By: Anand Harsh
Rapp & Rapp, the architectural team behind some of the most beautiful movie theaters in the world designed Chicago’s Riviera Theater just before the US entered World War I. When the theater was run by the most successful management team in the country, Balaban & Katz, tourists and Chicagoans alike would pack the glittering hall for movies, vaudeville, and some of the biggest acts of the Jazz Age. In the 70’s the seats were torn out of the hall to turn the Riv into one of the most popular stops for touring bands—as it is today. The majestic façade, the ornate fixtures and frames, all that would have been a stunning backdrop for EOTO’s bonky dubstep…but that’s life. When you tack on ten bucks for service charges, no one wants to buy tickets in advance. Show canceled. Let’s move to the Bottom Lounge.
Nestled under the pink L-line near Union Park, the new Bottom Lounge location looks like it’s been shoehorned into an old warehouse. The spacious brick interior with exposed steel and wiring is filled with neon and brushed copper light fixtures. The bar area is well lit and packed with heads, freezing under layers of wool and corduroy. A line formed from the entrance to the showroom, at the back of the bar, extended out the door and down West Lake an hour before show time. Since the Riv bailed on EOTO just days before the show, The Bottom Lounge was kind to accommodate the band, but they already had their acts for the night. Among them, the Posies, legendary alt-pop act in the vein of Superchunk. Yeah, those Posies. Young hipsters strolled out of the back room leisurely as the line for EOTO grew and grew, and with it, their edginess. In defense of the Lounge and its employees, they had to honor these presale tickets for the Riv (nearly five times the size), and balance that with the fact that they had to move one show out and another in within a limited time frame. Meanwhile, everyone’s getting drunker and more belligerent. Not a pretty sight, and certainly not an easy job.
As eager patrons flooded into the Bottom Lounge’s intimate clubroom, Radiohiro & MC Zulu served as greeters. MC Zulu is a militant cross between Mr. Clean and Buju Banton. This Panamanian-born vocal powerhouse looks like he spends weekends crushing windpipes, but his rapping prowess is undeniable. While his speed doubles that of the aforementioned Mr. Banton, his tenacity is a mirror image. Attacking social and political issues under the guise of party music, which I’m sure sailed well above the crowd, MC Zulu is a brilliant frontman with the stage presence to team even the most impatient concert-goer. Radiohiro ably navigated a course around bass music, dropping heavy electro and dubstep with smooth guitar lines added by Mark Lerro more for flavor rather than pure shredding purposes. The world sounds of Radiohiro’s decks merged seamlessly with the rat-a-tat delivery of Zulu. The set, performed under the most strenuous conditions of jamming fan after fan into the room, served its stated purpose. It pumped up the crowd, and got them in the mind frame for the show. Forget the hassle, enjoy the night.
After a brief intermission, Jason Hann and Michael Travis took the stage. The capacity crowd jammed in even closer to the stage. Travis nodded his approval and the duo took off. Radiohiro’s dubstep and EOTO’s take couldn’t be more different. When a DJ spins that wobble, it’s precise, it’s clean, it’s efficient. The live take is dirty. The interplay between Hann and Travis is all about being in the moment. With a wink and a nod, Jason stutters the beat, then Travis suddenly grabs the reins and warps the bass. When the crowd reacts favorably to a drop, they run it back and do it again. If people seems to be standing around, taking it in, it’s time to move. Throw in a change. At one point, Jason did an admirable Phil Collins impression. Instead of his signature demon voice, he drenched the high-end of his vocals in reverb in a sort of odd combination that blended haunting lyrics with devious dubstep. EOTO has been touring non-stop for years at this point. Their ability to communicate with one another and the audience simultaneously borders on telepathy. These guys should be studied.
The Riviera would have been right around the corner from the eventual post-EOTO freakout, a mere 100 yards, but the venue change called for a quick exit and a fifteen minute cab ride up Lake Shore Drive to the Kinetic Playground. By chance, my cab driver was a Nigerian émigré by the name of Allan, who, when he was in high school, cut class to go see Fela Kuti at the infamous Shrine Club. His story was absolutely worth the drive and cab fare.
MartyParty is no stranger to the EOTO gang, having toured with them on several occasions. This South African-born producer is nothing short of his name, a party. Smashing 80’s sing-a-longs into thumping bass grooves, Mr. Folb is effective at getting people on their feet, and feeding them what they need. The hip-hop foundation is garnished with heaping doses of wobble. Watching the MartyParty crowd, you’ll occasionally see a dancer stumble out of the crowd to sit, overdosing on bass. High-energy and high-impact, MartyParty is unrelenting, throwing track after track at the crowd with hardly a second to breathe. Dark and delirious beats sent crazed patrons streaming out of the club to gulp lungfuls of fresh lake air.
By the time Folb was done, the audience had tripled in size, an influx from the EOTO show, ready and waiting for Hann’s Prophet Massive set, the cherry on the bass cream sundae. While it appears on the surface that Jason is strictly drumming in EOTO, closer inspection and education reveals that he’s pulling a lot of the strings behind the beats and the blending of the bass. This control gives him an ear for mixing his own dub sets. The tracks flow seamlessly, just like his band’s changes. After a night of pounding away, he was able to sit back for the most part, and let his mix ride. Travis made a surprise appearance, but more to drink a beer with Hann, than sit in. By the time the Nit Grit kicked in, the Playground’s employees were doing their best to shut down its crazed patrons. The time change had given the crowd an extra hour to party, but with daybreak a few short hours away, they were done. The sound was shut off with the tail end of the Prophet Massive set still waiting on the screen. Disappointed fans milled around for a bit, before finally getting the heave ho. But the damage was done. Four to five hours of bass to the face takes a toll on the old eardrums. The cold Chicago wind whipped and stung, while the wobble echoed and rattled around their heads.
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