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Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts Entertainment Chicago Illinois
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Joe Shanahan

The Metro owner comes clean about his labor of love.
Monday Dec 11, 2006.     By Ben Rubenstein
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Joe Shanahan
Twenty-five years is a long time to stay excited about something; even the most amazing things can grow stale over that period. But don't tell that to Metro owner Joe Shanahan, whose enthusiasm for his job running one of Chicago's (and the country's) most respected rock clubs hasn't waned in the least over the past quarter-century.

Most people would throw in the towel after witnessing some of the things Shanahan has during his tenure: the birth of the Smashing Pumpkins, Iggy Pop's comeback, Nirvana debuting songs from Nevermind. How much better could it get?

But Shanahan only has to walk into the old building on Clark Street, which houses the same stage, the same balcony, the same light fixtures as those shows and so many others, to remember that history does repeat itself, and that there are plenty more memories to be made. All he has to do is keep things exactly as they are.

Some say dogs begin to look like their owners; others say owners start to look like their dogs. Which is true for you?
When I was younger, Metro was me, in the fact that I just surrendered myself to her like a mistress. And as I've gotten older, now I'm a custodian. I just take care of her. I just keep it moving, I keep it alive, as opposed to directing it. Now it's on its own path.

Who's on your I-want-them-to-play-here wish list?
There's one band that hasn't performed here that I would love to have perform here, and that would be U2. I think the band loves Chicago, I think they know that Chicago is an unbelievable music town, and I think they recognize the fact that Metro is a component of why the music scene in this town is as vibrant as it is. If there was ever an opportunity where they would be doing a club date, I'm sure we'd have a good shot at it.

What are you listening to?
I'm a big fan of this band Hot Chip. I think it's a really clever band and a clever record. At home I listen to a lot of jazz, lots of Miles Davis and Coltrane. I turn my kids onto The Beatles and Dylan. I think a live rock band is one of the greatest experiences out there, so when a Queens of the Stone Age comes along or a Foo Fighters comes along, those records are gonna be on my car stereo because I like them so much. I also love the Decemberists, Arcade Fire, that whole exciting genre of contemporary music

What's the best/worst thing about your job?
The best is making people happy, looking out over the crowd on a sold-out show, or a show that only has 200 people, and seeing smiling faces, people singing words to songs, enjoying themselves. The best day is when I can look out in my club and see people enjoying music the way that I enjoy it, because I'm still a music fan.

The worst thing is bureaucracy, red tape. No matter how benevolent and how beautiful the music is, there's always a litigious ghost in the background, and that's tough.

Music aside, the best night to visit your club is:
To me, the best night is a band's first time in the club. It's the first impression that the artist gets from the club. I will walk backstage and introduce myself to a singer, or a guitar player or a road manager, and I'll ask how their day has been. And they'll say, 'It's been great, this is a great place to be, we've just relaxed and done a great show and your staff has been fantastic. We'd love to take them all on the road with us.'

A little-known fact about your club is:
It was built in 1927. It was sort of a cultural center, kind of a clearinghouse for work visas. I don't think it's changed very much since then. It's still kind of a cultural clearinghouse of musical genres and styles and I think there's a lot of good spirit in this building. That's part of the magic and why it's had the life that it's had.

Besides yours, what's your favorite Chicago music club(s)?
Schubas, Hideout. Certainly, I love Double Door. That's because I own a piece of it and I book a piece of it. I like more intimate rooms; I like the Green Mill, I go to Joe Siegel's [Jazz] Showcase for music.


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