The drinks in Highland Park are expensive and ludicrous. Eight dollars for a shot of well whiskey on the rocks. I lost my favorite pen to some random-ass street. The night was ominous from the start. But there would be music at the Hi-Hat and that was a thing to anticipate.
Let’s handle the pleasantries: the Hi-Hat is a venue with enough space to walk around without bumping into anyone, has a few pool tables, shares a symbiotic relationship with a burger shop, and has the audacity to charge 9 dollars for a tall can of Sapporo. Although, they do offer Olympia by the can for 4 dollars a pop and a few prime drafts for 6. It’s a toss up. I’m merely offended by my favorite beer being lampooned and ignored for price gauging. The crowd is the typical homogeneous collection of aging, self-aware hipster. Not self-aware of their hipsterness but rather self-aware of the cultural siege that they’ve brought into the neighborhood of Highland Park. More than once through the evening, I’ve heard folks bemoaning the state of gentrification in this verifiable gentrified space. The few colored people moving about like wraiths, occasionally laughing and rolling up their sleeves to show tattoo sleeves as a sort of card to show they were not the type of colored folk to sniff their nose at an issue as long as there was good music and company.
I made the mistake of arriving too early so, naturally, my only option was drinking to kill time. Unfortunately, I spent far too long wondering why the floor was so sticky. The bathroom floor, on the other hand, quite pristine. But on to the music. Three bands played. I’ll only be focusing on the first band, primarily out of a terrible memory and secondly because I will be seeing one of the other bands who played later on in the month. But on to the first. Tim Carr. I’m not certain if this is the name of the band, an individual, or some other combination of odd self-identifiers. Either way, they took the stage at a prompt 9:15. The lights were dimmed and the space filled with a butter knife falsetto reminiscent of Jeff Buckley. Lacking the piercing pain but still managing to convey somewhat of the ethereal atmosphere that Carr perhaps hoped to reproduce.
A slightly drunk couple dancing in the red lights to bubbling guitars, the notes sharp and crisp to nearly the point of over-engineering, popping and snapping. This is not the sound of grit. The whole soundscape coupled with the fabulous sound mixing of the venue managed to convey the feeling of an experience thoroughly polished, preconceived, and, as a result, somewhat sterile. The only life that I could see in the crowd was that of the drunk lindy-hoppers and that could have simply been the booze.
The latter songs played by Carr held my attention. There was a general sway in the audience as the lights flickered in and out amidst songs that had moved from “white-guy singing sadly with a backing band mostly used to separate their musical tendencies towards easy-listening acoustic folk-rock” to something with more character, a little bit more backbone and transience to it. The second half of Carr’s set enveloped the Hat with a cozy haze, not quite a melancholic fog, the sort that you could wander through and occasionally stumble upon a friend, exchanging smiles and handshakes. Not a purgatory. A place somewhat flat, one that we’ve all seen and heard before but still registers as something different than the usual routine that we’ve been programmed to share. Somewhat surfer rock backup vocals wafting about and here, now the crowd is living, now they’ve remembered that they have legs and arms and they are meant to be moved by what it is that we are baring witness to, whatever the hell is going on up on stage (to be fair, I was not watching the stage closely. My eyes would dart back and forth on occasion but I was thoroughly convinced at some point that the band was nothing more than robots who had been brought out to perform along with Carr and the drummer, the only two who resonated any sort of presence but I am biased in the sense that I want my performances to bleed and cry and will be the first to note that blood may not be necessary for such an event, nor even wanted).
Tim Carr existed most strongly for me in the last song. The vocal harmonies melded in an exquisite moment as the backing band swarmed in a buildup that either hinted at a climax or sheer chaos instead. It was the first true heart I believe the evening had. All that I had heard and seen before was too easy to digest. But there is a place for that. And it seems to be a place that this area of town readily craves. It is easy to hear. It is easy to be a part of. But that last song, I believe for a minute, we all became aware of just how easily that which is simple to perceive can hint and perhaps quickly slip into madness. For the sake of us all, Carr brought it all back around and tied the set up in a nice bow. But for a moment, not matter how brief, we were on the precipice. The world was slipping. There was something beyond and then, poof, it was gone. And the crowd dispersed to buy drinks and wait for the next band to take us someplace else.