Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Summer comes

Saturday was a hot, muggy day in Chicago. One of the worst we've had in an admittedly mild summer. Saturday was also the day Paul and I attempted to hit not one, but two concerts in Chicago. Not the most favorable confluence of factors, but, then again, it could have been much worse. We could have been attending Lollapalooza. Shudder.

First on our dance card was a solo show by Jeff Tweedy, benefitting (and held at) Emanuel Congregation. In contrast to the February benefit shows at the Vic, he line was quite late in forming. No complaints here. We walked around on the beach, spent some time in Metropolis coffee, and generally tried to enjoy the late afternoon without melting. I'd considered driving the entire way down from WI on Sheridan Road, but perhaps another time.

The show felt a little weird to me, though I should be used to seeing Jeff in unusual settings. I was happy when Susan came out to take requests beforehand. Jeff played "I'll Fight," which I'd asked for, and it was interesting to hear it solo again. The last time that happened I barely knew the song at all. One of my favorite performances of the night was "So Much Wine" - I think the emotion of the lyrics really came through. "A Long Time Ago" was a rare treat I'd only heard previously with Golden Smog or at soundchecks. Overall, though, I thought Jeff seemed a little distracted. Judging from other reviews I've read, this isn't an opinion shared by the majority of attendees, so who knows. It was also unusual to experience so little crowd participation and singing along. It wasn't unexpected, since many members of the audience were there to support the congregation and weren't necessarily familiar with the performers. I missed that aspect, although it would have been an ideal atmosphere for someone who doesn't enjoy that kind of thing. Still, I'm definitely not complaining. Jeff gave us and Emanuel Congregation a very good show. It's not lost on me that 80% of the non-Wilco performances by Jeff Tweedy I've seen in the past four years have been charity benefits. (Truly, I figured it out.) That's pretty amazing. Peter Grosz (a.k.a. "the guy from the hamburger commercials") opened the evening with a short set of standup comedy. I wish he'd come back to do the Letters to Santa show again. Colbert, Schmolbert!

No dawdling for us afterwards - it was straight over to Metro for the second half of the double-header. Even a passionate festival hater such as myself can appreciate Lollapalooza for the post-fest shows: they start late so people can drag their dehydrated, drunken selves over to see even more bands! Without an 11:00 p.m. start time and an opener, there's no way we could have made it over to see Fleet Foxes after the benefit. But it did start at 11:00, and we did make it, even catching the last two songs of Dungen's opening set. The attrition rate in the crowd was higher than it might otherwise have been due to the extreme heat inside Metro. A dubious thing to be grateful for, but it did mean that we were able to get much closer than I'd hoped to the stage. Sure, Robin's beard was constantly dripping sweat, the band threw two canvas bags of water bottles out to the crowd, and Robin kept asking during the encore if anyone else felt like they were a verse away from passing out due to heat stroke. But we were really close!

Formidable heat and humidity aside, the show was excellent. It was my first time seeing Fleet Foxes in a headlining slot, and hopefully not the last. I don't know how they make their harmonies sound so effortless and beautiful, but they sound every bit as good in person. Better. One perk of liking a band without an extensive back catalog is getting to see practically everything you want to see at a concert. "White Winter Hymnal," "Mykonos," "Blue Ridge Mountains," "Sun Giant," "Oliver James" ... all played, including a cameo by Dungen. We heard a brand new song, too.

By the time the show was finished the walls of Metro were sweating like a cold beer on a hot day. The only other surface I briefly touched on the way out - the rail on the staircase - was wet, too. Ugh. Even though it was 5:00 a.m. before I got home, I consider Saturday a triumph of good music and will over the elements. As usual, I'm hungry for more. Bring on the weekend!

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