Chicago Concerts are Back in Full Swing This October


Caroline Zeeman

Grammy-nominated, Austin-based psychedelic soul band Black Pumas followed up their Lollapalooza set earlier this yeaer with a sold-out show at Thalia Hall.

Chicago’s live music scene is alive and well this October with musicians taking advantage of the ability to perform for fans once again; for many, their Chicago stops are some of their first shows back following the nearly two-year hiatus due to Covid-19. For many fans and music lovers, shows in October were their first concerts since March of 2020 or earlier. With tours back in full swing, there is a palpable energy across local Chicago venues who now have steady rosters and excited fans coming through their doors on a nightly basis. Here are some of the highlights from this past month.


Del Water Gap

Holden S. Joffe is more commonly known as the frontman of the project and music persona Del Water Gap. The name stemmed from Joffe’s time in a band based in Morristown, New Jersey, and his continuing travels near the Delaware Water Gap. Known to some through his friendship and collaborations with Maggie Rogers at NYU, Joffe’s own musicality and undeniable talent are not to be overshadowed. His debut self-titled album “Del Water Gap” received heavy praise. The project is frank and descriptive in lyricism, often putting the unspeakable into words, while also featuring danceable hits.

Del Water Gap’s headlining tour made its first stop in Chicago at Schubas Tavern on Oct. 9, and the sold-out show did not disappoint. Opening in biking sunglasses and a multi-colored windbreaker, Joffe jumped on stage full of adrenaline with “Sorry I Am.” He continued on with crowd favorites “Better Than I Know Myself” and “Hurting Kind,” making full use of the small Schubas stage. Joffe skillfully navigated his set with a mixture of upbeat dance-worthy songs and mellow, intimate acoustic moments. A testament to a true performer, when a microphone fell off the stand mid-song, Joffe continued to play guitar and dance while singing into a mic hanging by a string. Candidly conversing with the audience prior to the encore, Joffe disclosed his thoughts on giving up music completely in the past, kindly welcoming everyone in the room to what he claimed to truly be “the first ever Del Water Gap show.” The bond between Chicago and Del Water Gap was solidified that night, and is sure to remain a favorite city on returning tours as his discography grows and Joffe takes the stage at larger Chicago venues.

Black Pumas

Grammy-nominated, Austin-based psychedelic soul band Black Pumas followed up their Lollapalooza set earlier this year with a sold-out show at Thalia Hall on Oct. 17, the first of their three-night run in Chicago. The sold-out show had fans filling both the floor and the second row benches prior to the band’s entrance. The group did not disappoint in the slightest; Eric Burton serenaded the Chicago crowd with his soulful powerhouse of a voice and the backing of the Black Pumas supported him to create a charged energy. All eyes were glued to Burton as he moved across the stage with power and conviction, continuing to change up and draw out songs that left this crowd with a one-of-a-kind show. Burton had the mobility to continuously engage with the front row, often standing and sitting on a speaker placed directly between the front of the stage and the barricade. This environment was highlighted in crowd favorite “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” The song gave room for an ongoing breakdown with a call and response, ending with front row fans singing into the mic themselves. Midway through the set, one could see Burton make his way from the stage down to the pit, dancing alongside masked audience members before making his way back to center stage. Other stand-out songs were “OCT 33” and Grammy-nominated record of the year “Colors.” The inescapable song was pushed to a new level with an emphasised funk push in the baseline and guitar riffs by the incredibly talented Adrian Quesada. While the Black Pumas are young in their career, the group pulled off a performance to remember.

Illinois native Kate Stephenson joined Peter McPoland on his sold-out debut tour, stopping at Schubas on Oct. 22. (Caroline Zeeman)

