I've got a whole city to hold down

December 09, 2004

Logan Square Auditorium: The Bottle responds

Yesterday your pals Jack and Lazlo discussed the merits (and demerits) of the Logan Square Auditorium. That conversation drew a long and thoughtful e-mail response from Pete Toalson, who books bands at the Empty Bottle and LSA.

Jack: !!!, Adem, the Arcade Fire, the Constantines, Danger Mouse, Diplo, Electrelane, Explosions in the Sky, Junior Boys, the Like Young, Mouse on Mars, Múm, Murs, Non-Prophets, Will Oldham, Peaches, Peanut Butter Wolf, Perceptionists, Q And Not U, the Race, RJD2, Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, Shock G, the Wrens. You could have seen all of those acts at LSA this year (and most of them I did). So while they’ve got work to do on the experience of seeing shows there, the talent on display - when you line it up like that - is simply sick. It blows away pretty much every other venue in town.

Pete: First of all, let me say, when looking at the lineup of shows there, it is pretty impressive. Having done most all of them, I don't think any of us here had really laid them out and put them together. (We’re always working so far in the future, we rarely stop and take looks back.) There is indeed a lot of talent on display. Which then leads to...

In approaching the LSA, we've never thought of the space as a seven-day-a-week venue, and have ourselves been very selective as to what we’ve brought into the room. We think of it as a 'special occasion' place, and have approached the room critically when programming it - an approach that is borne out by the list you've provided.

Jack: In little more than a year it's gone from being a home to occasional dance parties and quinceañeras to hosting a whole series of great bills booked by the Bottle--and now, under MP Shows, it’s supposedly evolving into a seven-days-a-week venue.

Pete: From our point of view (and I can assure you, we're particular), you can't really bring the sort of artist quality we ourselves are interested in on a seven-days-a-week schedule. Which is why we've never had any interest in getting involved in booking the space full time, right? We don't want to stand around at a show we wouldn't want to do, listening to music we're not interested in. Unfun. We’re in it for the love of the game, when it comes down to it.

Booking that space seven days a week is a huge challenge, and to do so successfully one has to be willing to sacrifice artistic credibility and/or personal integrity. We talked about it, for sure, but then asked ourselves, "Do we really want to wait around until midnight to settle up with some cover band?" The answer, of course, was resoundingly "No." It’s just not what we do, nor is it something we're interested in. But that just might just be the stuff you gotta do to fill that place night in and night out. It's f-n’ huge, yeah?

Which is why we've never gone haywire in the space, and the reason we'll only continue doing shows in the space that we feel are a good fit. That may be one a month, it may be four a month, one can't really say. But we'll keep on doing things as we see fit, when the opportunities arise.

Lazlo: I know that when the Reader column came out about MP Shows taking over booking LSA full-time, it mentioned that the Bottle was planning to open another, similar-sized room. Was that just blowing smoke (to pretend they weren't hurt by getting cut out of LSA, when they were the ones who made the room desirable in the first place) or is there something still in the works?

Pete: Much has been made of the fact that MPShows is also booking the LSA, and many folks have positioned this as some sort of battle between the Empty Bottle versus MPShows. This is unfortunate, as it simply isn't true. We'll continue doing the shows we want to do in the space, marquee shows that we feel benefit from what the room has to offer. MPShows will continue to work independently to fill out the rest of the calendar, as they see fit. As booking the room full time was of absolutely no interest to us, it’s understandable that the owners would look to other parties to fill their needs. If we don’t feel it appropriate for the spot, or isn’t something we’re interested in, we just aren’t going to do it.

As far as other spaces are concerned, we’re always looking at other options, as it’s our intention to present artists in rooms or spaces that are appropriate and/or unique. As the Reader article mentioned, we are indeed looking at developing another new spot, and things are coming along as expected. (Well, okay, a bit slow, but that’s what we expect, anyhow, as that’s the way these things are and we’re used to it – our ‘now’ is generally four to five months out.) The spot in question is mad fresh, and we think folks are going to love it. It’s the total jam, and we’re really excited about it. At the point when it’s readied, we’ll approach it as we do everything: if the room is good for the artists, and good for the fine folks who follow our efforts, then we’ll do it. But it won’t be a seven-days-a-week affair, because, well, see above.

Lazlo: The drink prices and selection leave a lot to be desired. To me, the liquor and the shows go hand-in-hand – and the overpriced MGD and Heineken aren't cutting it.

Pete: You know how we do it when we have control of things. Obviously, there, at the LSA, we don't. And we like drinking as much as the next guy, for reals. (See ‘damaged livers’.)

Jack: The place has some serious warts, beginning with its atrociously muddy sound. Supposedly concerted efforts have been made to address this – and it’s been a month since I was there – but I haven’t noticed a lot of improvement.

Lazlo: From my last couple of visits there, it does seem that the sound is more "consistent," though still a wee bit short of the competence you would like for some of the quality in acts there. I really love the feel of the room, and how, if you look through the windows behind the stage, you can see the monument in the square all lit up at night.

Jack: The view is another big bonus in my book. But the last time I was there they’d covered over the windows with brown paper! Dumb dumb dumb.

Pete: Regarding sound, you alls is right, it’s not great. It has improved, and the owners have brought in new curtains (goodbye view) and a new PA. The sound is indeed more consistent, and it’s been an overall improvement. But, it is what it is, and will remain so – not bad, not great. That being the case, we feel it important to recognize this and try to bring in music that has the best chance of sounding good. Simply put, some stuff doesn’t sound good in the space, and never will. We try to avoid that stuff.

Lazlo: From eyeballing the MP Shows site, it’s clear they’re not filling LSA every night like they claimed they’d do. Is this just a gradual ramping up, or what?

Pete: In response to the whole of the current LSA calendar, we’ll have to defer to MPShows for an explanation on this one, as I’m not really sure, in looking at the shows, what their intentions are for the space in the long haul.

In summary, I’m supposing the emergence of the Logan Square Auditorium is noteworthy, at least when looking at the listing of artists that have played the room. We hadn’t really thought of it in that context, and have instead been focused on bringing ‘more of the best’ to the Chicagoland area. However, I guess a room can only take you so far though, right? It’s really the artists and you folks supporting them IN the space that really make the show. That’s how we look it, anyway.