The glow of the golden lights veiled the stage, and a circular “Local 506” sign hung from the ceiling above the five band members, suspended in front of the black backdrop like a moon in the night sky.
A variety of music lovers convened last Wednesday at the music bar in the heart of downtown Chapel Hill to hear Varsity, an indie rock band from Chicago. All types of hipster college students walked through the doors—some with purple hair and colored fishnets, others with man-buns and leather Doc Martens. While the majority of the crowd drew from the great pool of UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke students, the band members’ old friends from Illinois also made a surprise appearance to show them support.
“Well, we’re on tour, heading to New York, and Chapel Hill was on the way, and we love playing in college towns. Pat and I, the guitar player, went to school in Wilmington, Indiana, and that’s a pretty similar-sized college town,” lead singer Stephanie Smith said, explaining the band’s decision to come to North Carolina. “I feel like college kids are open to hearing new music, and we’ve always gotten really good reception from places like these.”
The show opened with Cosmic Punk, a three-member indie band from Chapel Hill. The trio’s set consisted of songs from their new EP, “i’m not real,” released in May. The old school sound is reminiscent of the Strokes and Feist, which created the perfect atmosphere to introduce Varsity.
Keyboardist and lead vocalist Smith stood center stage in front of her male bandmates, the synthesizer and background guitar melodies providing a complex accompaniment to her airy voice. Complementing the vibe of Cosmic Punk, Varsity’s music has a nostalgic air to it, similar to that of indie bands Tennis, Beach Fossils and Real Estate. As Smith played around with effects on the synth, Dylan Weschler’s revealed his talent with subtle harmonies and remarkable solos on his wine-red and black guitar.
The small venue created an intimate setting, inspiring a friendly feeling on stage that contrasted the grungy punk stickers consuming the walls. The five band members danced with one another during every catchy interlude, and they exuded a great amount of playfulness throughout their performance. Guitarists Patrick Stanton and Dylan Weschler even made eye contact to synchronize the movement of their guitars like little boys playing Guitar Hero together in their garage.
Before Varsity came together, the group of friends used to have what Smith calls “Salon Nights.”
“It was a night where we invited our friends to do some sort of art and showcase their talent for fun,” Smith said. “Dylan and Pat, the two guitar players, played a song ... and I decided I wanted to be part of it with them. We were good friends, so I just asked them if we could play together. We started playing in my apartment until the neighbors complained about the noise level ... so we got a practice space, added some more members, and that’s how it all started.”
Their clear compatibility as a friend group extended beyond the stage and into the audience. Smith turned to the fans at the edge of the stage, asking, “Do you guys want to hear one more song? Two more? Five more?” engaging with the crowd in an informal way.
Midway through the set, Varsity played their most popular song “So Sad, So Sad.” Its catchy guitar patterns and relaxed drum beat made it impossible for audience members to avoid nodding their heads along. Unlike the recorded version, they dramatized the slowed segment of the song near the end, milking the build back to the original tempo.
The band members lingered after the show and spoke to enthusiastic young fans, offering to take pictures in front of the venue’s turquoise walls and encouraging them to engage in conversation.
“College towns are great because people come to our shows, people know who we are, and I feel like college kids are willing to talk to us and hang out with us,” Smith expressed after the show.
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Smith claimed the name Varsity did not come about for any particular reason, saying, “It was just one that stuck out to us.” However, these bandmates could not be a better representation of the camaraderie of a sports team. Like a united team, the friendships of band members create cohesion and harmony, elevating their live performance.
“They are all my best friends,” Smith commented.
The buoyant mood of the indie band’s tunes was underscored by a sound reminiscent of an older era created a timeless Wednesday night for the hipsters of the area—belying the title of their most famous song.