Highly Suspect, the 3-piece band from Brooklyn, NY played a SOLD OUT all ages show at Double Door in Chicago, IL. Barely a week into their U.S. tour, the band played quite a few hits from their Grammy nominated album, Mister Asylum, along with a few older songs not to mention new song, Serotonia, which they just so happened to play three days prior to the official video release. Read our interview with drummer, Ryan Meyer here.
After a 45-minute set from opening band, AudioDamn! and a 35-minute set from direct support, And The Kids, the all ages crowd that were fortunate enough to have gotten a ticket, were tightly packed in (capacity 550) and more than ready to be blown away. While this wasn’t the first time the band had played Chicago, it became pretty clear they had made some sort of impact on those in attendance. As I overheard people around me talking about the band, I started to hear where some of them had traveled from. Someone had come in that day from Florida, someone else was in town from Oklahoma and another person had driven up from Peoria, IL. Add to that the two people standing in line approximately two and a half hours before doors, in 30-35 degree weather, and it was pretty clear, Highly Suspect had a following. The guy from Oklahoma commented to the guy from Peoria that the Double Door size venue would probably be the smallest place they would ever see the band play again. Meaning, they were fairly confident Highly Suspect were on the verge of blowing up.
The lights dimmed and the band’s intro music, Simon Says by Pharoahe Monch, started to play. One by one the band took the stage. While the intro music was still playing, lead singer/guitarist Johnny Stevens asked the crowd, “How the f–k is Chicago tonight?” The crowd cheered loudly in response. After just over a minute of intro music the band launched into those extremely familiar notes of their song Bath Salts. The crowd lost it! Not only did their excitement come in the form of loud cheers, almost immediately after Johnny started singing, you could also hear the crowd singing along loudly. Not just the chorus either, every word of each verse. Of course, the ultimate crowd participation came right after a short pause during the last verse. Johnny sang, “Nothing flashed before my eyes, No pretty angels and no bright lights. All I saw was the devil’s soul,“ but then paused. The crowd cheered as they knew the next line. The band even stopped playing for a few seconds as the crowd continued to cheer and clap loudly. Johnny and the crowd finished the line, “and it looked a hell of a lot like my own,” and the band launched back into the song.
With the next song, Johnny got everyone to start clapping and once again addressed the crowd, “You’re beautiful Chicago,” before singing the opening lyrics to Lost. Again, you could hear the crowd singing along. The crowd on Johnny’s side continued to get a little crazier. Dare I say, some were losing their mind, but not in a bad way. Imagine seeing one of your fave bands and the possible reaction you would have to seeing that band. This crowd were thoroughly enjoying the set and the band were only two songs in! Johnny smoked through the guitar solo as drummer Ryan Meyer and bassist Rich Meyer kept up the pace. Johnny told the crowd again, “You’re f–king beautiful. Just look at yourselves,” before he started making alien/space like sounds from his guitar. This lead into the band’s most recent single, Bloodfeather. The band wasn’t letting up and neither was the crowd.
Johnny spoke to the crowd again, “What a good night. A hot night on a cold night in Chi-town. I love it.” They went into Vanity which included Rich on backing vocals. Watching as Johnny sang, “and I have searched my soul,” you could see the emotion pouring out, not only through his words, but his guitar playing and facial expressions. With the next song, Ryan played a hard steady beat at the start of F–k Me Up while Johnny explained what the song was about. How even though you could be a wonderful person, sometimes you just needed to be a bad motherf–cker. Once again, the crowd sang along but as the song continued, the crowd nearest the stage on Johnny’s side got the craziest.
The band brought it down quite a few notches with the next few songs. First was Lil’ One. A mellow song which initially had Johnny only playing guitar and singing before Rich and Ryan joined in. Johnny introduced Rich and joked that you may not remember his face, but you would for sure remember his “fresh ass shirts” and proceeded to give him the nickname, Richie Shirts. He joked that Richie had the voice of a ball grabbing angel and confirmed that there were indeed such angels. In fact, according to Johnny, those were the best kind of angels. All joking aside, he commented the song Rich was about to sing was the one of the first songs the band ever wrote together. Due to how old it was, he referred to it as a “throwback” song. Round and Round had a guitar part that started off sounding almost like a Jimi Hendrix song. As for the song in general, with its super slow guitar tempo, the initially quiet-like drum beat and the soft vocals from Rich, it really made you stop and pay attention. Not to mention there was a pretty killer guitar solo. While this may be one of the band’s oldest songs, it still holds up really well and based on the sporadic cheers coming from the crowd, I’d say it was liked by many.
