To the Shure-Mobile! Today I was off to catch the tremendously talented Adam Young aka Owl City at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. I also had a special guest helper along for the ride… my niece Lizzi Stack was pretty excited about getting to see the immensely popular Owl City, too! This was my first time at the Aragon Ballroom and Lizzi’s second concert ever. Okay, she’s 11 years old, so she’s got a lot more concerts to go to in her lifetime, but how could I work at Shure and be the music fanatic that I am to never make it to the Aragon Ballroom ’til today?
A little history about the Ballroom, provided to me by our photographer Paul Natkin over some tasty Chinese dinner… The Aragon Ballroom was THEE place to see a rock show back in the day (read 70s – 80s). For $5, you could see five bands in one evening! The “monster rock” shows were legendary, sometimes lasting six hours. Sure there were some no names and one-hit-wonders in there, but Zeppelin, AC/DC and the Who were on the bill as well. There were two stages, one up high and one closer to ground level, where the bands would play. A band would play stage one and when they finished their set, the next band would begin on stage two, leaving time to switch out the backline on stage one for the next band of the evening. Non-stop rock for six hours! Can you imagine? There’s all kinds of stories and transformations attached to this club, do a little investigating and check it out.
So anyway, there we were amongst the masses of ravenous Owl City fans waiting to get inside. Legendary photographer Paul Natkin found some familiar faces amongst the Aragon staff, the most important one being Lois, the lady with the All Access passes for the evening. A couple of quick hello’s and a few smiles later, we were walking through the temporarily empty venue and headed upstairs to the main hall. At the front of house position, we found engineer Adam Jackson and guitar tech Andy Frost, who were just finishing up with soundcheck and last-minute details. We talked a bit about the tour and mics and I couldn’t help being distracted by the look of the Aragon once inside. It seemed as though we were now standing outside in the courtyard of a Spanish village, night sky and all. Crazy.
It was a bit loud where we were, and we found ourselves shouting at each other in an effort to successfully communicate. One of the opening acts was now in soundcheck mode, so we moved to the monitor position to continue business. The entire crew was very gracious and extremely happy with their Shure mics, which just so happen to cover everything requiring a microphone of some type on stage. Adam Young is using a KSM9 UHF-R wireless unit for vocals and a 520DX for certain distorted vocal moments on stage.
The crew was heading back to grab some food and get ready for the evening, so Paul decided to take us on a tour of the Ballroom. We walked around backstage as Paul shared stories and pointed out the interesting details of the club. Did you know that the entire floor of the main hall is on springs? There was open dancing in the early days of the Aragon, and this floor literally put a spring in your step! Now of course, when everyone is jumping in unison at a loud rock show, the floor moves along with the crowd… kind of like a very subdued trampoline.
We made our way up to the VIP balcony area, where we had our very own opera box to see the show. Although we were right by the speakers, you couldn’t get a better view of the stage, not to mention no pushing and shoving from the crowd trying to get a better spot all night. Sweet. Opening act Lights came out and the screaming started. She rocked the place, and anyone who plays a keytar with success is okay in my book. Before Lights went into her last song, she mentioned that Owl City was going to be up next; the screaming was now at a fever pitch.
Paul made his way down to the front of the stage to get in position and do his thing, and within minutes, Owl City began their intro… more screaming. Moments later Adam Young hit the stage and I endured the most screaming I’ve ever heard at a live show. I thought to myself, “This must be what it’s like at a Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana concert.”
Having listened to the Owl City Ocean Eyes album and all the detail Adam put into his basement creation, I was curious to hear how this was going to play out on stage in a live setting. I was impressed by how much was going on, and the musicians were definitely in the pocket. Besides Adam on guitar and synth, there was an additional keyboard/synth player up front, two more players on vibraphone, keys and guitar as needed, a drummer, and a two-piece string section. The sounds being created by each of these individuals was blended perfectly and the songs sounded just as good or even better than the album at times. Even above the screams, everything sounded amazing and Owl City was certainly pleasing the crowd, one song after another.
After the show, we said our goodbye’s and thank you’s to the crew for taking care of us and made our way back down the stairs to the lobby where we found the t-shirt vendors. My niece Lizzi needed an Owl City shirt to remember the evening by. As we approached the doors of the Ballroom to head outside into the city, we were greeted by a cumbersome downpour of Spring showers. It appeared that Lizzi’s new t-shirt would now be playing the role of umbrella as we ran back to the Shure mobile.
Thanks to Owl City and the crew, it was great to see you all and check out the show. Thanks to the Aragon crew for being so cool to us all night. Hope to see all of you again soon!