Ringing in New Ears: Pat McLaughlin at Fitzgerald's, New Year's Eve
Of course, the move of the Bears game pretty much bent the city of Chicago over and took it roughly from behind, sans lube. Even Berwyn could not escape entirely. The doors at Fitzgerald's had been scheduled to open at 8 PM. A "pick and pay" buffet by Wishbone (which, as noted by M, will soon be opening adjacent to the Club) was to be available shortly thereafter, and opening band in the club/Pat McLaughlin in the side bar music room were scheduled to begin at about 9:30.
After Robbie's Show on Saturday, Bill Fitzgerald had announced that things would start "at 7PM with the Bears game in the bar." M turned to me at that time and said, "Maybe we should get here at 7?" Maybe. After 10 years and 170 Sundays of me parked in front of the Bears game, he says maybe.
We arrived at Fitzgerald's at 7 just on the heels of two other attendees who were eager for information on the timing of the evening's events. Unfortunately, the early opening seemed to have introduced some end-of-year chaos into the mix. The guy taking tickets/cash had no idea who was playing where or when. The bartender, who was still busily trying to turn his work area into a functioning bar, had no further information, either. (We were, at least, able to confirm that it was Pat in the side bar and Sonny Landreth in the main club.)
We settled down with a couple of beers to watch the Broncos lose (My comment to M: Very unhappy N, Very happy JRH.) and to make it clear that we were content and determined not to add to the continuing chaos. Not even when it was 7:20 and the TV was still on FOX and a Simpsons episode did I add to the chaos. M, knowing on which side his crazy stripper boobs are buttered, eventually got up and asked for the remote.
M: Do you see how much I really love you? I just turned the TV away from a Simpsons episode.
Me: A rerun
M: A rerun with Vegas wife!
I'll be interested in getting some official clarification on Smoke Free issues at Fitzgerald's. Again, as M noted, our superawesome waitress indicated that as of yesterday, they're entirely smoke free. On NYE, the main club and the side bar music room were smoke free, but smoking was allowed in the bar itself. This really interfered with my plans to build street cred by knitting while drinking and being entirely too emotionally invested in a consequence-free football game, as the only chain smokers in the place sat immediately upwind of us. Blegh. (This is further complicated by the fact that this pulmonary/sinus-y creeping crud we now both have already makes one feel as though one has spent the last 48 hours in a smoke-filled room.)
The buffet later being set up than the Fitzgerald's staff had estimated, and was besieged immediately by a somewhat bewildered throng when it did open. This worked out well for me, as M had initially intended to get his food while I held the table, then I'd get mine. Things moved somewhat slowly as the suburbanites suspiciously eyed up food with actual flavor (M reports that someone near him demanded "Just beef, white rice, and plain white bread if they have it"), so M wisely retrieved Chicken and Sausage Jambalaya, Crawfish Etouffee, Hoppin' John, Mac & Cheese, and cornbread for the both of us. All of it was heavenly, with a special shout out to the Etouffee. I am chomping at the bit for that Wishbone location to open and I may have to make a supplemental visit to one of their Chicago locations before that happens.
Things in the game began going from bad to worse in a hurry. There was a lone woman who had sat down at the table with the smokers, but clearly was not with the smokers. I recognized in her all the signs of the rage I was repressing at turnover after turnover (although I am appreciative of the efforts of Packers kicker Dave Rayner to provide consistent comic relief), the mounting soft-focus homages to Favre (I seriously have nothing against the man. I just can't. fucking. stand. all the announcers lining up to blow him instead of . . . oh, I dunno . . . covering the game?), and the often-repeated wish on the part of one of the smokers that Favre should have a good last game. No, he should not. He should become part of the turf. His bones should be ground to make Bear bread. Anything less is unacceptable. If he wanted to have a good last game, he should have been playing the Cowboys or something.
Ahem. I'm better now.
Anyway, to distract myself from the growing pain of the game, I kept peering through the closed glass doors into the music room where Pat and his band were doing sound checks and other preps. I spied a giant oil painting leaning against the back wall of the room, behind the band, and wondered what was up with it—a mystery never to be solved . . . or WAS IT?
Somewhere between 9:30 and 10:00, the doors to the side bar music room seemed to be open (although it's not clear if they were supposed to be open, or if they were simply stormed by Bears refugees). The room is basically a living room. It's longer than wide and carpeted. The stage backs up into the bay windows on the street side, and the entrance from the corner into the room is a nonfunctioning door. The stage is raised maybe 18 inches or 2 feet off the ground and the windows are covered with a black velvet curtain. The lighting set up is pretty minimal. I am unsure whether the disco ball was added for the NYE festivities or if it's a permanent fixture. Immediately in front of the stage is a door that leads into the basement. It has no knob on it, which seems rife with potential for wacky locking-the-band-out-of-the-performance-space hijinks, but in this case, it simply kept blowing open. (Man, this place is haunted. I can't be bluesy when I'm frightened!.)
As M and I took up a station near the stage and a window (the comparatively cool air by the window was counterbalanced by its proximity to a steam pipe that was by turns warm and scalding), a longshoreman consulted with the soundman (M: I swear, he's crafted from soundman DNA. All soundmen look like him.) led me to erroneously conclude that he (the longshoreman) was son of soundman (metaphorically, you understand) and would be doing sound for the side bar while soundman, the original, covered the main club. The longshoreman turned out to be the keyboardist for Pat, also named Pat, and clearly the primary giver of shit to Pat. Oh, also an excellent musician, especially given the fact that the sound issues with the keyboards were never entirely resolved.
