Bright Frights, Big City

Nearly two weeks ago my wife and I made the trek to Chicago and saw our first concert together in a very long time. I was trying to remember the last live show we saw and I think it might have been Steve Vai in October of 2016. We used to go to concerts on a pretty regular basis. It was our thing. But over the last few years our thing has dropped off. Hell, we had tickets to see Spoon in 2014 and Kurt Vile in 2019 and didn’t go to either. Even before Covid-19 we were pretty hesitant about hanging out with a crowd of people, but the pandemic could have very well been the nail in the coffin when it came to concerts. Thankfully that wasn’t the case.

Maybe a year and a half of forced isolation did it. Or maybe just the desire to connect to a band and their art in a live setting won out over the fear of cramped spaces with lots of strangers. Either way, I made the impulse buy back in the fall for two tickets to see The War On Drugs at the Chicago Theater on February 11th. I’m so glad I did as it was an amazing evening with one of my favorite people in the world watching one of my favorite bands.

So this wasn’t the first concert I’ve been to since 2016. I actually saw Gojira last November with my son. That was the putting of the toes back in the concert pool, if you will. It was a pretty amazing experience. Less than an hour from home in a pretty great venue, The Clyde Theater. Being there I didn’t realize how much I missed the experience of seeing live music; the sights, the sounds, and that whole communal vibe seeing a crowd lock into a band. It was great. I knew from there that getting back to live music was what my head and heart needed.

Concert T from 2015

I think I had more anxiety about going to Chicago than actually seeing the show. I’m not a big city guy. I’m used to open spaces, smaller crowds, and a lot less traffic. Coming into the city I was instantly on high alert in my brain. We got to the parking garage and prepared for the walk to Giordano’s on Rush St, which was just a few blocks from us. I’ve always been a little claustrophobic in Chicago, or any big metropolitan area for that matter. The leering buildings hang over like concrete giants as the noise of the city does its best to deafen you into submission. The small town hayseed wandering around slack-jawed and confused as city dwellers look at you like a damn tourist. My brain struggles to focus on the good time I’m there for, and instead starts to catch fire and screams “DANGER! DANGER!”.

Fortunately we made it to our favorite pizza place in the world with no issues and the fire in my skull turned to smouldering wet ash. I’d missed the Chicago deep dish, but over the years my body has gotten used to much less dough, sauce, and cheese in one sitting. Even a small was too much for the wife and I, but we managed two slices of that delicious pizza pie. Giordano’s was leaning into the tourist aspect of the business, with the staff wearing t-shirts that said “I Got Stuffed In Chicago!” and of course were selling them to the many Windy City newbies dining in. Oh well, I guess if you can make an extra few bucks on shirts, why not?

After a panicky walk from Giordano’s to the Chicago Theater(panic all self-inflicted by my own stupid brain) we were at our destination. Seeing that Chicago Theater sign lit up and blazing in the Midwest eve was incredible, as was seeing The War On Drugs up on the marquee. My wife and I saw The War On Drugs once before, in Indianapolis at The Vogue. The Vogue is a decidedly much smaller venue, one that has bands that are up and coming, ones that don’t have the juice like they used to, and of course cover bands. Still, a very cool place to see an intimate rock and roll show(saw Dweezil Zappa there in 2018 playing his dad’s tunes and that was amazing.) Anyways, The War On Drugs killed it that night. To see how they’d grown since 2015 was impressive.

I bought balcony seats. I’d seen Donald Fagen at the Chicago Theater way back in the 2000s with a buddy of mine. Our seats were in the balcony and it was a great spot to see the stage. I figured I’d grab balcony seats for the wife and I. We made our way up the three flights of stairs to our seats and indeed had a killer view of the stage. I also quickly realized that in my middle age I’ve developed a fear of heights apparently. As I admired the artwork on the domed ceiling I started getting a little woozy. That was not how I wanted to enjoy the show, on the verge of vertigo.

Thankfully as soon as the lights went down and the band started that feeling went away. Singer/guitarist Adam Granduciel went right into it and the band tore through a good chunk of their discography. Granduciel wasn’t much for stage banter and I was good with that. He did talk occasionally, bringing up one of their very first shows which was at the Empty Bottle, a hole-in-the-wall staple of the city. But they were there to play music, not chit chat. The War On Drugs hit up all their albums and even covered a Bob Dylan tune(the name eludes me.)

I think it was close to 2 1/2 hours they played. My wife was sort of familiar with the band, but looked at the show as a band I liked. She’d listened to them at work and liked the music but wasn’t sure what to expect. She left the Chicago Theater a War On Drugs fan. We were all indoctrinated that night. It was magical.

Going to Chicago we gained an hour since Illinois is central time and we’re eastern. Of course, coming home that hour is taken back so we didn’t get home till 2:30am. And of course the bulk of the drive was white knuckling it as it was nearly white-out conditions thanks to some lake effect snow. Thankfully some podcasts kept me focused that last hour and a half to home.

I think we’re back on the old live music horse. We’ve got Wilco in April, Primus in May, and my son and I are going to see NIN in September. Plus my wife is taking our 18-year old and her friend to see Tame Impala next month in Tennessee. We might even go see The War On Drugs again in June down in Indianapolis. Why not?

8 thoughts on “Bright Frights, Big City

  1. I like them a lot better live than on record for sure. Great live band. Good on you for going, I haven’t gotten back on the live show horse yet…

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