Monday, June 05, 2006

An Unsatisfying Goodbye

Saturday I went to Ravinia for the Chicago leg of Blondie's farewell tour. It was a double-bill with Blondie opening and the New Cars (featuring Todd Rundgren) closing out the set.

My friend David will probably blog about this better than I, but I have to at least express a vague sense of disappointment.

I bought "lawn" (read: "peon") tickets, because I couldn't afford to hock a kidney for pavilion seats. Now, you must understand that picnicking on the lawn is a unique pastime that many Chicagoans enjoy at Ravinia. And these people really get into their picnics. More so, apparently, than the music that they (and yes, I) paid to hear.

But I unrolled my blanket, and unpacked my hummus and bottled water and settled in for a pleasant time (I also bought a margarita to ensure it would be pleasant). Since I was so far from the pavilion, and nobody bothered to introduce the band, I didn't even realize they'd started playing until--well, until they started playing! La Debbie's voice sounded pretty darn good in my opinion. The version of "Call Me" with which they kicked off their set is significantly lower in key than the original, but it has been 26 years, after all! She's also gotten some of her range back since Blondie reformed in the late 90s. I'm sure she looked fabulous, but I couldn't tell, since I was so far away.

They played a lot of their great stuff, including some of my favorites like "Accidents Never Happen," "Shayla" and and a reworked, pulsing, minor key, slightly menacing arrangement of "In The Flesh," which eschewed the 50's sock-hop treatment of the original. I was a little disappointed not to hear "Rip Her To Shreds," but they only had an hour and 15 minutes to play, and they had a lot of ground to cover. All in all, it wasn't bad.

But it left me feeling a little unsatisfied. I didn't go away feeling like I expected to feel as I left the very last live performance ever of the first band that I ever idolized. Since the speakers were further away from us, and didn't deliver much treble, I couldn't even hear the subtle drumming techniques used by the man (Clem Burke) after whom I modeled myself as a pre-pubescent banger in various garage punk-rock bands in the early 80's.

And it's those small things, those subtleties, that made Blondie what they were. To me, it was never only about Debbie Harry, though she was the reason I loved them as much as I do. It was also about the music, and how simple, yet complex it was. This was the band that took punk and fused it with mainstream just enough to bring it to plebes like me who were too afraid of Johnny Rotten. So it would have been nice if, acknowledging that we probably WON'T ever see this band live again, Debbie could have interacted a bit more with the audience. She did have a few bits of banter, but nothing that made it special and gave us closure. At least not for me. Again, though, they were operating on a schedule, which probably didn't allow for much chat! But at least they sounded good (from what I could hear, anyway).

Which brings me to the behavior of my fellow "picnickers." They talked through the ENTIRE thing and only broke off occasionally to do stupid versions of what they supposed to be calypso dances to "The Tide Is High," and sing along (badly) with "One Way or Another." The rest of the time they chattered and chewed. If the picnic is so important, why not just spread out under a tree in your front yard and save yourself the gas and ticket money? You can buy more potato salad then.

After Blondie finished, I felt that feeling of anti-climax that one so often feels when they recognize that something's truly over, and that's all there is. I began to feel the effects of fatigue, but wanted to catch at least some of the New Cars' performance. But after a half hour of no music, I stumped off to the shuttle bus to ride back to the parking lot two miles away where I'd dropped my car. It was only as I climbed on board that I heard the strains of music coming from the New Cars. But by then, realizing that my fatigue and a general geographical ignorance of Highland Park's poorly-lit streets would lead to stark tragedy on my drive home, I just left. Sorry, Todd! I'll buy the album.

All in all, I went home with a sour taste in my mouth. And it wasn't from the hummus. Next time, I'm making my plans well in advance, and I'm taking the goddamned train! I only drove this time because the train schedule from Metra's website showed a trains only every four hours and I didn't want to take the chance of being stranded. When I was there, I noticed trains at least every hour! More fool me.

Come back soon, Debbie and Todd! I haven't had enough yet...


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