On Oct. 11, 2015, I fell in love with two British musicians at Saint Andrew’s Hall. I didn’t think it was possible — to be honest, polygamy really isn’t my thing — but when Brits woo you with their musical talents, it’s hard to resist.
The night began with Jamie N Commons, a British blues rock and folk musician. Commons was born in England, but lived in Chicago during his formative years, so his music is heavily influenced by the American blues, folk and swamp rock music; his unique blend of blues and rock sounds great recorded, but live is something else. I knew once he walked on stage in a poncho that his performance would be one to remember, but once he opened his mouth the poncho became irrelevant. There are only a handful of live performances that bring me to my knees, and this was one of them.
Commons began with an acoustic solo performance before the rest of his four-piece band joined him on stage. Between his cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and his bluesy rock euphoric originals, Commons nailed it all. Each song he performed was unique, beautiful and made my heart melt. When Commons opens his mouth, a flood of rich, luscious and haunting baritone vocals escape from his body. Every word that he sings wraps around you. Each drum beat moves you and every pluck of the guitar reverberates through your body. Commons’s live performance can be felt and internalized in a way that his recorded music cannot. That’s not to say that his recorded music isn’t good, because it is, but there is something about live music that can’t be replicated digitally.
Similar to Nick Cave and George Ezra, Commons’s voice is distinctly deep and full of raspy and sultry undertones; he’s the kind of vocalist who you never want to stop singing which is why I was disappointed when his seemingly short set ended. Luckily, there was a quick turnaround before Catfish & The Bottlemen took the stage.
After being awed by one of the most unique talents of 2015, my expectations for Catfish & The Bottlemen were high. The mom standing in front of me clearly was excited for the headlining band because she nearly took my eye out when Catfish appeared on stage to the sound of a roaring crowd. I, too, was excited to see this young British four-piece band take the stage, but clearly their dedicated fanbase of screaming girls and the occasional mother were far more eager than me to get their hands on them.
Though Catfish & The Bottlemen performed well live, most of their indie rock music blended together. Their most well-known songs — like “Homesick,” “26” and “Kathleen” — were standouts during their set, but the rest of their performance was mainly interesting due to the crowd’s enthusiasm and the band’s relish of that enthusiasm.
Unlike Jamie N Commons, Catfish & The Bottlemen sound slightly better recorded. Ryan McCann’s voice isn’t as strong as Commons’s, so comparatively the performance felt weaker. Had there been an alternative opener, I would probably say that Catfish & The Bottlemen nailed the performance, but Jamie N Commons is a hard act to follow.
At the end of the day, Catfish & The Bottlemen was a pleasant band to hear live and are no doubt talented. They have the indie rock vibe down to a science and undoubtedly can bring a crowd to tears, but the true winner of my heart was Jamie N Commons, because it’s only once in a blue moon that a poncho-wearing talented baritone Brit comes along.