WORDS BY CHRIS ARWADY | PHOTOS BY FASSBINDER PHOTOGRAPHY
The refurbished antique light fixtures suspended from the ceiling in Chicago’s Thalia Hall dim to an amber glow and are finally extinguished as the venue fills in with a young, energetic crowd. They are here to see Parov Stelar, Austria’s finest export since Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The sextet, led by producer Parov Stelar (real name Marcus Füreder) has been lighting it up in venues all over Europe for well over a decade. Hot off the heels of a glowing performance at Coachella in April of 2016, Parov Stelar is finally starting to promote their music in earnest to the Western Hemisphere on their first North American tour, which includes only six US dates.
Tonight’s show at Thalia Hall is the penultimate of the eight-date tour, of which nearly half was completed without Füreder, who had to return home early to attend to a family matter. The result – seeing Parov Stelar without Parov Stelar – is impressive, if a bit preordained.
The high-energy 100-minute set kicks off with a slow-burning opener featuring only an electric guitar and a muted trumpet. The guitarist, Michael Wittner, is an adept player, and is also a spectacular bassist, as we would learn later in the set, while trumpeter Marc Osterer vigorously wields a Dizzy Gillespie-style bent trumpet. The other members emerge one by one before the band, finally whole, breaks into “Hit Me,” a tightly wound amalgamation of house, funk, dance, and swing music that is Parov Stelar’s signature sound.
The emergence of vocalist Cleo Panther draws cheers from an amped-up crowd. Clad in the same uniform she wore at Parov Stelar’s now-famous Coachella performance and topped with a timeless wide-brimmed hat, Panther growls lusciously through Stelar favorites like “I Need L.O.V.E.” and “Clap Your Hands.” She introduces “Cuba Libre,” referencing the Hispanic flavor of Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, of which Thalia Hall is the centerpiece, and then launches the band immediately into a rollicking “Catgroove.”
The show is heavy on crowd engagement, with Panther and the horn section, which includes saxophonist Sebastian Grimus and trombonist Jakob Mayr, synchronizing dance moves and leading the crowd in call-and-response vocal parts on songs like “Grandpa’s Groove.” At one point, Wittner pulls out a nylon-string guitar for a short solo piece that eventually morphs into a quick duet with Mayr on the now-classic Gorillaz single “Clint Eastwood.” The crowd eats it up.
The dynamic sextet, incorporating heavy, four-on-the-floor house rhythms along with funky, staccato horns, roving bass, and Füreder’s vintage samples to create a perfect backdrop for Panther’s vocal explorations, close out the night with perhaps their most popular single to date, the ass-shaking “Booty Swing,” a raucous, bouncy tune that keeps the sweating mess of people dancing for just a few more minutes.
Parov Stelar’s blend of funk, disco, and R&B backed with a pendulous, swinging dance groove that doesn’t let up isn’t so much woven together as it is engineered to perfection. Possible side effects may include euphoria and involuntary movement of the hips, feet, and pelvic areas. Already back in Europe for another 16 dates through the winter, keep an eye on them in 2018 as they look to increase their North American footprint with sets at festivals across the country.
Intro / Hit Me
I Need L.O.V.E.
Clap Your Hands
Berlin Shuffle / Djangos Revenge
The Speed Demon
The Mojo Radio Gang
Read on for the full photo gallery…