The Ghosts of Lemp’s Grand Hall

The Ghosts of Lemp’s Grand Hall

“Are you guys part of the band playing for the wedding reception?” asks the irritable receptionist of St. Louis’s Lemp Grand Hall.

 

“Yes. Where is the hall?” I ask.

 

“Third floor. You’ll need to unpack your stuff here and take the elevator up, and quickly please… the wedding party will be here any minute,” Miss Irritable coordinates the evening’s progressions.

 

“What a cool old building,” I relay my observations to our bass player Pierce.

 

“Yup,” Pierce answers with an introverted nod and a puff of his cigarette.

 

It all started in 1838 when a man named John Adam Lemp immigrated to St. Louis, Missouri, from Eschwege, Germany. The first generation of Lemp noticed how propitious the natural cave system underneath St. Louis was for brewing a new type of beer called a lager—the first of its kind in the Gateway to the West. John Adam Lemp left the grocery business in the first half of the 19th century and decided it was time to create the Lemp Brewery.

 

In 1864 a new plant was erected at Cherokee Street and Carondolet Avenue that would one day expand to take up ten city blocks, including the Lemp Mansion.

 

“I hear this place is haunted,” Pierce portends.

 

“Really?” I respond.

 

“Yea supposedly the family members Killed themselves and are haunting the mansion nowadays,” Pierce attempts to make my skin crawl.

 

In fact, William Lemp, son of John Adam Lemp, committed suicide in the head bedroom of the mansion in 1904, thus ending a three-year grievance over the mysterious death of his favorite son Frederick. Unfortunately, William Lemp’s successors followed in the morbid footsteps of their father. Elda Lemp committed suicide in 1920 after the start of prohibition forced the brewery to temporarily shut down. And William Lemp II shot himself in the same building his father committed suicide in just eighteen years prior. If any building were to be haunted by its preceding tenants, it would be the Lemp Mansion.

 

“Guess I’ll keep an eye out for ghosts,” I kid to Pierce.

 

After unloading our gear onto the third floor, Pierce makes a short comment regarding the scenery within the antedated hall.

 

“It’s antique [Lemp Hall]… not vintage.”

 

The hard maple-wood floors, white table settings, manservants dressed in tuxedos… the open-air lift (not elevator), Italian marble mantle, hand-painted ceilings and intricately carved mantles of African mahogany spoil the thirty-three-room estate as a Victorian Showpiece. Suddenly I feel like I’ve stepped out of the present and into the post-prohibition era as a guest at the brewery. It’s the roaring twenties again. Tonight, the setting of Lemp Hall evokes an image of slim “Slickers” eyeing promiscuous debutantes through tortoise-shaped glasses. We’ve been transported to a place that Fitzgerald and Brooke once praised as, This Side of Paradise.

 

“Now I wish we played swing music!” I exclaim.

 

“Would definitely suit the venue more,” Thaddeus, the guitarist, agrees.

 

“The bride and groom will be up shortly,” a bitter receptionist announces to us.

 

“Hey can I get a drink?” Our drummer Paul interjects.

 

“Are you serious?” The receptionist bemuses. “We’re getting set for the entrance of the bride and the groom and you’re worried about getting a drink? My God . . . you really are a drummer!”

 

After some not-so-witty banter I decide it is indeed time to grab a drink. Paul and I head to the open bar to grab some refreshments.

 

“How can I help you sir?” A manservant in a tuxedo takes my order.

 

“Yea . . . What do you gentlemen have on draft this evening?” I ask.

 

“We have the local domestic [Bud light, nothing from The Lemp Brewery…] and a hefeweizen beer,” he responds.

 

“I’ll take the hefeweizen.”

 

. . .

 

There is a sense of class at this reception: The King and Queen of the ball enter. She is wearing a white dress, of course, with a silk top revealing an abundance of cleavage. The bottom of her dresses is ruffled in textured harmony with the rest of her outfit. The King is wearing a tuxedo just like the groomsman, but with a fancier corsage and a nervousness to get the ball over with already. A lesser class of Men wear tuxedos adorned with cummerbunds, black patent leather shoes and dainty corsages; accompanying them, women are dressed in bridesmaid gowns colored in midnight lavender. Then comes by far the lowest class of men that ever attended a ball at Lemp Hall. Judging by their attire this class of men spend their days drinking rotgut from the local watering holes in drunken delight. Their attire suggests they might have a penchant for smoking, listening to jukeboxes at obnoxious volumes, and committing all sorts of transgressions against decorum—they certainly aren’t dressed for the occasion. They are already here. They, I am shameful to admit, are us (the band). I recall a conversation that took place only a week prior:

 

“Hey so I was wondering what sort of dress code—if any—you would request the band to wear?” I ask the soon-to-be-bride.

 

Her response verbatim:

 

“Whatever you guys would like! As Long as you [the band] are all comfortable is what matters.”

 

We, regretfully, take her response to heart.

 

. . .

