As Blues Fest attracted thousands to Grant Park in downtown Chicago last weekend, a different sort of mood music was brewing on the north side. Pelican dropped through Metro on the home stretch of their longest tour to date, in support of their new Hydra Head release, The Fire In Our Throats Will Beckon The Thaw. The city that spawned the bombastic quartet welcomed them back with wings spread wide.
Where the blues codified the struggle of human existence in the interplay between lyrics and licks, Pelican let the instrumentation do the talking. Sophisticated rhythmic syncopation between all of the elements marked all of their compositions. Dense molasses bass drove deep into the night as churning, church bell guitar swept into the heights of the club. Bouncing metal hooks relented to tightly wound math-rock riffs that proved to be harbingers for the next big groove. Enthusiastic applause erupted in the valleys between songs.
Their sonic vocabulary is one that sits in the spaces between genres. The white-kid-in-black-t-shirt crowd tells you that you are at metal show, but the sweet melodic interludes and methodical tempo changes lull you into an almost pastoral mind state. The nimble, elastic noodling succumbs to slovenly, uncoiling ramparts. Seeing them play is like sitting on the Belmont rocks watching a storm front roll over the lake placidly, only to be drowned in a deluge of frogs and hail. The songs are monolithic yet nuanced, and due to the lack of lyrics, invite the use of metaphor and onomatopoeia to describe them.
The last song of their set, "Last Day of Winter," had the crowd rapt and swaying as if the sonic guitar waves were actually the famed Chicago winter's gale and the audience bundled pedestrians. The thaw was an adjustment as I headed for the exit, to a cool June night marked by a thunderous echo that must have reached the blues festival revelers downtown.