Everyone should love Paul Sprangers. If you don’t, you either haven’t seen Free Energy live yet, or you’re a miserable human being. The lanky Midwestern frontman knows how to party. Not in the Andrew W.K. way, but in the way that makes rock ‘n’ roll so accessible. He doesn’t try to be Springsteen. He’s not “bleeding his heart out” like every other songwriter who refuses to work. Nope. He’s just a long haired dude looking to have a fun night. He’s the cool older brother, the schoolmate who fixes your locker door, and the next door neighbor who teaches you how to ollie on a skateboard. He’s not a “dude bro”, he’s your average good guy, and he’s a blast to watch. Why else would you see Free Energy two or three times per season?
Once again, the Philadelphia quintet returned to Chicago. This time, however, they headlined their own show at the cozy nook, Lincoln Hall. Given that past visits have been either festival or opening slots, it was nice to catch the band on their own terms. They also brought some new faces along.
Fit to the sound, Ontario’s Hollerado uncorked the indie rock, setting the crowd afire with either humorous anecdotes or catchy pop rock. It only took five minutes to warm up to singer Menno Versteeg. Much like Sprangers, there’s an amicable nature to his swagger. He looks like an English student, he’s not soft spoken but he’s not loud, and he has a knack for melody. Three features that help outline the band’s classic-yet-modern sound. It’s similar to Free Energy’s, except it’s less Thin Lizzy and more old-school Weezer. Does that make sense? No. Either way, songs “Americanarama” and “Got to Lose”, off of this year’s Record in a Bag, felt great on an otherwise typical Friday night. The melodic harmonies behind the latter’s chorus begged for a sing-a-long – so much so that members of Free Energy joined them on-stage. All in all, an exceptional opener that didn’t so much match the energy to come, but appropriately built it up. Catch ’em soon.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
Soon after, Free Energy rolled out its rock ‘n’ roll revue. Ray Parker, Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” pumped up the crowd, while Sprangers nodded to the beat and watched his incredibly engaging audience. Naturally, hits like “Free Energy”, “Bang Pop”, and “Dark Trance” sounded excellent, played to precision. But the real highlight to the show, and similar to their time back in September with Titus Andronicus, came with “Something in Common”, the bubbly riff parade that sees Sprangers shuffling across stage and guitarist Scott Wells bouncing up and down with a familial smile. It’s so goddamn feel good that you want to hug everyone, anyone, or anything. Coupled with Sprangers surfer-like wit, you can’t help but just laugh and sing along, even if you don’t know the words.
Photo by Heather Kaplan
The rest of the set played out well. Sprangers fiddled with the audience some. (When a couple of girls towards the front asked him to remove his shirt, he responded back, “It’s a dashiki,” digressing on the late fashion motif.) He even introduced a new, untitled song (“Don’t Miss Your Chance”?), one that worked off a Ramones-like rhythm and sounded promising for their future sophomore album. And fans screamed in joy when, during the band’s encore, Sprangers finally let up and dished out their cover of Springsteen’s “I’m Going Down”, which became more or less a crowd jamboree, as dozens of fans (confetti, too) joined the group on-stage. From sound to enthusiasm, Free Energy lives up to their name. They move, they shake, and they rock. While they may be slaves to the road these days, but they’re making folks happy. Good for them.
Photography by Heather Kaplan.
Gallery by Heather Kaplan