Social Anxiety is my new drug of choice, and it has destroyed my will to party in a room full of sweaty, drunken strangers. This is my takeaway from the HoZac Blackout Fest this weekend, which I did not attend. Here’s a complete rundown of a whirlwind 55-hour stretch during which I spent $60 for the privilege of not seeing all but three “hot” underground bands:
Friday, May 18th, 5:00pm: It is a gorgeous day in Chicago. I’ve bought a 3-day ticket to this Blackout Fest in a rush of vague, blind ambition. I intend to be here for the entire thing, and take notes, and come up with some kind of generation-defining rant about “the illusory power of the emergence myth” or something like that. But first: experience it. Really dig in. Be a journalist about it. Take it seriously. Then: really understand it. Really sum it up.
E.T. Habit: The frontman-less version of E.T. Habit consists of three people gamely supporting a drum kit large enough to assume prescience. The kit dwarfs everything else in the room. It blocks out the sun. I am aware of noises coming out of it. They are possible attempts at language. I focus my energy on resistance. I do not want to come under the sway of this monster. Some augmentations to its vocalization pattern are made by some other instruments I assume are nearby.
The “people” in the “band” are themselves instruments, played by the drum kit, through a relationship that is clearly parasitic, though it’s impossible to tell who is harming who. The sub-lingual noises coming from the drum kit organism could be construed as “music” to somebody who wanted to head down that road. I do not. I am standing here watching a drum kit, and it is dangerous. It is the root source of a giant fungus for which we are all (there are maybe 20 people here) in serious danger of becoming one with, against our individual will.
The soundtrack for this horrifying loss of identity is an Emerson, Lake and Palmer cover band that has been deprived of all sound except DRUM KIT. DRUM KIT NO KILL I. As the maracas and wood blocks come out in support of an extended drum solo clearly designed as a sort of psychic call to a not forthcoming dramatic entrance by their AWOL hairbeast of a vocalist, I’m having Trans Am flashbacks. It’s in the way I’m wondering if this band is more accurately interpreted as a comedy or tragedy. It succeeds at neither, but is clearly not meant to be taken on its own merits. No drum kit grows to that size without an agenda of some kind.
There are at least two photographers with professional-grade camera equipment documenting this hideous deformity of the “live music” format. That is a total of ten percent of people currently in attendance with a visible vested interest in documentation. My hidden intentions boost this to fifteen percent. Who knows how many more are lurking in the shadows, tweeting and blogging. I stumble out into the sunshine, gasping for breath.
I want a burger. I want to sit in the sunshine and eat a cheeseburger and watch a baseball game. I do not want to stand in a dingy rock club co-documenting some horrid mental enslavement process by which this incantation of “E.T. Habit” is falsely regarded as a “band” that is “part” of “something” that is “happening” rather than a comically large drum kit that has a bone to pick with your precious time.
Friday, May 18th, 6:15pm: As quickly and whim-based as my ambitions were formed, they are similarly broken. I go to a burger joint nearby and flip through the Blackout Fest program. This entire event seems to have been pre-documented. I am extraneous, both too early and way too late to the party. The evening continues to be gorgeous. I decide to go to my nearby apartment and watch the baseball game with the windows open.
Friday, May 18th, 6:15pm Plus 11 Innings Of Entertaining Baseball: That was an entertaining baseball game. I sat down on my couch in my own home for the entire duration. No oversized drum kits attempted to destroy my humanity. No photographers with professional-grade camera equipment placed themselves between me and the TV screen and desperately repositioned themselves like some hype-seeking species of spawning salmon. It was just a baseball game. I like watching baseball games.
I am now considering not going back to Blackout Fest. I have recently quit drinking alcohol in what is likely a pointless personal attempt to not be an asshole. Oh poor me. I’m not sure there is a way to enjoy Blackout Fest without alcohol. It’s called Blackout Fest. Enjoying Blackout Fest, or even going to Blackout Fest, seems less important to me right now than not being a drunken asshole. I decide on ingesting potentially abusable over-the-counter drugs in my medicine cabinet as a compromise. Mucinex is basically speed. Maybe this will help. Something has to. I can’t do this alone.
Video: This is a great band. The guitar sound is loud and simple. The front man is doing the arrogant-antagonistic schtick I always think people should do more often. It seems more honest than the meek thanks one usually hears in between songs. Putting a band together and playing music in front of other people who have paid money is an inherently arrogant act. The subtext of the impulse is “I deem myself worthy of your attention.” Might as well say it, too. This guy is maybe trying too hard at it. His banter is halting, like he’s convincing himself with every word. He might actually be more believable at meek thanks.
Several more documentarians have arrived on the scene. This time I spot as many as seven photographers with professional-grade camera equipment among the audience. These are joined by countless others who are documenting with less-professional cell phone-based equipment. The club is at maybe 40% of its capacity, but a majority of current occupants have deemed Video compelling enough to draw them to the stage, iPhones a-blazin’.
This band is not being experienced. It is being obliterated like Mike Teavee into millions of tiny pieces. It is being dissected, soaked in formaldehyde, and jarred in real time. The Mucinex has left me unduly sensitive to the constant camera flashes. Although I am enjoying the band enough to want to get close and dance and maybe heckle the halting banter and elevate and explore the experience for myself, I am forced to duck out and observe from the rear of the room, from which the band and its attending horde of amateur paparazzi look like some distant music-based electrical storm.
