “Love Me” was another welcome taste of Express. The encore set concluded with “Ball of Confusion,” the band’s first single and a subversive twist on Motown-era psych-pop. The song’s message remains utterly relevant, and the trio amplified it by including an extended singalong of Edwin Starr’s “War.”

The band generously returned to its faithful crowd a final time to wrap the evening with the sublime and profane existentialism of “Sweet F.A.” The band waved goodbye as fans lingered on the chime and jangle during Ash’s final refrain, “rollin’ in a dream.”

Traveling with no brand-new record to sell (the compelling My Dark Twin notwithstanding) and no plans to make one, this tour was a chance for Love and Rockets to capitalize on the work done to prepare for its booking at Cruel World – reportedly an offer too irresistible to refuse, so hats off to Cruel World. Older fans were able to reconnect, and younger fans had their first chance to see their heroes in person. There’s no particular reason to expect another reunion anytime soon since Ash, J, and Haskins keep busy with other projects. The faithful who attended can feel lucky to have witnessed such a spirited victory lap.

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Category: IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

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