Category Archives: Concert Reviews

A Legend! Celine Dion at the United Center (December 1, 2019) 

“I was locked up in the Nevada desert for 10 years!” exclaims Celine Dion. “But, I escaped!” She is of course referring to her Las Vegas residency in which she did 1,141 shows. During this time, she honed and crafted her live performances into a big spectacle. The show has that big Las Vegas feel. This is a precursor of sorts as PlaylistHQ is heading to Las Vegas to review shows in late January. This will include the beginning of Aerosmith’s residency.

To make a grand entrance, Celine rises up from below the stage on a moving platform. After greeting the audience, she launches into the Pandora’s Box cover, “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”. “When I touch you like this, when I hold you like that, it’s so hard to believe but it’s all coming back to me!” This is a fantastic ballad and a great choice to open up her return tour.

She keeps the ballads going with “The Power of Love”, a Jennifer Rush cover. “Cause I‘m your lady, and you are my man!” This song really shows off her vocal talents and her ability to put so much emotion into her voice.

This is the Courage tour, the name of her new album. She sings the title track and also “Imperfections”. This song was produced by DallasK, a DJ based in LA. It has a very modern dance pop feel. It may be very different from her other songs, but it sounds excellent.

For the encore, she returns to the stage in a gigantic white dress and sings the theme from the 1997 film Titanic, “My Heart Will Go On”. The entire audience is all smiles as they sing along to this very romantic ballad. About 30 small drones light up and rise up from the stage. They take a few different positions in a very cool display. At the end, one of them hovers right above her hands.


She says she wants to leave us with a message of world peace. So, to close out the night, she beautifully sings “Imagine” by John Lennon.

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney

Excellent! Lindiwe featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Steppenwolf (Through January 5, 2020)

Lindiwe is a young woman from South Africa who is visiting Chicago. She finds her way to Kingston Mines and is moved by the music, and even more so by the drummer. They spend all their time together for the rest of her trip. Soon afterwards, she returns to Chicago and again they find themselves experiencing a strong connection. However, she longs to return home to continue her singing career. Concurrently, he wants to stay in Chicago to continue his career. Eventually, events take place out of their control that force them to make some very big decisions.

At its heart, this play is a love story. But it is also about so much more. It is about two cultures coming together. Also, there is a supernatural part of the story that is very theatrical and mysterious. The purpose of this is very slowly revealed. Perhaps a bit too slowly.

The music fits in so smoothly. The blues band sounds great. In addition, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s singing is truly beautiful. Additionally, their dancing is so fun. This is their third collaboration with Steppenwolf. Both groups share the same vision of bringing together individuals to form something greater together, an ensemble.

Nondumiso Tembe is a great lead as Lindiwe. She has a great singing voice and a great positive and infectious energy. Erik Hellman (Familiar) is excellent as the drummer, conflicted between his love for Lindiwe and his love for Chicago and it’s music. Yasen Peyankov (The Children, Between Riverside and Crazy) is outstanding as the Keeper, a larger than life Grim Reaper type character that commands attention. Cedric Young (Familiar) is awesome as Lindiwe’s wise grandfather guiding her through her struggles. Lastly, Jennifer Engstrom is solid as the drummer’s aunt.


Get tickets now for Lindiwe through January 5th!


Cost of a ticket: $85 (Main Floor)

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother


Quinn Delaney

Exceptional Value! Augustana at Subterranean (November 19, 2019)

Augustana’s self titled album (2011) and their debut, All the Stars and Boulevards (2005) hit #1 on the Billboards chard for Top Independent Albums. Can’t Love, Can’t Hurt (2008)  hit #2. The single from 2005, “Boston”, hit #10 on the Adult Top 40.

Tonight, they take the stage and get right into playing. The lead singer, Dan Layus, looks very happy and is enjoying his time on stage. The band is from Southern California, but he clearly doesn’t mind the Chicago winter. He starts the show with a hat and a sweatshirt, but he ends up in just a t-shirt by the end.

