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The Chicago Stare

Fanfarlo playing a sold out show at Schubas.
Fanfarlo playing a sold out show at Schubas.
Edward Blake

The “Chicago Stare” is something you have experienced at a live show, but may not have had a name for at the time. It is felt most acutely by the band on stage, but it affects everyone at the show. My most basic definition of the Chicago stare: A band on stage playing their heart out, a room full of people blankly looking back.

First, allow me to count myself among the guilty. More often than not, music is something I consume. Generally speaking, I do not interact with music in the same way that I interact with a book. An admission: I hardly listen to lyrics. I hear them, sure, and may remember a catchy hook or slick turn of phrase after the fact. While the music is playing, though, I am not following the lyrics.

“What the shiz does that have to do with this so-called ‘Chicago Stare’?”

It’s about interaction. I’m not saying you need to sing-along to an entire song—please don’t—but consider why you are at the show in the first place. It is more than just the music that brought you there. I’m going to try and hit the root cause in one sentence; here goes:

You want to be moved and be near others that are moved in the same way.

A live show can be a great experience for many reasons, but the fundamental element is immediacy. There is no barrier between the band and their audience—no carefully calibrated mixing and mastering, no studio tricks, no polished gleam.

And yet, time and again, Chicago crowds seem to add their own internal barrier to the music. This may be our way of engaging with the music we see. Maybe we want to assess the band’s performance as we are experiencing it. Maybe we are listening for something, listening very closely, and that is our main concern.

That’s all fine and well. We hold bands to a pretty high standard here in Chicago. That’s one of the reasons a band will move here to try and test their mettle.

But let me propose this: The next time you’re at a show, throw away all expectation and preconceptions. Let the bass, snare and high-hat move your head back and forth. Loosen your shoulders up to the bass guitar. Get swept away in a giant chorus.

See where it goes from there. Live music is a communal experience, and if most of the crowd is moving, no matter how subtly, to the music, it can only grow from there. The band will feel it and feed on it. The person next to you might become a new friend, if only for an hour or two. The show will naturally elevate itself to a new level.

Think about it, Chicago. Give it a try.

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