The night started off well enough. I had been told media check-in was at 8:30pm and I arrived right on time. The bouncer confirmed my name on the list and I headed into the bowels of the club. My guest, Marq Withers of Disonic, arrived shortly after, dropped my name at the door, and was ushered inside.
We were at the Rockit Ranch Winter V.I.P. Party with a private performance by Ashlee Simpson at The Underground. I had received a personal heads-up from my contact at Rockit, and also a media “Invitation to Cover” and was looking forward to talking with her. She loves Chicago and dates Fall Out Boy‘s Pete Wentz, a Chicago boy, and I wanted to get her take on the city and her favorite spots. Josh Kelley‘s appearance a few weeks before at Rockit Bar & Grill had been hosted by the same company and my quick chat with him had gone so well the opportunity to have another nationally recognized artist extol the virtues of this city was exciting. Unfortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.
Marq and I talked while I waited for instructions. And waited. And waited. The room began to fill up and Alpana Singh walked by us. Marq’s an enormous fan of the Master Sommelier, so he introduced himself. Meeting her was to be the only positive aspect of the whole fiasco.
We kept waiting. I approached a person also wearing a media badge and he told me we were supposed to wait by the stairs. So we waited. And waited. I confirmed with another media wrangler where I was supposed to be and she pointed me up the stairs to the raised section by the stage and said that’s where Ashlee would be and I could wait there. So we moved. And waited.
People kept piling into the club and we were jostled and pushed and shoved. I was almost thrown off balance a few times by enormous purses large enough to hide a Volkswagen. The cocktail servers were polite. The bouncers, in their mock-commando attire, were aggressive. The poor guys sweeping up were just trying to do their jobs in a place where they were deemed nearly invisible by the moneyed clientèle, but they still had to maneuver in the over-capacity crowd.
Finally, after 2 1/2 hours of waiting and jostling and mind-numbing insipid music droned out by the DJ, Marq had to leave. He had promised Section 4 that he would catch their show at The Note. They were going on at 11:45, and it was already 11. They’re a fantastic band (they’ve been featured on TLT) and I wanted to go with him, but I had been invited and I needed to stay.
He quickly came back to get me. Ashlee was finally there and was by the entrance/exit. Which was blocked off by security. I flashed my media badge – that’s why I was there, after all – but they wouldn’t let me through. OK, I got it. She was there late and there was limited time to talk to the media and TLT has a smaller audience. Since I obviously wasn’t going to get a chance to talk to her it was time for me to go as well. The only problem was they wouldn’t let anybody leave. They had set her up by the coat check and the exit and completely blocked everyone in. For almost half an hour we stood there as Billy Dec and crew milled about nonchalantly. We could see the coat check and the stairs and our escape to freedom. A young lady next to me was almost in tears because someone was waiting for her. Marq and I were growing more and more angry and frustrated, knowing that if we didn’t get out of there soon we were going to miss some of Section 4. A woman with a coiled cord sticking out of her ear while keeping us herded like cattle suggested I get a cocktail and relax. I thought about the irony of being trapped in a fire hazard across the street from a fire station. They finally ushered Miss Simpson past and we exploded towards the coat check, followed by a line of similarly angry and frustrated people. One of whom happened to be from Geffen Records – Ashlee Simpson’s label.
By the time Marq and I arrived at The Note Section 4 was already playing, and someone handed us both PBRs. We immediately felt a transformation. Dive bar, great music, cheap beer. Ahhh, now that was more like it. I’ll take a head-banging vibraphonist over piped-in synthesized notes, and a singer whose voice responds to her almost whimsical demands over engineered industry creations any day. After they finished a DJ took over, and his abstract hip-hop helped to drown out the memory of the banal, lifeless tripe that had harangued our senses for three agonizing hours.
I’ll admit I’m not a club-goer. I have no desire to wait in line, pay $20 to get in, pay another $11 per cocktail (minimum), and then pay $300 for bottle service if I’d actually like to sit down, but the complete disrespect The Underground showed its V.I.P. patrons that night was over and above the normal entitled atmosphere the club culture exhibits.
If I’m invited to cover similar events in the future (which is doubtful, after this review!), I’ll have a decision to make. Do I go for the quick quote about Chicago from the visiting artist? If I can, I probably will, but my focus is and will remain on the hard-working, talented, under-appreciated musicians this city produces and attracts at an overwhelming rate. Next time there’s a conflict between a nationally recognized act that already has media clamoring to get their sound-bytes and a local band that’s struggling just to be heard, I’ll choose the latter.