Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Aragon Ballroom is no Aragorn...Not so dashing...

One of the major ways that I am dealing with readjustment is with rock concerts. Music helps. Music becomes the happy little center  of my world when I can’t otherwise function, and if I have enough music I can do almost anything. After a weekend of recovering from jetlag by moving naked from one couch to the next, I was ready for music.

I had two events lined up, the first being an Alt-J concert and the second being Riot Fest. Alt-J was up first, a Monday evening show that I was really quite excited to see. It was supposed to  be at the Congress Theater, which is an awesome venue, but for some reason all the shows at the Congress had been canceled so far, and the show got moved over to the Aragon Ballroom.

I remember seeing the ballroom  off the Lawrence exit for what feels like my entire life; sometimes, I’d watch the winking lights on my way down to the city from Shimer and wonder at what sort  of mysteries it might hold in  there. When I heard the show got moved I was not very upset, more excited and curious and full of a delighted wonder to see what it would be like.

And Alt-J.


This is a band that consumed my life for some months since I first discovered them back  in November and they have been  around, close, there, since then. There is something in it that speaks to the happy and sad part of my soul. I have lost  myself countless times in rhythm and motion, forgetting everything but, entranced by music, fluid movement. It is wondrous when a band can do this to me and I love it. I love losing myself in it.

Watching these things live is even more powerful for me. Perhaps I’ve written live music, but watching an artist perform live is like being in bed with them. It’s sexual, it’s powerful. I like to watch their lips and bodies move and take a moment to be alone with them, regardless of the number of people there, to fall down into their voice, into the rhythm and sound and disappear.

Combining all of that with Alt-J, yes, this would be the sort of medicine to make my soul sanguine once more.

I caught the train after work to Lawrence and got there in plenty of time for the show. Chicago was hot and sticky on this particular fall day, which was annoying, having just left the constant heat of Korea. I was looking more for a cool, balmy, fall afternoon, but instead I got the palm-sweaty humid splay of Midwestern weather unable to make up its mind. Apparently it was close to forty-degree weather in Chicago (something like 96F) on a nice September day.

Fine, I could deal. I had, in fact, dealt with rather a lot of hot weather in Korea just before leaving, what with our three-week streak of weather in the forties. Weather so bad that I actually took my dog to work to make sure that he would not be harmed in the heat. So we were going to have hot weather in Chicago, I figured I could handle it.

I had dinner in the bar restaurant downstairs from my job, and then hopped on the train to head north, getting to the show just before seven. I was on the train with a number of other people who clearly were also  headed the same way, which lent an extra air of excitement. So popular, my obscure little band. I didn’t care, I was looking forward to seeing them.

I got to the ballroom and went through some rather thorough security.

“You sure have a lot of stuff in that bag.”

“Yes, I’ve just come from work.”

She had me open every nook  and cranny until finally I said to her “Look it’s all tampons, and coffee mugs, can we be done here?” To which she waved me past.

I got up to the second door and pulled out my phone to load my ticket. And of course, my phone lost internet signal so I couldn't get my ticket to come up. This started the first round of fresh hell, as they wouldn’t let me progress without a ticket. I got sent back to the ticket booth where I explained my problem.

At the booth they said it would be five dollars. I said fine, and laid down some money.

Then a scruffy man came forward. Thinking I was to follow him I went back through  security, again (still tampons, lady) and headed to the door. They wouldn’t  let me in, I didn’t have a ticket. Back to the booth. Booth lady told me to wait a minute. Finally after five minutes of waiting while I watched hundreds of people go up the stairs, I got a ticket and moved through.

The ballroom itself is huge and garish. The stage is set squarely in the center on the second floor and all around the edges are booth selling drinks, popcorn, hot dogs, and pretzels. There is a balcony above that overlooks the show. The crowd was not too deep in front of the stage, so I pushed through and managed to  be just one person behind front of stage, which was fine with me.

Since I had been running back and forth from security to booth I was hot. I figured I’d cool down once I could just stand, but that was not to be.

I just got hotter.

It took me a minute to realize that the reason I was getting hotter was because there  was no air-conditioning. Occasionally we might get a hint of something cool, but for the most part there was no air-conditioning. I hoped that once I calmed a bit it would be okay.

It would not be okay.

The first act was interesting, but so much like a Phish-inspired troupe that I was bored. The third song sounded so much like the first song that I actually thought for a minute they were repeating their set. Eventually it finished up and I was standing there: hot, dripping sweat, and feeling slightly sick to my stomach.

Jet lag, I told myself.

I waited stoically through the 45 minutes that it took the stage to get set up for Alt-J, wiping my brow on the edge of my skirt, as I did not have a handkerchief. The ballroom was full at this  point, and I was in the thick of it. My stomach started to hurt more and I felt dizzy.

When Alt-J took the stage it was transcendent. Fortunately for me they played my favorite song second, because three bars into the third song, I was pushing through the crowd reflexively, knowing that I was about to pass out. At one point I got stuck with  my arms out, trying to move forward, and someone grabbed my hand and helped me keep going. I ended up against a set of stairs and then in the medical tent, which had  been busy that night. I was not the only person who had been overcome by the heat. They kept me for a few minutes, but eventually I stood up to try to find a better, slightly cooler, position to enjoy the show. One of the security people pointed out there were fans near the stairs, so I walked that way. Where I ended up was so far back in the hall that I couldn’t see the show and was still miserably hot.

I called it, texted a boy, and took the next, fabulously cold El downtown to head home.

My consolation prize was, that although this sucked, I was going to Riot Fest on the weekend, and I was severely looking forward to it.

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