I'm spoiled. I admit it. The concerts I go to these days are wonderfully professional: great sound, punctual start times. I love it. Gone are the days of horrible sound and bands that keep you waiting for hours, for reasons totally their own. When I saw The Rolling Stones on the first date of their 1981 American tour, they hit the stage two hours after Journey ended. As if Journey wasn't bad enough!
Joey and I headed to the Congress Theater in Chicago to check out The Dead Weather. Would I finally see Jack White live? Two years ago I had tickets for The White Stripes show, also in Chicago, that was cancelled as a result of Meg White's stress level, or sex tape, or stress level about the sex tape.
The doors opened at 7 PM, which meant the line that curved around the side street adjacent to the theater didn't move until around 7:30. Once in motion, it became a quasi-military operation, the first half of Full Metal Jacket run by greasy-haired crazy people.
"Two lines!, Don't mess up my lines!" shouted the stringy line monitor. A rough pat down was given upon entry. I was waiting for someone to call me Pvt. Pyle.
Most old theaters I've been to have been restored to their former beauty. Not so the Congress Theater. It's a dingy mess. We headed up to the balcony and sat in smooth, oily seats. Below my feet was a huge pitted concrete patch. I was not overcome with a sense of calm about my surroundings.
I was excited to see the opening band, Harlem. They didn't come out until 9, and by then, the place was a sweltering crock pot of people and weed. Below us at floor level was a crush of fans growing restless by the minute. Joey was growing impatient and the smell of pot saturated the air around him. Later, when I asked if he'd gotten a contact high, he was confused. He knew the song by Nodzzz of that name, but only now got it.
"Oh, so that's what it means," he said with surprise. Another of life's mysteries solved.
Harlem was very good, and would have been better had the sound not been a muddy morass of heavy bass. Every word spoken was unintelligible and their power pop was done a disservice by the venue.
When The Dead Weather came out, the crowd went berserk, watched closely by the giant eye atop the painted backdrop. This may be the first show I've ever seen that I didn't know one song in advance. Didn't matter though, it was exciting to see White and the group. They were excellent, though again, the sound was atrocious.
Know this: in any Dead Weather show, when Jack plays guitar it signifies the end of something. he stepped out front twice, for the last song of the set, and the final song of the encore.
A woman next to my friend said it was the 15th time she'd seen Jack White in his various incarnations - White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather. The theater was packed with similarly rabid fans, and when they sang and clapped and stomped on the floor, the structural insecurity of the balcony became apparent. I could see the headline in the next day's Tribune:
Scores Die in Concert Collapse
Thankfully, we survived and learned a valuable lesson. It's still possible to see great bands in shitty halls with miserable sound. When my iPhone has better sound than The Congress Theater, there's something wrong.