Summer is still a few weeks away, but when it gets warm in Chicago we immediately take advantage of it. But when you're not enjoying Chicago parks or relaxing on a beach, you should be seeing some of the amazing artists who start pouring into the city. Just before summer music festival season begins in earnest, you can catch arena shows from U2, Shania Twain and Hall & Oates. Plus, Courtney Barnett plays a show in the Chicago Cultural Center and the Haim sisters headline the Aragon. Explore our picks of the best concerts in Chicago in May.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete calendar for concerts in Chicago
Concerts in Chicago in May
Unknown Mortal Orchestra has always been an R&B act in psych-rock clothing, weaving woozy melodies around taut drum and bass arrangements. On the band's latest album, Sex & Food, frontman Ruban Nielson continues to explore his relationship to his base desires, overseeing a collection of tracks that catapult from tender, stripped-down ballads to Hendrix-style guitar solo freakouts. UK electronic producer Makeness opens the show.
While Chicago über-indie darlings the Fiery Furnaces sustain their not-necessarily-broken-up hiatus, Eleanor Friedberger carries on with her latest solo album. Rebound!, her fourth record, was inspired by an ‘80s goth disco that Friedberger visited while spending time in Greece, where much of her extended family lives. The resulting album maintains the jaunty feel of her previous output, augmented by drum machines and synthesizer melodies—it's the sunniest interpretation of goth electronica that we've ever heard.
Young singer-songwriter Greta Simone Kline has released dozens of self-recorded albums and EPs under a variety of pseudonyms, but her work as Frankie Cosmos stands out amid her various projects. Her latest album, Vessel, is a concise meditation on the inner-life of a 24-year-old learning to navigate a love, life and death that deftly harnesses the inherent innocence and introspection of its twee folk arrangements. Indie pop act Florist and Chicago duo Lala Lala open the show.
While she's still best known as the former bassist of the Pixies, Kim Deal found her own voice in the early ‘90s when she founded the Breeders and recorded an album with Chicago producer Steve Albini. The group went on to tour with Nirvana, broke up several times and reunited—most recently in 2008. The Breeders' latest album, All Nerve, offers another batch of the punchy alt-rock anthems, aided by vocals from Deal's sister Kelley. Local rockers Melkbelly support.
Noise rock duo No Age have joined local record label Drag City's roster and unleash Snares Like a Haircut, a new batch of blistering punk tunes that defies the band's paltry headcount. The pair harnesses tidal waves of distortion and mercilessly upbeat tempos, mustering the kind of energy and endurance that must be seen (and heard!) to be believed. LA rockers Behavior and local punk outfit Bruised support.
Pianist David Moore creates minimalist, ambient piano compositions that turn delicate melodies into towering, droning pieces that draw on classical music and the work of contemporary experimental artists. His latest album, No Home of the Mind, was written on pianos all over the world and recorded in a church in as few takes as possible, capturing the cavernous sound of the space and the deft interplay of Moore and his accompanying ensemble of players. Damon Carruesco's project Tüth opens the show.
Four years after the release of their debut album, Days Are Gone, the Haim sisters are still the same leather jacket-wearing, ‘80s-worshipping, stage-quipping badasses that we've come to adore. So what if their latest album, Something to Tell You, is essentially more of the same? The bass faces, hereditary harmonies and hopelessly romantic pop songs that landed the trio on tour with Taylor Swift are still intact, and if you're lucky, you'll get to hear them turn a Shania Twain song into a soft-rock jam.
Guitarist Yonatan Gat is one of the most visceral performers out there, and it's not just because of his versatile six-string chops—which lend themselves to everything from psychedelic rock to avant-garde jazz. At the head of his three-piece band, Gat typically eschews the stage in favor of playing in the middle of the audience, allowing his winding compositions to feed off the energy of tightly-packed bodies. Eclectic genre-blenders the Eternals and experimental rockers Health&Beauty open the show.
Madrid garage-pop quartet Hinds treads well-worn ground but does it with panache, piling on loads of Velvets-esque unpolished charm and summery vibes. The jangling odes that populate the group's latest album I Don't Run, find the group reckoning with disappointing lovers and trying to come to terms with the many downfalls of modern romance.
London producer Ryan Lee West work under the name Rival Consoles has always attempted to portray a space in-between acoustic and electronic instrumentation, manipulating and molding sounds through the use of various effects pedals. On his new album Persona, West transitions between skittering dance floor-friendly arrangements and ominous ambient compositions, exploring the opposing extremes of his musical inclinations. The live Rival Consoles show builds off of a performance at the V&A Museum, blending West's surreal soundscapes with an array of trippy, projected visuals.
It may be difficult to imagine Daryl Hall and John Oates as ubiquitous pop stars and MTV regulars, but hey, that was the ‘80s. Since then, the duo's music has come to rest somewhere between kitsch and reverence, while songs like "I Can't Go for That (No Can Do)" and "Maneater" have joined the Great American Karaoke Songbook. Hall and Oates haven't released much new music in the past decade outside of a Christmas album, but you'll dance (and sing) along to their deep catalog of hits.
