Tuesday, May 22, 2007

From the 'Fire to the Ambulance

Any weekend that begins with The Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre, takes a detour to the emergency room via ambulance the next day and ends with The Hold Steady at the Sokol Underground has to rank up with one of the most memorable weekends in my life.

First off - The Arcade Fire at the Chicago Theatre - Friday, May 18
The theatre itself is amazing. For local readers, I would only describe it as The Rococo Theatre in a far more lush setting. Two-ton chandeliers, renaissance-style paintings on the ceiling. The band loves playing in churches, but there was plenty of religion going on. Starting with a grainy photo of a salt of the Earth preacher (it looked like it was taken from the film Jesus Camp), the band went into the title track of their excellent follow-up to Funeral, Neon Bible. Highlights are too numerous to count, but seeing Richard Reed Parry furiously bang a drum at the front of the stage in perfect synchronicity with drummer Jeremy Gara and seeing virtually the entire theater go into a jumping fit with the rousing set closer "Rebellion" were well worth the eight-hour trip.

The next day I grabbed a steak at this decent steakhouse in downtown Chicago. After nibbling on a decent cut of rib eye, my heart started racing. I only had two cups of coffee during the day while I was record store browsing with a few friends. No big deal. I went outside, saying I had to take a call - and used a few deep breathing techniques I picked up when I enrolled in this super cheap yoga class. Still didn't help. I wasn't agitated or anything, but when you're in that situation, stuff goes through your head. I kept thinking of Chris Ayers' repeated hypochondriac visits to his doctor in his book War Reporting for Cowards and the Flaming Lips' song "Mr. Ambulance Driver" kept running through my head. I thought of my dad dying of a heart attack at the age of 43. I got back to the hotel - after a one-hour ride, and my heart was still racing. We were outside of the city limits of Chicago and had no idea where a hospital was. Finally, I told my friend to call an ambulance. I'm dreading the bill for this - but at that point, I could think of no other option. There was no way to stop my heart from racing. After a few hours in the ER and an IV drip, I was sent home.

I came back to Omaha - thinking "all of my relocation money has evaporated faster than John McCain's credibility." I was still lightheaded from the experience, the hellishly boring drive through Iowa and general lack of sleep. But there was still one more show to see: The Hold Steady.

Summoning up my reserves, I went and was treated to an equally life-affirming set from the Minneapolis-turned New York pilsner poets. The Heartless Bastards performed a great, solid, bluesy opening set that made me want to check them out if they ever get to The Waiting Room. The show itself took on the feel of a baseball game: lots of jerseys, kids tailgating from their cars and a whole lot of screaming. Craig Finn was in full rock star mode, waving his hands around, spilling fables that would make Mike Skinner of the Streets envious. The band played most of Boys and Girls in America, but my personal favorites came from "Cattle and the Creeping Things" and "Your Little Hoodrat Friend" from their near-flawless Separation Sunday. The band closed with "Killer Parties." Surrounded with 300 or so-odd folks (with the gray haired population proudly representin' even though Monday was a workday), I kept thinking of another incident where my heart would start racing uncontrollably again. But if I was to drop at the concert, I could proudly say "The Hold Steady almost killed me."

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