Words and Photos by Weronika Koleda
The end of summer marks the beginning of the Welcome to Hellvetica tour with co-headlining sets shared by Rochester indie rockers Joywave and Salt Lake City duo I Don’t Know How But They Found Me. Added on as an opener is familiar face Savannah Conley, promoting her latest EP “best i can”. Night one commenced at the Metro in our local Chicago, an array of black t-shirts and teens with “Hellvetica Tour” tattoo stamps on their forehead filled up the dark hall inside.
About a year has passed since we last saw Savannah Conley open for Samia at the White Rabbit Cabaret in Indianapolis last fall. This time, Conley was joined by a full band in addition to herself and her trusty Gretsch Falcon, giving us a different taste of a once again lovely performance. The singer’s powerful vocals stood up to this fuller live sound, showcasing her range between the solo set from last year and matching up with her current backing band. Despite the Metro gig marking the opening night of the tour and Conley’s set marking its first impression (and her confession that she still has yet to get to know the bands on the lineup), the singer looked quite comfortable behind the mic. Her performance remained heartfelt while she concentrated on her technical execution. Conley has the potential to make an effortlessly blended cocktail of both ends of this performance spectrum––it’ll be interesting to see where she’ll head on from here.
The tone of the evening took a left turn as the crew prepped the stage for our next act. Before Joywave had even set foot on stage, particular stage elements hinted at a thematic concept. The tail-end of a white Corvette graced center stage; an Illinois license plate spelling out the band’s name gleamed under the indigo undertones covering the set. Once the lights went down, members Daniel Armbruster (vocals), Joseph Morinelli (guitar), and Paul Brenner (drums) were joined by touring members Kevin Mahoney (bass) and Connor Ehman (keys)––all of whom were clad in matching jumpsuits straight from the car wash staff room. Let it be known that these particular jumpsuits did glow in the dark. All at once it became clear that Joywave intended to buckle in the audience as they took everyone through the hypnotic car wash resembling the album covers of their records “Cleanse” and “Live”, which dropped earlier this year.
Opening with the “Possession” (2020) track “Coming Apart”, Armbruster and Brenner immediately gathered the most energetic momentum. Electric blue strands of hair flew across the drummer’s face as he provided a spectacle for the spectators over on stage right. Zigzagging back and forth across the stage was Daniel, eyeing the crowd from every angle he could stand from. The band spotlighted “Cleanse” tracks like “Buy American” and “Every Window Is A Mirror” to an overall buzzing audience. Big fans of Armbruster’s work were in for yet another treat as the frontman included within the setlist “Ugly Ending” off his Best Frenz side project with Jason Suwito. Certain folks’ ecstatic attitude stuck out from the barricade over the others––a bubblegum pink-haired individual at the barricade was objectively going the hardest out of everyone in the immediate vicinity, fist-pumping and instinctively belting out every word as the fan on stage blew their hair back. Another enthusiastic individual standing just behind Brenner was rewarded with a pair of his sticks.
The frontman carried about him a sort of theater kid energy when addressing the crowd, his tone a bit histrionic, but he stuck to the bit. Armbruster playfully decided to poke at co-headliners IDKHOW, playfully criticizing the band’s mouthful of a name and equating it as a poor environmental decision in regards to printing. The mention of IDKHOW frontman Dallon Weekes would spill from Daniel’s mouth throughout the set, perhaps as a means of reminding the audience this was in fact a co-headlining tour, or to further his band beef gimmick. Regardless of the intention, the interplay between both headliners made for a cohesive experience that painted a more collaborative live experience as opposed to having each set exist in different universes.
Joywave surely didn’t forget to play their hits, offering up tracks like “Tongues”, “It’s a Trip!” and “Dangerous”. By the closing of their set, Armbruster invited everyone at the Metro to imagine the band exiting the stage for a traditional encore while toying with the audience about playing a final song. The crowd’s hollering crescendoed throughout the venue, demanding voices calling out for a high energy closer. Flashing the lights back on, Joywave wrapped their set with “We Are All We Need” and “Destruction”––leaving the stage on a high note, the audience in high spirits. Blinking back the reds, blues, and purples that stained the backs of our eyelids, we rolled out of the Cleanse Car Wash and onto our next destination.