They have two new songs “For Now, Forever” and “The Heart of It” that sound excellent and prove that Dan Layus still has what it takes to write a great song.

Dan gives props to the opener, Zac Clark, who played a great set. Zac just recently left his previous band of 7 years, Andrew McMahon and the Wilderness.

“This is the part where we would normally leave the stage,” says Layus. “But we’re not going to do that.” This is most likely because to exit the stage at Subterranean requires climbing a small winding staircase that it is quite awkward. Thus, many bands at this venue just say this instead.

The entire set is solid with the crowd singing every song. The songwriting is fantastic and the performance matches it too. The setlist for this show in the same as the one from St. Louis the next day, which is available here.

Cost of a ticket: $24

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

California Reggae Rock! Through the Roots at Last Exit Live in Phoenix (November 10, 2019)

On a warm night in Phoenix, locals are looking to let loose.  Through the Roots is here to bring a little Southern California to the crowd.  Listening to their set transports you to a warm and sunny beach in San Diego.  You can feel the sand between the toes as you admire the backdrop of colorful lights the color of a sunset.  As they play “Weekend”, the audience happily dances along.  “’Cause baby this weekend, I’m doin’ what I wanna do.”

The lead singer constantly says how much he enjoys coming to play in Arizona. He always has a great time playing here. Another thing he loves is a good fog machine. The stage is constantly filled with a thick fog.

Late in the set they play “Higher”. “I believe that if we come together, we can get higher, higher, higher.” It’s such a beautiful song that puts a smile on everyone’s face.

They also played a few tracks from their new album, Arrival. The new songs sound great and prove that this band is still going strong. Their entire set kept a fantastic vibe going the entire time.

Quinn Delaney

Vibrant! San Fermin at Valley Bar in Phoenix (November 10, 2019)

Finding the Valley Bar is a bit of a challenge. When you arrive via Google Maps, there is nothing there but a dark alley. You nervously head down the alley and then find around the corner there is a very small red neon sign that states “Valley Bar.” After showing your ID to bartender, even if you are in your 50’s, you head down the stairs into the basement of a building. The concert takes places in a small room with a bar that could hold maybe 150 people.

San Fermin is the creation of Brooklyn composer and songwriter Ellis Ludwig-Leone. Their self-titled debut album is strongly influenced by Ludwig-Leone’s unique background in classical music, which includes a job assisting composer/arranger Nico Muhly. After finishing his musical studies at Yale, Ludwig-Leone wrote the album in six weeks while holed up in a studio on the mountainous border between Alberta and British Columbia. He focused on lifeʼs top-shelf issues – youth, nostalgia, anxiety, unrequited love – and tied these vast themes to different characters through vocal contributions from longtime friend Allen Tate, as well as Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius.

Tonight, the eight-piece band fills the small place with their vibrant sounds.  Claire Wellin commands the stage with enthusiastic tosses of her huge mane of hair and brilliant smile.  Karlie Bruce displays her vocal talent during their hit song, Sonsick, and provides wonderful back-up vocals with Wellin throughout. Many songs feature fantastic brass that energizes the band and the crowd. Allen Tate’s vocal performance is impressive as well and sounds similar to the lead singer from The National.  The rendition of Methuselah brought the house down.  During a lively instrumental, the trumpet and saxophone players come to the front of the stage the cheers of the audience who are enthusiastic for the entire performance. They close the memorable night with “Cairo” from their 2017 album, Belong.

Quinn Delaney



First Chicago Show! Angie McMahon opening for Hozier at The Chicago Theatre (November 3, 2019)

This is Angie McMahon’s first show in Chicago. Talk about starting at the top! She is also playing solo tonight without her band. After introducing herself, she says she is now going to play some sad songs. She plays beautifully and her voice is fantastic as well. The audience is incredibly encouraging and gives her a giant round of applause after each song.

“This is another song about my dating experience,” she says. On one date, she spent the whole dinner explaining gender equality. The next song definitely had some anger behind it.

