Monday, April 11, 2011

Jeff and Cara's Day Off

About two weeks ago, on March 26, we made the drive to Chicago to see Godspeed You! Black Emperor play at the Metro. This was something I never thought I'd get to do, until Godspeed announced these shows last fall. I got into the band some time after they went on hiatus, I love their music, and I'd heard about their legendary live shows. When they came back from hiatus to go on tour, I knew this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had to go. Fortunately, one of the Chicago dates fell on a Saturday, making it a convenient opportunity for a weekend away.

Unlike Cara, I had been to Chicago several times before. I have a lot of memories there. My most recent visit had been for the 2009 Neuroscience conference, when I fell in love with the food in Chinatown. Further back, I had been there for three cross country meets and one indoor track meet.

For the first of the three cross country meets, the men's team actually raced at Notre Dame on Friday, and we then went on to Chicago, where the women's team raced on Saturday. The next two years, both squads raced in Chicago. Also notable is that the indoor track meet, the conference championships, was the last time I competed for my school. I knew going into that race that I was outclassed by the competition, and I intentionally went out at a faster pace than I thought I could handle in the hopes that I was actually in better shape than I knew. Not surprisingly, this wasn't the case, and I came in last (although not by an embarrassing margin), but it was a good effort. The next day's 12-miler along the lakefront was probably one of my favorite runs ever.

I've had a lot of good runs in Chicago, actually, including my fastest 8 kilometer cross country race ever my senior year. So yeah, lots of memories...

I actually really enjoy going to a place like Chicago with Cara and getting to show her things I've seen before but that she's never experienced. Chicago is an awesome city. Our first experience there on this visit, though, was being stuck in horrendous traffic. This was at about 4:30 on Saturday afternoon, and I shudder to think about what it's like during rush hour on weekdays. I could never put myself through that every day.

We made it to our hotel without too much trouble, though, and after unwinding for a bit we headed out to get some of the famous Chicago-style pizza at Giordano's. A big part of visiting any city for us is experiencing the local food, and Chicago is definitely quite a place in that regard! We both agreed the pizza was fantastic.

Next on the agenda was the main attraction on the trip. Cara and I have enjoyed traveling to other cities to see concerts in the past, and it's always been a great experience. It had been quite a while since we had made such a trip, though, since October of 2008, so in a way this was like old times. And as usual when we travel to a concert, this concert was a very memorable one.

We arrived at the Metro to find it, not surprisingly, already very crowded. Fortunately, we were able to make our way to a spot in the balcony with a decent view of the stage. Opener Eric Chenaux was already playing. Neither of us found his music particularly interesting (an opinion we felt was not uncommon in the audience), so we were glad that he didn't play for too long. Then, the waiting...

Godspeed began their set with a long drone number. One by one, the members of the band came on stage, each adding their own touches to the "Hope Drone." Once they were all set, they moved into the next number, the first two movements of "Storm" from the album Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas To Heaven. It was so beautiful, I was almost moved to tears.

I love music. Sometimes, on rare occasions, a really great concert can be like a spiritual experience. This was one of those times.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor play powerful instrumental music that I'd describe as an appropriate soundtrack for the end of the world. Some of their compositions could fittingly play as one ascended to heaven. Some would be more appropriate accompaniments for visions of fire and brimstone. And much of their music could track a more mundane conceptualization of the world's demise - decaying cities and landscapes ravaged by industrialization and over-consumption.

To my amazement, the band played for two and a half hours without a break. It was, no question, one of the best concerts I've ever been to. They closed by playing the Slow Riot For New Zero Kanada EP in its entirety, with extended versions of both "Moya" and "Blaise Bailey Finnegan III." Wow. Seriously, it was just spectacular. As the concertgoers slowly filed out of the venue afterwards, there was a palpable sense that we had all just experienced something utterly staggering.

Also, something extremely loud. Godspeed are known for loud shows, and I warned Cara repeatedly to bring earplugs. We both were very thankful we had them; we also noticed that many attendees did not. This, to me, seems like the height of stupidity. The folly of youth, I suppose.

Cara had not listened to GY!BE much before, but was just as blown away by the show as I was. (Incidentally, I'm listening to a bootleg as I write this; I'm always grateful when there are recordings available of memorable shows I've been to. It's nice to relive the experience.) So, for the concert alone, the trip was well worth taking. Luckily, the fun was not over yet, as we had some time to be tourists the next day.

We started with a trip to Montrose Harbor. This is a place which I remember well - it's the site of the aforementioned cross country meet. Going to a place that you've visited before and remember well but haven't seen in years is an interesting experience. Memories rush back at you. In a way, I'm a different person now than I was then, yet there's obviously a very strong connection with my past self.

Even had I never been there before, Montrose Harbor would be well worth visiting for the views of the city alone.

We also took a walk out along the beach there. It was a chilly, windy day, but quite gorgeous.

Next, we went downtown to Millennium Park. It's a really cool place, and the sunny day made for fantastic sightseeing.

Cara got a neat picture there.

More pictures!

We finished up our time in Chicago with a visit to Chinatown, where we ate at Joy Yee Noodles. I'd been there on the Neuroscience trip, and loved it, so I wanted to share the experience with Cara. They have my favorite bubble tea in the world - I go for the coconut. Our food was also wonderful.

This will certainly not be the last time we see Chicago. If we're really lucky, maybe it also won't be the last time we see Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

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