 

Is there a possibility of dressing too comfortably? I ask myself as the wedding party finishes filling out Lemp Hall. What have I done? Of course people dress up nice for weddings. And here I am with a shabby group of men all wearing tattered jeans, old tennis shoes and dull t-shirts. We’re the contrast of dress and class that separates royalty from the bourgeoisie.

 

“Hey you guys, there’s some food left over if you’d like to grab something to eat before you play,” the authoritative receptionist scares my nerves by calling on us to start the show.

 

“Ah, thanks. We’ll grab some food shortly.”

 

We—the bourgeoisie, ostracized to the outside deck—sit, eat and smoke cigarettes while observing the pouring rain from a view underneath the third-floor marquee. What a haunted looking set of buildings. I observe the ten blocks of buildings that once encompassed The Lemp Brewery. Tall towers with spires and gothic architecture seem to place us somewhere on the Princeton Campus in New Jersey. The moons beams are obscured be heavy clouds. The night contains us, makes everything pitch black except the few dim bulbs and a couple cigarette sparks lighting the rain-soaked deck. Here in the third world—on the third floor—I wonder which room William Lemp decided to take his life? Will his ghost or Elda’s greet us during tonight’s reception? I hope not. Stop thinking this way! You are liable to make yourself sick and the stuffed-cheese ravioli is too delicious to excommunicate from your body!

 

“Hey! You guys can start playing now!” The agitated receptionist scares me away from my haunted reverie.

 

“Oaky… thanks,” I respond. I need another beer.

 

I know there’s something in the wake of your smile.

I get a notion from the look in your eyes, yea.

You’ve built a love but that love falls apart.

Your little piece of heaven turns too dark.

 

The first verse of Tom Petty’s “Listen to Your Heart” rings out across the maple-wood floors and into the ears of high-class patrons. Sonorous sounds of excitement eddy throughout the hall in matter of fact prurience. Bridesmaids tout revelations of bare cleavage with no scruples. Prohibition has ended. The combination of music and alcohol make the lights cheer and cast circular shadows of breasts on to the dance floor. Not-so-innocent men eye the shadows and bare cleavage wishing to grasp them with lascivious hands. Up above, ropes hang adorned with hundreds of glowing bulbs. As the dancing feet get heavier and the music gets equally louder, I see glints of light from above. It’s as if a supernatural presence has entered the hall to cheer us on. I just hope we get out of here before the lights go out and William and Elda descend from the above. Below? From where? Wherever they are, their presence pervades the atmosphere of The Lemp Brewery. Everyone feels it now. It’s getting late. So I have another drink to shake this haunting feeling. Yes, they have entered—The Ghosts of Lemp’s Grand Hall are here.

-Layton (09/22/2016)

Devouring Her Prey

Devouring Her Prey

It’s about ten o’clock at night. I’m sitting on a pink beach chair on a small second-story balcony lit up with cubed lights. Outside of the bars imprisoning this balcony I-364 hums softly in the mild pre-autumn air. I’m not alone. Accompanying me in the dark balcony of prison-bar shadows is a praying mantis. It prays for more light by going into one of the cubicles of luminosity. I kick my feet up on the table as Praying Manty projects a shadow of his stick figure across the white table. Like a contemporaneous gesture of friendship, I gesticulate cheers to Praying Manty and the hums of I-364. I sip some suds and ask figures of the lonely night, “What should we do tonight?”

Manty responds by flickering in his cubical of luminosity, thus making the stick-figure shadow dance tenderly on the white table.

“Not sure I’m up for dancing tonight,” I say to Manty. “Besides, it sounds like Glen just got out of the shower so it’s almost time to go. For your sake, I hope Mrs. Manty shows up and you two can share in some cubical fornication.”

“Who you talking to?” Glen asks from inside the apartment.

“Uh . . . No one,” I realize how absurd conversing with an insect might sound.

“Where you wanna go tonight?” Glen asks.

“Definitely not dancing,” I respond.

“It’s nice out. We should sit on a patio somewhere, drink some beers, and listen to music.”

“I’m game.”

After cruising down I-364, we take an exit that leads us to the little town of Cottleville, Missouri and come across a trio of middle-aged men with acoustic guitars playing at the local wine cellar.

“Flat Bottom Girls you make the rockin’ world go round,” the trio attempts to harmonize. The procured sound is flatter than that time in Middle School when Suzie-What’s-Her-Name butchered the “Star Spangled Banner” during the Monday morning announcements.

“You know it’s nice sitting on the patio, but this is brutal,” I defame the middle-aged trio.

“Let’s bounce,” Glen concurs.

So we cruise a few blocks down the street and come across a venue called Babylon and enter a cubical of luminosity shining on New Crime Theatre.

“Shut up and dance,” New Crime Theatre’s lead singer, Michelle Ralston, invites a dismal crowd to fill blank space on the dance floor. Right now a flamboyant man in skinny jeans is caressing a woman with jet-black hair; she’s wearing black leather jeans too tight for her protruding curves.

“Does she know he’s out of the closet?” I ask Glen.

“Yea, that’s probably why she feels safe dancing with him,” Glen responds.

