Tick, Tick… Boom!

I’m still recovering from a short trip up to Chicago this past weekend, but I thought I could muster up a few paragraphs and pictures to detail why I small concert venues across America need to be cherished and preserved forever.

Although I recently blogged about quietly sneaking into my 30’s without a birthday bonanza, my lovely wife did surprise me with two tickets to see The Hives up in Chicago. I decided to be a gentleman and take her, which was not our first time seeing the band, but actually our 5th. Those who are not familiar with the Swedish, garage-rock band can view a handpicked sample of their work below:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCQ7VLoY7bQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrzL3dEWwIk

The Hives are quite easily the best band I’ve ever seen live. This rivals other concert going experiences I’ve had seeing The Who, Aerosmith, KISS, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, The Killers, a plethora of alternative bands, and a boatload of typical classic rock acts that make their way to state fairs. They have a stage presence that all young artists should seriously study. But I think there is another thing that works in their favor – here in America they don’t have a big enough following to where they play huge venues. Typically, they play in small theaters across the country, whereas in Europe they make the festival rounds and play to an overall bigger audience.

I certainly think there is a time and a place for both having gotten to hear both emerging and established bands at festivals like Austin City Limits. I’m a sucker for a good concert, and have been to shows in all ranges of places, but there are two venues I cannot stomach:

  1. The Super Stadium Experience – usually reserved for the highest of mountain acts like U2, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones. Doesn’t do anyone any favors except the ones collecting ticket and beer sales.
  2. The Civic Center Let Down – they are a smaller stadium, but far too big to be an intimate show. Civic center’s usually require the promise of a  bigger draw which narrows down the field of acts that you can pull in.

We saw The Hives at the Fort Worth Civic Center when they opened for Maroon 5. Not only was the venue a dud, but the concert going demographic wasn’t playing to their strength. In a high energy performance, the one thing that deflates the air right out of the place is a venue that is not designed for music in the first place. Sure, concerts can fill a weekend space there, but most of the time the building is ill-equipped for things other than a P.A. announcer.

The Vic Theatre in Chicago lends itself to being another reason why Chicago is a main player in the world music scene. Young and old bands alike can fill these venues perfectly and if they don’t, they aren’t going into the red because of it. This was my first experience there, but aligns with all of the other experiences that I’ve had around in other old theaters and ballrooms around the city – awesome!

Historically speaking, our country has done a bad job of preserving small theaters. The megaplex stole the movies, and the civic center stole the concert. In the place of what used to be an entertainment hub is now separated and artificially recreated around the city. It’s funny how cities that have kept places for a variety of acts and purposes have flourished, while small towns and mid-sized cities have struggled because of it. You can create all the “Entertainment Districts” and bland corporate substitutes, but without truly artistic venues to let “artists” perform it does music a disservice.

Music and art blend harmoniously with historic preservation and thus making places more meaningful. I wish something like the Vic was around in more places. I wish smaller, less mainstream bands had a chance to play in more places. Only time will tell the fate of the last remaining small theaters, ballrooms, and intimate settings. As The Hives put it, “Is it too late, or is it too soon, or is it tick, tick, tick… boom?”

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