Monday, September 03, 2007

Call Them Chicago

One of my earliest favorite bands appeared at the California State Fair last night. Not only was I was looking forward to hearing Chicago live for the first time, I also planned to take as many photos as my camera’s memory would allow. I already had my media credential and I expected that, like the Tesla concert that opened the Fair, I would be allowed access to get some good close-ups. It saddens me to say that I was thoroughly disappointed on all counts.

Upon arrival, I was admitted to the reserved seating area. It was about an hour before the scheduled show time and I wanted to check my angles, pre-compose my shots and dial in my camera settings. So far, so good, but after about 15 minutes, I was approached by security personnel and told that I would not be able to remain where I was without a credential from the band. Ok, where do I get such a credential? “At the media center,” I am told. Fine, off to the media center I go.

And the people manning the media center have no idea what I’m talking about. They explained that I needed to talk to the band’s promoter. Of course, they were unavailable. So I’m relegated to the general admission area… and my lens was just long enough to get some halfway decent shots from there… if I could have stayed there. Again security told me I had to move back. When I asked how far, the security supervisor relayed my question via radio. The response, ostensibly “from the band” was “about 150 miles away.” Nothing like reaching out to embrace the media!

I ended up by the mixing board, much too far to get anything worthwhile. Around the entrances to the seating areas were signs warning that video and audio recording devices were prohibited. This is not an unusual request, but barring media the way this band did was more than just a little over the top. Then came an in-between songs announcement from Robert Lamm, one of the original band members:

I know you all have your audio recorders and you video cameras and your... cameras. And your cell phones. I want you all to take them out right now and take pictures of us, take pictures of yourselves… and I want you all to put them up on YouTube.

I didn’t have my digital audio recorder with me, so the preceding is paraphrased, but that is the essence of what he said. I don’t know if I sufficiently captured the sarcasm that oozed from his statement, however, especially in light of the signs so prominently posted at every entrance. Combined with what can only be described as an antagonistic relationship with the press, I can only draw one conclusion. And today, after snooping around the band’s official website, I find that they invite photographers to send their photos of the band so that they might be featured, fully accredited, on their website. Color my world confused.

Ah, but what about the music? Was it wonderful? Did it move me like I knew it would? Maybe it would have, had I stayed long enough. They came on about 10 minutes late and proceeded to play their newer stuff; the stuff that has met with so much commercial indifference; the stuff that nobody really cared about. When they finally did get to the classic Chicago, it just stunk. Yea, it stunk, sorry. I know there were thousands of their legions cheering the band on. I know that they were truly surprised and pleased that so many were in attendance. I also know they stunk. Ok, they were competent musically. They were fairly tight (not, however, even close to what I have experienced from many other “professionals”), but they had a job to do and in my humble opinion, they failed miserably.

I walked out after about 30 minutes. They had a little more than an hour left from what was allotted to them - and they might have delivered in that time, but they failed to set the hook - I was gone. I won’t be back - not unless I’m with an organization that can navigate their “rules.” And then it will be strictly business. Chicago has been around a long time. On their website, their story spans 13 chapters, the last is titled, “Call Them Chicago.” A fitting title considering the only thing that resembles the band in its heyday is the name.


Michele said...

What a shame. Really! It must have been very disappointing as both a photographer and a fan.

Rhetorical question: do you think your confusion and anger at the way they treat media affected your opinion of the music? This is rhetorical because I know you are able to separate professional disappointment from musical appreciation. However, I expect it could seriously taint the enjoyment of the evening.

Non-rhetorical question: Has this one concert changed your opinion about the band and it's music? You said it was an early favourite, does it remain a favourite, or is it more of a nostalgic fondness?

What, you are surprised I have questions? C'mon, you knew I would.

On a personal note: I am quite fond of the song "Make Me Smile," from their "Live in Japan" album. There is nothing, not even a bad concert, that could make me *not* smile when I hear that song.

Again, I am sorry to hear (well, read) that the concert was disappointing. However, I do hope that something about that evening prompted you to smile.

Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry your experience was so disappointing - I always find it so when a performer or group fails to live up to my expectations, even though, as a performer myself, I know that we all have "off" days.

Michele sent me.

Mike Davis said...

That really is disappointing, both professionally and as a fan.

Thanks for stopping by earlier!


MonkeyMan said...

I was at the same show and wonder if you paid attention to the "30 minutes" you were there?! They opened with a (first time I've heard it) Introduction/Questions 67 & 68 - played Dialogue and then "Feel" from XXX. That is the only time they played anything from XXX. They did two other medleys "Love Me Tomorrow/No Tell Lover" & three hits from 19 "I Don't Wanna Live Without Your Love"/"Look Away"/"You're Not Alone" The rest of the show (in no particular order) included Just You n' Me, Feelin' Stronger, Beginnings, Does Anybody Really.., I'm A Man, The Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon, Call on Me, 25 or 6 to 4, Free, Hard to Say I'm Sorry/Getaway, Hard Habit to Break, You're the Inspiration, Saturday in the Park. My biggest disappointment is that they never addressed the fact6 that both Jimmy Pankow and Walt Parazaider were not there. Although their performance was very good, the horn section doesn't have "one lung" From the crowd's very positive reaction, it was obvious that being a faceless band has it's advantages. Even Mr. Althouse didn't know that 2/3 of the horn section was substitutes.

Michael K. Althouse said...

Gerry - (from Rancho Cordova? close?)

I was somewhat taken aback at your impassioned rebuttal to my opinion. I was tempted, albeit very briefly, to delete your comment altogether. But as modern cliché goes, “Cooler heads prevailed” and I decided to do something I rarely ever do - respond to your comment with one of my own.

