Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Jonah Kagen’s Beat Kitchen ‘flu game’ shows off masterful musician, charismatic performer

Madeline King/The Daily Northwestern
Jonah Kagen performed heartfelt acoustic music with passion at Beat Kitchen on April 15.

In Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals, Michael Jordan, already a basketball star, powered through flu-like symptoms and led the Chicago Bulls to a pivotal victory over the Utah Jazz — a game that solidified his legend in the city and became known as his “flu game.”

Monday night, Jonah Kagen told the sold-out Beat Kitchen, was his flu game. The indie folk musician had spent the day struck down with food poisoning, he said, and would need the crowd to help him out. But like Jordan’s, Kagen’s flu game only served to show Chicago a performer at the top of his game — and rising.

Indie-folk musician Vincent Lima opened the show with a collection of slow, emotional tunes that could have brought the mood down if Lima’s stage presence weren’t so engaging. Although the set could have been a song or two shorter, between his diary-entry lyrics, incredible vocal control and jokes between songs, Lima proved the perfect opener, tugging on heartstrings while keeping the energy up.

Standouts from Lima’s set included “The Man by the Coast,” “Somewhere” and his closer, “In The Cold.” His pair of songs on grief, “Orpheus” and “Eurydice,” were also a highlight. The seamless transition between the two felt like a Greek mythology fan’s take on The Beatles’ “Golden Slumbers” to ”Carry That Weight” transition. Lima’s instrumentals on piano and acoustic guitar were simple but showed off his even, powerful voice.

Even sick, Kagen was clearly made for the stage. He interacted with a fan’s sign before starting his first song and made the audience feel as if they were chatting with him in his living room. Kagen gave live versions of songs distinct personalities from the originals, either adding jazzy influences or mixing up the pacing.

Kagen used two six-string acoustics, a twelve-string, an electric guitar and loop pedals, sometimes looping several instruments during one song.

“The pedals are great because I can’t afford a band,” he quipped.

But making the most of a less-than-ideal situation again only showed Kagen’s mastery of his craft. With a clear knowledge of and appreciation for guitar, instrumental moments in songs like “graveyard shift” and “18” shone just as brightly as his raw, textured voice and emotional lyrics.

Kagen has released two EPs and several singles since breaking into the music scene in 2020 with “broken,” a song he told the crowd he added to the setlist late because of its visceral relatability. His debut album is “about 80% done,” he said, and he played five unreleased songs in the 12-song set.

“I’m loving playing the new stuff on this tour because I feel like it’s in such good hands,” he said.

Of them, “Matches” and “God Needs the Devil,” which drops on May 3, were standouts. Lyrics in the former — like, “Maybe smoking one more cigarette won’t burn your lungs to ashes / but all it takes is gas to burn a city down with matches” — and the latter’s bluesy vibe were met with cheers and scattered “wows” through the crowd.

For his final song, “The Roads,” which has garnered over 18 million Spotify streams after going viral online in 2023, Kagen brought Lima out to perform. The pair’s stage presence was electric, and the whole crowd was singing along.

With charisma, instrumental skills and a voice to boot, one can only imagine what Kagen can do with the bigger venues, full bands and, hopefully, lack of food poisoning coming his way.

Email:[email protected]
X: @marywrandolph

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