Monday, 30 October 2006

In the early planning for my 2006 Heartland Tour there were some logistical difficulties. The first Roger Clyne show was in Cleveland, then Detroit, Chicago, and Minneapolis. As a series of one way tickets, or a multi-city trip were prohibitively expensive. I don’t know that the truck would survive a 1000-mile road-trip, so I ruled out that option as well.

Then I discovered that Los Straitjackets were still touring Twist Party and would be in Chicago a few days before the first Roger show. It was a eureka moment. They didn’t have any Twin Cities dates on the schedule, so I quickly changed my plans to a round trip to Chicago, car rental from there to hit Cleveland and Detroit, back in the Windy City for another Roger show, then home for the final show. I’d find things to do with the spare days in between.

Los Straitjackets where playing the Abbey Pub in Chicago. Once I found the place, I learned just how tough Chicago can be. Finding a place to park anywhere in the city is harder than finding something on the U of M campus. It’s all on-street and everything is restricted to permit zones. I got lucky and found something a couple blocks from the club.

Inside, the Abbey is a tiny little place with one bar, an upper level all under barrel-vaulted ceilings. The walls are painted to look (somewhat) like stones from a castle or old church. I was also surprised to learn that Chicago has not yet banned smoking in bars and restaurants. Not that it matters to me since I don’t smoke, but New York has gone that way, I was sure Chicago had too.

The opener was a group called the Patrick Sweeny Band. A three-piece rock-n-roll group that were kicked ass. It was so good that I picked up all both of their CDs plus Sweeny’s solo acoustic CD that he released before forming the band.

After Sweeny and company’s 60 minute set, there was a Halloween costume contest where a guy in a Mexican wrestling mask took first prize. I think it was more for his schitck, rather than the costume. The MC asked each contestant their name and he had this 20 word stream of Spanish that he blurted out. Second was some guy dressed as a “North Korean rocket scientist” and third was this pair of girls dressed in very lame Martian outfits. I thought the 70’s styled “Pimp Daddy” should have taken second with the Korean in third.

Finally Los Straitjackets took the stage and tore it up. They had the World Famous Pontani Sisters and Kaiser George with them, as usual, and the show was just great. I’m so glad I went.

During the show I realized that the Straitjackets work without a set list. Daddy-O announces them in his rapid-fire Spanish and they just lay into each song. I had never actually noticed that before.

The girls were beautiful as always, with their Go-Go/Twist routines and a few new costumes. Kaiser George sang for a few of the songs and play saxophone here and there.

I also noticed that the Straitjackets have a new CD/DVD combo available. It’s called Twist Party and has several of the twist type songs on it like “Peppermint Twist,” “The Twist,” and “Twistin’ Gorilla.” I’ll have to check, but there are a few songs that appear on some of their other albums and quite a few new ones.

I will actually be able to put together a set-list for the night, but it will take some time. I used the video function on my camera to shoot clips during each song. I just have to listen to each one and match it up with the CDs.

Overall it was a great night and Los Straitjackets are still the premier instrumental rock-n-roll band around.

I didn’t stick around for autographs and pictures after the show, but still managed to snap 227 pictures and 38 chunks of video.

As far as I can tell, the Russians (Maybe Czech? Still not 100% sure though.) and the Chinese are all gone. As I went to breakfast I saw the army of women in the hallways, the restaurant, the lobby, and the parking lot, all getting ready to go.

Since I had most of the day to kill before the show, I decided to play tourist for a while and do some sightseeing. My original plan was to see the Art Institute, Sears Tower, Millennium Park, and maybe Union Station.

But first, breakfast and some writing. It was 8:30 before I actually got my ass out of bed and showered. Then a quick breakfast and I sat down to do some writing. It was almost noon before I looked up.

Like most downtown areas, Chicago is tall. You get into the city and the buildings loom over you. What I didn’t expect was how dark it was. Outside the city it was a bright, sunny day. All the skyscrapers cast such a shadow that you would think it was dusk. Everything took on that black and white cast you see when the light starts to fade in the evening.

