I put a picture up top as a header instead of my name. I made it in MS Paint and I am very proud of myself.
Lisa Mrock: Writer. Interviewer. Literary Scene Enthusiast. This is where things are posted. Things include
- subjects worthy of discussion (like myself)
I put a picture up top as a header instead of my name. I made it in MS Paint and I am very proud of myself.
I’d never ridden a Metra train before, so after spending $11.50 ($5.75 for each ticket) I didn’t realize not all UP-NW trains went to every stop. Finding a train that stopped in Palatine though was easy. Before boarding, I asked the attendant just to make sure and he responded, “Yep.”
I hopped on the train, but I was in the vestibule. I didn’t know trains could have vestibules. To get to the seating area, I had to press a button, and when I pressed it the doors slid open and a metallic “shwung,” came from it like something out of Star Wars. The magic was just beginning though - the seats were cushioned, there was upstairs seating, and there were goddamn bathrooms on the train. For those who don’t know, CTA stations and trains have no bathrooms at all, hence why much of the city’s drunk and homeless population past 2AM tend to let it all loose in seats and on train doors alike instead of, well, anywhere else.
There’s an upstairs!
Once the train’s luster wore off, I waited until the train slowed into Palatine and texted my friend Wyl if he and his girlfriend would be there soon.
"About 2 minutes."
Riding the same train made our meetup more convenient. We met on the tracks and headed over to Durty Nellie’s to wait at the bar, where Wyl, knowing fully well the odds were not in his favor, asked if they had Malört. The hope in his eyes and voice were of an eleven-year-old boy told time and time again that Santa doesn’t exist, but whose unrelenting belief defied the impossibility of a large man dressed in red breaking into millions of homes worldwide by way of chimney. And when he was told that, no, they did not have Malört , his head fell limp and his hand tightened into a fist of defeat, frustration, and disappointment.
We transported ourselves to the balcony where we got beer and talked with a cool middle-aged guy who thought Wyl was about ten years older than he really is. Laura Jane Grace arrived on the balcony with her two children, and a devilish part of me wanted to reach for my camera, but Laura was busy tending to family, and I’m not gonna be that rude ass who interrupts her for a pic, or be that weirdo furtively taking pics from a distance without her permission. I find more enjoyment being the weirdo who takes photos of the inside of a Metra train. During all of these thoughts and happenings, Lansing, Michigan band Cheap Girls played. The three-piece band wore a lot of plaid and played fuzzy rock songs.
Truth be told, I was incredibly sleepy during their set, later finding out my glucose levels could battle the altitude of an airplane (high glucose = feelings of sleep) plus me and my friends were yelling into each others’ ears, so I didn’t have the presence to take in all of what they were performing. What I did gather is they were more of a basic kind of rock, not really going for an “image,” not talking to the crowd a whole bunch, but just going on stage to play, the kind of band where a person watches them and thinks, “I can dig this.” I asked Wyl if we should all go down to watch. With a half-full beer, and knowing full well drinks weren’t allowed down on the main floor, he said, “I’m not going down there unless the band is fronted by a person named ‘Laura’.” Fair enough.
The crowd down on the main floor nodded along, standing mostly still, not hating the band, but not going crazy. Part of that is the band’s music, which was a little lax compared to the rest of the night’s material, but part of that is on the crowd, who didn’t move much for Laura Stevenson’s set either. Well, they moved little more for her than for Cheap Girls, but there were more people in the crowd as well, like me, Wyl, and his girlfriend.
Laura Stevenson. The most adorable fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway?
I headed down to the main floor with my friends where we inserted our coats behind some pole or other, praying to Joe Strummer for our belongings to still be there in two hours. We inserted ourselves near center barricade, in the second or third row of people, when Laura Stevenson took the stage and performed a lot off her latest release Wheel. I’d never listened to her before, but as I’m writing this, I’m listening to everything of hers on Spotify, interrupted only by the random endometriosis and Audible commercials. Her balanced set lightened the venue and happily bounced from slower, more fold-based songs, to speedier jams like “Sink, Swim,” to more dancey tunes like “The Healthy One” off 2011’s Sit Resist. If Stevenson’s songs weren’t enough to keep us happy, her sense of humor definitely was - she was friendly and welcoming, prefacing songs with, “Here’s the sad song,” and just having to mention between songs that Verne Troyer was dancing on the Whose Line Is It Anyway? in the background and that if she could’ve stopped in the middle of her song she would’ve pointed it out sooner. I’m glad another person can appreciate Whose Line? as much as I do.
