Written Saturday, 9 April 2016, at the now-comatose Double Door on any number of disorganized cocktail napkins. Thank you to Southside Irish Dan for lending his sturdy mick back as an easel.
You have to come to your own conclusions if a waning days mentality makes you want to step into a legendary concert venue or not.
For the Double Door, it’s a mixed bag. Yes, there’s a noticeable freedom to vape here that’s unprecedented in the above-board club circuit. But it’s hard to tell if there’s a grand hustle at the front door or not. The Last Days of Rome vibe creates rumors of extortive pat downs and keystone coppery on the way in. Luckily, I don’t vape, but I also don’t carry cash, so I don’t know what I’d barter to keep anything prolific they find on me.
Stake out a spot by the bar. Be unthoughtful, but not rude. Let folks squeeze in to grab a drink, but never surrender your flag. It’s Michael Kiwanuka tonight. Eight PM sharp, with no opener. The second of only two shows in the states. The next legendary singer/songwriter, already compared to enough legends for it not to be insane to use the description “a Kiwanuka sound” someday.
He soared in from England via L.A. to a Chicago landmark living on borrowed time. He certainly has the proper aura to be the best. An hour late to the stage, then with one humble, perhaps not genuinely shy glance at the audience, he immediately becomes the very atmosphere of the place. I can’t help but think of those tales of Hendrix who, after dueling Clapton right off the stage in the U.K., dropped back into the States in a literal ball of fire at Monterey.
I’m a hat man, so I grant South Side Irish Dan with the two-for-$300 pork-pie lid some space against the bar. He tells me the Stones played the Door under similar conditions in the eighties. Last minute announcement, buy ’em at the door, $10 apiece. Maybe someday, on a day when he’s the headliner at a Molly-soaked open-air concert in the mud, Kiwanuka finds a down-on-its luck-venue for a late-night, remember-your-roots show.
Who will get the neo-nineties lights along the south wall? A place like this can never relocate, right? Maybe whatever comes in next will want to keep the unique VIP area behind the bar as an unspoken tribute. Rebuild, retool but never relocate. The Main Street USA-style sign on the Milwaukee Avenue side makes you think the place is ancient. Although I suppose 22 years is an appropriate live fast die young age for a rock venue.
If it’s any solace, Chicago has always boasted of venues like Double Door. The Regal Theater was untouchable at one point too, after what B.B. The King created there. And you’re certain that developers will never throw attorneys and dollars at the Kingston Mines people?
The hipsters have been pushed to Logan Square, thankfully with a conscientious mandate not to gentrify in any wholesale way. It was bound to happen as Wicker Park becomes an ‘edgier’ version of Lincoln Park. Sure, the Milwaukee-Damen-North corners are still well-bearded. But there’s an American Apparel there now.
A tight set, 9:02-10:12. A joyous coda turned malevolent as first Kiwanuka, and then each band member unplugged, bowed, and walked off, leaving only the keyboardist, working the Rhodes in the darkness, swaying, tortured, miserable, like The Phantom of The Opera in his catacomb dark and damp.
Surprisingly, Kiwanuka took the bait for an encore, but did it his way, with a handsome acoustic version of ‘Home Again’ that an intelligent audience zipped their lips for. At 10:15 the hot human mass evacuated and the interior temperature of the place dropped about fifteen degrees.
The bar back pretended not to hear me -only shrugged nervously- at my question of when they were closing for good. The keep-’em-moving doorman looked like a man who knows how things work. He told me that as far as he knows it’s all still in court. Well, mum’s the word then. But it certainly feels like the next slash might nick an artery at a venue that saw a noteworthy Chicago neighborhood make the climb from working class, to suspect, to hipster, to trendy. That means ‘Strollerville’ is next on that trajectory.
I wonder if the significance of it all is not lost on Kiwanuka as well? Let’s call him Mike. After all, we’re all overly-familiar at the Double Door; soon, double-chained and double-locked. Perhaps a faded eviction notice and obnoxious banner screaming SPACE AVAILABLE; CONVENIENT ACCESS TO THE LOOP AND O’HARE!
And you’ll cup your eyes and gaze in at the empty tomb. “I heard Michael Kiwanuka played here once.”