The places I used to go see live music

Humdrum 59

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Riot Fest was just happened in Chicago. I’ve never been to this music fest, but a friend of mine has been for 15 years in a row! I’m so impressed with her dedication, to this fest and other things. Mindy is what people mean when they say steadfast.

She’s also (obviously) wild about music and goes to concerts often. I used to, in fact she was my concert buddy many years ago, before I morphed into this cranky old lady who’s lost patience craning her neck to see the band she paid to see. She also gets bored and fidgety standing and doesn’t like being out late.

That said, I do like going to live shows from time to time, when I have a seat. (Or those mysterious times I get the bug for dancing). But I’ve stopped paying attention to new music with the fervor I had in my early 20s. I used to scan The Reader (a real newspaper!) for what bands were coming to town, which now seems adorable and quaint. Nowadays I listen to the same albums, same artist over and over for months at a time. I’m a serial monogamist when it comes to music. Partly because I’m lazy. I know what I like and I just need some music on!

But inspired by my Riot Fest friend, I started thinking of the shows and venues I’ve seen over the years. Chicago is an awesome city for music, from these small gritty places that pump with energy to these big auditoriums built more for watching a performance. Inevitably, any conversation you have about a band you saw leads into a convo about where you saw them. The where is important. Not every venue suits every band and a mismatch leads to a crappy experience. Some loud or upbeat band that makes your toes tap, you need a dance floor. For chiller music, like cellist Zoe Keating, you’d want to sit. 

So here’s music venues I’ve been to in Chicago, roughly organized in chronological order, dating back to ~2006. This isn’t a complete list but what came to mind when I skimmed over my music-going history.

Aragon: Stars on the ceiling and turrets in the corner and a huge open floor excellent for dancing and jumping along to Muse’s powerful electronic/rock blend.

The Riviera (The Riv): Weathered. There’s balcony seating so when you are old and/or need space this is perfect. But I was on the floor back in the day, bopping along to Imogen Heap.

Grant Park:  Lollapalooza. Sun, sweat, hoards of youths. Three things I don’t like but back in the ‘00s I relished the opportunity to see a bunch of bands in one place. 

Metro: My memory is of dim lighting with a blue glow, a cool haze with Sia’s pale head in the middle of it all. 

Schubas: I know I saw a band here, in the back room of this restaurant, but I’m blanking on who. I feel that the band was fronted by a woman and the lighting made the small venue glow red and purple

Lyric Opera: Big and elegant performance space. Looking back, Damien Rice scruffy warble feels out of place in a theater with soft fabric chairs. He’s more a ripped vinyl kind of guy. 

Congress Theater: Huge, cavernous, but boy oh boy did Explosions in the Sky’s powerful instrumental music fill up the space.

Union Park: More sun, sweat, and youths, but in a manageable area. It was easier to toss a blanket on the ground and chill for a sec at Pitchfork than Lolla. 

House of Blues: Small, some might say intimate or energetic depending on the band (Mute Math!), but I always felt crushed here. 

Northerly Island: Huge, outdoor venue by Soldier Field and Lake Michigan. Meh, I’m just not a fan of outdoor venues, but at least there were proper seats. Saw Incubus there with Mindy (She loves Incubus forever).

Ravinia: Outdoor park, kinda in the suburbs. Bring a picnic basket and jockey for space on the grass or pay for a seat.  

The Vic: A space that could have a gritty, yet intimate vibe if not for the tall-beer carrying dudes swaying into you. Not a good place to hear the softer songs of Ben Harper.

Park West: It’s like a wide lounge, with more seating than dance floor. The hippest venue of the bunch. Marina (who was Marina and the Diamonds at the time) was/is way cooler than me.

Concord Music Hall: Intimate with limited capacity. You have to stand and be prepared to dance so Walk the Moon was a perfect fit.

Thalia Hall: Charming, old-timey. Could just as easily see this stage being used for a magic act or a burlesque show as cellist Zoe Keating. 

City Winery: Enjoyed a nice meal, drank wine made on the premises, and tapped my foot along with fun, charismatic jazz singer Cyrille Aimee.

United Center: Massive sports arena, a space for spectacle. Muse delivered. 

Jay Pritzker Pavilion (in Millennium Park): Free lawn seating. Bring a picnic and listen to the classical music, jazz, blues or whatever is going on in summer.

Uncommon Ground: Restaurant with so-so food but a decent place to grab a bite and listen to up-and-coming bands like Tiny Shoulders.

In conclusion…

These are my favorites, partly because I liked something about the space itself but in part because I had a blast at the show: Concord Music Hall because I prefer smaller venues and the energy in the Walk the Moon show still fills my memories with happiness. And seeing the symphony at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion is one of my favorite Summer in Chicago activities. Outside yes, but it’s perfect for hanging out with friends and drinking wine and eating cheese, with the sparkling city as a backdrop. It’s the best.

Reading | Watching | Listening

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai. Revisiting Something Bright, Then Holes, Maggie Nelson’s collection of poems. What’s the difference between anxiety and ambition? In The Crane Wife, the writer struggles with the expectation to be “low maintenance” for her fiance. Caroline Calloway and the Complicated Ethics of Publishing Personal Essays Online (no need to say more). The Price I Pay to Write, or how pop culture gets writing wrong. The Indicator podcast from Planet Money.

About this newsletter

Humdrum is written by Christina Brandon, who has no upcoming concerts scheduled yet. Purchase her memoir Failing Better anywhere you want, including Amazon. Connect with her by replying to this email or jumping on Twitter or Instagram. And tell friends to subscribe!