Between Stevenson and Against Me!’s set, my friends and I tried figuring out how in the hell we were getting back home. Wyl informed us the next train would leave at 9:25pm.
"What time is it now?"
"When should AM!’s set end?"
"And the next train is at…?"
It bared repeating.
We plotted how we would spend our three wonderful hours after the show, figuring we’d be hungry on some level after sweating out buckets of water, but we stopped once the lights dimmed. They came out one by one, Laura being last. There was no ostentatious introduction, no “Let’s check the equipment one last time,” no stalling, anticipatory bullshit. They came out, picked up their instruments, and ripped into “Fuckmylife666.” The crowd was strangely idle for this first song, but nodded along. The main floor was packed by this point, and I waited patiently for that moment, which came in the second song - the surge forward. We pushed and squeezed forward, my hips stabbing the poor soul in front of me, my rucksack acting as a barrier between my back and whoever’s shoulders and elbows attempted to puncture it.
I’ve seen AM! twice before - Warped ‘08 and Riot Fest ‘13, but I can say this was the best thought-out and constructed set list I’ve seen from them. It’s obvious that most songs played were off of Transgender Dysphoria Blues, but the rest was a healthy mix of New Wave, White Crosses, and even their earlier albums Reinventing Axl Rose and As the Eternal Cowboy, playing songs “Cliche` Guevara,” “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong,” and “I Still Love You Julie.” (After the show, Wyl said, “You know they played ‘I Still Love You Julie’,” and “I can’t believe they played ‘I Still Love You Julie’,” about five times. He mentioned it only twice the next night.)
This is punk rock. Study it. Learn it. Be it.
The band had fun while playing, genuine smiles on all their faces. Seeing them put such hard work into performing, watching the sweat fly off of them in gallons, served as a reminder of the physical demands involved in performing. It also reminds us that being in a band is a job, one that Against Me! are excelling in. They’ve been a band for over ten years, and from the show I watched that night, their bones will crumble before they retire.
As for the crowd, we were a camaraderie. We threw our fists in the air toward the band, toward the songs, sang the words, and lost our voices in the process, knowing fully well if we couldn’t speak the next day, the songs could speak for us. And with a setlist as spread out over the band’s career as this one, surely almost everyone’s “song,” was performed. My friends and I had “our songs” we wanted to hear. For Wyl, “I Still Love You Julie.” His girlfriend’s was “I Was a Teenager Anarchist.” Mine is a bit different. My “song” has to do with how I expected the crowd to react and my own love for the meaning and message of the lyrics - “Drinking With the Jocks.” So when it wasn’t performed in the main set, I was slightly crestfallen, but thought, “Fuck it, this was awesome.” And then they came out for their encore set and “Jocks” was the second song.
This plus crowdsurfing and a much smaller venue.
There were no “highlights” because everything was a “highlight,” though specific songs that stood out were “Cliche` Guevara,” “Unconditional Love,” “Americans Abroad,” “Thrash Unreal,” (this was my second “song” I hoped to hear, “Teenage Anarchist” and “Cliche`” being a close third), and the “The Ocean,” where hundreds of voices shouted in unison, “There is an ocean in my soul where the waters do not curve”
The girlfriend left by the third song (because she is smart), but Wyl and I stayed toward the front in the middle of that wonderful mess (because we are not smart), getting bruised and somewhat beaten, pointing and throwing our fists like everybody else, with Wyl even sharing a moment with Laura. This is worth mentioning because it means these guys don’t just go out to play some songs and collect a paycheck. They take the time to put effort into the performances and into their fans, connecting with them, letting every person in the room know that they matter.
