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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Monday, August 21, 2006

Torrentially Hip

Part two of yesterday's adventure was heading back down to the Loop by a Brown Line train to meet up with M and L for the last concert of the summer of the Grant Park Music Festival. For my part, the meet-up was complicated by the fact that downtown Chicago was in the process of being well and truly smote at just the moment when I wanted to leave Water Tower Place. This drove the entire populace from the street into the lobby of the mall where they pressed themselves against the glass doors and lookd as longing as Gil does when he's been left with the dogsitters. They did spare me an incredulous glance or two as I declared my desire to GET OUT.
People of Chicago, I say to you, "Unless this is a nuclear holocaust, get the fuck out of my way."

Fortunately for me, the lads had LITERALLY weathered the storm and snagged some sweet seats in section 205, immediately behind a mysteriously cordoned off area (which was later opened up for late comers who did not seem to be more important than us in any way). I gratefully accepted the blanket containment unit proffered by L for the purposes of wiping the worst of the rain off my seat. An empty gesture, really: It's not like my ass could've gotten any wetter.

Although I had the pleasure of visiting the Harris Theater in May to see Nixon in China (aka, the opera so nice, I blogged it twice), I had not yet been to the Jay Pritzker Pavillion. (No, I don't know why [other than copious amounts of cash] they named it that when it would inevitably be known as "The Gehry Band Shell" either.)

What can one say? I've already talked about losing sleep over Frank Gehry. In general, I think most people probably either like him or hate him. That probably leaves me more or less alone in "Meh" land vis a vis Gehry.

In this case, I admit that my first thought on looking up at what the Millennium Park website describes as "the headdress," I thought it looked like someone had been whittling the Aon Tower. My second, upon taking in the kind of cat's cradle dome made up of steel beams was that it was rather like being wound into a spool of thread. Although I wouldn't say that I was as enamored of the wooden interior of the stage itself as was L, it was more to my lking than the shiny stuff. I am definitely not a big fan of the shifting colors of light shone on to the steel during performances. It's distracting, it highlights the panelled nature of the big steel wood shavings, and under the orange-ish light, it looks disturbingly cellular. L

So visually, I don't think it's ugly enough to be intrusive, nor does its asthetic particularly wow me. But as a performance space, it certainly serves art well. The sightlines, at least from the installed seats, are great. (I'm not so sure about from the lawn, but those people had other, soggier problems last night.) And the sound system is phenomenal. About the only thing I didn't hear all night was the harp during the Prokofiev.

The first piece we heard was Beethoven's Piano Concerto in E-flat, aka the "Emperor" Concerto. Although the pompous pamphlet for the Grant Park Music Festival contains a surprising breadth of information on the various performances (e.g., for any vocalist singing in a foreign language, the text is provided in both the original and English translation), they obviously don't have the space to devote to proper pompous essays. For this piece, there is only a brief summary of Beethoven's 1809 experience of the invasion of Vienna by Napoleon's forces, even briefer information on the dual premieres of the piece (Leipzig: GOOOOD; Vienna: Baaaaad), a short foray into why it's called the "Emperor," and finishes up by making a convincing case for why it could be called the "Control Freak" (In a nutshell, this was the first work that Beethoven didn't play himself, so rather than allowing the soloist to generate his own cadenzas and flourishes on the fly). It is almost entirely devoid of bitchiness and bizarre analogies. I must also note that its levels of pompousness are suspect.

It's hard to go wrong with Beethoven, but as I said to the boyz in the park, I'm general more pro-symphony than I am pro-concerto, no matter what the instrument. (The exception that proves the rule is Grieg's piano concerto, which (a) has balls and (b) is a hell of a lot of fun to play.) Still, it's beautiful and rousing with deliciously dense, arpeggiated spaetzel on top---all those good things one expects from Beethoven. Stephen Hough, the pianist, was both technically good and played with a passion that was exhilarating to watch.

After a 20-minute intermission, the piano was relegated to a place upstage, the harp was dragged out (and promptly outclassed by a badass contrabasoon), and the stage was set for Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5, Op. 100. I'm not sure that the pompous essayist intended to inject humor into his material on this piece, but describing Russia, 1944, as the happiest time in Prokofiev's life tickled my funnybone. In general this essay was more my style, harshing, as it does, on Prokofiev for being a friendless, workaholic ween with no sense of fun.

The symphony was something of a mixed bag. The first movement was powerful if a bit heavy on the melodrama (Hello? Twentieth Century Russian composer here!). It was most definitely chock full of juicy brass for L's pleasure. None of us was especially enamored of the second or third movements, which were gooey, languid, and shrill by turns. But by the fourth, Serge was in his big plastic ball, winning us back with the brass and the percussion and the I don't know what!

