Monday, November 15th, 2004
So I’m not sure where to begin with my Chicago trip, so we’ll start with last Friday – I’ll cover Saturday tomorrow. Left Toronto with no incident, and while I’m not religious, it was comforting to see a gaggle of nuns get on my flight. After landing in Chicago, I caught the El into downtown – okay, having a direct rail link to the airport is brilliant. Toronto has GOT to get off our asses and get to work on that.
Downtown Chicago is something else – epic and monolithic, it’s like the streets were carved out by narrow glaciers. Even on the sunniest days, the streets are predominantly in shadows and it’s like being in a canyon made of stone, glass and steel. The Sears Tower is one of the tallest buildings in the world, but if you look at the skyline of the city, it really doesn’t seem that tall – because they’re ALL that tall. It’s quite amazing and rather intimidating. As for the Sears Tower, I did the tourist-y thing and headed up to the observation deck. Nice view and all, though not as freaky as being up on the skydeck of the CN Tower, with the see-through floors and all. But the architecture around downtown was something else, though my favourite sighting were the two apartment buildings that adorn the cover of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. Yah, big geek me. Millennium Park with the Frank Gehry-designed Pritzker Concert Pavillion was also a real sight, and the Lincoln Park Zoo was fun. Hooray for free zoos and monkeys – actually my timing was excellent as pretty much all the animals were awake and active and otherwise doing stuff. I took a batch of pictures at most of these locales, which I’ll have online with more commentary sometime in the next few days. This post is going to be long enough as is.
And on the topic of scale (was I talking about scale? Well I am now…), I hadn’t realized that it was the third largest city in America, nor what that really meant in terms of scale. The place is huge – Toronto is hardly a rural outpost, but Chicago is a CITY. Here, everything interesting (at least by my measure) is located pretty centrally in the downtown – you could concievably walk from Little Italy to Yonge St, up to the Annex and back down to Queen West without really killing yourself. In Chicago, no way. There are countless districts, all of which have their own scene and things to do, and they’re not necessarily close to each other as I learned to my dismay. I don’t know how Larry and Balki managed to squeeze all that sightseeing into the opening credits of Perfect Strangers. As I mentioned before, I got lost on a couple occasions – with no CN Tower to use as reference, I had no concept of direction after coming out of an El station. Let me tell you, I felt like a winner getting off a bus after going a couple miles in the wrong direction, then standing at a bus stop for a half hour waiting for one heading the right way. Winner!
I did my best to dine on the local fare, including a deep-dish pizza at Pizzeria Uno and some interesting Mexican grub at Flash Taco in Wicker Park. The food at Schubas was quite good as well. I don’t know if I had everything I was supposed to, but I’m impressed I ate at all – usually when I travel, my meal schedule goes all to hell and I’m lucky if I get some McDonalds into my system. The number of actual sit-down meals I had this time was unprecedented.
Seeing the sights and savouring the flavours and all was nice, but of course I was here for the music – and there was good music to be had everywhere. Hell, even just waiting in line at the Chipotle for lunch, I heard native sons Jim O’Rourke and Wilco over the PA, as well as Luna in a Best Buy (don’t ask what I was doing in a Best Buy) and Sparklehorse on not one but two separate occasions. The record stores were also excellent – though I didn’t manage to find Championship Vinyl (har!), Reckless Records’ two locations were more than up to the task of taking most of my money – check out my haul over on the sidebar. All I have to say is thank God for the strong Canadian dollar.
And to get more specific on why I was in Chicago, we’ll just fast-forward to Luna’s show at the Abbey Pub on Friday night. Barring some sort of freaky temporal/physical displacement phenomenon, this would be my last time seeing Luna, so it was a little bittersweet. The Abbey is smaller than Lee’s Palace, where I saw Luna last Sunday, but has a capacity of 700 versus Lees’ 500 on account of a second balcony level around the perimeter. The upshot of all this was a much more packed and boisterous house than the Toronto show at this, the second of a two-night stand for the Luna. And speaking of Hogtown, opening things up was our very own Apostle Of Hustle. It seemed a little strange to travel 700 km to see a guy who could very well live down the street from me, but there we were. His set was interesting, combining instrumental and vocal numbers with a loose, jammy feel. I particularly liked the Cuban-inflected piece that he introduced as, “inspired by a place you’re not allowed to go”. It was certainly interesting to see a show from the perspective of an American audience.
Luna then came out to rapturous applause and got right to work. There’s not much to say that I didn’t already say in regards to last Sunday’s Toronto show, so I’ll keep this one brief. The setlist was pretty different from the Toronto show, thankfully for me. This night had a slightly mellower feel than the more rocking Toronto show and incorporated more Pup Tent and Days Of Our Nights material. Treats were “Bonnie and Clyde” with the audience covering Sean’s whooping background vocals for him, the first encore set of “Season Of The Witch” and “Indian Summer” and the appearance of Dean’s Galaxie 500-era black Gibson ES-335 Studio for a couple numbers. He didn’t actually play it when they did G500’s “Fourth Of July” for the second encore, but you can’t have everything. I’d also never noticed that Lee only plays a 3-piece kit. Even more respect to the man for doing what he does on just a kick, tom and snare. And cymbals. All in all, it was another excellent show that I’m glad to have caught. Here are my pics from the show – I wish I’d adjusted the white balance better. Everyone looks fine except Dean – the combination of his white outfit and the yellow spotlights make it look like he was soaked in pee or something. He wasn’t. The Chicago Tribune has a review of the first of the two shows (login: katie/navin) and there’s a set list here. And finally, a special thanks to Erik from the FDP for identifying a solitary Canuck in the audience and giving me a lift back to the hostel. I don’t want to guess how long it’d have taken me or how much it’d have cost me to get back from the Abbey. That place is in the middle of nowhere, or at least nowhere near transit.
Oh yeah, it was… interesting to be in a bar where smoking is allowed. I’m spoiled up here at home, I guess. I’d forgotten how much I hated having smoke waft in my face or leaving a club stinking of stale cigarettes.
The Pernice Brothers live DVD/CD set has a name – Nobody’s Watching (har har) – and is now going to be coming out in late January. Maybe. And the new studio album is February/March. Maybe.
Okay, so I’m a little late on the news that Death Cab For Cutie has done the expected and gone major, signing a worldwide deal with Atlantic. Barsuk retains all rights to the back catalog and will be releasing a new live EP in the near future. I will be disappointed if there’s any sort of backlash by the indie kids – Ben and the boys have been courted by Atlantic and other majors for several years now, I imagine that they’ve taken the time to sign a deal that’s right for them and ensures they’ll remain creatively in control. Of all the indie-pop bands around, they have the most obvious cross-over appeal and they’d be silly not to try and capitalize on it. My goodness they’ve come a long way since I saw them play a half-full Horseshoe in October of 2001. Good luck, DCFC.
Matador has updated their discography page. Get a sneak peek at what’s coming out next year! Triple-disc Yo La Tengo best-of with b-sides! New New Pornographers and Cat Power! No further info on these yet, but if the label is expecting them and has set aside catalog numbers, you can expect to see them in the first half of next year, at least. And on that topic, DJ Martian has a list of records that should see the light of day in 2005. From LHB.
Also from LHB – Wired talks to Wilco about the future of music and technology.
np – The Essex Green / The Long Goodbye