I can do no more justice in describing their performance at Durty Nellie’s that night except by saying that my ears are still ringing and I still can’t speak well. As for Wyl, all he can manage to get out is, “They played ‘I Still Love You Julie’.”
By the time the show ended, my friends and I didn’t care that we had to spend three more hours in a town with not a whole lot to do. We had too much to talk about.
Overall rating: A+
I’ve been sick with this damn cold since Monday-ish/Tuesday of last week and it’s not abating, but that hasn’t stopped me from going to work, class, concerts, and readings, like the one I went to last night while breathing through both nostrils for the first time in days.
I wish my nostrils were that clear.
I got to Sheffield’s at about 6:30pm to grab something to eat. I’d had the chicken tomatillo soup every time I’d eaten there before, so this time I would broaden my horizons. I checked the menu once, twice, three times. Truthfully, I kind of wanted that soup again, but then there was the chili. It had pork in it. I like pork in some forms. I like chili. But I also like chicken. In my dilemma, I looked toward the bartender for guidance.
"Our chicken tomatillo soup is pretty good."
I ordered the soup. Again. I was about to crack open the book Geek Love for some light reading until a friend I invited arrived, and we hung out, talked, and I got to creep him out by injecting insulin into my stomach because I’m a classy motherfucker who does that out in the open for everyone to see. Some call it crass. I call it educational.
More people showed up including the infamous Brendan and magnificent Bailey where we shared stories about things like high school, creepy politicians, and that one time Bailey’s ex paid me $20 to leave so he (the ex) could fake pass out in the middle of a busy sidewalk in Lakeview. Don’t worry, that happens all the time around there.
Oh, I also remembered to pay the cover this time. Since this trend of me being responsible is one I’d like to continue, I will be retiring the famed “RUI tab” I’ve put at the end of my reviews of this wonderful series. I know, it’s heartbreaking. Something like this should receive far more fanfare. Alas, time has been sparse and my creative secretions are needed elsewhere. However, a new “tab” or “count” of sorts will be taking its place, which I will talk more about later. Until then, let’s get to the readings.
First up was RUI host Erin Nederbo reading from a published work in the first round. In the second round, she read from her own work. Here’s where I explain why I can’t remember anything she read - I paid attention. I paid damn good attention. I also have a cold, was under the influence of certain circumstances, had gone to the bathroom and missed some of her reading, and performed a number of throat exercises to prevent just as many coughing fits, nearly bring tears to my eyes. I also just get plain distracted. Lucky for you, I got enough of my act together for the other readers. Sorry, Erin. If I can say one thing, I wasn’t disappointed in the least at the time. i remember smiling at certain lines and thoroughly engrossed in what you were reading… which I can’t remember.
Mental Protip: Start taking notes at these things, like what I did during Story Week.
Second to read in both rounds was Eric Shonkwiler, who read from his novel Above All Men and from Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, which hardly anyone in the audience had read. In the piece from his own novel, one or two different men are looking for a women named Macy and getting in more trouble than they know what to do with. As he said, it’s one of the “lighter” moments of the novel. Shonkwiler was easy going about the reading, giving us enough information beforehand about the material, and wanting to make sure nobody was left out. Even when no one in the audience knew what Suttree was, he wasn’t insulted or judgmental, but said in a friendly Southern drawl, “Nobody’s read this? Alright, you all need to read this book.”
Last to read in both rounds was Peggy Shinner, author of You Feel So Mortal. First she read from Woolf’s To the Lighthouse and provided some Woolf-based trivia, where the only question I answered was, “Who played Virginia Woolf in the film The Hours?" (Nicole Kidman). In the second round of reading, she chose a section from her book concerning two of Chicago’s most famed thrill killers and their connection to her mother. In the section, she gives a slight history lesson about Leopold and Loeb, two University of Chicago students who killed Bobby Franks for the thrill, to see if they could. Loeb was killed in prison, but Nathan Leopold went on to be released on parole and do work in Puerto Rico. While in prison, letters were sent in support of Leopold gaining parole and a release to newspapers, the prison, and the man himself. One person who sent Leopold a letter was Shinner’s own mother. The rest of the piece goes into some of Peggy’s own family history, and her reaction when finding the letter. Had I brought ad adequate amount of money, I would’ve bought the book right then and there.
