I sat in the back patio of El Club, lounging on a cafeteria bench, enjoying the house music and the sweet spring air. The auditory onset of a lightly strummed electric guitar and a soft, coaxing vocal melody told me that it was time to head inside for the concert.
And there was Tasha — the singer of the opening Chicago indie band by the same name — alone on stage, inviting the concertgoers to come closer and closer with her warm smile and swaying dance. After that first song, her bandmates approached the stage: a drummer and bassist in black face masks. They breezed through a variety of chill tracks that I’ve been playing on repeat ever since. During the silence in between tunes, Tasha shared some words with the crowd. She explained how their lead guitarist was out with COVID-19 and addressed the audience directly, saying, “Thanks for being so sweet and attentive.”
When we spoke at the merch table, Tasha explained how she adjusts her act for each performance. The crowd was mellow, and her guitarist was out, so she performed accordingly for what really was a lovely set.
Nilüfer Yanya, the headlining British pop-rocker, had an even bigger adjustment to make: COVID-19, again, had taken her drummer out of commission. Missing a lead guitarist is one thing, but missing a drummer is quite another. Without an extra guitar, your songs might lose their complexity or their unique ring, but without a drummer, you lose your rhythm, your backbone, the instrument that sets the tone of the piece.
Yanya must have known all of this as she walked on stage to wailing applause. She focused on her guitar as the wails slowly trailed off, leaving another attentive silence broken by the band’s first song, “midnight sun,” from their newest album, PAINLESS (2022). Yanya stayed with the new album for a few songs before dipping into her older stuff, along with a seamless cover of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me.”
I was pleasantly surprised. Drums or no drums, the band kept their timing well, and they were able to introduce playful dynamics thanks to Yanya’s versatility on guitar and some sweet solos from bandmate Jazzy on sax, keys and backup vocals.
The drumless set also brought Yanya’s superior songwriting skills to the forefront. The band played my favorite song from PAINLESS, “the dealer,” towards the end of the set. I was worried about how it might sound, given the centrality of the complex drum-beat on the recording. But in this rendition, I was really able to focus on Yanya’s words. I was especially struck by the pre-chorus: “Nothing goes above the high rise / like no one gets back into your life / in a couple days, I’m gonna lose this / in a couple places, getting bruises just to heal my body.”
The chilled-down set and all the performer-audience banter made it feel almost like a Tiny Desk Concert.
As Yanya tuned-up for another song, someone yelled, “I hope your drummer gets better soon!” “Aw, thanks,” she responded, without looking up. The audience felt the need to reassure her, though, with more kind shoutouts: “But you’re great!” and “Yeah, you don’t need a drummer.” “Aw, thanks,” Yanya said again. “Thanks guys.”
Later, Yanya announced, “This is gonna be my last song.” The audience was not happy with the announcement, so the hecklers returned in force: “Can you play ‘Heavyweight Champ?’” someone asked. “Yeah, you haven’t played ‘Heavyweight Champion of the Year’ yet,” proclaimed another. Maybe they were the same vocal concertgoers as before — I don’t know. Yanya looked around for approval from her reduced band before turning back to the audience. “Yeah, I can, after this.”
And with those last few songs, she was off.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at email@example.com.