ESMZ return to Chi-Town

June 2, 2014

I finally got to see and hear my favorite modern band (that is, since The Beatles, Moody Blues and Fleetwood Mac) tonight, and — except for being too short — it was GREAT!!! And I say this even though if you had asked me before tonight what my favorite five songs were, only one of them (Man on Fire) was played!

For as every song started, beginning with 40 Day Dream, I instantly recognized it and felt “yeah, I love this song!” and started singing along! And not only did Alex and the band somehow top themselves (that is, the recordings or previous performances I’ve seen on video) on Man on Fire and This Life — really rocking the former and emoting the latter — just as touching were some of the moments featuring other band members. For instance, Christian Letts’ singing on I Don’t Want to Pray and When You’re Young really moved me and made me like those songs more than ever. (I also loved the emphasis on real piano in Pray — as well as in others such as Man on Fire.) And how can anyone not absolutely love Crash’s singing and dancing on Motion Animal! I’m sure at this late hour I’m forgetting a lot of other great moments, but I didn’t take notes or have any kind of recording — this is all just from (a very tired but very happy) memory.

To give the Johnson fans — or at least the man himself — credit, however, even though I’m not really familiar with him (the only songs I recognized were Buddy Holly’s great Not Fade Away and Jim Croce’s Leroy Brown), he certainly made a very positive impression on me not only from his talent, but by inviting The Magnetic Zeros back out early in his set to do the joint Rocky Racoon encore.

For I had been a bit bummed when Alex Ebert announced at the end of the Magnetic Zero set that they (understandably) wouldn’t be able to stick around for very long because they had a 17 hour drive ahead of them to their next gig. Thus I was extra happy when Johnson brought them out just a few songs into his act, saying how much he enjoyed playing with them. Class act!

Thus my only (minor) complaints are with the venue. It would have been nice (both for the fans and the band) if some method had been implemented whereby Magnetic Zero fans could have been up front for their set. Most of us would have then been quite happy to move back and let the Johnson fans up front for his set. (There was certainly ample time during sets to accomplish this!)

However, shortly after the concert ended I discovered that there was a much bigger problem: On the bus I met a nice young couple who, like me, had come specifically to see the Magnetic Zeros — and they missed the whole thing (except for the two-song Racoon encore) due to having to spend over an hour in the Will-Call line! They had arrived in what they thought would be plenty of time (around 7 p.m.), but it wasn’t! (Fortunately for me, I had arrived right when the doors opened at 6 p.m. … and even then things were starting to get congested.)

The bottom line is I’m so glad I finally got to see the band… but I still hope to someday see them in a more intimate venue, where everyone is there to see them, and (ideally) Jade, Nora, Aaron Embry, the two violinists (whose names escape me at this late hour I’m ashamed to say) are all there, and they have time for two sets.

A final thought: For a moment during the concert, when Alex was getting nowhere asking the crowd about the meaning of Janglin, I got sad thinking about how far we are from an ideal world… for in such a world, the Magnetic Zeros would be familiar to everyone, instead of so many people (Johnson fans excepted of course) only seeming to know someone if they have been on “American Idol” or something. It certainly isn’t the band’s fault — they keep coming up with great songs and performing them all, new and old, with all of their heart. I guess it’s nobody’s fault really… it’s just the way of the world.

But I think all of us “early adopters” who have, for whatever reason, been lucky enough to have found them (I am one of the many who feels that if it wasn’t for them I might not even be alive now) have a kind of moral obligation to spread the word to those who we think might also appreciate them, whether it’s by giving their albums as gifts or buying a friend a concert ticket or whatever.

I recently finished a screenplay in which I mention them and quote a brief lyric or two. Of course, the odds of the screenplay actually getting produced are minimal (but if it does I’ll be sure to get Alex’s OK for what I hope is “fair use”), but I was really glad that the Magnetic influence emerged in my story in such an organic way. (Now that I think about it, Nora would probably be great for the lead. Hmm…)

OK, the hour is very late. Time for me to stop rambling. (Hopefully somebody else took notes or has a better memory than I can give a better account of the entire set list.)

Sweet dreams,

Neal Reynolds

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