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(Live Review) PALLBEARER + SUPPORT - Chicago (6/26/24)


The Beard & Little Johnny


Greetings friends, fans, and followers. It is your favorite reviewing duo, the Beard and Little Johnny, as we report from show #38 and bands #144-146 on our 2024 tour. Tonight, we are on the south side of Chicago at Thalia Hall to witness Doom legends Pallbearer with support from REZN and The Keening.

Little Johnny was not in love with this choice as he had seen Pallbearer before and referred to them as some of the most depressing sounding guys he had ever watched on stage. (They may take that as a compliment little dude.) At a minimum, with this being a Thalia Hall show, the sound and lighting should be superb as Thalia Hall is about the best venue (of its size) in the Chicago area.



First up tonight was a treat for the Beard as we got to hear The Keening, a Portland based solo project from ex-Subrosa vocalist/guitarist Rebecca Vernon. The Beard has always felt Subrosa, (with its long compositions and intricate layering), was almost too complicated a band to enjoy in a live setting. That said, their music was always moving and emotional, and after the Beard very unexpectedly became a widower in 2021, I about wore out the song “The Usher” from their More Constant than the Gods release. Something about that song and its tale of “The Usher” coming to take someone to the other side has long been a very personal song to me and Vernon’s voice was beautiful within it. I was truly bummed when Subrosa split up and I am so pleased Rebecca Vernon is forging forward with new material.


Rebecca Vernon’s solo release “Little Bird” has only six tracks, but I am excited to hear several tonight. Johnny and I have already hit the bar for a Son of Juice and a Zombie Dust both quality IPA’s. We are now in our balcony seats and awaiting showtime and The Keening.

The Keening is a five-piece act featuring Rebecca on both guitar and piano, all with that distinctive Subrosa voice. The Keening also employs a violinist Andrea Morgan, and she is essential for bringing forth the true essence of Vernon’s composition. Not at all surprising, Vernon’s songs are long and layered with soft portraits of tenderness and pain crashing into crescendos of evocative emotions. The title track “Little Bird” was moving and when Vernon’s band are all working together it is majestic doomy folk magic. The set was far too short as I would have happily heard the entire release from beginning to end, and afterwards The Beard will be heading to merch to acquire it. Ending with “The Truth” in a live setting was a perfect choice. This was doomy and beautiful music.

A 95/100 and kudos to both Thalia Hall lights and sound in giving this opening set the fullness necessary for it to soar, and to Rebecca Vernon who (with respect to the other four members of Subrosa) may well have been the primary writing genius.


Little Johnny remarked “Beard if the symphony played stuff like that, then I would go.”



Second up tonight were Chicago Doom act REZN behind their just released fifth album Burden.


REZN adds psychedelic, and progressive touches to their base doom material creating another unique take on a theme. REZN is a four-piece group that presents as kind of an Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats meets stoner Pink Floyd, (which I realize is redundant), so I will amend that to a more metalized Pink Floyd.


REZN uses keys and guitar to give them that prog/doom sound. Then they throw in a saxophone to add one more unique layer to the music. If they have a weak point, it would be vocals. Rob McWilliams could have used more punch in his voice especially during the heavier parts of songs. Certainly, their greatest strength in the creation of an individualized sound was Spencer Ouellette the keyboardist who also played saxophone. This sound is not unique in metal by any means, as Yakuza is another doom jazz fusion Chicago metal band. This style is chancy though and it takes a delicate creation of ambiance to pull it off. Musically, REZN was intriguing, and I found their soundscapes adventurous. Again, think Pink Floyd during their Atom Heart Mother and Meddle period, (before Dark Side when they were still coming into the fullness of what they would eventually become as a band).


REZN got good crowd support (being Chicago boys), and, although after the brilliance that was The Keening, REZN was a step down to my ears, I still enjoyed them ... I just was not longing to hear more or a longer set. They did garner extra points on their last number which reminded me of Camel of Doom (which is a lesser-known doom band that I enjoy.) Riffs wise that was their best number of the night and bumped the overall grade up to 84/100.


I am not sure what Little Johnny thought as he had wandered away halfway through REZN’s set in search of another beer. During the changeover, I scooted down to merch and was rewarded by getting to talk for several minutes with Rebecca Vernon about her new solo material. She was friendly, classy, thoughtful in her words about how she would like “Little Bird” to be received. She was gracious enough to stand next to me and allow me an addition to my ever-growing Beard & the Band photo gallery.


Finally, it was time and headlining the evening were the Arkansas based Doom outfit Pallbearer touring behind THEIR fifth release Mind Burns Alive (2024).

The Beard has long championed Pallbearer as one of the absolute best at producing doom melancholia. Original three members Bret Campbell (vocals), Joe Rowland (bass/backing vocals and keys), and Devin Holt (guitar and backing vocals), along with Mark Lierly (Drums), just have that uncanny ability to make perfect use not only of both the heavy and the quiet portions of their songs, but also of the space between the two. When listening to a Pallbearer composition, the silence as the song progresses is a part of, (and has its own meaning to), the whole.


Starting with "Silver Wings" (from the one release I do not own, Forgotten Days), they followed up with my first taste of the newest material with the title track "Mind Burns Alive" before going all the way back to their EP for "Fear & Fury".


Those three songs got them fully warmed up (as did the loudly receptive Chicago crowd) and they hit us with "Where the Light Fades", "The Ghost I Used To Be" (a Beard personal favorite), and "Endless Place" (where Spencer Ouellette from REZN deepened the live production by adding saxophone.)


For their final three songs, we got "Signals", and "With Disease" (giving us a total of five of nine songs from the new album), before ending with "Foreigner" from their best album Sorrow & Extinction.


Pallbearer, like The Keening earlier tonight, produces music to which you cannot simply listen. To really hear it you must be willing to also immerse yourself in it. Example, one can look at a seemingly serene and gently cascading waterfall, but to utterly understand its fullness and depth you need to become a part of it. Feel the sharp sting of the spray, hear the deafening roar of the falling water, sense the sheer heaviness of millions of pounds endlessly dropping down and threatening to sweep you away like so much chafe in a tornado. That whole experience is needed to really “get” bands like Pallbearer or The Keening.


At this point in their careers, Pallbearer is now up against the icon status, meaning I know how good you are, now can you be THAT good tonight. Once again, they were for a very satisfying grade of 93/100.


I fully get that many just cannot get there with this type of music. Little Johnny tried tonight. The imp did sit quietly for several numbers trying to “feel” Pallbearer but ultimately said, “You know Beard, sometimes stuff reaches some of us but not all of us. I think when that happens though, the people it does reach get a special gift that wasn’t meant for everyone else. I give you a lot of guff, (and I intend to keep doing it), but I know you feel certain music in a unique way and sometimes when I see that happening with you, I do get a little envious of it.”

“Thank you little dude. I appreciate that.”

“But the real question Beard is do you appreciate it enough to buy me some late-night breakfast at The Steak & Egger?”


 Little Johnny, he has always got an angle.

Well, that does it for show #38 and bands #144-146. Be sure to keep tuning in each Wednesday for new live reviews on our host site The Mighty Decibel. Keep checking out our TikTok site at thebeard0728 for the latest videos, and of course friend and follow Mark McQueen on Facebook for our new non-metal column running every week as well. Until next time, this is the Beard and Little Johnny saying ... Stay Heavy & Horns Up!!!


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