The night only had three of the four readers show up (oops). Now, each reader gets a shot of whatever when they go up to read their own work. Because one author didn’t show, there was a free drink ticket, and you bet your ass I snatched that up and bought a shot of Malört.
But I didn’t buy it for myself. I bought it for Bailey. His reaction though deserves its own post on this wonderful blog site of mine, so I’ll wait until the memory has marinated in my brain, and choose the most significant moments to write.
Accurate portrayal of his face.
What I’m saying is I almost lost a friend that night.
I hung out with my friends some more, we watched the Cubs and Pirates fail their way to a 14th inning tie, and then we all headed home, where I got to see the Cubs lose after 16 innings. This will be a legendary baseball season for all of the worst reasons.
RUI tab: NONE. And now, your introduction to the new count I have in mind.
There is a host of RUI who I’m acquaintances with. Most people I know like him, in the times we’ve talked he’s always been nice and agreeable, and he’s a good writer to boot. That said, he always acknowledges my existence with a “Hey, how’s it going?” and then leaves before I can respond, or he waves, then skips out of sight before I can wave back. This bugs me because of two reasons.
1. When I wave and the other person doesn’t wave back or vice versa, a sandstorm of rejection or guilt, respectively, envelopes the next fifteen minutes of my life.
2. It seems like he doesn’t really care. Let’s be honest, there are people who I see once in a while who I have no opinion on one way or another, and the things they say don’t even register enough to go through one ear and out the other, but I don’t ask how they are only to ignore them.
In all probability, he’s just busy, gets as distracted as I do, and doesn’t mean to come off that way. Of course, a lot of it is my fault in that the easy solution would be to talk to him myself, catch up, that type of thing, but I am a person who once said to a guy mid-makeout, “You’re a bad kisser.” I have problems with tact, talking, and become the shyest, most quiet person you’ve ever met in the most inopportune moments. My failures of human interaction with this host have led me to realize I hardly talk to any of the RUI hosts. This is a reading series I’ve been going to for almost a year and a half and I can hardly initiate a wave. My nerve endings nearly poked out of my skins when one of them borrowed a napkin from me. And just when I’m about to talk to one of them, my throat fills up with rocks and my stomach wants to regurgitate my dinner.
I’m not going to do a new count or tab just yet. It depends on how I do next time, which is why I’m presenting myself with a challenge: talk. Just talk to people. Go around the room and talk to a motherfucker.
Bonus points if it’s a host.
I’d never been to Lincoln Hall before, so I didn’t know how anything went there. Are there anteaters? What kind of drinks are there? Is it a bomb shelter? (None of these things applied the night I went.) I knew the show had sold out, so I presumed a line would be there by the time I arrived, but at half an hour before doors opened, there was hardly anyone. I kept this in mind for future smaller venue shows. After years of spending money on festivals, outdoor venues, and big arenas, I’m finally immersing myself in the smaller venues of Chicago, and it’s taking a little getting used to, but I’m making headway. Lincoln Hall is a perfect venue to learn from. The bar and food welcomed me with some feel-good-grub smells and friendly energy from the waitstaff. They constantly checked up on me to make sure things were fine and dandy, though maybe it’s because I always look sad and lonely. Either way, they stamped my hand with some kind of super ink I still can’t get off, and then I read the Reader until ten minutes before showtime.
There’s a barrel, and other… things.
Inside the performance space, I chose the balcony to have a good overview of the band, the crowd, and the room. The seating up there could’ve been a little more thought out - chairs set up like rowhouses can be problematic when getting in and out - but it’s not the worst thing in the world.