The band jammed the intro to Mom a bit longer than normal, which also included some feedback from Johnny’s guitar and once again, the crowd sang right along with him. With no announcement to the next song, Johnny began playing the opening notes. Random people yelled out cheers of approval over what they were hearing, and overall the song appeared to have everyone intrigued. If by chance you have not heard Serotonia, either live on via the video that was just released, stop what you are doing right now. Not only is this a beautiful song, the video is both haunting and slightly disturbing. View it here. The song will be available for download March 4 here.
I now also realize the Chicago crowd got what appears to be an entirely different song as an intro. Here is part of what Johnny sang, “You think you know me, I wish I did too. Because everything’s changing and I am changing too. It’s not a question, this sh-t is real. It’s hard to look back, but it’s harder to move on.” After a few more lines, he continued with the song as it is for the video.
Once the song was over, I heard someone yell, “Play Gang Lion!” Apparently Johnny heard it too because his reaction was one of surprise. “Who the f–k just said, ‘Play Gang Lion?’ That’s ridiculous. You’re like ultra MCID. I don’t even know how to play Gang Lion anymore, but I do know how to play this song.” As they went into the next one, Johnny doodled some for the intro as he laughed psychotically into the microphone before the band eventually launched into their first single, Lydia, from Mister Aslyum. Once again the crowd sang along loudly. Especially when it came to one of the choruses,
“I cant f–king believe
Black ocean, cold and dark
I am the hungry shark, fast and merciless
But the only girl that could talk to him, she couldn’t swim
Tell me what’s worse than this”
Johnny paused, the crowd cheered and he asked, “You going to help me out with this?” As he continued to pause, the crowd started chanting, “MCID! MCID! MCID”
Johnny continued singing, adding to the build up,
“What’s worse is all the coke
The ice that numbs my throat if only for the night
My muscles will contract, your bones will crack
It’s just a fact cause I am here to win this fight”
Johnny then let the crowd sing, “I can’t f–king breathe,” on their own, and boy were they loud, before he continued with the rest of the song. Such intensity from both the band and the crowd. I don’t know if the band were feeding off the crowd more than normal, but the band were on fire all night. As they began winding down their set, they slowed it down a bit once again. Johnny gave Rich his guitar and left the stage. Rich told the crowd that Chicago was one of his favorite places in the world to play and he sang a song called Winston.
Johnny brought the level back up a bit with Fire in Bedstuy and asked the crowd to bounce along. Some obliged, but I think others were waiting it out. Johnny called out for someone they knew to come on stage and he was more than happy to get up there and jump around. The song had a bit of the reggae vibe and the band jammed at one point during the song and Ryan played what I’d call a quick drum solo. Johnny, who was now wearing sunglasses after smoking at the back of the stage, asked how everyone was feeling before he started rapping. I’m not sure if it was a full on freestyle or if he had done it before, but it was pretty damn awesome and the song ended with another killer guitar solo.
Before ending the night, Johnny commented that he wanted to make a dance party out of the last song and boy did they go out with a bang. During the super upbeat Claudeland, the crowd took one last opportunity to let loose of any energy they had left in them. The band jammed out the end of the song both musically and lyrically. Again, I’m not sure if Johnny was making up lyrics, or if he was possibly singing a Highly Suspect song I wasn’t familiar with, regardless, he also let his guitar do some talking while he messed around with various pedals and effects. Towards the end of the song Johnny and Rich traded bass and guitar and stood in front of each other’s mic stands while playing.
Once the music was over, Johnny and Rich each laid the instruments down on the stage, interacted with those down front, handed out a couple of set lists and were gone. The crowd chanted, “One more song!” over and over but unfortunately, the night was over. The energy this band had on stage and the impact their songs had on fans was clearly evident all night. To be honest, after witnessing their hour and a half long set, I’d have to agree with the guy from Oklahoma I overheard earlier in the night. Highly Suspect are definitely on their way to conquering the world of Rock ‘N’ Roll. The band are on tour through May. If you’ve been putting off seeing this band, I “highly” suggest you get tickets today. Unless of course, all the fans “in the know” have already bought them all. Find dates here. Purchase Mister Aslyum on iTunes here.