Summer is not technically here, but who cares about technicalities? Whether we're visiting Chicago parks or relaxing on a beach need to go outside as much as possible, considering the entire month of January was spent next to the heater. Good thing May marks the start of the summer music festival season, not to mention the outdoor concert season. Explore our picks of the best concerts in Chicago in May.
RECOMMENDED: Our complete calendar for concerts in Chicago
Concerts in Chicago in May
British indie pop trio the xx imbues its latest album, I See You, with a renewed sense of vigor, injecting sparse R&B arrangements with an expanded palette of instruments and a Hall and Oates sample. The course correction (likely the work of instrumentalist Jamie xx, who became a star in his own right through his solo album In Colour) leaves the intimate lyricism of vocalists Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim intact, while adding some much-needed levity to a group that often comes off as overly-serious. Singer-songwriter Sampha, best known for producing songs for Solange and Drake, opens the show.
Part of the original wave of English shoegazers, Slowdive reunited in 2014 to perform at the Primavera Sound Festival and have kept the dreamy vibes going ever since. The group comes to Chicago behind its new, self-titled album (its first in 22 years), which brings the hazy, reverb-drenched sound of its classic albums Souvlaki and Pygmalion into the 21st century—an era that has a newfound appreciation for the once-niche genre. Philidephia singer-songwriter Michelle Zauner's sparking indie-pop side project Japanese Breakfast opens.
For mouse-eared EDM mascot Joel Zimmerman (a.k.a. Deadmau5), music almost seems like an afterthought these days. After bestowing his latest record with the mundane title W:/2016ALBUM/, Zimmerman stated on Twitter, "i don't even like it. it was like... so fucking rushed." He seems to be putting more thought into his latest tour, upgrading his signature cube DJ booth so that you'll at least have something pretty to look at when he opts to play his newest tracks.
America's Got Talent finalist-turned-R&B star Kehlani has spent the past year working on her major label debut, SweetSexySavage, and appearing on tracks featured in blockbusters like The Fate of the Furious and Suicide Squad. Her quick rise to prominence makes sense—she's got the type of unassuming silky voice that's difficult to ignore and a ’90s-inspired sound that courts nostalgia without going overboard. English R&B singer Ella Mai and Canadian rapper Jahkoy support.
Virtuoso progressive metal may not be en vogue, but the mighty Mastodon resolutely sticks to its guns (tusks?) on its latest, Emperor of Sand. It may sound like a sequel to Dune, but the record is actually an extended meditation on the trials of cancer, inspired by the experiences of friends and family members. While the subject matter may to weighty, the group approaches it with its usual array of heavy riffs and brutal technicality. Blues rockers Eagles of Death Metal and local instrumental metal trio Russian Circles open the show.
It's a cliché to say that Ty Segall is staying busy, but it continues to be entirely accurate. He may have slowed down a bit in recent years, but he still has more side projects (the kind that actually release albums) than your average SoCal rocker. His new self-titled record plays like a greatest hits album comprised of entirely new songs—almost every side of Segall is on display, from the blistering punk energy of his early output to the more restrained, acoustic-leaning numbers that populate his recent work. Experience the entirety of the Segall spectrum when he brings his band back to Chicago for a pair of shows.
Once known for raucous performances that featured bodily fluids and fireworks, the Black Lips have matured into a jangle-y garage rock act that mixes bluesy riffs with a bit of Southern charm. The Altlanta-based group recently teamed up with Sean Lennon (yes, that Sean Lennon) to produce a new record, Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?, which includes guest vocals from Yoko Ono. Expect to hear plenty of gritty new psych-rock tunes during the band's two-night stand at the Bottle in celebration of the venue's 25th anniversary.
Former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman bring his usual sardonic touch and penchant for ‘70s folk, country and pop to his latest album under the guise of his alter-ego, Father John Misty. Pure Comedy is a cynical examination of overriding the futility of modern life, set against lush, kaleidoscopic arrangements that only serve to heighten the impact of Tillman's world-weary lyricism. If the apocalypse is nigh, at least the human race will have some grandiose exit music. Vampire Weekend drummer Chris Tomson's solo project Dams of the West supports.
Simon Greene is yet another British DJ who has augmented his turntables and samplers with a band, turning his Bonobo project into a blend of electronica and grandiose live instrumentation. On Migration, Greene presents his most nuanced collection of tracks to date, shifting from vocal-assisted dance club pop to more experimental (and expansive) synthesizer symphonies.
Using traditional Korean instruments, including the fiddle-like haegum, piri flute and zither-dreived geomungo, Jambinai bring folk and classical-inspired sounds to its cacophonous post-rock. The South Korean trio comes to the Bottle behind its latest album, A Hermitage, which wallows in the furious waves of distortion that populated early Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor records.
New Orleans bounce music's "Queen Diva" Big Freedia combines elements of EDM and hip-hop to create music that is tailormade for shaking your hips—back in 2013, she lead a crowd attempting to set the Guinness World Record for twerking. If you've ever seen her at the Bottle before, you know how much booty-shaking transpired when Freedia gets on stage (and it's the perfect way to celebrate the Bottle's 25th anniversary).
Local alt-rock radio station 101 WKQX holds it annual Piqniq at the Hollywood Casino Amphitheater, putting together a miniature festival of sorts that's stacked with contemporary rock acts. Perfectly coiffed English rockers the 1975 headline, armed with sultry, ’80s-inspired pop-rock. Jack Antonoff's indie-pop project Bleachers and longrunning power pop outfit Jimmy Eat World round out the headliners. They'll be joined by Stabbing Westward, Highly Suspect, Sum 41, Joywave, K. Fly, Warpaint and Lucky Boys Confusion.
A mainstay of the Chicago rock circuit for more than a quarter century, the, er, local duo is returning to the Empty Bottle's stage to celebrate the venue's 25th anniverary. Expect frontman (and noted cinefile) Scott Lucas and drummer Ryan Harding to make their way through a set that includes nods to the band's earliest records as well as plenty of hooks and riffs from its latest, Hey, Killer.