This guy’s patter is failing to account for this. What a tremendous missed opportunity to take this audience to task for, apparently, fawning over him. He, the “he” as presented, should be eating this up. That this development has not cracked through the shell of “we’re the best band ever” repetition is a failure of theatrical promise-making. He is instead wallowing in flimsy references to the NATO Summit protests. The guy needs schtick lessons. The band senses this. They interrupt with feedback, hoping to draw him back into the songs. This tension, too, is uncommented upon. The cameras flash away as if to encourage a kick to the face that never comes. The cameras are devouring the evening like swarming death-addicted piranha. All unaccounted for. The perfect crime.
The ghost of Jay Reatard enters my body and forces me to leave the club.
The Mucinex has me antsy. I do that thing where I go to the bathroom just to have a place to go. I reinvestigate the merchandise table which has not changed in five or six hours. Up next is Spider Fever and then Davila 666. The water buckets are dry. I think I remember vaguely liking that one Spider Fever 7”. I think I remember vaguely liking the idea of Davila 666. Everything is half-remembered and vague.
Smoking people are looking at me. I go down the street to buy gum because I don’t want to buy cigarettes. Nobody is smiling. The vibe is uptight and snarling. These people mean business. They are responding to the break between two bands like that one gag in Airplane! where the reporters run and push over the bank of pay phones. I never really got that gag until now. These people are silly. They look like they might be accomplishing something, but they are not enjoying themselves. I am not enjoying myself either. Before I realize what’s happening, I’m home in pajamas watching a movie.
Saturday, May 19th, 2:30pm-9:30pm: A friend has invited me to his house for an outdoor-based food and beer party for which the descriptor “barbecue” is accurate but factually inappropriate, and that’s where I am. More people arrive. The progression of events between meeting, socializing, imbibing with, and finally eating with strangers unfolds very slowly but amicably. I drink water and become, over time, comparatively more lucid than the rest of the crowd. This is a comfort. I have nice conversations with pregnant women. I find these people pleasant and welcoming.
In my idiotic-but-correct-at-the-time 20’s I would confuse these qualities with “boring,” pocket a couple of road beers, and split for Blackout Fest the instant I was able to fill up on free food, having through a series of loud faux pas extinguished whatever noncommittal hope I had of realizing a dimly held and impossibly debaucherous impulse to “smooth talk” my way into sexual intercourse with one of the pregnant woman. This is the sort of lifestyle-operation that Blackout Fest seems most fit to glorify. There was a time when I executed this program to near complete perfection.
At present I am not especially tempted to go back to Blackout Fest. There are no chairs. But seven hours is a long shift in patio furniture, and the Fest is close to my house.
The Homostupids: My timing is excellent. The Homostupids are just now playing the DJ off, and launch into some tremendous 4/4 punk. Tonight is much more crowded. I have a decent spot with space ahead of me to fliter into, but I’ve still got my bag. I ditch it and come back but there is no space. I attempt to penetrate, but it’s not much use. I lean against the wall in the back again.
The crowding seems to have cut down on the sheer volume of documentation, but those still documenting, and there are several, are necessarily displaying greater resilience. These must be the true, few balls-to-the-wall originals among the hardcore documentation scene. Searching for the root of this sneering mock admiration leads me to an intense feeling of vertigo as I can no longer tell who the audience is. It’s possible that all this music is just some kind of a clever ruse engaged in by a few people who are simply huge fans of being photographed by strangers. In the future, seedy rock clubs will be replaced by seedy take-a-picture-of-you clubs.
The band is great but my mind is clearly wandering. I ponder what could possibly be done to prevent my mind from wandering, briefly consider that there might be such a thing as a perfectly orchestrated set which the Homostupids as constituted are not capable of bringing to fruition, realize that this is the insane inner babbling of a Dave Matthews superfan, and actually prefer to conclude that the real problem is I am no longer capable of the human emotion of joy during a live performance of music. During this bout with introspection, I notice that I am behind an old guy. He is standing and watching just like me. I wonder what we’re getting out of this.
After the Homostupids are Gentleman Jesse & His Men followed by a special performance by Red Kross, doing their early material in an intimate club setting for the first time in Jesus Christ I am tired. I’m going home.
Sunday, May 20th, 12:30pm: I get a text from a friend about another cookout. I say damn right I would be interested, and could we please schedule it to conflict directly with the Blackout Fest? I have some important bands to not document.
Sunday, May 20th, 6:30pm: I talk to some dude’s Mom about Japanese weather patterns for 50 minutes. I am in heaven.
Sunday, May 20th, 8:30pm: Looks like I have free access to Election starring Matthew Broderick thanks to Amazon Prime. I was just thinking about this movie the other day. I think it was the part where it just cuts to a caveman’s dick for like 10 straight seconds while Matthew Broderick talks about moving to New York. Man, everybody is so perfect in this movie. I remember loving it, then overwatching it and getting over it, and now it’s great again for whole new reasons. What a perfect display of casting. Just a complete 10 out of 10 for everybody being exactly who they’re supposed to be.
I am currently in the middle of not feeling guilty because of not enjoying Roky Erickson as much as I would feel obliged to pretend to. I am currently enjoying the death of my own ambition to document something that I know for a fact is being overdocumented. I am currently not trying to claim my part of anything “emergent.” I am currently washed up but still alive, no longer fighting the riptide currents of Hype Ocean, and I am currently planning to fire up the grill and have people over on Monday. I am scheming up a way to profit from my documentation of the Chicago underground barbecue scene. Music is cashed. I am dead cold sober and nothing is currently bothering me.