Friday, June 22, 2012

Two-"man"-ish indie rock concert sizzles at Schubas

CHICAGO--At first, I suspect it's just my court-mandated medication that has me hearing things.

I mean, it certainly isn't the star performer making me distractable. Brendan Losch has nothing if not stage presence. He's at the microphone, guitar in hand as comfortably as a rod is in a fisherman's, his quiet humility balanced seamlessly with his curious blend of crafted showmanship.

Currently, he's singing "Tired from Sleeping," the first track off his latest album Low (which was preceded last fall by Under, and last year's Down). The lyrics, as always, stir me: 
Tired of trying
Nothing goes my way
So sick of lying
To myself...

As I watch, I can't help but think of what Shakespeare said about the man "that hath no music in himself," how that man "is fit for treasons, stratagems and spoils." Losch clearly is not that man. Which reminds me: I need to call Homeland Security and convince them to take him off their wiretap list. Honest mistake of a tip on my part. Anyone with a beard like that deserves government scrutiny.

Still, there's something oddly...deja vu-ish about this performance. I listen more closely to his singing:

Tired of trying
Nothing goes my way
So sick of lying
To myself...

He and accompanying musician John Morton have been driving the crowd to a screaming frenzy for forty minutes now. And there are only two of them. I had asked Morton in a pre-show interview how two musicians, however talented and able to multitask, were going to simultaneously play two guitars, percussion, chimes, glockenspiel and assorted banjos, kazoos and hooch jugs while harmonizing Losch's lyrics exploring the meaning of individuality in the face of the pressure to conform?

"I can loop that stuff on my keyboard," Morton told me before the show. "Looping is what professional musicians do. And I'm professional. And a musician. So I'll loop. Now bugger off."

Indeed I did. And indeed he does. Loop, that is. Through their set, Losch has claimed most of the attention with his electrifying presence, leaving Morton to set up various riffs, sound effects and midi files of people cheering and clapping ("just to warm up the audience," he told me before the show, "which is what professionals do, something you wouldn't know anything about. Say, when are you leaving again?"). And the outcome is plain to see.

But something still seems off. Losch's voice is strained, and his posture is a bit more deflated than it was ten minutes ago, when the song...first started?

No, that can't be right. I listen again, trying to dope out whether this is part of the indie rocker's mandatory ethos, or whether it really is time to change my meds:
Tired of trying
Nothing goes my way
So sick of lying
Up here...
This sounds vaguely familiar. I squint at my notes, realizing that Losch is repeating the first verse of the song, which he began...forty-two minutes ago. I look more carefully at him and realize he's sweating bullets, his hands are shaking, and the friendly smile with which he had been engaging the audience is now somewhat strained, complemented with scathing glares towards the back of the bar.

Following this gaze, I see Morton towards the back, chatting up a brunette.

Oh yeah. I just noticed: Morton left the stage a half hour ago.

Losch sings again:
Tired of singing
Morton went away
So sick of carrying
This song...
Wuh oh.

Apparently, Morton has looped his entire performance for "Tired of Sleeping" and then, finding himself bored and with nothing to do, quietly slipped off stage, leaving Losch to perform the rest of the song by himself. Unfortunately for Losch, Morton's looped music is on Replay, and with no way to wind down the melodics by himself, Losch has resorted to coming up with every possible permutation of the song's lyrics he can think of while Morton talks animatedly with whatever woman he's found who's drunk enough to pretend to take him seriously. This would explain why he's been on the same song for forty-three minutes in a row. Not that the audience cares. They'd listen to him sing his favorite recipe, as long as he accompanies it with the appropriate guitar riffs.

"I mean, the thing about music is, it's got to be good," Morton is now telling the brunette, who appears to be listening politely while smacking herself in the face to make his presence less painful by comparison. "Because nobody likes music that is bad. You see? You see how that works?"

"Excuse me, John," I interrupt, gesturing subtly towards the stage. Behind him, the brunette mouths Help me, but I ignore her. I've got bigger fish to fry. "You know, Brendan, uh..."

