March 9, 2008
Sweet Home Chicago
Chicago has put a spell on me! On Thursday night we went to Pizano's, one of the original deep dish pizza locales. It was packed, and the pizza was a unique creation. We loved it. We then walked over to one of the finest blues clubs in the land, called Blue Chicago. Since we had arrived just after opening the place was pretty much to ourselves and we got the first booth next to the stage. The atmosphere was genuine and the artwork (see attached example) was awesome. After a couple of drinks the 4-piece band, BTS Express, warmed up with some stunning grooves. They were remarkably tight, and they just lit the place up. After a couple of songs they were joined by vocalist Big Time Sarah, one of the club's featured "Mojo Mamas". She was simply awesome! When she took a break I bought a CD from her, and she was kind enough to sign my liner notes with a dedication.
Saturday night, however, was even more memorable. We started the evening off by going to see U2 3D, the first live-action digital 3D concert film. Presented on a giant Imax screen this was, suffice it to say, mind-blowing!! The 3D effects were beyond imagination. The whole concert just seemed to hang in the air, about 3 feet from your eyes. The performances were, as to be expected, passionate and really driven. Filmed in South America, U2 had the benefit of the great Latin American audiences to work with, and being immersed in stadium of 80,000 people with U2's singular music was a remarkable experience. The two people I went with were equally impressed, and we were all grateful that we had made the trip out to Chicago's Navy Pier.
Next on our list was a musical called Altar Boyz. This was a 90-minute romp of great dancing, clever lyrics, and hilarious sexual innuendos. The musical is about a fictional boy band of altar boys who go on a tour across America to save people's souls. The premise is that the play is the last show of their "Raise the Praise" tour. I went with two colleagues from Queen's and a new colleague from Australia. We had perfect seats and we nearly choked to death laughing so hard. The cast were great--five young men with obvious chemistry, great dance skills, and they knew how to work it. This was a riot.
I then left our foursome to head out on a pilgrimage of my own. I hopped in a cab for a fairly long ride into the northern section of the city. My destination was one of the most infamous jazz clubs in all of America, the Green Mill. Originally opened in 1907 as a roadhouse, the Green Mill came into its notoriety during Prohibition as one of Al Capone's speakeasies. One of Capone's key henchmen, Jack "Machine Gun" McGurn, had a 25% ownership in the club. McGurn famously slit the throat and tongue of comedian/singer Joe E Lewis in order to, er, persuade him not to move his act to another club. This story is told in the movie "The Joker is Wild" (1957) starring Frank Sinatra as Lewis. Patrons of the Green Mill included Capone himself (you can sit in his preferred booth), Charlie Chaplin, Gloria Swanson, and "Blue Eyes" himself. I got to experience a 5-piece band headed by a violinist (yep, you read that correctly) named Zack Brock and joined by a Jane Sibbery-esque singer who was out of this world. It was sort of a jazz house, atmospheric, ephemereal experience. Wow!! And despite the fact that there were at least 250 people there, service was amazing, and the club has a strict no talking rule when bands are on. They actually have an announcer who presents the band and reminds everyone about the rule. I was amazed at the respect accorded to the musicians. Everybody just stopped talking. I have never seen that before. It was a experience that I told myself to just live in and enjoy. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the music. The 1920's decor, the great patrons, the amazing band just combined to give me a memory for my lifetime.