Friday, May 29, 2009

CHICAGO SHOW REPORT: GAS (Claudia Cassidy Theater and side room, 5/26/09)

You might've read me twittering about the "Wolfgang Voigt plays Gas" performance in Chicago this past Tuesday, May 26, but I thought I'd go ahead and explain it with more than 140 characters for those who, like Mr. Holy Mountain, are saying "I know what you mean but not exactly."

Well, it was a free performance at the Claudia Cassidy Theater, a 294-seat room in the Chicago Cultural Center, a big impressive downtown building. I've seen a few other free shows in this room over the years... some sort of Ken Vandermark big band, a Rob Mazurek big band, an Evan Parker & Joe McPhee duo, Tinariwen... all of the Claudia Cassidy shows are billed as "free show, limited seating," and every time I've been there it's been pretty full. For Tinariwen it was standing room only, and I had been one of the many people standing in the back hugging the wall. I knew I wasn't going to make it to Gas until right at the 7PM starting time because of babysitter scheduling, so I figured I'd be hugging the back wall again. No problem.

However, when I got there, the theater doors were closed and an attendant smoothly motioned me to the right with a simple "Seating is over here, thank you." This brought me into a big high-ceilinged room I'd never been in before, with stacking chairs arranged in rows in front of a jumbo TV screen with speakers on each side. The TV took up about exactly 1/6th of the wall behind it, and sat a good 30 feet in front of it. I wasn't quite sure what was going on... had the event been moved from the Claudia Cassidy to this other room for some reason? Renovation, technical problems, low turnout? Or was it going on in both rooms? Probably, but I wasn't sure... there were maybe 100 people in the room I was in... definitely a low turnout for Voigt's first ever USA performance, but still possible, I guess... the show hadn't exactly been heavily promoted, and I'd certainly been to Chicago shows where the attendance was unpredictably lower than expected. Start time was just a couple minutes away, and Voigt himself walked through the room to polite clapping. He gave a friendly wave and amiably said something to the people sitting in front that I didn't make out, and then walked through a door.

Then an announcer came over the PA and gave the usual long introduction to free shows at the Cultural Center. He didn't say anything about the show being simulcast in two rooms so I still wasn't quite sure what was going on. Now, I had already watched the YouTube above and I knew the visuals were going to be great, and I knew that Gas's music was some of my favorite chilled electronic dream fabric of the last 20 years... no problem there. But the setup just wasn't cutting it. As huge as the TV was, the room was much huger, and what's more, it had five, count 'em, FIVE windows that were a good 40 feet tall. Now these are beautiful windows -- architectural marvels, even -- but the show was starting at 7PM with sunset not until 8:15PM, so to say it wasn't quite dark enough in the room is an understatement. It wasn't loud enough either. There were huge vents blowing air that were just as loud if not louder than the quieter, beatless passages of Voigt's music. So, all the elements were there, but it was sort of like watching the whole thing on Shaquille O'Neal's entertainment center or something, from 50 feet away.

A few quick objective notes about the show: it was 90 minutes of continuous music, with several recognizable Gas classics in the mix, starting heavy on the more ambient Pop side, with the classic Zauberberg and Konigsforst beats coming in eventually, to heavy effect. No surprises really, and none necessary. The visuals, by Petra Hollenbach, were extremely psychedelic, pretty much the last word on the intricacy and patterning of the plant kingdom, lit for full-on acid nightmare fantasy enjoyment, slowly panned and rotated and sequenced in ways that reminded me of the Stargate sequence of 2001, with an overall story-arc sensibility (complete with lighting storm climax) that was like some half-remembered fairy tale with no characters.

So, all the elements were there for an intense, great performance. I knew the main theater room was windowless, with a nice regulation sized movie theater screen, low ceilings, and tight acoustics that could get plenty loud. So surely there was a packed house in there enjoying the show the way it should be, right? And sure enough, when the show ended, the huge connecting doors were opened and there they were, a full and very appreciative house of smiling, standing, and ovating minimal psychedelic techno heads. This was a relief as I'm sure the presentation was awesome in the main room. I know I should've made it a point to come a good 20 minutes early at least. My only wish as a slightly crabby subjective attendee is that the venue had either said, "The main room is full, but we have a second room over here if you'd like to stay," or just not set up the second room at all, turning away all latecomers. I mean, of course it seems like a great gesture by the promoters to set up a second room to accomodate the interested public, and I shouldn't be complaining AT ALL about a free show, duh, but the side-room setup was just not appropriate for Voigt and Hollenbach's immersive and overwhelming aesthetic. I really think it would have been better if the guy had just said, "Sorry, we're full. You slack, you lack." (I just made that up as an alternative to the snooze/lose standard, whaddayathink? You don't have to answer.)

I also think that Voigt should release this shit as GAS - THE MOVIE. Those incredible psychedelic forest visuals in a totally dark theater with a killer sound system, 90 minute running time... talk about a midnight movie classic waiting to happen!

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