When I showed up to Hovvdy’s Chicago show at Lincoln Hall on Dec. 12, I knew it was going to be an “unplugged” show. But when I stepped into the venue space and saw rows of folding chairs set up, it actually registered with me. The duo’s acoustic-driven set is something new the Austin, Texas-based indie pop-rock band has been trying out on a short four-city tour.
This past year, I’ve noticed some changes in what I look for at a live show. I’ve experienced some loss and heartache but also major joy and comfort. As someone who attends many concerts throughout the year, I’ve been seeking out shows that make me feel like me. Lately, that type of show has been easy going, slow and warm—a nice intimate show in a teeny tiny venue that I attend with friends and loved ones. Hovvdy’s unplugged set was one of those shows for me.
Looking around the room, I saw soft smiles on attendees’ relaxed faces as they swayed gently in the warm light. It was as though we were sitting in the living room of a close friend as they put on a show for us.
In it’s latest releases, Hovvdy has leaned in on a more country, folk-rock sound, reminding me of Chicago rockers Slow Pulp. The duo, Charlie Martin and Will Taylor, pull inspiration from bands like Sparklehorse and artist Daniel Johnston—which are reflected in their use of lo-fi beats, alt guitar rhythms and introspective lyrics.
Since live music has made a comeback after the more than a year of zero live events because of COVID-19, concerts are exciting, but they’re also so exhausting. It might feel this way because I am also getting older, and I enjoy the comfort of my own home. But I also feel like we’ve all changed as music listeners. My taste in music has evolved in the past three years, as well, as I yearn for more acoustic guitar, an emphasis on lyricism and country-esque rhythms.
I had not seen Hovvdy before, but they’re known to perform live with a full band. So witnessing them as just a duo felt even more special. I felt I was truly seeing them—every piece that makes them the performers they are. How they hop from one foot to the next as they strum the strings of their guitars; how closely, or far away, they stand away from their mics to enhance the effect of their voices; how physically expressive they are with mouth movements, eyebrow lifts and eye placement.
Hovvdy are the epitome of a duo: their brotherly banter on stage reinforces how in-sync they are—from strumming their guitars at exactly the same time to harmonizing off one another. They share the space equally, switching who leads with vocals and who offers backup.
The acoustic set was engaging and upbeat enough, too, that standing would have been a good experience. But I can’t complain about “taking a load off,” sitting back and reeling in the entertainment.
The duo played a handful of unreleased songs, as well as fan favorite Blindsided, to wrap it all up. Despite the stillness of the show, it was encouraged for fans to sing along—creating an almost choir-like sound wafting throughout the room.
Earlier this month, Hovvdy released singles Bubba and Jean—pop-influenced ballads reminiscent of New Order, but a tad slower and with a bit of twang.
The band is set to play two more unplugged shows in Nashville, Tennessee, on Dec. 14 and Brooklyn on Dec. 15.
Start with Hovvdy’s song In The Sun off their 2018 album Cranberry, and you might notice how an acoustic rhythm drives the pace and tone.
Pay attention to how the band sprinkles bits of synth and piano throughout the song to layer the sound. It gives it a light and airy feel, almost as though it’s a soft breeze.
Kendall Polidori is The Rockhound, Luckbox’s resident rock music critic. Follow her reviews on Instagram and Twitter. @rockhoundlb