The intoxicated, stick figure of a man and Mrs. Jet Black continue to rub tummies, like a praying mantis hugging a juicy beetle.

“So light em up up up, light em up up up,” Michelle does her best Fall Out Boy—or Girl—impression.

The band is solid: the drummer plays every note meticulously, as if he couldn’t make a mistake; the bass player slides his fingers up and down the neck of his guitar in mellifluous accompaniment; and the rotund guitarist taps pedals and wrings out chords as he squeezes the neck of his guitar, like Santa Claus wringing out a three-foot long spongy two-by-four while tapping out the rhythms of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

As I grab another beer form the bucket, I look up and see the lead singer and bass player eyeing Glen and I from the stage.

“Do they know us?” I ask Glen. “Why do they keep looking over here?”

“Not sure . . . Maybe they know we play in a local band too,” Glen suggests.

“I Shake it off, I Shake it off,” Michelle eyes Glen and I with vicarious eyes swift as Taylor.

“Maybe she’s got the hots for your man bun?” I jest.

“Oh boy,” Glen responds while perking his lips and sipping his bottle of boos, like an infant sticking a thumb in its mouth while shying away from Momma’s accusations. Did you eat all of the cookies in the cookie jar?

After closing the show out whit Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of,” Glen and I hit the head. On my way out I see Glen chatting it up with Michelle in excited gesticulations. The hell are they talking about? I wonder.

“Hey man she knows our band,” Glen speaks with his hands instead of his mouth.

“Really?” I say while shielding an excited finger from poking my eye out.

“Yea I went and saw you guys on New Year’s Eve a few years ago. The place was packed. I can’t remember the name of the place,” Michelle says.

“Ballyhoo,” I answer. “Yea we used to be the household band there a few years back. We had some good times there. Too bad the owner was too coked out of his mind to run a business. He often paid us too much.” We didn’t mind. I think and then say, “The place ended up getting shut down cuz too many people were fightin’ in the parking lot.”

“Oh my god I know!” Michelle says with big eyes. “That owner was a coke head. He used to own Stevie Ray’s down town.”

So we finish befriending all the members of New Crime Theatre. I start heading out of the bar and conclude that both scenarios suggested earlier are true: the members on stage eyeing us earlier did recognize Glen and I from a previous show; and, yes, Michelle was eyeing Glen with eyes of fornication. How do I know the latter part of the scenarios to be true? As I reach the exit of the bar, I turn around and see Michelle still talking to Glen, her eyes gleaming with prurience and mating implications, like a male praying mantis crawling its way to the female on the other end of the stick. In both cases, either someone is liable to get poked, or the female prepares for murderous activity—Devouring Her Prey.

 

Remembering Lolla: Day 2

Remembering Lolla: Day 2

“What? They’re not letting people in the gate?” My cousin Michelle asks why we’re not being permitted to enter Lollapalooza.

“Doesn’t look like it,” I reply, gravely.

“Let’s try the North entrance,” Joseph suggests.

“Think it’ll be any better over there?” Swank asks.

“Can’t be any worse!” Joseph exclaims.

So our sextet (Michelle, Joseph, Swank, Brandon, Xena, and myself) circle around to the other end of Chicago’s Grand Park in a feeble attempt to enter the Land of Lolla. I say feebly, because, there must be four-thousand people, all sweaty from the humidity, further moistened now by the pouring rain, irritated by the hold up, and turning restless as the second hour of waiting quickly approaches.

Dammit, I’m gonna miss Lettuce. I think to myself. The funk/rock group based out of Boston, Massachusetts, is scheduled to go on at 3:45. Our sextet arrived at Grand Park at 2:30; it’s now 3:45…

“What the hell is the hold up?” Brandon asks.

“They’ve got ten imbeciles checking ten-thousand people into the festival!” My cousin Michelle berates the gates ahead.

Although the number was slightly more than ten, the gatekeepers certainly weren’t in a rush to let people in. Why? Like my cousin said, they’re imbeciles. At $335 a ticket, I should be permitted to take in a pharmacy of drugs inside my backpack if it allows my entrance to be punctual! After two hours of waiting, soaking in the rain, soaking in the body odor of thousands of strangers, soaking in indignation after missing the first number of set 1, soaking in wasted time none will ever regain, our sextet is finally permitted to enter the King and Queen’s chamber. Us mere peasants would haves started a revolution against Lolla’s royal authority if forced to wait any longer!

“We’re heading over to the Samsung stage to see Foals,” Swank informs me.

“I have to see lettuce at the Petrillo stage,” I reply.

“Cool. Meet us at Foals when Lettuce is done playing then.”

“Will do.”

So I part from my sextet in the pouring rain. My shirt is heavy with rain, feet are soaked, cell phone dripping wet—luckily, my life-proof case is keeping the technology dry; but I could care less about all of these inconveniences as I approach the Petrillo stage. Lettuce is performing!