After several well-deserved curtain calls on the part of Carlos Kalmar, who was possibly even more fun to watch and more envigorating than Hough, we entered the human stream out of the park and made our way up Michigan Avenue. Flatwater was our intended destination. (Sorry for the metromix link, but they're website is incredibly flashfucked and useless.) M and I had previously entertained the idea of going there before seeing Edmond, but there were no reservations, so we had no joy on their supposed "hot dog flight." I suggested it to L, he was amenable, and it was close.

I put in a call on the way to gauge the likelihood of getting a table. The hostess informed me that there was nothing available outside (the restaurant is literally at river level, so the outdoor seating is highly sought after, natch) until 10:30, but a table inside was no problem. We arrived to find that the host stand outside the elevator down to the restaurant was abandoned, save for a can of Miller Light and a liter of Diet Mountain Dew. It's exactly the kind of ambiguous omen I hate.

As we entered the dimly lit, techno-thumping interior, it became almost immediately clear that we were not young, hip, well-dressed, hot, or cool enough to be there. This may be why we landed one of about five tall-top tables immediately behind the bar. Also in this spurious-patron-containment unit were: a guy who was either incredibly drunk, incredibly dickish, or (most likely) some combination of the two and his long-suffering date; a couple much older than us (and we were fucking aged, I tell you) who started complaining the minute they walked in and had not yet stopped when we left.

If you can get past the truly asslicious music (THiS sOnG haS A SiX-nOTe prOGResSiON! THiS sOnG haS A SiX-nOTe prOGResSiON!THiS sOnG haS A SiX-nOTe prOGResSiON!THiS sOnG haS A SiX-nOTe prOGResSiON!), the interior is pretty swank. The bar top is marble and the perimeter can comfortably seat about 20 people. Near the host stand is a large, lucious-looking banquet with two tables that could seat about 5 each or a accommodate a large party. Across from it is a "conversation group" with sleek white sofas and a wide, low coffee table. The floor is all rich hard wood and the walls and ceiling are white plaster interspersed with sections of the same dark wood as the floor, allowing for recessed lighting. The coolest touch of all is the fact that each table top has a small bowl with a male beta in it.

The menu is light on true entrees, emphasizing an interesting array of appetizers, unusual salads and sandwiches, plus several well-selected flatbread pizzas. They're also quite proud of their fancy cocktail menu, at least in theory. On the one hand, they're so pro-cocktail that they failed to give us a wine list (and it took our waitress some time to even locate one). On the other hand, M completely stumped the same waitress by asking for a Caipirinha, rather than an "Ipanema Caipirinha." In general, it's possible that physical appearance (with a decided bias toward "exotically cute") was emphasized to the exclusion of actual ability in the wait staff.

We ordered the sausage appetizer and boneless jerk chicken skewers for the table to share (much to our disappointment, there was no hot dog flight, unless that's what the sausage tray was meant to be). M opted for a chicken curry for his meal, and L and I each got flatbreadts ("chorizo" [uh, no, mild italian sausage at best] and seafood for me, pepperoni, mozzarella, and artichoke hearts for him). The sausage was fine, but unremarkable, although it did come with some very good tapenade. The jerk chicken was a fucking religious experience. Seriously. Awesome. My flatbread was fine, although I question the decision to bake mussels, in the half shell, on to the top, under the cheese. Also, see above re: not!chorizo and some possibly missing and definitely not spicy shrimp. I think L made the safer and wiser flatbread choice. I only had a bite of M's curry, which was coconut and therefore not to my taste. I'll allow him to make further comment.

Between the iffy service, a not particularly great wine least and literally between drunk man and complaining people, we decided to skip dessert and instead repair to Casa Tuba for more wine and some ice cream. We did, however, pause to confirm that the bathrooms were DOPE. There were either four or six individual rooms, not gender marked (which, hello and THANK YOU!). They had the standard-issue dark wood and low lighting, but each wall had a floor-to-ceiling section that was constructed out of small, water-smoothed stones (like making a wall out of very small stones). Naturally, there were several chunks ripped out at squatting level. People suck and consistently fail to appreciate THE DOPE. Oh, also, touchless infrared garbage cans. Also dope. No llamas, though.

Back at Casa Tuba, the proprieter plied us with wine and ice cream, then scarred us for life by showing us a bit of Gnarls Barkley. Chewie. On drums. Brain. Exploding.

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