"Yeah, yeah," Morton grunts, trying to wave me off. Clearly, he thinks he's got this woman all but seduced. "Looped music, professionals. I'm a professional, man. Just go draw your pictures in your notebook."

"I'm a reporter."

"What ever!" he snaps, diving into a pocket and chucking its contents on the floor. "Look, here's a quarter. Now leave me alone."

Not being made of stone, I scamper off to retrieve the coin, which has rolled under a nearby stool. But I can't ignore the situation much longer--Losch's singing has become quite hoarse. Not exactly the hanging-to-sanity-by-my-fingertips-on-the-edge-of-a-cliff hoarse, but definitely the if-that-guy-doesn't-bail-me-out-soon-I-may-go-postal hoarse you hear from musicians looking for a break in the set. Certainly, his lyrics are starting to betray his desperation:
Tired of performing
Want to go away
So sick of
"Also, music has to be different," Morton was telling his fan. "Not original--I mean, we rip stuff off all the time. But we do it differently. So, music: good and different. Which I am. Now come home with me."

"I think Brendan needs you up there," I say, tugging his sleeve.

"I told you," Morton snarled. "I looped it. Christ!" And with that, he's out the door, figuring that, after getting one song completed in a now-approaching-fifty-minute set, he's earned his $12.50 commission for the evening. The brunette seems to have ducked out a side door. I can only watch her exit in complete envy.

Hours later, I'll visit Losch in the hospital, where he'll be hooked up to an IV, his calm demeanor all but abandoned, his own commission for the evening handed over to a South Side bounty hunter who's promised to return Morton to him in pieces, starting from the waist down. But before he collapses off the stage and is passed around in what must be this place's first crowd-surfing-the-unconscious stunt, I take note of how Losch, bereft of all accompaniment but his own wit, rises to the occasion:
...kill John Morton...
I'm hoping that one makes the B-side.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

How to entertain party guests: A tutorial

When guests are over for a party, it's very important to me to make sure they know they're welcome. Or tolerated. Or expected to clean up and make room for my real friends once they show up. And since I don't like to be too obvious about such things, I've found that written reminders about the house is a subtle way to make your will and wishes known to a bunch of drunk strangers tearing up your living room and rummaging your bookshelves for your hidden pornography stash.

As you all know, we’re celebrating the Solstice, which is the longest day of the year, which means every day afterwards will be shorter, serving as a continual reminder of the fact that we're all going to die. Drink up! (posted on front door
Coats go in the spare bedroom. Shoes in the garage. Wallets and purses in the sack outside. And your coats and shoes are perfectly safe. (in the hallway
If everyone gave me $100, I'd be that much closer One Percent Status. (in living room, next to big tip jar, which remained empty
You do know you were supposed to pay a cover, right? (on the back patio wall
I don't throw parties. I assemble congregations of acquaintances based on proximity and compatibility, procure provisions and provide my domicile for free range roaming and interaction. (next to phone
If you see the rest of us together, leave the room. We're talking about you behind your back. (in family room
Someone has the party favor shoved down their pants! Who's going to find it first? (taped to the front of my pants
Don't worry. That car alarm is so not yours. And I'm so not trying to get a new car stereo. (in the garage
Did you know Richard Russo is at the Chicago Printer’s Row Lit Fest as we speak? You’d better be as entertaining as Richard Russo. (on the bookshelf
Variety? You want variety? We got Coors and Coors light. There’s your variety. (on the basement fridge
I despise you people. (on the inside of the front door
I don’t know how you found it, but rest assured, that rubber ball and leather strap is only for the guest of honor. Now take these pills. (in the bathroom
Look, I’m sympathetic. Dogbites can be painful. But you clearly ventured into the dogs' side of the house. (wall of the upstairs hallway) 
When I have to kick a lot of people out of my house because an old enemy has returned from the dead to battle my alter ego, I usually get real drunk and badmouth everyone in a belligerent tirade about their overall freeloading and shallowness until they get disgusted and leave. Learned it from Batman Begins. Just an FYI. (not posted anywhere, but a mass text I sent the next morning to explain my drunken badmouthing of everyone about their freeloading and shallowness, which prompted their disgust and leaving)