I love these guys. They have a pocket of groove that proves their edification in the art of jazz music. Their Berklee education benefits them well. Sadly apparent, the sound guy has never listened to a jazz or funk recording in his life. How do I know this? Because, as the saxophonist approaches the microphone to, all I hear fucking bass guitar! This isn’t Perry’s Mr. Soundman. Open your fucking ears, lay your fingers on the faders, and actually run sound like someone who gives a shit!

The soundman at the Petrillo stage seems to have taken too much peyote this afternoon. His dismal performance at the counsel is unforgivable. Regardless, Lettuce still performs tunes from their latest album Rage with flawless content. I hope they can at least hear themselves on stage… After listening to a set ruined by another imbecile employed by some fledgling-of-a-sound-crew, I travel the radius of Grand Park once again to meet up with my friends.

After passing the colorful fountain, traversing down the steps, and crossing the dance floor of baseball fields, I meet up with the sextet and take in the sonorities of English Indie Rock band Foals.

“How was Lettuce?” My cousin Michelle asks.

“Couldn’t tell, the sound guy didn’t know what the hell he was doing,” I reply.

“That’s a shame.”

“It really is. I dig the sound hear though. It seems Foals has their own sound crew amplifying the Samsung stage!”

“Yea, they sound great,” Michelle observes.

The English rock group does sound good. To be honest, I’ve never heard of Foals. After taking in a couple of musical numbers, I like what I’m hearing. Their music, like a large variety of music pouring out of Europe’s Indie conduit, has an air of despondence. The dark clouds above heighten the despondency on stage as the lead singer, with his jet-black hair waving whimsically to the drones of an open jam, puts the crowd into a dark trance. The crowd is less active than the bare-skinned Molly heads over at Perry’s.

“I like the crowd here today,” I observe.

“Yea. It’s like the music is calming everyone,” Michelle suggests.

I have no doubt that is the case. Unlike the forty-five seconds of exhilaration waiting at the end of a long line at an amusement park, a music festival provides long lasting exhilarations. Foals music produces a soporific affect. Not that I’m falling asleep, I mean soporific, in that, my nerves of frustration have dissipated, and my anger at the chimpanzee-of-a-soundman at the other end of the park has reached dissolution. Although, if said soundman were to make his presence known in front of me right now, I worry I might get arrested for tripping him, smearing his face into muddy dance floor while exclaiming, “Whose on first? Your face! Your Face! Your Face!” But that soundman is off somewhere else consuming copious amounts of peyote, and I’m standing at the edge of a soaking wet baseball field enjoying the music of Foals for the first time.

“God I can’t wait for Radiohead tonight!” I reveal to the sextet.

“Oh I know. It’s going to be amazing,” Xena, the only other Radiohead junkie in the group, opens up a discourse of love and appreciation for the band closing out tonight’s festivities at Lollapalooza!

Fast-forward two hours.

After eating a questionable magpie filled with vegetable sludge, washing it down with a nine-dollar beer, and ordering another beverage exorbitantly priced, a trio of our sextet (Michelle, Joseph and myself) pass the colorful fountain, traverse down the steps, cross the diamond-shaped dance floor, and get as close as we can to the Samsung stage an hour ahead of Radiohead’s 8pm concert.

In finding a spot of propitious proximity for a headliner show at Lolla, concertgoers challenge the variances in concert decorum. Polite people find a spot among the sea of strangers and stay there. Assholes cause waves as they push their way through the crowd twenty minutes before show time at the discomfort of gentility.

“Hey man there’s no more room. Turnaround and go back!” Michelle berates a young teenager for stepping all over our toes.

“But my friends are just up ahead,” the repugnant teen feebly attempts to excuse his transgressions against concert decorum.

“At this point, you either make friends or enemies guy,” I inform the teenager.

“Man fuck this,” the teenage repugnance wisely gives up his quest and turns around in shame; everyone claps sounds of raillery.

After getting our toes stepped on, ribs elbowed, and shoulders brushed by more idiots attempting to, “meet up with friends,” the concert finally begins! My mind is set at ease as Radiohead takes the stage and begins playing the first track off of their new album A Moon Shaped Pool.

“Stay in the shadows. Cheer at the gallows,” Thom Yorke sings the first lyrics of the tune “Burn the Witch.”

The live rendition of “Burn the Witch” is altered from the recorded version. I suppose Radiohead couldn’t afford to hire an entire string orchestra to play the string parts written by Johnny Greenwood. Regardless, the music is excellent. The talent on stage subsumes the crowd into trance. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It’s unlike any concert proceeding my experience at Lolla, or ever. Without a doubt, it’s the most pleasingly esoteric musical adventure I’ve ever been a part of.

The crowd is shoulder-to-shoulder in a battalion of ballet dancers tippy-toeing their feet to try and hear the music. It passes through the baseball fields and dances its way all the way up to the colorful fountain of Buckingham. For two and a half hours, a large percentage of Grand Park’s three-hundred and nineteen acres are filled to capacity with an elite fandom of concert goers: their eyes have become weary; their ballet feet have become cramped; their arms and legs, stressed to physical anomalies; but they’re still vertical with attendance for England’s penultimate rock group; their hearts are still beating with pulses of praise as the evening comes to an end. A duo of encores stretch the 10pm cut-off time in pleasing fashion: “Karma Police;” “Fade Out.”

