Illinois is a love 'em or hate 'em band. You come across such instances in sports (Kobe), politics (George W.), entertainment (Tom Cruise), and even Rock Club (Jimbromski). I entered the evening in the Love 'Em camp but by night's end I had jumped ship.
The lead singer, Chris Archibald, set an early tone and it wasn't a good one. He was cajoling the crowd to sing "for he's a jolly good fellow" for his sister's birthday. He was perturbed the crowd wasn't more into it. He struck me as a mix of Johnny Knoxville and Ashton Kutcher (the Punk'd version). That is to say he was annoying. Like the onstage persona of many frontmen (Travis Morrison in particular comes to mind), you either find Archibald as charming and charismatic or tiresome and aggravating. It's all in the eye (and ear) of the beholder.
Musically, their ragged and ramshackle performance reminded me of Okkervil River, if you substituted the mandolin for a banjo. Four guys took part in the vocals (which made for some nice harmonies) and at times they really kicked out the jams. I tuned out the irritating banter enough to see the potential of the band. I wouldn't be surprised if these guys continued to get more exposure and popularity. With dates at big events like Lollapalooza, it might just happen. Their appeal to the high school and college set was evident by the numerous under 21 patrons at the show.
Earlier this year Illinois toured with the biggest "Love 'Em or Hate 'Em" band in indie rock today: The Hold Steady. They're clearly big fans of Craig Finn and crew. The bassist wore a Hold Steady shirt onstage and their touring van has "The Hold Steady" stenciled in black paint on its side. While their musical stylings aren't similar, the bands have a few other things in common: an attention grabbing lead singer with a unique vocal delivery, an energetic and carefree live show, and an uncanny ability to divide audiences into two camps. For now, I'm in the Hate 'Em camp but in time I expect many more people gravitating to the other side.
The backing band gets a 7.1 but factoring in the lead singer's 2.5 rating, Illinois garners a Rock Club Rating of 4.8.