Parking in downtown is expensive. The day rate for a Sunday afternoon was $12 pretty much everywhere I looked. In the Twin Cities it tends to be around $5 for evenings and all day weekends. Chicago it’s twice that.

I decided on Sears Tower first and boy was I impressed. They have the business of moving tourists through there down to a science. A special entrance away from the office part of the building, express elevators that go straight to the observation deck, or the SkyDeck as it’s called, a small movie theater where they run a short film before you go up, plus ushers, turnstiles, and rope-lines to keep everyone moving in the right direction.

Two things amused me about it: First, before you even get to the ticket counter, everybody goes through a miniature photo studio and gets their picture taken against a green-screen. On the way out they offer a picture of yourself with the skyline pasted into the background. Second, the quick movie was done by the History Channel and was basically a stunted version of their Modern Marvels series.

The elevator ride up is amazingly fast considering that it takes you over 1400 feet above ground. That thing ran the 103 floors in 60 seconds or so and my ears popped at least twice on the way up.

Once at the top, the view was astounding. There aren’t words to describe it. They say that on a clear day you can see for 50-60 miles. Today it was a bit hazy, so you only got 30 miles out of it. Even at that height, you can still pick out individual cars, and even people if you look carefully.

I didn’t get the sense of vertigo I normally do from being up high, mostly because the tower is surrounded by several other tall buildings, so it has the visual effect of bringing the ground up higher and it doesn’t seem as far down. Still, out of the nearly 250 pictures I took from and of the tower, I did get a few just for my mom.

After my time in the sky, I wandered the couple blocks over to Union Station. This one wasn’t nearly as cool as Union Depot in Denver. From the outside, being surrounded by taller structures made for difficult picture angles. I don’t know that I got any truly good shots.

It didn’t look much like a train station at all from the inside. It had been modernized quite a bit and didn’t have a single remnant of the glory days of railroads. I wasn’t allowed out onto the train platform at all, and the guard made me put my camera away when I tried to snap a picture through the window. For a train buff like me, that was quite a bit of a let-down since the view was pretty cool with several trains parked.

After Union Station, I hopped a cab over to Millennium Park. It was only a mile away, but not knowing the area it was hard to tell which way. Even though the GPS would have gotten me there, driving it myself was out of the question as I didn’t want to deal with the parking challenges.

There are several cool things to see at Millennium Park. One is the pavillion. They have several hundred seats up front, plus a huge green space behind them. The whole area has a grid-work of sweeping beams with a network of speakers hanging from them. There is a tall, retractable glass “curtain” to protect the stage while it’s not in use. Actually, I’m sure it can’t be glass. That would be far too heavy and fragile for the way it’s installed. I’ll go with Lexan or with some other modern plastic.

The interesting stage architecture didn’t stop there. If you look at the amphitheater itself, you’d see a lot of similarities between it and the Weisman Art Museum on the U of M campus. Stainless steel panels, lots of curves and funny angles. It’s one of those things that people either absolutely love or absolutely hate.

The thing I was really there to see was the “Cloud Gate” sculpture on the plaza. It’s a 66 foot by 42 foot blob that stands 33 feet tall. It’s totally smooth, polished steel that resembles liquid mercury. Everywhere you stand around it, or under it’s 10-12 foot arch, you see the skyline, sky, and other park-goers reflected back at you. If you look carefully, you can find yourself in there, sometimes in multiples.

There was a guy doing a painting of the sculpture and I talked with him for several minutes. He gave me some information about the sculpture and even said that if you stand dead center underneath you might be able to see a seam where there’s a trap-door into the sculpture’s innards.

Apparently the thing is hollow inside and has an internal system of wires and weights that are computer controlled. They’re used to balance against wind and temperature changes for the structure so it doesn’t deform or collapse through the seasons.

Not realizing it was there, I missed the interactive Crown Fountain, but that’s OK. The water was shut off for the winter and it gives me a reason to come back.

I spent so long just sitting in the park I didn’t make it to the Art Institute. I wanted to offload my pictures from the camera, find the theater for tonight’s show (review coming soon) and get something to eat before it started.

Sunday, 29 October 2006

Yesterday was really about getting to Chicago to kick things off. And it seems the travel gods were smiling on me as if to say my quest was right and true.

