High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Location: Chicago, Illinois, United States

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

The No Black Rum

I don't know why everyone sits back and let's me pick the places to eat. Invariably, this is how things go tits up. Initially, I thought we'd eat at Raw Bar. It's virtually next door to the Metro and has good food. Plus the last time I ate there was in my Final Showdown with the Soul Hole, so I'm looking to build more positive memories while ingesting mass quantities of tasty, tasty trayf.

But it seems that my pal M was waiting around the corner to put a stake in the heart of my shellfish. She did not want the fifth ticket. Something about noise and smoking and being Amish. I had half expected this and figured that the Whitest Man in the Universe would almost certainly like to join us, given his deep Canadian roots (of course, those are just a ruse, given his true alien nature), and he accepted readily. This, however, put a kink in the dinner plans, as WMitU doesn't really eat seafood.

So with the help of The Reader I located an Argentinian beef place claiming to be within 1/4 mile of the Metro. Who could object to beef, thought I? My quack echoed back with a resounding "No one!" And truly, there was little beef to have with the beef. Mine was meta!Beef---stuffed with cheese (cow byproduct) and spinach (cow food, broadly speaking). J & T's had architecture and sterno. It was sadly without flap meat, but it did have the mysterious chimichurra. Likewise, the empanadas and mozzarella were tasty as all get out.

The problem was a liquid one. Liquid and multifaceted was the problem. Facet 1: It was a freaking BYO place. Accusations were hurled. Fingers were pointed. I would like to state for the record that I sent J The Reader link for his approval and he didn't say a word. So it's obviously mostly his fault. It is touching to note that J and I, astute observers that we are, not only missed the BYOB warning in the listing, we didn't see it on the damned door. Our better halves were there in the clinch with the denial, though. They both had seen it and didn't see fit to mention it, because they were hoping against hope it meant something else: Bring Your Own Beef was bandied about as a possibility. After all, I did pick the restaurant.

If the only flaw in the beverage flow had been the absence of alcohol, all would have been well. But no, they had Inca Kola on the menu. The most disgusting beverage known to man, inclusive of traditional chicha. It's piss yellow. It smells of bubblegum, yet imitates an undetermined flavor. And has the brain trust who stocks it at an Argentinian restaurant checked a map lately. Tawantinsuyo didn't exactly encompass that part f the southern cone. Naturally, all the boys had to have one (two in J's case) just to gross me out. Mike even got one to go (this classy joint served it in cans, so it didn't even have the redeeming quality of the vaguely cool bottle shape), prompting a hilarious incident with the line bouncer at the Metro.

Bouncer: Is that a beer, sir?
M: Why no! It's an Inca Kola.

Yes, my life is a fucking Mentos commercial. Please kill me.

So I figure I should write up the Great Big Sea concert before V messes me up bad. I am shocked, SHOCKED to note that Alan's Road Journal does not include a confession of undying love for the woman with the massive, scabby upper lip in the balcony. Bastard. Ah well, it seems he's the anti-insomniac anyway, so it's a Rogue/Gambit thing---we could never be together for fear of going white dwarf or something.

ETA: An open query to Sean McCann: What the hell was up with that New Kidz on the Block Hat. Someone shave you a tonsure on the bus? Never again, sweetie. Never again.

The Metro is quite the trendy venue. I can tell this because it's constantly mobbed and this is only the second time I've been there in my 30+ years of living in Chicago. It's dark, it's dank, it seems to be construced entirely of that wafer-thin wood pulp that you're sure you're going to put your foot through at any moment. Its layout is deeply strange. I think it must be constructed to interrupt the flow of bad energies. Either that or it started its life as a movie theatre and the extent of its adaptation to a music venue was plopping in a bar and a control booth at the rear of the balcony and main floor, respectively. The balcony is a relatively standard half hexagon facing the stage, but the main floor has a very strange layout.

When we saw GBS two years ago, we were at the back of the main floor, far house left. This time, in a futile attempt to secure a location where poor T, who didn't really want to be there in the first place, might actually be able to sit, we picked the balcony, far house right. This, sadly, put us behind a lighting tower that obstructed my view of Bob. This is a cryin' shame, 'cause the number of instruments he plays gets me all hot. The sound was also less than ideal, but to my mind, the Metro sucks altogether for actually listening---for me, this is not so much of a problem as the live music experience gives me a happy (not self-replicating orgasmic chocolate cake happy, but close) along many dimensions.

In 2002, a band called Carbon Leaf opened for GBS. They were a terrific fit for the crowd, being likewise Celtic inspired and using a lot of the same instruments (the bagpipes may have been a mistake indoors). The singer had quite a good voice and they were quite a promising band. M actually picked up one of their CDs and, although I don't think they'll ever be in my top 10, it was one of the most enjoyable opening acts I've ever seen. It was too good to happen twice.

This time, the opening band was called The Push Stars. The were completely, utterly conventional and unremarkable, save for the fact that the lead singer really did have a Mr. Blonde vibe going on (believe me, I was scoping out the exits in the event that he broke into Stuck in the Middle with You. It's kind of a shame. The lead singer co-wrote four of the songs on Sea of No Cares, according to the band's website, and another song on Road Rage is a cover of theirs. Alan asked the guy out on stage to do Sea of No Cares with Sean, and he certainly can sing (something completely not evident during his own band's set).

Oh, I also thought it was really cute that he was wearing black dress shoes (like his mom had given him the once-over before he hit the stage). I was however confused by the proportion of his "stage moves" that consisted of squat thrusts in the general direction of his mic.

They must have had really crappy equipment, because I swear they salted the earth between sets. I don't even think they used the same cables. While they were setting up, we wondered what the hell the little black, evil-looking R2 units were sitting on towers upstage. I had thought they were speakers, but they turned out to be these cool motorized spots. Gotta get me some of those for my next Group Play.

My memory has, undoubtedly, been damaged by the free-flowing Inca Kola of the evening, but I think they opened with Beat the Drum, which is one of their great, percussion-only, harmony-heavy songs from the new album. From there, they went into "When I'm Up," and that pretty much set the tone for the rest of the show: They'd alternate more or less between old favorites and new stuff. Things from the new album were polished variations on the studio versions, but for stuff that the crowd already knew well they'd do in less demanding keys and invite the audience to sing along, which as far as I'm concerned, is really freakin' cool (M, testing out his cranky old man persona, was annoyed by this).

Sea of No Cares was a bit underrepresented in the set. They only did the title track (as I said, with the guy who co-wrote it singing most of it while Alan sat off to the side with his geetar being CUTE) and Scolding Wife. I particularly missed Stumbling in and Gideon Brown. Honorable mentions go out to Mari-Mac (they'd totally lost me for speed by the third verse; J thought they started badly, but such is a vulgar opinion) and Boston and St. John's, which Alan did solo for the first encore---the boy's voice does funny things to me and he really just cut loose and explored a bunch of gorgeous harmonies.

I think I have a very strong groupie tendency, and the fact that it's spring is not helping. I have an intense desire to hop in Kaga and just follow these boys all over the country for the rest of their tour. It is completely impossible not to feel uplifted, motivated, and downright chipper in the afterglow of seeing them live. Quite embarassing for a bitter old crone like moi.

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