IDKHOW duo Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman finally hit the stage as we tumble further into the evening. Joined by touring guitarist Anthony Purpura, the band opens with a crowd favorite, the sinisterly sweet “Choke”. Fans of Weekes are familiar with the frontman’s darker, theatrical lyricism that feels almost Vaudevillian––a theme that transcends IDKHOW and is captured in his former project The Brobecks (in which Seaman also drummed for in 2009). In fact, Dallon would sneak a Brobecks deep cut into the night’s setlist, performing the spoken word track, “A Letter”, off of the band’s 2005 release “Happiest Nuclear Winter”.
Weekes was feeling bold in his opening night fit, a pair of eye-catching bright yellow shorts with “DR. NO” printed across the thigh. The $375 James Bond shorts marked a milestone in Dallon’s outfit legacy, as the frontman recalled his last performance in shorts, sometime circa 2008. The resurgence of the Dallon Weekes Shorts Era likely resurfaced after the singer took to Twitter on August 16th, asking “Is it shameful to wear shorts on stage?”. The verdict appeared to be astoundingly pro-shorts as the crowd reacted enthusiastically at the sight of his self-proclaimed “teardrop quads”.
Outfit choices aside, Weekes and Seaman proved to have lost no momentum in their live energy over the course of the pandemic. Weekes has always been a charismatic frontman with a bit of a quirky sense of humor, attracting the devotion of teens as young as 14 and maintaining a hold on adults who first became drawn to him during his Brobecks or Panic! at the Disco days. Seaman, a veteran performer himself, was clearly having a blast behind the drumset and feeding off the crowd’s reception. His former bright blue locks returned to their natural brunette, perhaps there wasn’t room for two blue-haired drummers on one tour.
The setlist featured a mixed goody bag of treats from IDKHOW’s 2020 debut LP “Razzmatazz”, including singles like “Leave Me Alone”, and more deep cuts like “From the Gallows” and “Door”. Weekes was particularly chuffed to sprinkle in a cover of his liking, teasing the audience of predominantly young people to Google the next song if you were under the age of 40. Smiling into the mic, Weekes belted out the opening line to Belinda Carlisle’s “Heaven Is A Place On Earth”, the audience quickly catching on to the iconic hook. Though the performance of Carlisle’s song seemed to initially be a choice Dallon made for his own enjoyment, the decision evidently became a highlight of the set––the room literally glowed a bit brighter.
One of the greater spectacles of an IDKHOW show is the band’s efforts in making the audience a literal part of the show, stringing every voice in the crowd into the very fabrication of a song’s live performance. Weekes will either take it upon himself to harmonize with the audience or become the choir conductor of the group. Raising his arm in the air, the frontman will cut the crowd in half down the middle, splitting everyone into two groups. In an elementary music class fashion, Weekes will do a call and response with each side of the room, assigning everyone their respective vocal parts. Literally stacking the song’s vocals, Weekes is a master at using the audience’s attention he knows he has in the palm of his hand.
The end of the show took this concept a step further, utilizing the blinking iPhone screens that have been bobbing up and down across the sea of people all night. Projecting a QR code onto the screen, everyone was directed to a link that played a steady A or D note. Instructed to turn our volumes on high, a low hum buzz into our ears upon a better listen. The intention here was remarkably creative on IDKHOW’s part: turning tech and the audience into a literal instrument. However, amps and speakers will always win volume-wise, and the buzzing harmonies of phone speakers were quickly drowned out by the groovy bass and synths of “Kiss Goodnight”. We’ll still give an A+ for the effort (it’s the thought that counts, right?).
Before the evening could end, however, a surprise reappearance from Armbruster added a twist to the tongue-in-cheek and self-depreciating “Nobody Likes The Opening Band”. Taking the place of his jumpsuit now was a flannel draped over a Korn t-shirt. Taking over the mic, Daniel explains that he wrote a third verse to the song. Sticking to his charade from earlier, Armbruster produces a mini diss-track, proclaiming that “Dallon is no Dan” and “Everybody loves the Joywave band”. Weekes let him have this one, putting up his arms in surrender by the end of the verse and taking every jab with amusement. In the end, though, it’s all’s well that ends well, as the two hug it out in a truce.