Salutations from Chicago!
On Tuesday, July 23rd, if you had walked down Lincoln Avenue in Chicago’s bustling Lincoln Park, you would have passed the usual college lurking spots for DePaul students. In fact, let us imagine now that you are walking this route, and you are passing the average amount of faux-Irish pubs filled to the brim with pulsing music, yelling patrons and a significant amount of cologne and perfume clogging the air. If you kept walking, however, you might have found yourself looking at a willowy figure of a woman leaning lightly upon a snake-headed walking stick. At first she seems simply to be in costume of some form — perhaps a performer from one of the nearby theatres of Chicago’s teeming storefront theatre scene — but upon closer approach, it is more than mere artifice. She is exquisitely decked in a bustled skirt and striped stockings, and her chapeau is beyond describing, her fire-engine-red hair perfectly curled and styled about her shoulders.
She smiles when she sees you, peering over round, dark spectacles. “Hello, good evening! I think you’ll find what you’re looking for in here,” she says, gesturing with the silver snake head of her cane into the pub beside her.
Inside, a small handful of dapper men and decadent ladies mill about the bar, which is decorated with antique objects of all sorts. There are modern lights and a television screen or two, but the decor is clearly drawing influences from other eras for a delightful mix. There is even a faux-library on a small landing overlooking the bar in the corner, where one might recline on red velvet chairs or a loveseat. A red velveteen curtain separates half of the room from the other, presumably because the performers are finishing their soundchecks before the concert begins. A merch table filled with CDs, t-shirts, and other unique memorabilia is attended by one or two people, but for now there is not much of a crowd and everyone is quietly socializing with their drinks.
This is the Wise Fool’s Pub, and the evening is part of the Steamstock nation-wide tour of steampunk musicians. This stop included This Way To The Egress, The Cog Is Dead, and Frenchy & The Punk, hosted and assisted by the fine folks of Chicago Steampunk, including the Lord and Ladies DJs.
I was excited to experience steampunk socially outside of my usual convention-style fare at TeslaCon. It was exciting to come home and lace up a corset to go out in instead of just wearing any old thing to a random bar. I was looking forward to the musical experience as well, as I was familiar with the names of all three bands but had never heard their actual music. Normally that causes hesitation from me, but when the red velvet curtain parted and This Way to the Egress began their first song, I was smitten. Smitten, I say!
This Way to the Egress’ raucous blues-swing-gypsy-punk sound was of an excellent, foot-stomping, swing-dancing variety, and the room went from polite steampunk society to the party in Third Class from Titanic in half a song. I wished they had played on, because it was such an incredible set.
The Cog Is Dead is a father-son duo from Florida, which at first glance was sort of a steampunk-meets-The Black Keys outfit of drums and guitar. If Egress had a country feel, Cog had a much more urban texture, definitely rock and blues-influenced.
The ‘headliner’ for the night, Frenchy and the Punk, was a definite circus-cabaret-punk type outfit, bringing to mind The Dresden Dolls and even Amanda Palmer’s later collaboration with Jason Webley. Theatrical, dark, twisty, but always with a spark of fun.
The three musical acts had something for every steampunk in the room, that was for certain, and I had a phenomenal evening. I purchased a tote and a t-shirt from This Way To The Egress, and my friends Bobby and Kim were kind enough to gift me with one of the lovely, tattered, found-object fascinators handmade by members of Egress. Each of the acts had something handmade to purchase along with their usual shirt and CD fare (Frenchy had these adorable amazing hand-sewn stuffed bats!) which was wonderful to see; I love how assertive steampunks in general are with their myriad art forms, and it was cool to go home with something unique and one-of-a-kind as well as the shirt and bag.
If Steamstock is coming to a venue near you, do yourself a favor. Put on your dancing shoes, adjust your topper and get thee to a concert. It was a lot of fun and a phenomenal chance to see artists I might not otherwise have known about.