Howie Day at City Wintery – Brace Yourself


Indie-rock/pop singer songwriter Howie Day first broke out in worldwide recognition over 10 years ago with his breakout hit, “Collide”. While Howie had been touring the college circuit, writing music, and recording since the late ‘90s “Collide” is really the only song that comes to mind when most people think of Howie. The song received major radio play, it was used in several TV shows and movies, and it reached the Billboard’s Adult Top 40 chart.


Howie Day


Howie Day began his career as a developmental songwriter by using loop pedals, samplers, and other digital effects to turn his guitar into a layered instrument all its own, thus creating an often hypnotic echo quality to his songs that he harmonizes on top of with his own vocals. This wave-like effect helped him stand out as a truly experimental artist that could mass-orchestrate himself without having an actual band to accompany him.


Howie Day


Aside from “Collide”, which was written in collaboration with Kevin Griffins of Better Than Ezra (and to a lesser extent “Brace Yourself” which was written by Jay Clifford from Jump, Little Children) a good majority of Howie’s greatest material to date have been his early songs. And ones that he wrote all by himself. This is especially true of his debut album from 2000 Australia, an album that Howie self-financed and self-released. Arguably Australia contains Howie’s best work mainly because the songs were authentic to him and because they were simple.


Songs like “Ghost”, “Sorry So Sorry”, and “She Says” (all of which Howie performed on the night I attended at City Winery) poetically expressed youthful emotions dealing with the heartfelt pains of breakups, relationships, and loneliness. Howie’s indie-rock/pop music was structured, melodic, creative, and most importantly there was a heartfelt passion behind the songs that were both intimate and universal in their scope.


Howie Day


It’s telling though that as Howie became more established he had less time to write his own music and instead started performing music written for him by others. This resulted in some of Howie’s most unoriginal, derivative, and just stale music. In particular his 2008 album Sound the Alarm was a huge disappointment. Not only was every song written by someone else, but also nearly every song was so bland that the whole album seemed like nothing but “filler” tracks - sound-a-like songs that most people will just skip past on their iPods.


As a live performer however, Howie is and always has been truly mesmerizing to watch. He’s so comfortable and charming in front of an audience that I’d venture to say that he’s better live than he is on his albums. Even songs that he’s performed thousands of times over the last 10 years he still manages to connect with them in fresh ways that is deeply engaging for an audience.


Howie Day


Performing at City Winery for a two-night stay, Howie gave us samples of his new album set to be released on April 14. Unfortunately other than the song “Torches” I have to say that the rest of the songs Howie previewed the night I attended (which included song titles such as “Lanterns”, “Anyone” and “Treetops”) were sadly the same similar-sounding dull “filler” songs that have become all-too common for Howie lately.


While Howie’s earlier materials seem to be about the passion contained within the actual songs themselves, he has since become over-reliant on his digital effects with his newer stuff. In other words, Howie’s new material appears to be less about telling a great story through his music and more about giving them an “abstract” sound quality. They’re not bad songs. But they just feel uninspired compared to his earlier work.


Howie Day


Perhaps his newer songs would have translated better if he were performing them at a summer music festival or a similar kind of large venue. But listening to his over-enhanced songs at a smaller more intimate winery just wasn’t the best setting to preview these songs. The somewhat tepid response from the rest of the audience for his new material confirmed this further to me.


None of the new songs that Howie sampled for us for his upcoming album were as good as his older music, though the album is still worth taking a listen to. Hardcore Howie Day fans won’t be disappointed, average listeners will. The new album (which as much I can tell is still untitled) can be pre-ordered at


Howie Day


The opener on the night I attended was a young upcoming artist from Nashville, Shane Piasecki, whose performance was mostly soulless considering the bluesy style of his music. That said Mr. Piasecki did have one original song that really stood out from the rest, “Jackie O”, a reflection on not meeting a love at an earlier time. He also provided us with an absolutely chillingly and gorgeous rendition of Lana Del Ray’s “Video Games”. Shane Piasecki’s album Set You Free was released last April and can be downloaded now on iTunes.


City Winery is located in the west loop in Chicago at 1200 W. Randolph, near Harpo Studios. It is a perfect date spot for anyone looking for an intimate night out or for a group of friends looking for a fun and relaxing place to spend an evening. The acoustics in the space are great as everything can be heard loud and clear, the staff is excellent, much of the food is delicious, and the wine (while being overpriced and not having the best selection) is still decent.


Howie’s playlist at City Winery on 1/10/2015:

1. “Torches”

2. “Sorry So Sorry”

3. “Lanterns”

4. “Bunnies”

5. “Treetops”

6. “Sunday Morning Song”

7. “Brace Yourself”

8. “Miracle”

9. “Anyone”

10. “Longest Night”

11. “Collide”

12. “She Says”

13. “40 Hours”

14. “Ghost”

Note: Howie performed one more song earlier in the night, but I didn't recognize it and wasn't able to get the song title before he moved on.


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