Swedish electronic artist Karin Dreijer (of the defunct experimental duo The Knife) revives her synth-pop side project Fever Ray with the new album, Plunge. The record harnesses raw dance-floor beats and pitch-shifted vocals throughout a collection of subversive songs that deal with topics like sex and empowerment. If you're looking for some visceral tunes to stimulate your heart rate (and your brain), make sure you book your ticket for this rare stateside appearance.
There are crashing, cathartic refrains throughout, On Watch, the latest release from local post-hardcore outfit Slow Mass, but there are also some incredibly tender moments, set to flute and saxophone melodies. With singers Dave Collis and Mercedes Webb trading vocals, the group's debut demonstrates an understanding of the intricacies of its sound, which it uses to take its propulsive anthems and reserved balladry in unexpected directions. To celebrate the LP's release, the band headlines Schubas with support from Cru (of Virginia punk act Pygmy Lush) and Nnamdi Ogbonnaya.
Sum 41 (a.k.a. your other favorite numerically-named early-aughts pop-punk band) hits the road to celebrate the 15th anniversary of its breakout 2002 record, Does This Look Infected? While the band's recent albums have found singer (and the outfit's only remaining original member) Deryck Whibley trying to shed some of Sum 41's snotty mall-punk tendencies, tracks like "Over My Head" and "Still Waiting" are still worthy of the space they take up on your dusty old iPod.
It’s been decades since Shania Twain’s country-pop ruled the airwaves, but the success of her recent comeback album, Now, proves that she’s still the leopard print-wearing diva that you dream of seeing in concert. Prepare yourself for a big-budget arena show complete with costume changes, set pieces and renditions of all your favorite Shania songs, from "That Don't Impress Me Much" to "From This Moment On."
After collaborating with kindred musical spirit Kurt Vile on a collaborative album last year, Aussie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett has already cooked up a new batch of songs. Her latest album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, confronts the hardships of being a woman in the music industry, clapping back at critics and anonymous internet trolls through a collection of empowered, indie-rock anthems. She'll be performing beneath the Tiffany Dome in the Chicago Cultural Center—a particularly picturesque setting for a rock show. Local punks Lala Lala open the show.
U2 still hasn't found what it's looking for on its latest album, Songs of Experience—a collection of tracks that shamelessly borrows from some of the group's previous output, without recapturing any of its grandeur. Thankfully, Bono and company still excel in the arena, combining cutting-edge stagecraft and setlists that don't shy away from the band's extensive catalog of larger-than-life anthems. Gaze into the giant LED screens long enough and you'll surely be rewarded with a rendition of "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
His contemporaries may be harnessing trap beats and EDM-influenced production, but Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ kicks it old school. You'll hear vinyl scratches, jazz samples and densely syllabic rhymes throughout his music, which hews closely to the style favored by the ’90s lineage of East Coast hip-hop artists, including his idol Nas. At Concord Music Hall, he's joined by rising Compton rappers Boogie and Buddy.
Throughout nearly quarter century together, Chicago indie-rock stalwarts the Sea and Cake have methodically honed a signature sound that mixes jazzy guitar chords with the breathy vocals of frontman Sam Prekop. The group's latest release, Any Day, is the more of a refinement than an evolution, reducing the group to a trio (following the departure of bassist Eric Claridge) and stripping back some of its usual electronic embellishments. It results in some of the band's warmest (and wordiest) songs to-date, cementing their status as humble hometown heroes with a singular style. Chicago guitarist Jim Elkington opens this pair of album release shows.
Sen Morimoto saxophone solos have long been a secret weapon of Chicago's independent music community, but his latest solo album, Canonball!, finds him crafting his own entrancing blend of jazz, hip-hop and indie rock. While his beat-making skills and instrumental prowess are on display, it's the heartfelt lyricism that tackle the meaning of life (and finding ways to make it manageable) that really hit home. At this album release show, Morimoto is joined by singer-songwriter Kaina and rapper Qari.
New York rockers the Yeah Yeah Yeahs celebrate the 15th anniversary of the group's debut album, Fever to Tell, with a special performance at the Aragon Ballroom. Before Karen O, Nick Zinner and Brian Chase were headlining festivals and appearing on Saturday Night Live, the trio was influencing the director of early-aughts indie-rock with energetic, heartfelt songs like "Maps" and "Y Control." The show kicks off with a screening of the tour documentary, There is No Modern Romance.
The founder of the Savemoney hip-hop collective, which includes Chance the Rapper, Towkio, Joey Purp and more of Chicago's biggest hip-hop acts, Vic Mensa is an artist who has surrounded himself with successful people. His own path to stardom is equally impressive—he was signed by JAY-Z's label, collaborated with Kanye before recording (and then re-recording) his debut album, The Autobiography. Framed by tales of his youth, Mensa solidifies his outspoken political views and shows off his skill as a blunt but artful wordsmith. At this free House of Vans show, Mensa is joined by San Fransisco hip-hop collective the Pack and local rapper KAMI.