The chant “Kids These Days ain’t nothin’ to (mess) with” kept Lake View awake on Saturday night when Chicago’s latest buzz act Kids These Days—a blues-jazz-soul-rap-rock hybrid that began at Whitney Young High School—hit the Vic Theatre.
The beauty of Kids These Days is their unapologetically uncategorical music. The group lands somewhere between a high-school jazz ensemble, a marching band, and a book club.
The seven-person band moved fluidly from Liam Cunningham’s dizzying guitar solos to breathless funk freakouts by horn players Nico Segal and J.P. Floyd, while songbird Macie Stewart tempered the rapid freestyle verses laid out by Vic Mensa. The set was more harmony than cacophony, a pattern that holds true on their two releases, 2011’s Hard Times and the recent Jeff Tweedy-produced Traphouse Rock. “We are creating a new culture for a new city—one that resists the idea of borders,” Mensa declared to a mostly teenage crowd.
The tracks themselves are rich with researched references. The homegrown tribute “Bud Billiken” ended with a brass sample of Radiohead’s “Creep,” while “A Man’s Medley” offered a merger of Gershwin’s “Summertime” with James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World.” Others, like the playlist-ready “Who Do U-Luv” and the Pixies-influenced “Doo-Wah,” were original manifestos.
Fresh off a tour with Asher Roth and a summer appearance on Conan, Kids These Days is in a unique position. They’re maturing into a respected group but owe much of their success to their youthful, stage-diving appeal.
Today, when kid celebrities are outdated by their sweet sixteen, the challenge of navigating the transition into adult music stardom can be all the more difficult. Perhaps Kids These Days will be the urban, diverse counterexample to Taylor Swift’s Southern Belle.
Download Traphouse Rock for free at the band’s website.
Photograph: Courtesy of Kids These Days