Our night started at Beauty Bar where they were having a Kesha dance party. While sipping our pre-show freezie drinks, Kendra and I were discussing expectations versus reality. It had been a while since either of us had seen a proper Tiger Army show. I was excited about the idea of seeing the band in such a small venue as the Beat Kitchen. Previously, I had seen them both at Riot Fest and opening for Dropkick Murphys.
I recounted a story about when my friends went to see them back in high school. They had to leave three songs in because it was so rough that one of them had their gauge torn from their ear. This was around about the last time Kendra had seen them and shared my potential for nostalgia fueled enthusiasm. Given the level of success that somehow seems to have followed Tiger Army well into 2017, this sudden special small venue one-off performance opened up a lot of possibilities. The volume of the Kesha-only playlist increased as did the plethora of ways Kendra and I came up with how this could be one of the best shows of the year. But, given the conspicuous lack of people out at the bar on a Friday night and the very specific circumstances surrounding how you attended this special Tiger Army show, it became clear how there was certainly a very specific way that they could fuck things up.
You see, tickets to just the intimate Beat Kitchen show were not available for singular purchase. In order to get in, a commitment of two nights of Tiger Army was required. It was sort of a two-for-one deal that involves paying full price for both things. A person who pays $60 for the privilege of spending the Friday and Saturday nights after Thanksgiving in Chicago seeing Tiger Army requires a very special sort of dedication to say the least. I’ve made it no secret how much I’ve enjoyed my recent trip down memory lane; I’ve spent 2017 catching up with a lot of old favorites. This was yet another chance to catch what was sure to be a good time which moved its way to the front of my Must See list. On top of all of that, I was going to the show with one of my best friends who had a similar (but also very different) experience with the band than I did. The whole recipe promised nothing but success as Kendra and I stood upfront, anxiously waiting alongside fellow members of the Tiger Army who were also looking for a good time.
The bill promised only two band which largely appealed to the part of me that had to be at work at 6 the following morning. One of those two was The Blind Staggers and that is always good news. Bar music can get real shitty, real fast. But when it’s in the hands of well qualified and overly talented artisans in both fields, all fears can be laid to rest. My first instinct was that I was finally getting confirmation that I’ve seen this band live. They always happen to be around and for some reason I can never remember if I’m thinking of them or not. Considering how memorable and Murder By Death-like their performance was, it’s hard for me to me imagine having seen them and not being able to remember. Not only were their songs toe tappingly good ditties, they liked Randy Newman and bassist played a Warlock. Those things will increase the enjoyability of a set any day of the week. It was a shame the show wasn’t more accessible to The Staggers’ local fans other than the very small percentage that was a cross over with Tiger Army. Despite their spot on and hard driving performance, the audience seemed more interested in getting down to the main event. But, by the end of their set, it also sounded like The Blind Staggers had made a few converts.
The sign on the front door of the Beat Kitchen read “Sold Out”, but given how easy it was to move through the crowd from the stage to the bathroom, it certainly didn’t feel that way. There were only 25 minutes until Tiger Army was scheduled to go on, so time was running out to head to the bathroom and head back before the opening song. I’m a largely cynical ass, but even I was not about to miss singing “Tiger Army Never Die!” along with a room full of other people clearly as excited as me. I made my way back to the front as Kendra and I admired the barrier that appeared to be assembled for the night. As much as I enjoying shooting from the immersion of a crowd, I could certainly appreciate the rare freedom to move about a small venue that Kendra was afforded that night. With 10 o’clock fast approaching, I was eager to get the show on the road both because I love a good time and I also was hoping to get at least some sleep before I went to work. 10PM came and went. 10:05 was up next and something was beginning to feel a little off.
I’ve been around long enough to know when a show is running on punk time and when it’s a personal decision. One of my most notorious examples involves waiting way too long for the chance to photograph Snoop Dogg at Riot Fest. He is well known for showing up late to shows for no other reason than because he can. As Tiger Army soon became 15 minutes late, people in the crowd seemed to show a similar lack of patience. The instruments had been onstage since 9:45 and Nick 13’s personal guitar tech had spent every minute with his ear pressed against each guitar to ensure it was perfectly in tune, awaiting its user. Visibly, there was absolutely no reason for the band not to be onstage. When people started cursing, I 100% agreed with them. By the time 10:30 rolled around, the air was tense and the band taking the stage was greeted with equal parts relief that this was actually happening and a renewed interest in things to come.
Nick 13 apologized for the delay and informed the crowd he had been struggling with a stomach flu this week. It made sense; most people I know or work with have been recently sick with that shit. It also explained the presence of a crew member whose sole duty seemed to be providing a steady supply of perfect temperature tea. I can’t imagine spending any amount of time dealing with a flu the same day I was scheduled to play a show, so I decided to give the band the benefit of the doubt and perform a similar rally to stay for the whole show and abandoning all hope of a decent night’s sleep. After all, they might play “Incorporeal” and that would make it all worth while. *spoiler alert* They didn’t.
I had remarked to my wife that if Tiger Army could do anything wrong this night, it would be playing a lot of new songs. I had also expected to be paying $25 for a screen print of the really rad tour poster. I was right about one thing. To this day I’d still pay money for a quality printing of that Chicago flag themed poster. Instead, I had that opportunity to spend those $25 on a t-shirt bearing the logo and show information. Or, I could have pooled an extra $5 for an exclusive copy of V ***. However, its lack of being able to glow-in-the-dark immediately disqualified it from a possibility of purchase. Musically, I honestly couldn’t believe Tiger Army wasted this chance with some of their most dedicated fans by playing them new material. Looking around, I wasn’t the only one thinking this. “Chizo De Amore” was great, but most of that had to do with the girls behind us yelling “CHORIZO DE AMORE!!!” I just felt so bad during these new songs because every time Nick 13 looked over at me, I’m sure that I looked bored as shit.
Kendra’s Note: While Mat wasn’t pleased with the set list for the night, I do want to mention that they absolutely slayed when they played “Fog Surrounds”, “When the Night Comes Down”, and “Cupid’s Victim” among others. Poor Nick 13 was dripping in sweat only a few songs in but powered through the set with more energy than I could muster while combating the flu. Check out the below photos of the night and check back for a much more positive review of Night 2 at the Metro!