Shalapalooza

By John Martin

Running a marathon is no easy task. Especially when you also have to raise $3000 to participate. But McCormick junior Shaleahk Wilson is tackling both of these challenges to take part in the annual Chicago Marathon this coming October. The marathon partners with many charities and gives participants the opportunity to choose which cause they want to donate to. Shaleahk is running for Bottom Line, a non-profit organization that provides one-on-one support to thousands of low-income and first-generation college students across the country. In honor of his 21st birthday, he put on an intimate apartment open mic/concert to simultaneously raise the necessary funds and showcase some of the amazingly talented musicians on our campus.

On a snowy January night, around forty people filled a spacious living room converted to a concert venue à la Sofar Sounds or NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, outfitted with dim colorful lighting and an array of equipment at the front. The night kicked off with the open mic, which featured seven acts, ranging from sublime R&B to a ukulele medley of 21 Savage songs. First up was Evan Jose, who started by getting the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to Shaleahk and followed with stripped down covers on “thank u, next” by Ariana Grande and “Back Pocket” by Vulfpeck. Morgan Buckley was up next with several witty original songs, including a hilarious one about the ‘orgasm gap’ that was written for a gender studies final. Kechi (“because my music’s catchy”) followed with an emotive performance of his original song “Butterflies” written the week prior about the confession of love.

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With Mia Hodges on vocals and Slade Antonia on guitar, the duo jointly covered “Halftime” by Amy Winehouse, still managing to make the performance authentic and powerful though Hodges was reading the lyrics off her phone. If ukulele covers of 21 Savage songs are your thing, Troy Daley (uke) and Kenneth Gomez (21) performed “Bank Account”, “Don’t Come Out the House” and “Rockstar”, featuring Troy as Post Malone, with some altered lyrics to relate to Shaleahk’s twenty-first birthday. Alec Chang and Victor Aung played a theatrical cover of “Do I Wanna Know?” by The Arctic Monkeys. Sahil Akilowala followed with an a cappella cover of Jack Johnson’s “Banana Pancakes”. To close out the open mic, Jade Tungul performed “Check Yes Juliet”  by We The Kings in honor of the 10 year challenge, as well as a ukelele cover of a Spongebob instrumental.

The Pajamas kicked off the concert part of the night, which featured Ross Patten (vocals) and Shaleahk Wilson (trumpet), Sam Asa (guitar/bass), Aaron Funes (guitar), Alex Tannenbaum (cajon) and David Roth (bass/keys). The ensemble put together tracks that bordered on a jam session, showing off Patten’s vibrant talent as a front man and the abilities of the instrumentalists as well. At one point, the lead vocalist pulled out a saxophone an traded riffs with Shaleahk on trumpet. Later, the band performed a jazzy reinterpretation of “Handlebars” by The Flobots, much to the chagrin of several band members who only agreed because it was one of Wilson’s favorites to perform. My personal highlight of their set was their chilled-out closer “Slow Down Time”.

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Little Whales, the solo project of Vrishank Walia Menon, followed the Pajamas with a mesmerizing blend of indie rock, shoegaze, slowcore, and math rock. Seated with a guitar on his lap, he created a meditative and immersive musical environment that drew diverse stylistic inspiration from from Slowdive to My Bloody Valentine. Over blissful, washed-out chords, he plead longingly with a frail voice that sounded vaguely reminiscent of the lead singer from Galaxie 500. After plugging his upcoming EP on Bandcamp and Soundcloud, he continued with  a blissful cover of “Everybody Wants To Love You” by one of my favorite artists, Japanese Breakfast.

Up next was Slade Antonia, who started their set by crowdsourcing the phrase “purple banana” from the audience. Strumming an acoustic guitar, they sang “purple banana” over and over again, using a loop pedal after each iteration to build densely layered harmonies. The result was a serene soundscape adorned with nimbly-plucked guitar notes. Throughout the performance, Slade continued to capture similar moments by constructing towering waves of sound from live, looped and even distorted sounds. They struck a delicate balance between grit and grace, oscillating between passionate yelps and restrained coos across the performance. A notable moment of the night was “Amy”, the groovy title track of Slade’s first EP, self-described as the best song they have ever written.

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Fresh off the release of her third project, Not Too Fast, Medill junior Debbie-Marie Brown closed out the night with a set of moving tracks off of the EP. Described as a poet, musician and singer-songwriter, she approaches her art from the perspective of feminist politics, queer theory and radical self-love. Brown explored her powerful alto to its fullest extent, smoothly translating cuts from the EP to the live setting playing a guitar as accompaniment. With impassioned lyrics confronting identity, mental wellness, and the passage of time, the Connecticut native reminded us all that she is human, struggling like the rest of us–a point further accentuated by accidentally spilling beer on her phone.

Shout out to Shalahk again for using his birthday to bring musicians from all corners of the community together for one amazing show. A grand total of $400 was raised for Bottom Line from the night. Also, Shalapalooza 2 is coming soon, so stay tuned for more concerts!

Steven Norwalk