Lollapalooza 2016: Day 1

Lollapalooza 2016: Day 1

“My God they’re hardly wearing clothes at Perry’s!” My cousin Michelle observes the lack of clothing dressing Lollapalooza’s teenage patrons at the EDM (Electronic Dance Music) stage.

“What’s Perry’s?” I ask.

“It’s the stage where all the teenie-boppers take copious amounts of ‘Molly’ and dance their heads off to EDM.” she says.

Looking around, I see 14-19-year old boys and girls with Margaret Keane’s “Big Eyes” wearing bra’s belying advanced puberty and shorts revealing half crescents; their parents must be so proud.

The curb outside Perry’s is lined with exhausted youth. Some have weary eyes yearning for a much-needed respite. Some have the “Big Eyes” filled with black crescents beaming to the rhythm of ostentatious bass noises. Some snack on Chicago-style pizza. Others sit staring into reveries of infinite bliss. None absorb fully the sanctity of succeeding sobriety. A sobriety that turns their bliss finite as the body begins to fail. Some went too far; they’re resting under white canvas with IVs poking into their arms. Most under the medical tent are no longer ambulatory.  Ambulances beam blue and red cherries warning, “Hey, stop doing so many drugs and take a drink of water!”

That’s Perry’s.

But we’re headed to the Petrillo stage for the first of many shows to come. It’s only Thursday afternoon, and my train back home to St. Louis, MO, doesn’t leave till Sunday afternoon. This means my cousin, our friends, myself, and thousands of strangers will roam Chicago’s Grand Park for a three-day adventure culminating in Saturday’s performance by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Right now, it’s about dusk. The sun peaks through clouds, skyscrapers, and shines its orange rays ahead as Kurt Vile and the Violators take the stage.

“Wait Kurt Vile… like the Kurt Weill, the German, classical musician and composer of the Three Penny Opera, only, spelled differently?” I ask.

“Wow, wouldn’t it be cool if they just started playing a rock opera right now?” cousin Michelle jests.

“That would be epic!” her fiancé Joseph confirms.

“Guess we’ll find out shortly.” I conclude as Kurt and his Violators begin their hour-long set.

I can always tell how little a band has to offer by the lack of remembrances I have to recollect their show. All I really remember about Kurt Vile and the Violators were monotonous drum sounds, accompanied by, a lesser resemblance of a similar (yet much better) band called Cage the Elephant.

 They’re young and still have a long way to go. I guess I can’t expect too much on the first night of a four-day festival. I think to myself. At least the weather is gorgeous.

 “Hey let’s hit up the Lakeshore stage to see The Arcs,” our friend Swank suggests.

“Dude totally. I love that band!” Joseph exclaims.

“Who are The Arcs?” I state my ignorance.

“So… You know who the lead singer of The Black Keys is right?” Joseph asks.

“Yea.” I reply.

“Well it’s that same guy but The Arcs is his solo project. It sounds a lot like the Black Keys.” Joseph says.

“Hmm… Let’s check em’ out then.” I say.

So we traverse the distance of Grand Park from north to south, passing by the fountain colored in a multitude of pinks, blues, purples, and reds; we then travel down some steps, and make our way to a baseball field being stepped on by thousands of fans waiting to see the next act performing at the Lakeshore stage.

As I look around, the outfits dressing the fans here are a little more genteel. This band attracts older men and women dressed in more than a bra and too short of shorts. The atmosphere of the crowd at the Lakeshore stage aligns itself with the genteel attires. Thank God!

“Wow! This is way better than what we saw over at Perry’s,” Michelle observes.

“No kidding,” Greg, his girlfriend Xena, Joseph, and I respond in a chorus of pleasure.

“Here they come!” Greg interjects as guitarist and singer Dan Auerbach leads his band on stage.

This is where Lollapalooza began for me. I feel I could erase from my mind everything leading up to the evening performance of The Arcs and not feel cheated for missing the first half of my Thursday in Lolla Land. The guy can write material! From the piercing guitar solos, to the tastefully place organ harmonies, to the bombastic, doubly covered drummed parts, to the dissonant back-up harmonies, to the perfectly placed shifts in musical forms; this performance by The Arcs is shaping up to be among the favorites in the vault containing my memories of concerts.

“Wholly shit they are good!” I exalt what I here to Joseph.

“No kidding.” He replies.

Everyone in our friend group, in fact, everyone in attendance at this show has is witnessing something majestic. I myself have never heard so polished a genre of music as I am hearing. It’s as if Dan Auerbach is stating peremptory commands with every lyric he sings.

“Out of my mind,” Dan belts into the microphone, accompanied by a chorus of thick, mellifluous harmonies both on and off stage.

The guy must be out of his mind to have written such complex music. How the hell does he remember every chord, lyric, and musical shift, let alone the guitar solos and choruses. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. My mind runs in awe of what The Arcs are pulling off on stage. I can tell they have rehearsed and perfected their craft to a degree extending beyond what any other contemporary, Bluesy-Rock group has ever achieved.

