I went to a strange Mikal Cronin concert on Saturday, February 21 of this year.
Perhaps I should qualify that. The concert was strange because it was in Schaumburg, Illinois – not exactly one of the burgeoning garage rock havens of the country.
The concert was strange because it was at the Schaumburg performing arts center, adjoined with the town hall and the fire department.
The concert was strange because I noticed that my three friends and I were the only attendees (out of the fewer than 150 people there – also strange) who fit into the 20-25 years old demographic.
And in spite of all this, the concert ruled.
For those that do not know, Mikal Cronin is a California-based garage rock/pop tunesmith who has been pushing a solo career since gaining fame through his work with Ty Segall. He has released two solo albums so far, as well as various singles, and is expected to release a third full-length this coming year. His music is steeped in melody, guitar riffs, and a mature lyricism that one does not always get from peers in his genre.
The concert itself was divided into a first, acoustic half and a second, more raucous half, in which Cronin’s rag-tag band of garage-rock journeymen joined him onstage. Cronin displayed versatility and showmanship in the first half, employing an oft-awkward, yet charismatic stage presence to accompany him through the tuning changes and tweaks in between songs. For their part, the crowd seemed to be quite amenable to his minimalistic banter and gave hearty applause after every song. My friends and I, expecting a slightly more boisterous reception, were the only ones to cheer openly in the entire auditorium (we definitely drew some looks from our middle-aged neighbors in the auditorium seats). The first half ended with a rousing performance of Big Star’s “The Ballad of El Goodo.” (If there is one way to win this reviewer’s heart, it is to cover Big Star.) The song itself is quite difficult to capture, both vocally and on guitar, and Cronin admitted that himself, though he didn’t need to, given how accurate and compelling his rendition turned out to be.
The second half began with a word of warning from Cronin, who promised a very loud contrast, as his band ambled onstage. Their entrance was the only aspect of the second set that could be described as ambling, however. From the first dominating electric guitar chord, the show’s character shifted in a big way, and Cronin carried the momentum with his band, churning out song after song, dipping evenly into both of his albums, as well as performing singles and even a couple of as of yet unreleased tracks. I particularly noticed the sheer volume of the other guitarist in this set. While I never felt like he drowned out the other instruments, the other guitarist laid down solos and riffs in a commanding way. The crowd as a whole seemed to be taken aback by the voracious volume of the second set, but enthusiasm levels remained the same and I never saw anyone looking upset or uncomfortable. I would, however, be willing to wager that a majority of the crowd preferred the first set in terms of accessibility.
After a hefty electric set, Cronin and his band left the stage. They had played almost every song off of MCII and more than half the songs off his first album. (“The Weight,” “Get Along,” and “See It My Way” stand out as highlights from this particular night.) The crowd was not huge, but they cheered enough following the band’s departure to bring them back out. Cronin, who had mentioned during the show that the band had not been together for very long, swore that they only half knew one more song, which turned out to be a cover of “Whole Wide World” by Wreckless Eric. Cronin’s caveat turned out to be accurate, given that he did not quite remember the words to the second verse, but the crowd were good sports about the whole thing, and the encore was a welcome, albeit not entirely rehearsed, ending to a terrific show.
Following the show, my friends and I waited outside for Cronin to emerge and were not disappointed. Chatting with him, we learned that the show was booked over a year ago, under the erroneous knowledge that it would be at a college of music. Cronin also shared with us that the other members of his band were flying to Europe the following day to play with other groups. Amidst all the unique circumstances of this show, however, Cronin was cheerful both on and off stage and treated everyone in attendance to a fantastic show, replete with choice covers and sparing but witty crowd interaction.
My one regret of the night is that we never invited him to the party to which we subsequently headed in downtown Chicago; given Cronin’s roll-with-the-punches attitude exhibited throughout the night, he may have actually come with us.