The first good sign was the gate assignment for my flight to Chicago: G18. If you go all the way into the terminal, that’s way out on one of the arms of the airport. Luckily, there is a security checkpoint along a walkway that goes between two of the concourses. That walkway is directly above the airport’s light-rail station. I got off the train, took the elevator upstairs, and was through security and at the gate in all of 10 minutes. And that was with an extra bag inspection because I forgot to take the little bag with my shampoo and toothpaste out of my suitcase before I put it through the x-ray machine.

The flight was uneventful – after all, how much can happen when you’re only in the air for 45 minutes?

About a week before the trip I realized that my hotel was actually about 10 miles North of the city, rather than near either venue for my first couple shows. I can only chalk it up to my being an idiot, but Google Maps and the Chicago city planners are complicit.

The hotel is on 2875 North Milwaukee Avenue. It turns out there are two places in the area that fit that address. One is in Chicago proper, the other is in the nearby suburb of Northbrook. I’m used to how things are in the Twin Cities. You can lay a great big grid over the whole area and pretty much find anything with a single numbering system; one for North-South, the other for East-West. Apparently in the Chicago area the start the numbering over again even when it’s the same street that appears in multiple cities, like Milwaukee Avenue.

I ended up sticking with the same hotel because I got a good rate for a decent size room and they had already charged my card for the room since it was a pre-pay Internet deal.

There must have been two conventions in town, or something. As I pulled into the hotel two tour buses pulled in after me. Out of them came at least 100 Russian or Ukrainian (I couldn’t tell from the language they were speaking) girls and their mothers. Tons of them all over the place. Later I saw a group of 20 or so Chinese guys all gathered together.

I’m still working on a review for the show, but that should be on-line very soon.

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Since the Grateful Dead are no more (R.I.P. Jerry Garcia), and I wasn’t into them enough to follow them around the country, I was never a <defn=”/glossary/?deadhead”>Deadhead. However, I have had a long-standing item on my “To-Do This Lifetime” list: Deadhead For A Week.

It wasn’t too much of a stretch, since I have been known to travel just to see a concert now and again. It had to be a road-trip to see a series of shows, going to see just one show doesn’t count.

There aren’t many bands these days that truly inspire someone to follow them around the country. But it just so happens that, at least for me, Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers is one of those bands. Every album is full of good songs, rather than one or two like other artists, and the boys put on a great show. And he really cares about his fans too. I’ve seen them several times in the Twin Cities and I’ll keep going back.

When Roger started a fall tour, I immediately checked for a Twin Cities date and happily discovered that this time we got him on a Saturday. He always packs them in at the Fine Line, so it’s going to be a stellar night. After that, I figured I’d just check what the surrounding dates were going to be and decided it was finally my chance. My friend Todd did a road-trip to see them earlier this year, but this time it was my turn. Deadhead time.

In planning the trip, I was going to catch the the series of Roger shows starting November 1st in Cleveland, OH. Then on my usual Sunday scan for upcoming shows I found out Los Straitjackets, were playing in Chicago a few days earlier. If that weren’t enough, Blue Man Group has a regular show in Chicago too.

That cemented it. I decided to make a week of it. Road trip, maybe see a couple friends, but certainly see a bunch of shows.

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

A certain national ticket reseller sends me regular emails about upcoming shows. In the latest one, they describe the Moscow Ballet performance of The Nutcracker as “This Broadway-level spectacle…”

Now maybe it’s just me, but doesn’t spectacle, when used as an adjective, tend to cast something in a somewhat negative light? A freak-show would be a spectacle. Dancing around at a party with a lampshade on your head is a spectacle. A GWAR show can only be described as a spectacle. (OK, so that last one isn’t necessarily a bad thing.)

Yes, I know the dictionary definition for spectacle provides quite a bit of leeway, but I’m just saying…

Sunday, 22 October 2006

In my never ending quest for cute/cool/stupid Web stuff, I came across this: Dancing Pipe Cleaners.

David’s page containing several interations of the little guy can be found here.

Tuesday, 03 October 2006