It’s pretty amazing to see such a tiny performer take the stage with such force and energy, and right in the middle of the week. If a Wednesday night show might be sticking point for general audiences, it must act as some sort of filter, keeping out the less serious and undermotivated of fans. I say this because nearly everyone was just as excited to see Kitten in Chicago as Kitten was to perform; people were screaming and jumping and crying tears of joy at this stunningly explosive and equally expressive group at their show last night at Beat Kitchen.
It’s been roughly two years since I last saw TOKiMONSTA in Chicago, and this time the fans are definitely ready for her. The problem last time, I felt, was that the fans at the show weren’t as in touch with her and weren’t as familiar with their music as they should have been. Either that or they were all youngsters exhibiting the cold Chicago stare, which seems to be common at some shows around Chicago, like when I went to see Sylvan Esso. I find it beyond annoying, but audiences, in an attempt to appear cool, show little enthusiasm even if it’s an artist they love. Pure thrill and excitement, may be displayed as a gentle sway back and and forth, rather than the jumping and shouting that is seen by normal audiences.
The friendly and eager chatter, hours before the show was to begin, was assurance that this would not be the Toki show from two years ago. Fans were very early for the show, and they were all talking with one another, the energy in the room thick with excitement. I talked to two fellow photographers, who were just here to enjoy the show. One of them, Eric, had drove over two hours from Bloomington, IL to see Jennifer Lee’s set. As the first opener started, the crowd was ready to dance, albeit still nervous in typical “high school dance” fashion: people gradually moved to the front by the stage, save for a wide patch right in front of the stage, which was completely void of people. Slowly, a few brave souls danced solo in the middle and wandered back. One person in the crowd was showing off incredible moves, doing handstands and flips and making it look easy. He was cheered on by everyone, and soon, people started to join and fill in the area in front of the stage.
The openers did a great job, and there was good variety. The first act was more house style and chill step, and the second act was a hip hop group with a jazzy and soulful feel. The crowd was very excited and followed all the MC’s commands with cheer. Alas, TOKiMONSTA took the stage and the crowd went wild. Jennifer is always blushing and grinning on stage during her performances, but I’m pretty sure she was feeling especially gleeful during this one just based on the overwhelming energy from the crowd. Her humility and appreciation for her fans is so natural for her and she genuinely feels it. Through every jam, the crowd just went wilder and wilder. Everyone was engaged and jamming to the beats. I had to leave the front of the stage to go to the restrooms a few times, and each time felt like it would be an impossible feat to make it back up. That’s how tightly packed people were and how much they wanted to be as close to the music as possible.
She played several of her well known hits, like 2 On, Realla and Steal My Attention, along with few remixes from Midnight Menu. The setlist was very fresh and I honestly didn’t explicitly recognize which songs they were, so I’m guessing she was playing newish mixes, or perhaps, just mixes I had never heard.
The visual display behind her was very satisfying to watch, and I give props to the designer who put together those graphics. They add a mysterious and mesmerizing quality to the show, and staring at it long enough dead on, can bring you to your own world of fantasy. The sound quality was also very noteworthy, perhaps the only venue I’ve been to (I haven’t been to them ALL but I’m getting there) that is better than Concord Music Hall. The quality of the bass was very resonant without being too boomy; powerful yet pure.
After her final encore, everyone struggled to make their way out. Determined to get another picture with her like I did the last time I saw her, I plotted out potential sighting points. I knew she wouldn’t be hanging around the merch table, just given setup, and I didn’t feel like she was going to be over there. Also, she would be bombarded with little room for escape. Wandering outside, I noticed her tour bus waiting for her on the sidewalk, along with a few smokers and a handful of fans pacing and looking around. Bingo. Settled on this as my waiting point, I made some conversation with some of the other fans. We wondered why there weren’t more people who had figured out this is where Jennifer would most likely be, by her tour bus! Finally, the moment came and the door from the venue opened, and there she was! Holding a container of mixed fruits and a Lara bar, I gently approached her with a tamed intensity. In typical fanboy fashion, I foolishly tried to quickly show her the photo of us from two years ago, she looked at my phone kind of confused and I realized the mistake I was making, wasting precious moments of my time with her and wasting her patience for everyone who was going to ask for a photo. I quickly backtracked and just asked for a photo and she took a wonderful photo, very happy confident and appreciative for us all. There were just a few more photos, including a group shot and then Jennifer politely excused herself and boarded her bus. I could tell she was wiped from the show and likely from traveling and just wanted to eat her fruitarian meal and go to bed. But she stayed for the very end and made sure her fans were satisfied. Well she made this fan very happy!