First up were Ghost Beach. I’d seen them open for Betty Who? a couple months back when I had a head cold and only stayed for their set, which is funny because I had a head cold this particular as well. (Read as: I was sick and miserable.) It’s hard to describe these guys (They’re “Tropical/Grit/Pop” according to their Twitter.) because they do a little bit of everything, but in their own style, so it doesn’t sound like they’re confused about what they want to do. The showstopper was “Close Enough,” a colorful synth-driven track. It was nice to see these guys play a to a bigger venue than Schubas and to a sold-out show no less. The whole crowd wasn’t in the room at the beginning of their set, but the more they played, the more people seeped in, and by the end I heard the people sitting next to me trying to find their music on Spotify and Soundcloud. They’re poprock with a sunny disposition. Sun pop? I don’t know, but they put on a good show.
During the intermission was when the group next to me came out in their smorgasbord of colors. I listened to a harrowing account of a bachelor party that could either be the best low-key bachelor party (“They’re capping the money we can spend at $150.”) or the worst (“Why make it four days? $150 over four days? Why do they even want it to be four days? Would you rather have one great day or four shitty ones?). They tried to convince whoever they were texting that the groom in question doesn’t even like to drink, and that a four day bachelor party would be a disaster. What was the response? You’ll have to wait until after I talk about Panama Wedding because that’s how long I had to wait.
Panama Wedding was a little more low-key than Ghost Beach, but still fun all the same. Ghost Beach were a bunch of funky New Yorkers who looked like they’d hang at punk clubs while Panama Wedding would be on the other side of NYC in bookstores and cafes. PW’s style of indie electronica rock is more in line with more simplistic styles, a little less rock and voice-augmenting, and a little more piano and bashful drums. They were the classy martini of the night opposed to Ghost Beach’s piña colada and RAC’s bloody Mary. Their moment was in “All of the People,” coincidentally the only song of theirs I can find on Spotify. The Bachelor Party Planners next to me complained about the same thing. Speaking of those guys, the friend they were texting finally responded and said that, yes, spending $150 on one night instead of four nights made much more sense. The group breathed a sigh of relief.
RAC came on around 9:45. I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I’ve listened to enough of their work to call myself a “listener,” not quite a fan, though my definition of “fan” differs from other people’s. The point is, I’ve listened to enough to know that their music is a smooth blend of electronica, pop, and rock, and their remixes of other artists are suave. Before I could overthink all of this, they were already playing. By this time the floor was packed and everybody on the balcony sat side by side nodding their heads and smiling.
For those who don’t know, RAC doesn’t perform any lead vocals in any of their own songs. Their album Strangers features all guest vocalists and bands, like Kele Okereke (Bloc Party), Tokyo Police Club, Matthew Koma, and Tegan and Sara. They also usually do remixes. This means an RAC shows involves the band playing while the vocal track runs in the background.
If this bums anyone out, then you should keep reading, because from what I saw, the band outshone the vocal backing tracks a million times over. It’s a case of “studio recording” versus “live show.” Their studio tracks are light and skippy and for shimmying your shoulders. Their live shows are fucking rock ‘n roll. A lot of the light and skippy synths are replaced by guitar strings playing scissor-sharp chords. Highlights included their take on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Zero,” Lana Del Rey’s “Blue Jeans,” and a track off their own album with Tokyo Police Club called “Tourist.” I never use the word “stoked,” but it’s the only way to describe the crowd. They were stoked as hell to be there, as was I. There were screens with trippy lights and whatever, but my eyes and ears were stuck on the band to the point where the projections hardly registered with me. I didn’t get distracted from the performance at all, and if you frequently read this mess of a blog (you probably don’t), you know how easily distracted I am.
I was hesitant to be excited about a live show from these guys, but they blew my expectations in all the best ways. The fact that, according to frontman André Allen Anjos, it was the Portland-based band’s first ever show in Chicago (“So thanks for selling it out.”) made it all the more special for me and everybody else to be there.
That said, being sick as shit with a head cold I’m still trying to get over, once their set ended I got the hell out of there.
My overall grade: B+
It was a fun night that had rock, time for me to rest, a crowd that visibly enjoyed the music, and a saved bachelor party.