I’ve been to Chicago only once; they have a zoo in Grant park which is both free and seamlessly incorporated into the park. You’re taking a walk, not bothering anyone, and all of sudden you realize you’ve been looking at tapirs for five minutes. There is also a restaurant called the Billy Goat Tavern that the “Cheezburger cheezburger” sketch was based on and the burgers are so good that for hours afterwards, I was purposely belching just to retaste them.
And I went to the top of the Sears Tower, because it’s the law.
My connection to the Windy City is, I’m trying to get at, slight and superficial at best. Which is why the choice to listen to every single Dead show (within certain stringent, yet highly arbitrary limits) ever played in Chicago confuses me.
We begin with 12/3/79 at the Uptown Theater. (What a wonderful name: it grounds you in place and lifts you up simultaneously, poetry by excision…plus, none of that excruciating use of the British spelling bullshit. Theater is an American invention, and for that matter, so is the English language. Fuck England. Y’know why? Because it’s Friday night and I’m home eating fried chicken and blathering on semi-nonsensically about a band led by a man who married a woman named fucking Mountain Girl. I can’t decide whether I’m a fox or a hedgehog when it comes to bad decisions: have I made one big awful choice, or millions of tiny horrid one? At least I have my chicken.)
A show without much acclaim, from a year that gets very little attention, in a city that at first glance looks like it was more immune to the charms of our favorite drug-soaked gibbons than other cities. They played Boston, an exponentially smaller city, the same number of times; Philly, an exceptionally smelly and pointless place, more.
Maybe it was the relative dearth of colleges. Maybe the Dead made the (entirely righteous and Godly) decision that if these pork-infused Chicagoans insisted on calling that gooey tomato abortion ‘pizza’, then they were people to have no truck with. Maybe it was the fact that the Picasso sculpture used to have a dick before a certain someone punched it off. These are all logical and historically plausible reasons, especially the thing about Billy. The entire day before, he could be heard muttering darkly, “Modernist bullshit. Its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner to make it all possible. I’m gonna punch it in the dick.”
Anyway, check out the propulsive Jack-A-Roe, slathered in Brent’s Fender Rhodes (the shag carpet of musical instruments). Compare the warm, friendly sound to Keith’s BLOCK CHORDS OF DOOM during the his last years with the band. (They’re actually even quite notable as early as Fall of ’77, the entirety of wich I recently finished listening to. Sweet sweaty Christ, I need a woman in my life. Or a tapir.)