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

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Truth in Advertising: Atwood Cafe & Great Big Sea @ House of Blues

I have been having my ass kicked to an unreasonable degree by a cold this week. It has never been more than a cold, so I should have been able to function more or less normally, yet every time I've TRIED to function normally, it has been like, "Bitch, please." The timing on that is especially inconvenient, as I had a busy week in general and a house guest (Well, ok, "guest" is too strong was staying) scheduled to arrive in the crack den on Friday. Fast-forward cleaning montage!

So we (JRH and I, obviously the ZK, and our pal M) were having an early dinner at the Atwood Cafe. Dinner delicious as usual: I had the spicy, spicy mussels and yummy bunny with braised cabbage and spätzle (incredibly huge portion!), then the passion-fruit sorbet for dessert.

I'd had a massive parking fail before dinner. I was thinking that I wanted somewhere between the Atwood and House of Blues, because the ZK would need to drop off his laptop bag. I wound up parking (a) way too far West and (b) way too near an adult bookstore featuring a stripper pole in its window. For those of you who know JRH, well, 'nuff said. For those of you who don't, well I'm not sure I can explain.

Parking!Fail was complicated by my foolish, foolish vanity. In the fall, I was very excited to find a pair of knee-high boot that actually fit over my monster Neanderthal calves. The excitement blinded me to the harsh reality that said boots have a 4-inch heel. If I have to do any walking at all in them, I am faced with the very real possibility that my feet will actually snap off at the ankle. Last night involved not only a fair amount of walking, but standing for 3 hours. Standing for three hours, sadly, in the House of Blues.

I've never been there before. Based on last night's experience, I am not in a hurry to go again. We got there very shortly before the curtain time (7:30) listed on the tickets, and there was still a line outside having IDs checked and paper bracelets attached. We were not even sure we were in the correct line, but eventually established that, indeed, the queue was for Great Big Sea.

Now, we've been seeing GBS for a good long while, so the fact that those in the queue weren't readily identifiable as attendees of the Kitchen Party should have sent up a red flag. The fact that the couple behind us in line seemed desperate for assurances that this would be a "TCB, now! No New Crap!" show did raise a tiny flag with a slightly sanguine hue, but every show is bound to have attendees like that. After getting our bracelets of drinking power, next came the wanding. I had a pair of sunglasses in my jacket pocket, and they beeped madly. I started to explain this, which caused the security person to shoot me an annoyed look and wave me on. Next time, I'm totally bringing my bone saw, because you never know when that'll come in handy. "No, ma'am, I don't think I WILL pay five freaking dollars to check my coat!"

The inside of the House of Blues is, quite simply, hideous. I described it as the bastard child of the Metro and The Cheesecake Factory, and I've had little reason to amend that description. In addition to being an aesthetic nightmare, it's pathetic as a venue. The view from the balcony is nonexistent if you are behind the front row. The main floor has a tiny area in front of the soundboard that would afford unobstructed views of the stage, and the rest of the main floor is littered with fat, mushroom-stalk pillars that have flat panel billboards monitors and speakers on them, so you totally don't have to worry that your view is completely blocked by said pillars, because DUDE, you can totally watch the cheap-ass camera feed of a stage lit for a live performance!

I'd say we unfortunately camped out along a high traffic pattern, but I think the whole place is a high traffic pattern. There are three full-sized bars on the main floor: at the back, and along house right and house left. In case you need a bracing drink along the way, there are also bar outposts between these. We were near one of these. It was offering a variety of shitty canned beers, bottled water, and the foulest-smelling pizza I've ever had to share space with. But to cap all—TO CAP ALL—servers are constantly roaming through the crowd holding up cardboard cases of Bud Light to sell. All. Damned. Night.

Two positives: (1) The sound wasn't as terrible as it is at the Metro; (2) the flat panels are perfectly honest when they announce over and over and over again: Blues for Sale!

As it turns out 7:30 was the curtain time for the opening band, Scythian. (Only found out their name as we were leaving. The combination of the New Kids on the Block hat and the Bertie Wooster suit seems to have prevented any other information from taking root in my head during their show.) They weren't bad, but we three seemed to agree they weren't really to our taste.

The boys—the real boys—were all looking marvelous. Bob was actually wearing a suit jacket and button-down shirt (which led Sean to comment that Bob'd surely be getting into a better class of places than he would afterward). And speaking of Sean, I am relieved to say that someone seems to have held him down and shaved off the Bob's Big Boy Do before the tour. Kris seems to have gotten in on the shaving action as well. His dome was be-chromed, and he was wrapped up warm in a scarf that Alan persistently described as "Kinda French."

