Chicago: My Musical Home Away from Home

The headline said it all.

I woke up in Chicago this morning, some 300 miles from my real bed in St. Louis. I was in town to catch a performance by Grizzly Bear, one of my favorite indie bands.

I get headline notifications from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on my phone. This morning, I woke up to the following earth-shattering announcement:

The Eagles are coming to St. Louis.

Well loddy-frickin’-da!

Don’t get me wrong: I like the Eagles. “Hotel California” contains one of my favorite guitar duets of all time. But the Eagles are hardly front-page news, musically. They aren’t even on the handle that leads to the blade containing the cutting edge. But this news warrants headline notification.

Humph.

Grizzly Bear isn’t coming to St. Louis. In two weeks, I’ll be back in Chicago to catch The National. Why? Because they’re not coming to St. Louis. But by God, the Eagles will be here! And the Post wants to make sure I know about it!

“This,” I snorted, “is EXACTLY why I’m in Chicago.”

I’ve said it to friends, now I’ll say it here for the record: St. Louis is where the vast majority of choice concerts go to DIE.

There are plenty of good things about my hometown. The people are friendly. The cost of living is relatively reasonable. I LIVE for St. Louis Cardinals baseball. But musically? For the most part, we suck.

Did I mention that I was in Nashville last week? Why? Because John McLaughlin, a jazz fusion legend, was there. But guess where he WASN’T going to be? Oy, vey.

Now more than one person is going to tell me I’m crazy. We get great shows all the time, they’ll say. To them I say this: we don’t get the shows true music fans (as opposed to song fans) want to see. We get more than our fill of Top 40 bubble gum, country music megastar, and long-in-the-tooth classic rock acts. They fill whatever corporate whore-atorium they show up to play in. Good for them.

I saw 37 bands over three days at Progtoberfest this past October. In Chicago. To my knowledge, NOT ONE of those acts has come to St. Louis recently. I’m just saying.

There are exceptions of course. Adrian Belew, my musical hero, LOVES my town. He plays here all the time. Rush did well here. Brand X came through this year, but the show was so poorly advertised, I almost missed it. There might have been 50 people at The Old Rockhouse that night. Damn. I did miss the last Stick Men show, because I had no idea they were coming. Our papers never carried the news.

When was the last time Peter Gabriel came to town? Before he died, when was the last David Bowie sighting? I would’ve enjoyed seeing Genesis back in the day. No soap. I’m not even sure I want to see the new King Crimson. But I don’t need to worry about that, because they’re not coming to St. Louis anyway!

In a way, it almost makes sense. I talk about bands like Grizzly Bear, The National, and others to my St. Louis friends, and all I get is blank stares. Bring them up to a complete stranger in Chicago, and we’re talking for an hour! What the hell, man?

What a marvelous show this was! Too bad I had to drive 300 miles to see it. 

I wish I could explain it. I wish someone would explain it to me! There’s no reason I should have to drive 300 miles to catch a concert. Now for the record, I LOVE Chicago! It’s a great town. So is Nashville. But all that traveling can get costly. But if I want to see the really cool shows, travel I must. Good thing my car has low mileage, because that’s about to change.

My music pal Rhea Frankel recently moved back to her hometown of Philadelphia. She goes on and on about how she once again has access to all the good shows, because they stop in Philly, New York City, or New Jersey. My envy knows no bounds. Same for friend and music journalist Anil Prasad, who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. EVERYONE plays a gig there. In my town? Not so much. It’s positively galling.

New York covers the east. San Francisco covers the west. Chicago clearly handles the Midwest. St. Louis used to have quite the hip music scene. I guess times have changed. And so, I travel.

I don’t see things changing any time soon. My town may cherish baseball (as do I), but it’s the Land Quality Gigs Forgot. If anyone has a way to help change this, I’m all ears.

Next May, I finally get to see Steven Wilson, one of the best musicians around. I’ve idolized him for more than a decade, and I’ve been trying to catch him in concert for at least that long. I bought my ticket when it went on sale in October. I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to see this show.

He’s playing at the Vic Theater. In Chicago.

Your Honor, I rest my case.

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