Thursday, January 10, 2008

OFFICE--Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, Chicago, Illinois

Wednesday night kicked off the inaugural "Chicago Public Radio Presents" at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater. The idea at play here is a live show every month on a Wednesday of great musical varieties. Rock music, dance parties, Officer Ron Karkovice, variety name it. All sponsored by Chicago Public Radio, of course. Their first act in hopefully a long line of events was an evening with local act OFFICE. Pictures are strictly forbidden inside the theater so I left the camera at home. Don't feel sorry for me, the above picture was stolen from the venue's web site. Your move, Victory Gardens.

In the lobby of the theater is a nice bar with an assortment of drinks....none of which are allowed inside the theater. Man, no camera, no beer...what next? Am I going to have to check my pants at the door before taking a seat? Thankfully, no. I found a seat and immediately a guy and girl came and sat directly behind me. They guy took a look around and spit out, "Dear gawd, a lot of polyester died for these seats!" Oh, brother. Emcee of the evening, Tony Sarabia, took the stage and explained the idea behind "Chicago Public Radio Presents". For those unaware of who Sarabia is, he has been a staple with Chicago Public Radio for years, serving as host of Radio M. And he reminded us that this Friday from 9-11pm on RAdio M will be the "father of Japanese techno". I'm sure we'll all cancel our Friday night plans for that one, Tony. Kidding aside, Sarabia is great. And in a town with such a fantastic music community like Chicago, I find it imperative to support Chicago Public Radio. As Sarabia reminded us, there are different sorts of memberships with the cheapest being all of $10. So if you're not a member and would like to be, click here for information on how you can support the local music scene and Chicago Public Radio. Or just call 312.948.4855.

If you read the interview below with OFFICE keyboardist and overall multi-instrumentalist, Jessica Gonyea, she outlined what would be in store for the evening. But I'll go ahead and give a play-by-play as best as I can. First, band founder Scott Masson walked the audience through a over-head presentation of some of his early art when he was an art student and studying overseas in London in 2000. Because of the dim lighting it was nearly impossible to decipher some of the images but nonetheless they still looked interesting. One piece that stuck out was a collage of people in London talking on cell phones. Again, this was 2000 and the cell phone explosion that hadn't quite yet occurred in the States was in full bloom in Europe. Apparently intrigued, he took as many snapshots as he could of random people chatting, doing business, etc. on the run and strung them all together. He stated, "I wanted to put them all in sort of an art movement, if you will." Alright, I will. Most significant, he showed the audience a snapshot of the word "OFFICE" plastered on a storefront sign in London that eventually spawned his art/music project. Next, he brought out his guitar for a quick solo acoustic set of some of his early folky-pop songs. I thought all the songs were good but his songwriting style is much stronger with a backing band and this was pretty evident.

And right as I was thinking that, the rest of the band graced the stage so that was good timing. They were all dressed in their "office" attire that they used to wear in their early shows and opened up with "The Ritz" from their 2007 release A Night at the Ritz. And I had no idea, but apparently Justin Petertil has replaced Alissa Noonan on bass. Sorry, I kind of missed that one in the picture below. OFFICE is a fun band. For those of you who were seeing them at the Biograph for the first time, I implore you to take in one of their shows at another local venue where dancing is not only possible but is also strongly encouraged. Not that I didn't appreciate the setting of the Biograph. It almost felt like we were watching a movie about the band. And I think maybe that was the point.

They played a few more songs, mostly from the latest album including iTunes favorite "Wound Up", and then opened the floor for some questions. Tony Sarabia started it off and eventually asked Gonyea about the writing process of the band and whether or not it has become more democratic as more members were added. Sound familiar to you? Me too. I think Tony has been stealing my questions. The floor was soon opened up to the audience and Q&A eventually came to an appropriate end right after after one person asked each band member where they lived. Masson played a few more songs solo before the band came back out on stage to close the evening. Changed out of their "office" costumes, the band gave the audience a glimpse at how they perform today and perhaps in the future. They played some new songs that were a bit more hard charged than what is seen on the Ritz album but they never strayed from that OFFICE sound.

This "Chicago Public Radio Presents" idea has a lot of potential. The normal monotony of watching a band play for an hour and then go back stage while the crowd predictably and disingenuously claps for an encore was gone. A bit off subject, but just once I would like to see a band leave the stage, and while they're behind the curtain patting themselves on the back, the crowd in a moment of unity rises up and says, "Stay where you are, no need to come back out. We're good. Thanks for the evening." and leaves. Wouldn't that be great? Damn right it would. Of course, there would never be a reason to do that at an OFFICE show. I caught them during their residency at Schubas last year and it was just a gas. They are a valuable asset to the local music scene. If you were at the Biograph and enjoyed the show, do yourself a favor and catch them the next time they hit another venue. I'm sure it won't be long. And don't forget to support Chicago Public Radio.

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