A little after 10 (I think), Pat and the guys took the stage. In addition to the longshoreman on keyboards (and backing vocals), Pat was joined by a bassist/vocalist who strongly resembled Josh Jabas. (He also killed his first bass just for snorin' too loud.) A drummer named (I think) Angel, and a guitarist who, I'm pretty sure is the Eskimo's boyfriend. I have not confirmed that identity 100%, but you're just going to have to trust the fact that I'm a professional and I know a pair of freakish thumbs when I see them.
The side bar room is smaller and cozier than the club. It's a nice space, although clearly not one designed with music in mind. We figured that our spots by the window would make for ideal viewing. They did, for the most part, given that they were maybe 5 feet from the stage, but they were undermined somewhat by the ghostly door and the fact that Pat is totally devoid of any rock-star sensibilities and took up his position at the stage-left mic, rather than the one down-center. Rob Bob, the bass player, used the center stage mic when doing back-up vocals, which left me ample time to picture him in a jock strap and cowboy boots in order to study the resemblance to Mr. Jabas fully. I'm sorry, Mr. Bass Player whose name I've forgotten. It's A Thing.
Pat called out for "That Little Child song, in D," and the first set began. On a couple of occasions, Pat made reference to the oil painting, saying he had no explanation for it. Later in the night, he mumbled that it was someone's "first communion portrait." I became gradually convinced that it was a painting of Pat himself, but I think M thinks I'm mad. I refer you to my shit hot, fool proof thumb identification and leave you to make your own call.
The band played for a little more than an hour before taking a break. M and I had intended to wander Sonny Landreth-ward, but the Club was just too freaking packed, especially with all the stupid Channel 7 camera equipment. (Yeah, yeah, I know it's good for Fitzgerald's and apparently fun for everyone who wasn't us, but I think giving over 25% of floor space to a TV crew is a mistake with that many drunken bodies in the house.) We opted instead to hang out at a table in the tents connecting the club to the side bar. Pat, at one point, appeared to be investigating the possibility of getting some food. He seemed unsuccessful in this, which led us to belatedly worry after his second set (which was nearly 2 hours) that none of them had eaten all night.
The second set started shortly before midnight. M and his atomic watch slipped out just in time to secure us glasses of champagne. Midnight came and went in the middle of a song, but we shared a toast and a few smooches nonetheless. The disco ball set to spinning a few seconds late, and only stirring recognition of the moment in a few of our well-lubricated companions. (Seriously well lubricated. At one point, one of the more enthusiastic members of the group flailing around in front of the stage walked back into the room with a mostly full bottle of champagne, which she set down on an amp. What could go wrong, right?) We also belatedly got some noisemakers, which were then promptly confiscated and dumped as an offering on to the stage by the woman who appeared to be the semi-official photographer for Fitzgerald's. Musical highlights of the second set included "Girl (I'd be in trouble if you left me now)" and the closer, "Good Night, Irene."
So what does one make of Pat on second viewing? Obviously seeing him play with a full band (and electric guitar) is a different animal altogether from his performance at the Secret Country show in November, during which he beautifully abused a single acoustic guitar. I enjoyed the elaboration on the essentials (what can I say? I'm a guitar solo whore and a wanton slut who craves harmony), and I really liked the free-form, on-the-fly approach. Pat was frequently calling out keys and giving other directions, verbally and nonverbally, and it was neat watching this piece fall into place and that one not quite make it on the first go around, only to sound even better when it slotted in perfectly on the next pass. It's interesting that this would've made me incredibly tense if this had been theater or anything else on which I have something of an insider's perspective. Finally! Sucking at music has an upside: I can enjoy a performance that's living on the edge.
Not only am I not an audiophile, I'm not a live music snob. I love live music and don't get to it nearly as often as I should, living where I do, but with few exceptions, I get different but equal pleasure from listening to recordings of people I like. Similarly, I couldn't say whether I prefer solo!Pat or Pat!with!Band. Watching Pat alone, I got to focus on his total transformation from pleasant, but somewhat quiet interview subject into The Performer with the voice and the physicality and the grudge against his guitar. With the band, I got The Performer plus the Band Member, giving and taking, leading and following. M commented that, on the whole, he thought that Pat's music lends itself better to solo acoustic performance (not a slam on the group performance at all—we both enjoyed ourselves thoroughly).
I'm entirely serious (and approving, for what my approval is worth) when I say that Pat has no rock-star sensibilities whatever. Case in point: At the end of the second set, naturally everyone was hootin' and hollerin' for an encore. The rest of the band had made it all the way to the basement, but Pat just hung out in the haunted doorway, looking gleeful as he hopped back up on to the stage a full two minutes before the rest of the band.
The Other Pat gave him a look and a whispered lecture on his way by, which prompted Pat to apologize to the audience and say, "Pat just told me that I was supposed to go downstairs with the band." For all his sheepish grin, it was apparent that there were no firm plans for an encore (at the Secret Country show, when the audience called for one, he said "I know you're just makin' fun of me, but I'm gonna play anyway."). He wound up replaying "In Front of God and Everybody" and "Little Child" because so many people had asked for them, either having missed the first set or having had it washed away by champagne. After a couple more songs (not including "Pretty Bird," sadly; many had clamored for it, but I heard secondhand that Pat had said the rest of the band didn't know it), they said good night for good.
Other than the mysterious oil painting chatter, my favorite moment of the evening came during the encore when The Other Pat outed Pat as a fan of musicals, and wickedly suggested that Pat reprise "On the Street Where You Live," which he claimed they'd done during the sound check. Assuming that he wasn't entirely taking the piss out of Pat, I would pay big money to hear it.