As I step off the plane, I breathe out North Carolina and I breathe in Chicago. It is Thursday and I have a few hours to kill with beer and small talk before the Cold Waves 5 opening party at the Empty Bottle. We all seem to be strangers on Thursday morning and friends on Thursday night.
The adventure at The Empty Bottle begins as it should with a mystery shot. My companion and I determine it’s whiskey and are not displeased with the choice. This bar is the perfect setting for the opening party–the ceilings are covered in a 1920’s style decorative tile, artfully and strangely covered in stars. It compliments the exposed, rough brick that holds court over the gathered humanity inside. I see shirts from bands I recognize dotting the landscape and several that I make note to remember later. Occasionally, a lost soul wanders through, looking as if they’ve taken a wrong turn from a hipster bar into this dark scene.
Gost is the first band to take the stage behind a decorative upside down cross and decortation. He is dressed in all black, with a skull mask over his face–the effect is uncanny; making him seem as if he’s a character from a poorly animated show. He makes sounds and holds the mic to his face, but you never see his lips move behind the mask. The lights flash around him, highlighting his movements as he lifts the microphone or leans over his machines.
The crowd in front of him reacts and dances to the beats he throws at them; there’s no mosh pit, instead a group of people weave arms and bodies in dance. They are deeply invested in the performance and begging for more from every gift he provides. It’s a rolling mass of humanity throwing themselves into the show. The sound is an electronic train, careening into us over and over. I’m completely engrossed by the crowd’s reaction to the figure posed in front of them as much as the man himself.
The next mystery shot tastes like jalapeno and hatred. I wonder if the bartender dislikes us all as the taste lingers through my beer.
MC 900 Ft Jesus is next–and it takes me a moment to process what I see. There is a saxophone and a melodica. I’m not sure I’ve seen either instrument on stage for five years, much less together at an industrial festival kick off event. The sound is a corrupted jazz overlaid with sing song vocals. The crowd chants a long and holds up their hands in furious dance.
The men on stage switch between instruments as the set progresses, finding new harmonies between themselves as they cavort before the crowd. I hear over and over that this is an experience the humanity around me has been craving for years, and they smile, swaying and jumping with the music.
I too, find myself swaying. Somewhat from the drinks, mostly from the exhaustion. Deciding to call it a night early is hard, but I know that Chicago holds many more nights ahead.