Saturday, October 9, 2010
Cortland's Ain't No Garage
Hearing the name Cortland’s Garage and finding that it’s close to the highway in Bucktown, combined with the fact that Good Apples were invited to play a 2-hour set there, created in my mind an image of a rock’n’roll bar, maybe a bit upscale as compared to our prior venues like Ronny’s and The Mutiny. We did have to bring our own PA, so I knew it wasn’t a club that has regular live music, but the prospect of getting paid to play a Friday night gig made the extra effort worthwhile. We haven’t played in public since May, so we were ready to show off our new material, some of which incorporates my Theremin: as opposed to this time last year when we were just starting, we actually have both the number of songs and the stamina to plan for 2 hours, no problem. Okay, a bit of a problem: my broken elbow, so no second guitar on songs that usually have it, but that’s a minority of tunes anyway. Who can resist a Theremin player/vocalist with her right arm in a splint, fronting a band that combines the best of the heavier side of punk and the darker side of heavy.
Kristy and I get off the Ashland bus, walked up Cortland, and we can immediately see the sign. Too bright for my imagined slightly-upscale rock bar. Indeed, as we walk closer, the block looks like a transplant from Lincoln Park: trixies and frat boys in a cookie-cutter sports bar with about ten big screen TVs lining the walls. Well, our friends will come, I figure, and even among the present clientele there are regular-looking people who came for a Miller or two on a very warm Indian summer night. Dillon, Gabor, and Pete have already set up our gear in a designated corner in this stageless establishment.
We don’t get a chance to do the sound check, which means that the first two songs with vocals, “Gem” and “Spectacle,” are our sound check effectively, with my vocal mic cutting in and out. We fix the mic and the levels, and then the promoter asks us to play less loudly. We oblige, and from “Dream” onward it’s smooth sailing. It says a lot about Gabor, Dillon and Pete that they maintain the same intensity in performance even when they’re much less loud, to the point that people can still have conversations while Good Apples rock in the background. A group of people leaves soon after we begin playing, but our friends keep trickling in, as well as more trixies and frat boys. We get a request to congratulate a brand new PhD, so we lead the crowd into an applause, and I think, being a bar band is really not bad at all.
“She Crashed My Car,” “Rock Hard,” “Epic,” “007 BC,” “Happy Ending”—we’re revved up, could go all night. There are two parallel scenes in the small bar, with our side populated by people listening to our show (the bus boys love us) and the side closer to the patio and the street doing their thing. But after we play “Happy Ending” (the song is best described as sung by the 18-year-old love child of Sneza and Iggy Pop, backed by the love children of The Slits and The Stooges) the show promoter approaches Dillon and now they are talking, but I can’t quite hear. I know it’s time for the last song in our first set, and then we’ll take a break before Elliott joins us and we do the second set. I say into the mic, “I think they’re asking us to tone it down some more.” But then Dillon explains to me that in fact the promoter is asking us to stop playing altogether, and we’ll still get paid the agreed amount.
Gabor: “So we’re getting paid to stop playing?”
I can’t hear what the promoter says.
Gabor: “And if we keep playing, will we get offered even more money to stop?”
Me: “Yeah, we play for free normally, so you’ll have to pay a lot more to stop us.”
Promoter: “You can play one more song.”
We decide to play “Used to Sing,” and Dillon prompts me to dedicate the song to “the suits.”
“This one goes out to those who are not even hearing that we’re dedicating it to them,” I say into the mic and then shout: “This one is for the suits, and the ties, and the shirts!!!” And while the audience thinks I’m being punk rock, the fact is, I don’t get off of antagonizing the yuppies, nor am I harboring illusions that they will hear anything, be offended, and stopped in their tracks for a millisecond. I’m aware that we are not more than annoying white-noise mosquitoes to the yuppies, and their purchasing power is enough to convince the managers/promoters to get us off the stage and turn Katie Perry back on. Our “resistance” consists merely in the fact that we don’t have it in us to dumb down and overproduce our sound in order to make a living out of music. That’s why this is Katie’s world, we just subsist in it.
“Used to Sing” is Nick’s favorite, and some other of our friends’, and they bop and sing with me.
The promoter later explains to Gabor that the reason they cut our show in half is because that group of people who left early on. The fact that the bar refilled very quickly didn’t sway the owner, so it must have been some regulars who drop a lot of money on the $12 burgers and $7 beers that left. More of Dillon’s friends come expecting to hear the second set, but it’s not going to happen.
Back home in Pilsen, Kristy and I meet my new next-door neighbor Alex, a musician and future sound engineer, and he asks us whether there is a music scene in Pilsen. And I have to say, no. Even though there are a lot of musicians, there is no venue in Pilsen where we all can congregate, play regular shows, hear each other, and reach some local music aficionados. Whenever someone tries to put an impromptu showcase in the neighborhood, it’s usually poorly organized, and finally broken up by the cops. As far as Pilsen goes, Leo’s Café Mestizo might be a part of the solution when it comes to acoustic acts. For the loud indie rock and underground hip-hop acts, we need to invent something, so that we don’t have to only rely on city-wide promoters unable to properly match artists with the clientele.
Nick’s idea: Bobbing for Apples, a Halloween show in Pilsen, featuring Bob Rok and DJ Mar and Good Apples. A barrel of apples floating in water, and some smart, intense rock and hip hop, anyone? But one thing is for sure: Bob Rok and Good Apples at the Hungry Brain, 11/22.
I can’t help but think about some of the people left behind in the small towns of Ohio or Missouri when the trixies and the frat boys move to Chicago to make it in the big city. Not to romanticize the long-decayed Rust Belt or The American Heartland, far, far from it. But perhaps there is a circuit of hidden dives in small towns where there are still people who’d feel the same kind of temporary but powerful relief when listening to Good Apples that the band gets from playing, so the listeners and the musicians become equally revved up in the process of converting the dread of the world into this strange, gripping sound our instruments create in our hands.