It is painfully obvious that you are a huge Chicago fan - much more so than I. I couldn’t say which of their thirty albums any particular song came from, but I can usually determine the era. I don’t consider Chicago 19 “classic,” sorry. It is also quite apparent that you have spent a great deal of time (and money?) following the band. Nothing wrong with that, in my youth I have spent many a foolish dollar seeing the same group over and over again. Hey, were you the one they mentioned that was attended his 104th Chicago concert? You know, the one they clowned?

I’ll grant that the show might have rebounded after I left, but is sure wasn’t all that before I did. Color My World stunk. It just did. Feelin’ Stronger did too. Maybe the band wasn’t as tight as it should have been because of the depleted horn section - I have nothing but recordings to compare it with - and there is no comparison. Even with their live recordings from days gone by - these guys used to be TIGHT. But as you pointed out, they aren’t “these guys" anymore, are they?

I think that it is telling that in the first page of your Google search for “chicago, state fair,” turned up only one hit for what you were looking for - my review, such as it is. There were no screaming accolades to be found. With all those fans and their video cameras and their audio recorders… and YouTube, one would think there might have been one love-fest online.

But no. Not even you Gerry, who has no blog, bothered to write anything positive. All you had within you was to rebut my opinion on my blog. And you are welcome, I hope you feel better and perhaps show number 105 will be better. I won’t be there unless I’m paid to be.

Mr. Althouse
Fair Oaks

Michele said...

Oh, I do hope Gerry comes back. Such a fine response deserves to be read by the person who provoked it.

Plus, I should thank him, without THAT comment, I might never have discovered that the new name for obsessed groupie is "gerry" Really, how would I have known that?

Mental note to self: contact Mike for pointers the next time a fool stops by and comments on my blog.

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

Ahh. A valuable lesson in what NOT to do. Not sure for whom, unless I work it into fiction somehow. Not a bad idea, come to think of it.

I've had experiences like this, of course. I don't think you can work around music for any length of time without having a few.

But I do wonder: what is it with these bands that refuse to die that causes them to become prima donnas in their old age? It's almost as if they hide behind these unreasonable rules because they know it's the only way people will talk about them anymore.


Really. This might make great fiction.

Theo said...

well. it seems that this is a canidate for an adventure that only "makes one late for dinner."

i am sorry to hear that the real Chicago no longer exists. such is the case with many of the great bands of our time.

thanks for the look into your life on life's terms AND your processing of such.

Lee Ann said...

I see that Bruce Springsteen is doing a tour. I wonder if he can hold up to his reputation as "The Boss".
Keith Richards actually got mad and fired back at the media saying they needed to apologize for saying that he could not keep up with the riff of Brown Sugar.
Sometimes, things are better left as memories.

Melody said...

How disappointing for you! Nothing worse than seeing one of your favourite bands perform under par. (or is that over par?) I agreee with Lee Andd that sometimes things are better left as memories. I'd hate to see U2 in 30 years time and them not pull it off like they do currently. I probably would have walked out too...

mckay said...

how does the old saying go? "old musicians never die...they just sound that way."

live music rarely sounds as good as a studio recording. i love concerts for the raw theatricality of the performance. sounds like chicago could work on their gamesmanship.

wanna know of an awesome on stage performance of older rockers? heart. go see those two ladies if you ever get a chance. they blew me away.

awareness said...

Not much to add the juicy comments all 'round.

What a shame the concert was such a dud, though it doesn't surprise me. I think for the most part old band concerts are hit and miss. Even Dylan has been known to blow off 4 bad concerts for one amazing one. Why take the risk? The other night, a friend was talking about an upcoming Genesis concert in Toronto (I wouldn't be caught attending for various reasons.....) They are asking 250.00 Cdn Dollars per ticket!! I find that absolutely appalling. Having written that? I think I'd still head over to a Stones concert is one was in the offing. Keith may be mummified by now, but he's always entertaining in his whiskey soaked craggy way....and Jagger? The man can still rev it up for the audience. :)

Michael K. Althouse said...

Gerry did come back. Apparently he had nothing more to say. He came from the same IP address though - one that identifies very specifically where he works. Tsk, tsk.

Mark said...

What a drag.

Nice shot you got before you packed it in, though.

I have a buddy who's always talking about bands like Chicago, Journey, et cetera (not Peter Cetera) and how they're all still touring and making new music.

To me they are no longer the same bands, and they are no longer bands I'll listen to unless I'm with said buddy. He's probably reading this, because I'm about to send him a link, but I think he already knows this.

Unique Designs from Zazzle said...

what a bummer! no wisdom from Chicage; I guess they believe they have everything they need and nothing more to gain

Perplexio said...

I stumbled over here from Barbara's "Writing from the Inside Out" blog (in particular thanks to a comment you posted to one of her more recent entries).

I've been a Chicago fan since I was 11 years old (in 1988). It was their 80s music which initially caught my ear but as I grew to discover their back catalog it was THAT which held my attention.

I've seen Chicago 9 times over the years (starting in 1993). Some of the shows were good, and some they just seemed to be going through the motions.

I love this band for what they once were. What they are now is a sad disgrace compared to what they were. At some of the shows this year Lee Loughnane and Robert Lamm were the only original members on stage!

Original Chicago drummer, Danny Seraphine, started a new band called California Transit Authority (kind of an homage to Chicago in that regard). They recently released an album titled Full Circle. Even though Danny is the only member of Chicago in that new band-- that band captures the spirit and energy of the original Chicago far moreso than the band that still bears that name.

I haven't seen Chicago live since 2004 and I have no real intention of doing so ever again. I'd rather keep my fond memories of their better days intact than soil them with new memories of the travesty the current band has become.

Your assessment is quite spot on.