She is very charming and wins the crowd over talking between songs. “I’m from Australia,” she says. “But, you can probably tell that from my accent!” Later on, “I’m wearing my own merch. These socks say ‘Slow Mover’. You can buy some in the lobby, or not.”

It was a great short set and a great start to a promising career.


Hozier was excellent as well. See our past review here.

Quinn Delaney

Beautiful Music! Ray LaMontagne and Kacy & Clayton at The Chicago Theatre (October 25, 2019)

Ray LaMontagne takes the stage at The Chicago Theatre with Carl Broemel, a guitarist from My Morning Jacket. They begin with “Be Here Now”. Ray’s fantastic voice along with their great guitar synergy makes for a beautiful sound.

Soon afterwards, they play “Beg Steal or Borrow”. This is one of his more upbeat songs. “All the friends you knew in school, they used to be so cool, now they just bore you”. He doesn’t say much between songs. He just allows the songs speak for themselves.

Very sparingly, Ray plays the harmonica during tonight’s performance. It’s absolutely heavenly when he does. He should play it a lot more often. It’s just as good as when Neil Young plays this small instrument.

There are many couples embracing in the theatre. His music is very romantic.

The moment that he speaks the most is when he talks about the opener, Kacy & Clayton. He comments how they are so young and talented. He completely loves their sound.

In the encore, they play “Jolene”. The entire audience sings “Still don’t know what love means” along with them and continue to replay it in their mind as they happily make their way home.

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney

Fantastic! TOTO at the Chicago Theatre (October 4, 2019)

“Hold the Line! Love isn’t always on time!” sings the lead singer on “Hold The Line” from TOTO’s 1978 self titled debut album. The song still sounds great after 40 trips around the sun, as their tour is named. It gets the whole audience out of their seats and singing along.

“Rosanna” is another crowd favorite. It’s from their 1982 album, Toto IV. They joke about how creative they are when naming their albums.  “Not quite a year since she went away, Rosanna. Now she’s gone and I have to say, meet you all the way.”

They also play “Human Nature”, which was written by the keyboardist and became a hit for Michael Jackson.

Dominique Xavier Taplin plays a fantastic keyboard solo. He is filling in for the regular player. He is also a member of Ghost-Note, headed by two drummers from Snarky Puppy.

At last, the lead guitarist asks the crowd “Are you ready for that song?” Everyone stands up and joins in singing “Africa”. It’s quite a magical moment when the band stops and just the crowd is singing the melody.

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney


Also, TOTO made a brief appearance on Family Guy last Sunday!

Great Performance! Berlin Featuring Terri Nunn at the City Winery Chicago (September 10, 2019)

Berlin is celebrating 40 years together a band. However, this tour isn’t just a nostalgia trip. They are making new great music with their latest album, Transcendance, and putting on a great performance.

Early on in the set, the lead singer, Terri Nunn, introduces “I Want You” as a song about sex in her 50s from the new album. It doesn’t have to be important, she says. “I just want to get laid”. She continues this trend by introducing “Animal” saying it about sex in her 40s. And last in this series is “Touch” about her first one night stand in her 20s.

Later on in the evening, Nunn sings a cappella “Watching every motion, In my foolish lover’s game” in a stripped down introduction to “Take My Breath Away”. Then, the band kicks in and everyone recognizes the song instantly. It’s a giant singalong as she glides through the audience.


In a softer moment, she talks about speaking with her mother shorty before she passed away. She gets emotional while talking about this moment when she asked her mother what it is like to let go. She put her response into the lyrics of “Transcendance”:

Maybe it’s love
Maybe it’s emptiness
Maybe I just want to believe again
Maybe it’s love
Maybe we’re limitless
Maybe it’s not just in my head

To introduce the finale, she quotes the writer of the song, Malcolm Young. If you want serious lyrics, listen to REM. But, at the end of the night, everyone just wants to get laid! The band then goes on to close the night with “Highway to Hell” by AC/DC. It’s a fun way to close out the night.

Cost of a ticket: $40
PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It
Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

See the full setlist here.

Quinn Delaney