Brigitte Calls Me Baby review: Lincoln Hall show signals bigger gigs ahead for Chicago band

It could’ve been the wall-to-wall bodies that turned Lincoln Hall into a sweat lodge Saturday night. Or, it might have just been the smoldering swagger of indie retro rockers Brigitte Calls Me Baby that had people wiping their brows and fanning themselves as they clamored to get a spot in front of the stage.

Just weeks ahead of their Aug. 3 debut at Lollapalooza and their debut full-length for ATO Records the day before, the charismatic artists staged the second of two sold-out shows at the North Side venue. The quick yet captivating hourlong set — combining the crooner styles of Elvis, Roy Orbison and Morrissey with a precise post-punk, garage rock, synth pop mélange — all but solidified their buzz band status and assured they will be a standout of the summer.

The best part is, they’re from Chicago.

The dapper quintet — on this night, wearing matching black and white getups with some of the best coifs in the biz — has taken the local scene by storm in recent months, leading the pack of a new era of homegrown rock bands that are steadily gaining national attention.


There Always
Palm of Your Hand
I Wanna Die in the Suburbs
Fine Dining
I’m Still Here
That’s What Makes It Harder
Always Be Fine
You Are Only Made of Dreams
Eddie My Love
Pink Palace
Too Easy
The Future Is Our Way Out
Careless Whisper (George Michael cover)
We Were Never Alive
Impressively Average

In the case of Brigitte Calls Me Baby (named for frontman Wes Leavins’ short-lived pen-pal relationship with actress Brigitte Bardot), the band has dominated radio and joined regular rotations at XRT and Q101, got the attention of a prominent tastemaker label, booked gigs with the likes of The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs and already made a national TV debut on “CBS Saturday Morning” back in February. Just a month later, the bandmates sold out their first show, at Schubas no less, and have been riding the fame wave ever since.

It’s not hard to see why. The band’s music is a cross-generational catch-all of some of the best parts of music’s gilded timestamps. Quippy romance odes like “Eddie My Love” may remind elders of the Elvis hysterics (Leavins is a blonde dead ringer for the King in looks, sound and attitude) while giving the young flock a taste of rockstar idolatry that has been largely missing, for better or worse, in modern offerings. The true testament was seen in the wide range of ages that showed up at Lincoln Hall, with many already knowing the songs — even the unreleased tracks — and singing along.

While Texas native Leavins may have been born in the wrong decade, he definitely was born to do this job. And has spent years getting his own kind of all-access. In high school, the singer was recruited to be part of a “Million Dollar Quartet” tour in which he, yes, played Elvis and, more recently, Leavins worked with Baz Luhrmann on the music components for the biopic on the legend.

“If it wasn’t for this city, I don’t know where we’d be in our journey now,” frontman Wes Leavins told Chicago fans during Saturday’s Brigitte Calls Me Baby show at Lincoln Hall.

Selena Fragassi/For the Sun-Times

Yet, that hasn’t pigeonholed his range, nor the band’s for that matter. On the upcoming ATO album, “The Future Is Our Way Out,” the ensemble — which on Saturday also featured bassist Devin Wessels, drummer Jeremy Benshish, guitarist Jack Fluegel and a brand-new guitarist Leavins only introduced as Dave — beautifully branches out from the nostalgic palette of the previously released five-song EP, November’s “This House is Made of Corners.”

The entire album was previewed during the Lincoln Hall shows, alongside some unreleased cuts and a cover of George Michael’s “Careless Whisper.” The new album translated well live and offered a more layered, modern approach that’s reminiscent of Brigitte’s other influences like Radiohead, Interpol and the Strokes.

Wes Leavins raises a glass to the Lincoln Hall crowd on Saturday at the second of two Brigitte Calls Me Baby concerts.

Selena Fragassi/For the Sun-Times

The new material shows a heavy focus on synths and production, some great guitar solos from Fluegel and hearty drum fills from Benshish as well as harmonizing backup vocals from Wessels on a few numbers that round out the sound and seem poised to become new radio favorites. The passionate pop rock ballad “Too Easy” would be a great next single after “We Were Never Alive,” the catchy summer jam released a few weeks ago. For those that crave the classic crooner style, there’s some of that too, namely seen in the acoustic serenade “Always Be Fine” that sounds like it could be a Sun Records B-side.

Brigitte is still at that stage where everything is new and fresh; the group members waved to family and friends in the audience, set up their own gear and looked around wide-eyed at everyone who showed up to see them. “If it wasn’t for this city, I don’t know where we’d be in our journey now. Chicago has got something going on, you’re making it happen. And we can’t thank you enough,” Leavins humbly shared. But the DIY air — and the small venue stages — won’t be the case for too much longer as the ascent continues. At least Brigitte will always be Chicago’s Baby.

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