Peter McPoland and Kate Stephenson

Illinois native Kate Stephenson joined Peter McPoland on his sold-out debut tour, stopping at Schubas on Oct. 22. Greeted by a packed crowd who had been camping out for hours prior to doors opening at 6:30 p.m., Stephenson captivated the audience with nothing but her voice and a guitar. The 20-year-old singer-songwriter candidly conversed with the audience between songs as she tuned her guitar, going on to explain the meaning behind each original song. “College Dropout” was introduced with a speech about Stephenson’s recent choice to leave film school which was approved by cheers from the audience, leading her to cheekily respond “hey guys, between us, my parents are here tonight … so maybe we can cheer a little louder for that?” Another standout song was Stephenson’s recent single “Exless,” a love letter to those who have never had a relationship and want their own breakup song. The acoustic version of the song left all eyes intently watching and listening to her airy tone; the only phones in sight being used to document the performance. Stephenson commanded the crowd with humility and grace, closing the night with a sing-along call and response that left fans greeting her after the show with praise and thanks. Soon after, McPoland took the stage with explosive energy that had the crowd jumping in mere seconds. The natural-born performer promised the crowd the best show of their lives and it was clear he did everything in his power to deliver on that promise. McPoland was nearly bouncing off the walls, occasionally standing on speakers and ledges, seen later in the night moshing on the dance floor to a cover of The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” to close out the night. Towards the middle of the set, McPoland brought Stephenson back out for a duet of McPoland’s first-ever song, “Lady Bird.” The two shared a single microphone for an intimate performance of the song, and fans fell silent to hear the two harmonize. The duet closed with the two showcasing an intricate handshake that led to McPoland bringing the energy back to the night with more upbeat songs. Standout closer songs included “Eloise,” crowd favorite “Shit Show,” delivering on his promise to give his all for the best show of his life. Chicago has been McPoland’s top streaming city from his debut single, making his night at Schubas something special, and he was not shy to acknowledge it; he thanked fans for sticking around and waiting for him to perform in the Windy City. The long-awaited show came through with energy — the floor of Schubas Tavern shook while everyone from the front to back was jumping up and down, even after McPoland left the stage.


Isaac Dunbar and Ryan Woods

Closing off his headline tour, Isaac Dunbar graced the Schubas stage on Oct. 23. Prior to his performance at the tavern on Belmont, singer-songwriter and producer Ryan Woods opened the night. The 21-year-old has been one to watch for the past two years, slowly putting out catchy confessionals featuring folksy guitar tracks and ‘80s synths. His sound features hints of Bruno Mars and John Mayer, with a unique bedroom-pop spin and airy vocals. Woods humbly made his way to the stage starting off with a punchy indie rock single “The Friend Space.” Woods captured the audience with his continuous dancing around the stage and contagious laughter. While he had a short opening set, stand-out songs from Wood’s Chicago debut were “Bad Texter” and “King of the Basement,” with an intriguing interlude of “Sorry / happysad” to close his time. Woods will be back at Schubas in February of 2022 for his first headlining tour, which is sure to be an unmissable performance.

Later in the night, Isaac Dunbar made his way to the stage, immediately dancing and greeting fans with a smile. The Massachusetts singer-songwriter signed to RCA in 2019 as alternative-indie pop began to rise in the charts. Dunbar’s music aligns with the abundance of Gen Z artists making their way into the forefront of pop culture, clearly with no shortage of inspiration or musical influences. Aesthetic comparisons have been drawn between Dunbar and electro pop artist Troye Siban, as well as the self-aware lyricism of Billie Eilish. Dunbar got the crowd moving with “Fan Behavior,” “Ferrari” and “Pink Party” while showcasing the somber side of his discography with “suicide.” Relatable to his fans, similar in age and surrounded by Gen Z culture, Dunbar paused the show in the middle of his set to showcase his recorder skills learned in middle school by playing “hot crossed buns.” Dunbar’s energy took up the entire stage with his continuous dancing and floating across the stage. Young in age but clearly seasoned in performing, Dunbar will be one to watch.

Evann McIntosh

They might only be 17 years old, but Evann McIntosh has been gaining traction recently and is one to keep an eye out for. The singer-songwriter has a soulful voice beyond their years with a current take on the new age of pop music with an underlying R&B tone. On a headlining tour with one of their first performances, McIntosh played Schubas Tavern on Oct. 24. A dedicated fanbase packed the first few rows of the room, anxious for McIntosh to make their way through the crowd and to the stage, immediately greeted with loud applause. Wearing a Dr. Pepper shirt, McIntosh trots the line between relatable and professional, often making light conversation between fans in between songs. Their airy voice holds a unique tone reminiscent of the air-filled delivery of Prince, Billie Eilish and Clairo — a tone seemingly growing more and more attractive to A&R scouts and indicative of a growing trend in music. Crowd favorites “Coco Pebbles,” “What Dreams Are Made Of” and “Electricity” showcased ‘90s hip-hop and R&B influences, as well as ‘70s rock undertones. This versatility sets apart McIntosh from their peers and leaves room for new music to lean in any direction they so please, rather than pigeonholing themselves into the current bedroom pop trend. Receiving flowers at the end of their set and meeting as many fans as possibly following their performance, they were sure to emphasise their appreciation for each individual who made their way to the show. McIntosh is new to live performances, and their night at Schubas is a testament to a bright future playing larger Chicago venues on scale with Thalia Hall and The Metro in the coming years.