I've always wanted to be a DJ. The thought of playing music that I love for an audience and having them love it too is one of the more gratifying things I can imagine (at least in a PG-13-rated column). But there have always been a few things stopping me: I lack great hand-eye coordination, I have a profound allegiance to CDs over records, and I've never really been much of a performer. My trip to Smartbar
on Sunday night may have convinced me I was just making excuses.
While past editions of The End industry nights have included packed lineups with some of Chicago's biggest DJs, this week's schedule had just one name: Scott Lucas, singer and guitarist for Zion, IL's own Local H. The duo has been chugging along since its 1996 hit "Bound for the Floor," making quality hard rock for a dedicated audience. In fact, Lucas has built up enough goodwill in the area that he can drop by Smartbar with a book full of CDs and assume the role of DJ.
I'm not complaining, exactly. Over the course of a couple hours, I heard plenty of great music, from Gang of Four to Tom Petty to Dead Prez. But for awhile, I had no idea the "event" had even started...there was just a guy hunched over a CD player in the corner. I have a feeling this is not quite what it was like when New Order's Peter Hook played a DJ set here last week, or even what it's like most nights at the Metro's popular dance club. The gloomy weather outside probably didn't help.
The subdued set didn't seem to be a problem for the 10 or so other people who joined Dave and I on the stools around the coolly-lit, mirrored bar. They seemed mainly to have drinking on their minds, and if they are actually service industry workers, I can understand why. Since the bar's open until 4 a.m, there was no reason to rush the party. Eventually, I'm sure there would be plenty of dancing, especially from the guy who entered proclaiming, "it's my birthday!" and promptly ordered a round of shots.
One thing that's nice about a low-key music night is that it's easy to talk. After making our way down the dim labyrinth of doors to the basement-level spot, we learned that our bartender, Kelly, was taking a break from both alcohol and cigarettes and trying out a raw diet to boot. 2006, she said was a year full of toxins. Maybe that's why this year's first industry night was free of embellishments. Her personal quest for purity didn't stop her from urging me to have another pint of Sam Adams, however.
There's something about a little late-night Sunday drinking that promotes reflective conversation, and by the end of a couple hours, Dave and I were sufficiently spent, even if it seemed like the party might just be getting started. I'd come to enjoy Lucas' mood music, as it was a decent end to what had been, to that point, a tiring weekend. If you'd added in a dartboard and a muted Sportscenter, I might've felt like I was in my own basement, with the added bonus that I didn't have to change the music myself. But I'm most thankful to our entertainer for giving me hope about my own chances of making it as a DJ, at least an early-evening one. As we walked out, you could even say I was feeling a bit copacetic.
Smartbar hosts The End service industry nights every Sunday night beginning at 10 p.m. For more info, visit http://www.smartbarchicago.com.