The Arcs could easily have headlined Lollapalooza this year. Yea… they’re no more illustrious than The Red Hot Chili Peppers or Radiohead; however, put Anthony Kiedis and Thom Yorke shoulder to shoulder in the crowd to witness the majestic concert I’ve just seen, and they’d tell you, “Wow, these guys are fantastic.”

Coming to the conclusion that no other musical act will top what The Arcs have just poured over the baseball fields in front of the Lakeshore stage, my group of acquaintances and I resolve that our first night in the land of Lolla has come to a close. It was brief, but we’re just getting started here.

Once again, we traverse steps, pass the colorful fountain, and cross streets filled with people adorned in Lollapalooza wristbands and strange attires till we reach the Blue Line train at Monroe street. On our way back to my cousin Michelle’s place in Wicker Park, I breath in the stenches of subway fumes, grab on to the steal bar in front of me, and make intimate relations with strangers as we stand shoulder to shoulder; But I’m comforted and consumed by thoughts providing ruminations of the nights events, and look forward to succeeding concerts tomorrow, and the day after. I supplicate that the strength needed to endure the next two days may pass through me with ease. Day one is in the books. The first third of our adventure has proven joyful. Let this be the case for the upcoming, lengthier two thirds ahead!

-Layton (07/28/2016)

Radiohead: A Fan’s Relationship with Music

Radiohead: A Fan’s Relationship with Music

“Hey man, check this out… You gotta give it a listen,” my friend Pat pauses between phrases to inhale a puff of Marijuana smoke.

“What is it?” I ask.

“You’ve never heard of Radiohead [he exhales]?”

“Nope.” After staring me down with a look of befuddlement, Pat inserts a disk into the CD player of his Green Honda; I’m listening to the album OK Computer (1997) for the first time—it was love at first listen.

There was a time in high school, some ten years ago, when I could recall every album, song title, and lyric of England’s penultimate rock group. I was obsessed. Why? I’m still not sure. My obsession became pernicious to my romantic relationships. I remember the look of horror on my high school girlfriend’s face when I forced her to listen to The Bends album one day in her Toyota Rav 4. I’m certain our relationship would have reached immediate eradication had I brought Kid A with me that day; she stayed with me, but clearly not because of my fandom for Radiohead.

At the time, Hail to the Thief (2003) was the latest album released; it won a Grammy for its innovations in sound engineering. The album’s meaning to me was ineffable. I just liked what I was hearing. The music took me to a place outside of my head and into a pocket of existence where peace and joy were inescapable. The ineffable nature of the music has escaped definition from my mind, but many have persevered to provide meaningful nomenclatures appropriating Radiohead’s music with tangible descriptions.

Channeling the zeitgeist of Radiohead’s endeavors, singer/songwriter Thom Yorke once said:

Even with electronics, there is an element of spontaneous performance in using them. It was the tension between what’s human and what’s coming from the machines. That was stuff we were getting into.

There’s no doubting the increasing presence electronics imbedded into Radiohead’s music, especially, when observing the shift in musical construction from Pablo Honey (1992) to Kid A (2001). The former of which consists of a primitive line up of instruments (guitar, bass, drums, and vocals) compared to the orchestrated, electronic soundscapes heard in later tunes, such as: “How to Disappear Completely”, “Everything in its Right Place”, and “Kid A.” But the relationship between “spontaneous performance” and electronics is only a singular agenda amongst the myriad of philosophies instilled in Radiohead’s discography.

In addition, Radiohead is well known for sustaining a relationship with Politics. Ironically, I’ve always listened to their music to get away form political agendas. Not that I’m apolitical, I just reinterpret the lyrics of most songs to fit my own agenda. Selfish? Perhaps, but I’m the listener, the one paying for the music, the one attending shows, the self-promoter of one of my all-time favorite rock groups, and I’m not ashamed to say I rarely look into the politics of anyone’s song lyrics. For this reason, I share drummer Phil Selway’s credence in suggesting that Radiohead’s aim is simply towards “escapism.” In this belief, the music is less enigmatic, yet highly varied, and open to the listener’s interpretation. This description of escapism parallels the malleable nature surmised in Radiohead’s latest album entitled A Moon Shaped Pool.

What shape is A Moon Shape Pool? Well, it’s somewhere between a circle and blank space, a pool waxing from nothing or waning from 360 degrees. This album title typifies the malleable genre of music Radiohead has engendered over there twenty-plus years of existence. A Moon Shaped Pool contains new tonalities, as in the opening track “Burn the Witch,” and also harkens back to older tonalities of previously conceived tunes like “True Love Waits.” The latter of which, I could do away with entirely; I much prefer the acoustic version Thom created on the live album “I Might Be Wrong.”

Regardless of my opinion, the innumerable stamps of interpretation are at fault in their attempts to ink out a singular definition of Radiohead’s music. For a band that has been creating music at such a prolific rate for such a long time, it is impossible to funnel such an expanse of creative ingenuity into a singular, parochial view.

