I’ve seen Illinois live four times in the past year. The few times it was more or less by accident—the band has the fortunate habit of showing up on bills alongside other amazing bands (see: the upcoming tour with The Hold Steady later this month for more information). I’ve since learned to embrace them—an appearance alongside any band on the fence about going to see, the Buck County, PA band is sure to put me over the edge.
My fourth Illinois show was a unique phenomenon. The previous three shows had all been at The Mercury Lounge, a respectably-sized venue, but in all honesty, in terms of maximum occupancy, not too far removed from what has to be the band’s natural habitat: the house show, churning through a raucous set, in return for warm beer and the contents of the tip jar.
During Friday night’s show, Illinois was a band on the fence. The folk/bluesy/hip-hop/indie band certainly has enough charm to fill up Irving Plaza (oh, I’m sorry, the Fillmore at Irving Plaza)—they just haven’t managed to find a way to tap into it. The band has the unquestionable ability to pen a first-rate, banjo-driven pop ditty, and the gadgets and antics with which to pull it off, but unfortunately for them, for the time being, the group’s scrappiness wasn’t enough to endear them to a crowd full of kids eagerly awaiting the headliners.
The Kooks, on the other hand, exist on the other end of the spectrum, as if they burst from the womb, ready to rock it arena-style, alongside venues full of kids sporting pumping fists and an encyclopedic knowledge of every song the band ever-penned. Throw in some ridiculously catchy Brit-pop hooks, a pair of circulation-prohibiting jeans,and some Beatles boots, and the entire staff of NME has to go home again at lunchtime to pick up a clean pair of pants.
Photo courtesy of +1 Music.