*No, this is not my attempt at writing a Wordsworthian title. Ed.’s Note 8.7, on second thought, Fiona Apple would be the more apt analogy.
It’s been some time since I’ve written about a show that I’ve attended. An oversight on my part given that I’ve seen some really fabulous artists perform at some really excellent venues over the past month, including, but not limited to, Wilco & Andrew Bird at the Kane County Cougars’ Baseball Stadium (#Via(SweetHome)Chicago), Explosions in the Sky at the Chicago Theater (#mindblowing), and Kelly Hogan at the Hideout (#singerswoon). All were worthy of a more extended recap but sometimes other things get in the way.
Last night was most definitely worth recounting and recording for both the sweet and the bitter. Before proceeding to the description and thoughts, here’s a short playlist of the two bands I saw last night, in case you haven’t already encountered them before.
Let’s start with the basics…
Date & Location: Sunday August 5th @ the Double Door, Chicago, IL, 10pm
Bands: The Jezabels and Of Monsters and Men (“OMAM”)
Event: *Free post-Lollapalooza after-show*
Now, if you are reading closely and/or have been to events of this nature, you’ll know that “free” is always nice, but it means lining up early to guarantee entry. I managed to scuttle myself into line around 9pm (quite easy given that the venue is three blocks down the street) at which point there was already a rather lengthy stream of hopeful attendees. (For those following at home and familiar with some piece of Chicago (film) lore, you’ve actually seen the interior of the Double Door if you’ve watched High Fidelity; it’s in the closing sequence: the scene of the “CD Release Party”/Jack Black band, Sonic Death Monkey, cover of “Let’s Get It On”.)
As always, the individuals in line provided a great deal of conversation and entertainment starting with the kid from Memphis asking about the existence of the Chicago “House” scene (largely extinct since the late 90s) and discussing it’s vibrancy in Memphis (road trip anyone?); the band from LA out for Lolla and a Wedding (check them out here; haven’t listened yet but they were very nice and earnest, I appreciate that); the mother and son from Pittsburgh who had also flown out for Lolla, looked exhausted, and left after waiting in line for an hour (quit while you are ahead?!?), and the countless individuals who tried cutting into the line with the “oh really the line goes all the way back there?” [vocal pitch increasing with each new word]. (If you were from another planet and didn’t understand sarcasm, you would attend a concert and believe that most humans, or American kids at the very least, were daft. Little would you know how sneaky they can be!). Oh and of course who can forget the sexagenarian Tintin-look-a-like minus Snowy, but accoutered with ascot and satchel (!), riding an old-fashioned (1940s era) moto-bike (!!) with side-car (!!!), and offering rides to “your destination for a small donation”? I can’t make this up people; my mind isn’t as fecund as the real world.
According to “word on the street” doors were opening at 10…. and, 10 came and went with little movement. In the meantime, the Blue Line kept dropping hordes of people fresh from Grant Park (home of Lolla) and some finagled their way into the line ahead of us. I guess they sent out advance scouts. Then, suddenly, as though the Red Sea had parted, there was a steady stream of footsteps at which I exclaimed “Exodus!” The people surrounding me didn’t get my reference, in fact their gaze could have been described as befuddled and confused (or perhaps they were high and frightened that I was reading their minds). Fortunately my friend Gaby understood where I was going with my (possibly) ill-suited quip. Do people really not listen to Marley anymore? Or, perhaps, we were displaying our age relative to our fellow concert-goers. (Gaby was also the only other person who knew who Tom Verlaine of Television was. Seriously, kids these days need a primer on 70s music. Parents and siblings your work is cut out for you. I’ll send you a mixtape if necessary.) Despite my resignation that we’d be unable to enter based on capacity, not only did we manage to get in, we walked through the doors just as the Jezabels were about to begin and we ended up about 7 feet from the front, using my patented “Getting-to-the-Front-of-the-Stage-Technique”—all rights reserved. (For the record it doesn’t involve pushing and/or pretending to “find your friends” but recognizing that people tend to congregate and meander in the same spots, leading to openings and inefficiencies of spatial allocation; a sort of a Moneyball approach to concert going.)
The Jezabels (of Australia) were awesome. The lead singer channels Pat Benatar at the height of her career with a booming and majestic voice and the aesthetic of Karen O mixed with Souxise (of the Banshees fame). Since the last time I saw them in 2010, their sound has become fuller and more refined. They fulfill a certain tinge of 80s Brit-Aussie Pop nostalgia: the dance-ability of bands like Men At Work, Madness, and Big Audio Dynamite with a decidedly more 80s New York Rock feel. For those who were plugged into their set (a small handful of us), it was the perfect late Sunday night rock-dance party.
Of Monsters and Men came on and the crush began. Before turning to general reflections about the “crowd”, this Icelandic septet (by my count) are as skilled a live band as they are on album. Although the initial mix sounded muddled (too much bass to my novice ears), by the third song the sound engineer and band were in full swing, bringing their mix of up-beat gypsy folk rock to the music hungry youths (and elders) of the Double Door. From the outset, it was evident that OMAM was thrilled and ecstatic to be playing despite what I can only imagine was a long day, a hefty time difference, and a 12:15 a.m. start. Also, these Icelanders know how to work a crowd, unafraid to instigate extended and extensive use of hand clapping and sing-a-alongs. For the folks who don’t like to be a part of the show, then this isn’t your scene, but for the rest of us it’s like what Belinda Carlisle sang so many years ago. In short, the set was a perfect sweat and dance fest to end the weekend. (Even for those of us who didn’t and don’t do Lollapalooza.)