And yet it was toward Murray that Kris's aggression seemed to be directed all evening. Early on, Murray wandered over and appeared to be striking one of Kris's cymbals. This went on for several minutes, at there was definitely a point at which, were I Murray, I might have kept a close eye on my ass, lest a cap be busted in it. Meanwhile the pretty boys up front were having some giggly conversation when Sean suddenly announced, "I think the boys in the percussion section are ready! Let's go!" The ZK reports that Kris at some point later made a move for Murray's bass, which, shall we say, provoked a reaction. By the end of the show, they were shaking hands, heartily if pointedly. I assume that it was all in good fun. Moving on . . .

Alan! Alan Alan Alan! Well, Alan seems to have lost a great deal of weight since last we saw him in the good land. Being a woman who appreciates a doughy guy she can hide behind, I shouldn't say that I approve, but I do. Not just of his trimmer, more buttoned-down self, but even of the facial hair, which my male companions did scorn. What I suspect is the secret behind the trim new Doyle model was revealed about mid-set when Sea informed a disappointed crowd that he would NOT be doing any major motion pictures this summer. He polled the boys in the band, and Bob revealed that porn will be in his future. Neither Murray nor Kris had any plans (or any that they'd admit to) to break into film, but it seems that Mr. Doyle will soon be looking down the barrel of a pair of tights. (Wow, I didn't realize how disgusting that would sound until I typed it. Truly.)

The set opened with "Donkey Riding" and "Captain Kidd," both performed sans Kris. The ZK asked, "Do they usually play without a drummer?" leading me to wonder how he can have forgotten about threats of ass grabbing (although come to think of it, that was Murray, wasn't it?), Kris and the piano accordion, and . . . well KRIS, who is a rather memorable figure. Shortly after this silliest of questions, Kris and his scarf arrived on stage just in time for the back drape to flutter down dramatically, revealing the Fortune's Favour backdrop, as they launched into "Love Me Tonight."

This report was interrupted by a freaking magnificent dinner at Graham Elliot and an equally fantastic performance of Abduction from the Seraglio at Lyric Opera, not to mention two nearly sleepless nights (and an hour CRUELLY TAKEN FROM ME!), so set representation will not be all that it might have been.

I know that "When I'm Up" made an appearance fairly early on, and we giggled affectionately over Sean's struggles with math. (It was 11 days, not 9, until St. Patty's at the time, love, but math!fail had no bearing what so ever on "The Night Pat Murphy Died," I assure you.) We also heard "Ferryland Sealer" for the first time live, if my recollection is correct (and there's no particular reason to think it is). "Scolding Wife" definitely made an appearance, and there I was, once again, without my fire shovel! Not that there was room for chasing anyone up and down any room.

Other classics I can swear to: "General Taylor," and "Ordinary Day" (for the pre-encore finale); "Charlie Horse," (the only inclusion off The Hard and the Easy, other than "Captain Kidd"); "When I Am King" (this time with 100% less implication that it's all. about. Alan.), "Helmethead," "John Barbour," and "Something Beautiful" (obviously off the album with that title). "Consequence Free," with Alan looking uncertain about the state of his sign of the cross during the "Catholic conscience" bit, joined Ferryland Sealer to represent Turn. Oh! "Jack Hinks," too, I think.

Fortune's Favour seemed a bit underrepresented in the set. In addition to "Love Me Tonight," we had "Walk on the Moon," "England," "Here and Now," and "Oh Yeah." I'd really have liked "Company of Fools" and "Banks of Newfoundland," but it may be that they were keeping that in their back pocket because of their intention to do a very different set of songs on Saturday. No need to worry about up-selling, Alan, I would definitely have liked fries with my Friday night show if I hadn't been pre-engaged for opera on Saturday.

It was an enjoyable show, as always, but I have to admit that I felt a bit disengaged. The venue was unpleasant in the extreme (and it's worth noting that I'm pretty sure we've never before seen anyone bounced from a GBS show, and the one we did see was being AGGRESSIVELY bounced). The obstructed view and shitty monitors meant that I was missing a lot of the on-stage energy. I also realize in looking over my last 2 show reports that I was somewhat spoiled by the 2-set format. I also missed some favorites, like "Mari Mac," "Run, Run, Away," and the "Old Black Rum." Still they were adorable as always and all in fine, fine form.

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