February 20, 2004

Double Door brings out the best in Metric, leaves Sout out in the cold

I was huddled in a tiny, poster-encrusted recess somewhere in Wicker Park, feebly cursing the Chicago winter when I first caught sight of my nemesis out of the corner of my eye: The Double Door.

I backed away warily. You need more than sheer guts to survive the Double Door—you need a certain cutthroat ruthlessness and a finely tuned bullshit detector just to make it within sight of the stage. If you want to get to out, however, you need a plan. I hid in a hot dog joint while I went over the reconnaissance briefing in my mind.

The Double Door is a Chicago institution, much like heart disease and terrible hockey teams. Known to most as "that-bar-where-they-shot-the-last-scene-in-High-Fidelity," the Double Door has made its career as a much larger, cleaner, and ultimately soulless venue ostensibly in the vein of the Empty Bottle or the late Lounge Ax. It features four-dollar Old Styles (in the can), investment bankers wearing expensively disheveled clothing, and all the cavernous ambiance of a whale's belly.

As the wind howled down off the Blue Line stop, mocking my long underwear's feeble attempts to keep it at bay, I struggled down the street, glowering at that accursed sign hanging in the midst of the cold screech of a February evening. If I had any feeling left in my neck, I'm sure I could have felt my hackles rise. And so, taking a deep breath, I plunged off the curb and across the street. It was time to engage.

I snuck in the door without incident, vaulted the ATM machine and rolled behind a pair of Lincoln Park trixies, scanning the crowd. I had made it further than I dared hope, but I needed to get closer; I needed a distraction. To my left, a well-groomed gentleman was asking his female compatriot for help to find the most rakish angle to tilt his trucker cap. I told them that their Audi was double parked and scurried through the opening. "The Goose has honked its way into the oven," I muttered.

And there I was: in the heart of enemy territory and completely surrounded by the faces of a tribe not my own. Discussions of the respective merits of various 401 (k) plans batted about my ears, while towards the bar someone extolled the safety record of their new Volvo. I was out of my element, and I knew it.

I prayed that Metric would soon take the stage. The lights grew dim, and in all of us—even the blank, beautiful faces of the slumming trixies—shone the thought that a "moment" was about to occur. Something was going to happen.

If an explosion is powerful enough, you can see air and sound made visible as they are expelled forward at incomprehensible speeds. It is rare, however, to see a shockwave born without the devastation of, say, a plastic explosive. At least, that was the thought running through my mind before seeing Metric take the stage. Mediocre bands ask you to look at them, but truly awesome bands spring out of the bushes in a rippling hum of instrument chords, grounding themselves, and catching you right between the eye with a solid stream of sound.

And so there we were, standing slack-jawed and breathing irregularly while Metric landed and scrambled my radio communications, leaving me speechless. A space where people once discussed their checking accounts was now filled with the pulsing of Cold War-era keyboards and pounding rhythms. Call it disco-punk, file it under new wave—it doesn't matter what label you attach to it. Metric plays songs that are belligerently catchy, clinging to your mind and beating your head in with melodies.

Now, I'm a seasoned veteran of the concert circuit, but rarely do I get the pleasure of seeing bands that not only play excellent music but also make you want to watch them instead of the bubbles in your beer. Frontwoman Emily Hanes is gifted with an elastic face that shifts from falsely innocent to confrontational in the blink of an eye—a sex symbol for the intelligentsia. There's a raw sense of showmanship, of fire and skill that permeates a Metric set. Why such attributes are generally lacking in most rock bands these days is a question for the ages.

Unfortunately, after tearing through their entire full-length set (plus a generous helping of new material), Metric was forced to vacate the stage, relinquishing their spot to the British newcomers, South. I worked my way to the bar, eagerly searching for something with which to whet my parched throat. After all, being a covert operative is thirst-inducing business. If you don't believe me, ask the late Mata Hari.

After that set, would the headliners South be able to complete their dastardly mission to trick me into admitting that the Double Door is possibly a half-decent venue for concert viewing? Would I never be able to leave that bastion of yuppie gentrification and remain behind hidden in the coat check like a forgotten bomber jacket? Would I ever be able to find a beer for under four dollars? Doubt was growing in my soul as I waded my way towards stage right.

While the club was barely packed for Metric's hair-raising set, the crowd had visibly swelled to the legal limit by the time South climbed onstage to start setting up their equipment. There was no mention of these Brits in my briefing, so I took the opportunity to quickly size up the situation.

A four piece whose members switched instruments as songs warranted, South gave off the uncanny feeling of being a band assembled by composite, featuring one guitarist who looked like Keanu Reeves, a singer that looked like that guy from Coldplay's younger brother, and a rhythm section draped in shadow for reasons unknown. I fidgeted nervously—they were taking too long. Was it a trap?

No sooner had that sentence formed in my warped little mind did I notice the acoustic guitar, and I realized the trap had already been sprung. I was caught, wedged in by ranks of sweater-clad day traders. I felt my palms grow sweaty and my beer churn in my stomach. The door was too far away. In horrible, B-movie slow motion, I saw them count off the first song, and I just knew it was going to be a bad Smiths cover.

They say that in traumatic times, one must always reach deep down, find a wellspring of inner strength, and drink deeply from it. And so, as I was outnumbered and forced to listen to terrible mockeries of Radiohead songs, I found myself humming Otis Redding songs. Over and over I played Otis' songs in my head, occasionally joining him in the choruses. I would not be broken now that I had found that sweet soul music.

Finally, after butchering a Nick Drake encore, South found a trace of mercy in their strange, British souls, leaving us alone with a parting threat of another stateside tour. Not waiting for them to change their mind, I bolted for the street, dignity be damned.

But I tell you this, Double Door: it is not finished. We shall meet again.