by Josh Gross
The sun was out and Neurolux was empty when the show started on Friday night.
Los Angeles band Hands played to a smattering of people who either did not know who they were or did not care. The dance-influenced beats beneath clean indie guitars and textures from a Kaoss Pad went in some interesting directions but did not blend well with the grating tone of the singer's voice.
A loud group of dancers moved near the stage for one song, then shouted goodbyes and went out the front door, apparently unsatisfied.
Hands was followed by electro-power trio The Big Sleep, who mixed synth bass and rolling echos on the guitar over straightforward mid-tempo beats from a solid drummer. It was strong and danceable, but since the sun was still up, most of the audience lingered at the back.
But when the headlining act, Chicago's Maps & Atlases, played the first note, everyone in the bar rushed the stage. The patio even cleared out. People wanted a good vantage point to observe the action.
And the band delivered.
Maps & Atlases dropped complex finger-tapping guitar lines over a combination of world percussion and speed metal blast beats. Dressed up in frontman Dave Davison's almost cartoonish voice, it is an unexpectedly perfect blend that is far more than the sum of its parts.
"It is like a beautiful math problem I want to unravel," a friend said to me of Maps & Atlases' layered compositions.
The material was a mix of songs from the band's new album Beware and be Grateful, and its two earlier releases that ranged from simple ballads to blasts of synchronized drum and guitar rhythm patterns that meandered through countless sections and crescendos until booties shook and jaws dropped.
It didn't hurt that the stage was decked out in pyramid amp stands that glowed in tandem with the lucite drum set. It was no wonder the band was called back for an encore.
"I have been waiting years to see them," someone remarked in the bathroom line. "It was totally worth it."