I think back to that Marijuana smoke-filled car concomitantly filled with the music of OK Computer. Since then my relationship with the music of Radiohead, although consistently positive, has changed immensely. From my teen years to my mid-twenties, I’ve always built up a prejudice of positive influence for their music; however, I’ve become less inclined to simply fall in love with everything the band comes out with. I no longer view the band like that one girl that got away, the girl that, seemingly, would have held my affection for eternity—Lord knows a penchant for Radiohead wouldn’t keep her around. Eventually, she would break my heart and steal away with my affections for good. But no, I haven’t broken away from my affections for the music of Radiohead. Just like their music, my affections are malleable. I wonder how much they will alter after seeing them this weekend at Chicago’s Lollapalooza? Something tells me there will be thousands of Pats puffing Marijuana cigarettes and saying, “Hey man, check this out… You gotta give it a listen.” In return, I’ll listen with a fresh eagerness in anticipation of something serene—guess my prejudice nature hasn’t waned completely…

-Layton (07/25/2016)

 

The Spinster

The Spinster

“Hey it’s good to see you!” Exclaims a coquette-of-a-stranger behind black bars.

“Hello. Do I know you?” I reply with confused diffidence.

“Nope, not at all,” she finalizes our conversation by chuckling amongst her friends. Thus causing me to role my eyes and walk away to my own reflections.

The tattooed, chain-smoking, hard-liquor drinking spinster is indeed behind black bars; however, these aren’t the kind of bars that prohibit spinsters from participating in society. They’re the ones that separate the outdoor smoking section from the smoke-free establishment I’m attempting to enter.

It’s late. I can tell the intoxication levels of tonight’s patrons are elevated to an amusement of drunken lunacy. This should be interesting. I think to myself.

“Wild night so far huh?” I relate to the bouncer.

“We got some fucked up people in the crowd tonight.   There aren’t too many here, but they’re making some noise!” The bouncer replies.

“Must be something in the air,” I suggest.

“Too much alcohol,” the bouncer concludes.

Under the influence of excessive indulgence, it seems most women turn from the most worthy of faithful partners into spinsters: women eternally unwed due to their crimes against fidelity. The zeitgeist of female aptitudes tonight is low-spirited. Any feminists in attendance tonight might be persuaded to hold up their white flags in defeat. As I look towards the dance floor, spinsters pop their hips with fortitude, like a mating call of adultery; their waiting to be picked up as mistress to whomever will take them home for a fun night of strange fornication. I’m disinclined to pursue.

“You can go your own way,” lead singer of the band Comin Up Empty (Nicki) does her best Stevie Nick’s impression. Wow, this group can sing! I think to myself as the background vocals fill in behind Nicki’s lead vocal. You can always tell the difference between a good cover band and a lesser group by the weight of their harmony vocals.

However, this group is somewhere in-between. The bass player has a good tone, and fills in the space with some tasty fills; however, the drummer—despite his ability to singer with pitch accuracy—plays drums like a horse running full speed down hill towards the site of fresh apples; he can’t seem to slow down enough to let the other musicians catch their breath. The poor guitar player has to pluck out his solos in half the amount of time because the tempos of every tune are ratcheted up to an unconscionable speed. Imagine your treadmill going from 6mph to 12mph, then back to 8mph, then to 10mph, and altering in an unpredictable state that has you exhausted after the first 30 seconds. For fuck sake pick a tempo and stick with it! I scream to myself. This drummer is the horse descending a hill of obstacles with a mirage of apples in sight at the bottom of a never-ending descent. Worst of all, the band has to saddle up and ride at the beast’s tempo—oh what fun a ride it is.

Metronomes are a necessity in such situations. They are the training wheels that drummers need to harness before saddling up on to their own tempo of autonomy. Poor Greg. I think to myself as I look up to see him attempting to solo; he can hardly line up a single not with the varying beats of the drummers rhythms.

“The usual?” The barkeep asks me as I reach the bar.

“You got it,” I reply as she grabs a domestic from the cooler and slides it into my hand. “Funny night huh?”

“So many drunk women!” She exclaims with indignation.

For me—a single guy with a penchant for weekends of live music and beer—one might think I’d take to the swimming pool of single coquettes parading around the dance floor. Contrarily, the sight of drunkenness is the biggest turn off for me. Not to mention, the entire female side of the LGBT movement seem to have bussed their congregation here tonight. I’ve never seen so many straight-billed caps run into each other—the sight of failed kisses. Regardless, I always make the music a top priority in such events. It’s a necessity for two reasons: one, I need material for my weekly music blog; two, drunken spinsters repulse me.