Not to distract from the brilliance of OMAM, but I found myself for not the first time in the past year lamenting the absence of the old front of house/show dance pits. Why? Weren’t those replete with young male aggression and physical violence? In certain establishments where the crowd and venue weren’t vigilant, things did disintegrate into “pandemonium” and really despicable behavior. But, when I attended shows in the early and late 90s, there was still a code of decorum and ethics about the front of stage area that encouraged and fostered a pleasant and mirthful space for the people who wanted to dance and be part of the show. Now, I understand people enjoy music in different manners, and not everyone feels like dancing. I respect that. However, I don’t quite understand the sentiment. Since a very early age, music has always moved me, and if a beat is “right”, my hips and legs are shaking. But I’m digressing, this is not a discussion about dance habits, sorry, let’s get back to the topic at hand: my longing for the equality of opportunity represented by the dance pits back in the day as well as a general lack of respect for fellow concert-goers.
So, what is missing these days? Well, let me list my grievances 😉
Grievance Zero: Respect The People Around You; Don’t Act Entitled
The unacknowledged code and/or understanding of the dance pit/front of stage back in my day was that (a) if you wanted to dance you just joined in, (b) you held your spot as long as you didn’t leave, (c) you minimized unnecessary “contact” or “objects” in the dance space and (d) you were totally invested in the actual show. What you didn’t do? Slowly slither your way between groups when they were dancing, say “my friend” is at the front when they aren’t, or push through the crowd irrespective of people’s personal space and thinking only of yourself. Concerts are a communal experience with some unspoken rules and codes of respect. Enjoy yourself but always think about the consequences of your actions and others.
Grievance the First: Photos/Cameras
I have nothing against people wanting to capture the moment. Clearly this post contains snapshots taken during the show – see to the right. A couple of photos a show are cool and a nice memento. However, there is a difference between one or two snapshots per act and a continuous series of photos and/or video recording. (Who are you, D.A. Pennebaker?) Constant photo-taking or videotaping interrupt the ability for people around you to enjoy the show by adding a distracting glow and blocking views of the stage. Also, why isn’t dancing and watching a sufficient way of enjoying the show? I love the ways in which social media and the internet connect and educate people, however, the inability to not constantly share or be “in the moment” (however hippie it might sound) is A HUGE problem affecting many folks these days. I don’t think this is purely a generational thing, even though the younger set fall prey to it more than the rest, but its not entirely their fault, they’ve learned by (a) example and/or (b) the lack of counterexample. Parents (and their friends) listen to CSN&Y and teach your children well.
Grievance the Second: Large Bags/Purses.
Look, as someone who rides his bike to many shows, I often bring a messenger bag with me to most shows. However, when I am at the venue, I either check the bag and/or find a nice coat hook to hold it for me. I encourage others to do the same because large bags filled with non-cushioned items tend to hurt quite a bit. This show in particular was quite a claustrophobic event to begin with, tight and compact spaces with limited room for movement and only the smallest of dancing. Now, add to this the fact that the three attendees surrounding me had large bags that kept stabbing me repeatedly no matter whatever adjustment I made and it felt like I was Leia, Luke, Chewy and Han in the garbage compactor on the Death Star. There was no escape and this morning some bruises. Decorum you are our only hope.
Grievance the Third: Beer/Drink Runs.
Far be it from me to tell anyone how much and/or when to drink. I am no moralist or regulator. However, if you leave near the end of a show to get drinks, tell the people around you that you are coming back. It is a commonly understood “concert code” that if you leave late in a set, you’ve conceded your spot in the crowd unless you tell your fellow concert-goers and friends that you will be returning. And, it is also acceptable and understood to take a bathroom break, whenever necessary, but again let others know. What you don’t do is return with drinks in hand, splashing, pushing and acting like someone has grievously harmed you. In my experience, most people are pretty considerate when you actually ask them to hold your spot/space.
Grievance the Fourth: Tall Dudes to the Back or Sides, Please.
If you are over 6 feet, it is likely that you will be able to see the show quite well from almost any spot in the venue. However, if you stand near the front, your “shadow” looms large and you will block many a person around you. Perhaps, if you are trying to get close to the front of the stage you should consider the wings. Not an ideal location for sound quality, but you’d be doing the rest of us/the small people a real favor. It isn’t too much to ask really. Most of my concert-going male friends are over 6 feet – I live in the Midwest, they grow them pretty tall here – and we routinely find locations on audience right or left so as to limit the amount of people they block. And, even though I’m a lowly 5’8″, I always look around to make sure I’m not blocking any folks behind me. Be considerate and thoughtful. It goes a long way.
Exit Stage Left (or quickest exit available)
I will stop my rant now and return to the regularly scheduled programming. But, I just ask that you consider some of these little observations, and by all means feel free to share.
Art should not have “rules and regulations” and people should be able to enjoy things as they see fit. I hope I am not being fascistic in my thoughts and observations. I just believe that at times folks forget to consider other people. To maximize, everyone’s enjoyment it helps when people act with a modicum of respect and understanding. Otherwise, we will prove Hobbes right, and the art/concert venue will devolve into “the war of all against all” and we don’t want that do we?
Climbing down from his soapbox,