“I love rock n’ roll,” Nicki sings; but no, I won’t be putting another dime in the jukebox, at least, not ever to pick this tune. I could go several eternities without hearing this song again. Some cover bands play a litany of over-played tunes. So over-played that only drunken people with cognitive functions so depleted that the most cliché of sonorities sound novel in this setting of a spinster paradise. It’s hell for me. If I smoked cigarettes, I’d step outside to save my soul from the bereavement caused by hearing such a ridiculous line up tunes; Comin Up Empty is lambasting us with their final set. Not enough alcohol could wash the mire of repugnance from my ears. Please stop. Please… stop. I send an internal request to the band to stop what they’re doing. You’re making me detest rock n’ roll.

Tonight I beg for transport to an earlier time. I’m begging for 52nd street in the New York’s entertainment district of 1940’s bliss. I’m begging for spinsters to be supplanted by chanteuses, such as, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn, and Ella Fitzgerald. I’m begging for elegance, the elegance of good music, chic attire, and fancy martinis to replace the slutty outfits and overpriced rotgut. I need bebop tunes and jazz ballads to replace the ostentatious covers of musical boredom. Tonight will be chalked up as a loss. The spinsters and sordid drunkenness have tarnished the evening. Stay tuned to next week’s article, I promise it doesn’t get any worse. Can it? If so, put me behind prison bars.

 

-Layton (07/10/16)

PET SOUNDS

PET SOUNDS

“At some point, a person sets up his own aesthetic standards which can’t be questioned. I began this process for myself with Pet Sounds.

 

The above quote, elegantly stated by Brian Wilson—arranger and producer of The Beach Boys penultimate record Pet Sounds (1966), states when his aesthetic became cemented into the sediment we’ve all heard by now. Older generations grew up listening to the genesis, and further developments, of the California rock group. For younger generations, The Beach Boys music was heard beyond the simple twist-of-the-dial.

 

Tunes like “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” have shared their airtime on the radio, as well as, on the big screen. The 2007 Adam Sandler film 50 First Dates provided the surfer setting of Hawaii akin to the settings lyricized in tunes like “Surfer Girl” and “California Girls.” For me, I’ll always remember Clark Griswold singing along to “Good Vibrations” while driving his soccer-mom van across his neighbors lawns in the opening scene of 1999’s Vegas Vacation.

 

However we came across a first listening of Brian Wilson and his family band of vocalists, a few musical novelties invariably tickle our ears: the two-to-five part harmonies; the high falsetto lead vocals; the abnormal—for the time—use of both orchestral and non-orchestral instruments; and, the oddly arranged musical numbers we’ve all come to love. In an epoch that paralleled the advances of rock n’ roll giants, such as, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, and The Rolling Stones, the album Pet Sounds seemed to come out of nowhere.

 

Somewhere in the winter of 1965, a 23-year-old Brian Wilson’s wishes came true. His reveries of imbibing Phil Spector’s wall of sound came to life when he contracted “The Wrecking Crew” to sit in on the majority of the 27 recording sessions needed to capture all of Pet Sounds. Different from The Beach Boy’s preceding works, the opening track, and original single off Pet Sounds (“Wouldn’t It Be Nice”) contains lyrics that steer towards an older, wiser version of existence:

 

Wouldn’t it be nice if we were older
Then we wouldn’t have to wait so long
And wouldn’t it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong

 

Riding the success of their mid-to-late teen years, Brian Wilson, Tony Asher, and Mike Love decided to write with more solemnity than in years past. The opening track clearly points towards a young man speaking of his longing to find himself in his elder years. Although we all go through periods of personal transformation, most of us do it in the quietness of our own homes. For Brian and the rest of “The Beach Boys,” their transformation debuted at no. 10 on the billboard charts—just two months after the album’s initial release.

Although a shift in musical direction might prognosticate a wanting of success, quite the opposite happened. In fact, Sir James Paul McCartney has openly stated that The Beatles follow-up album Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) was written “in direct response to The Beach Boy’s achievement.” Paul Williams, editor of Crawdaddy magazine, posited in May of 1966 that, “Pet Sounds was the best rock album yet.” Some Beatle Maniacs might suggest a certain eighth studio album by a band across the pond to be the vanquisher of such an achievement; regardless of its rank, Pet Sounds still hits listener ears with joy and interest as we celebrate its 50th birthday.

 

In the newest release, we get both mono and stereo versions, as well as, a second disc with an instrumental version of Pet Sounds, and, in addition, a half-dozen-or-so various live recordings. It’s quite an augmentation of the original thirty-six minutes comprising thirteen brief tracks. It’s an album that millions have listened to from front to back. It goes by in a blur. From “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” to “God Only Knows” to the final track, “Caroline No,” we hear a new aesthetic standard: orchestral colorations projecting a carnival of fun; harmonies advancing with a madrigal, renaissance-driven aptitude; a new wall of wound of the Beach Boy archetype; lyrics pushing beyond the surfer genre and into a new subconscious of an elder type.

 

50 years later. Ears of generations old and new sit down for a re-listening. Pet Sounds is being further elevated into a firmament hosting the greatest in rock n’ roll. Alongside Phil Spector’s “Be My Baby,” Mick Jagger’s “Midnight Rambler,” and The Beatles “Let It Be,” Pet Sounds continues sharing space somewhere in a rock n’ roll heaven.