Catfish Coast to Coast is five cities, five photographers, five favorite shots, and five questions documenting each photographer’s impressions of the event. Journey to Los Angeles, Seattle, Chicago, Boston, and New York City as Catfish and the Bottlemen tour America in support of their debut album The Balcony, available on Communion Records.
Enjoy the ride.
PART 3 of 5: CHICAGO, SCHUBAS
If rock ‘n’ roll had an address, it might very well be 2120 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, site of the former Chess Records. That renowned label released recordings by artists whose influence still resonates decades later: Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Etta James, John Lee Hooker, and Buddy Guy, among others. In 1964, following the release of their eponymous debut album, The Rolling Stones recorded the EP Five by Five in Chicago at Chess. When Bob Dylan went electric at Newport in 1965, four of the five fearless young men on stage with him were Chicago bluesmen. Since then and through the years, the savvy Chicago scene has yielded a diverse group of world-renowned musicians: John Prine, Styx, Veruca Salt, Kanye West, and The Smashing Pumpkins, to name a handful. To complete the picture, Lollapalooza and Pitchfork festivals in the summer months, as well as a thriving year-round club scene, attract talent from near and far.
On this trip to Chicago, Catfish and the Bottlemen take the stage at the 175-capacity club Schubas, founded by the Schuba brothers, Mike and Chris, in 1989. Schubas prides itself on booking quality talent and building lasting relationships with artists who often return to play the larger sister venue Lincoln Hall, capacity 500. Both venues were ranked among America’s top 20 clubs by a panel of industry professionals polled by Rolling Stone. Celebrated acts who have performed at Schubas include Fall Out Boy, Elvis Costello, The National, Feist, Norah Jones, Modest Mouse, Tori Amos, My Morning Jacket, Death Cab for Cutie, Vampire Weekend, Of Montreal, The Decemberists, Bon Iver, Foster the People, Sufjan Stevens, Macklemore, and OK Go years before they had ever made their first viral video.
Schubas was the first venue on the US tour to announce a sold out show for Catfish and the Bottlemen, about six weeks prior to the February 24, 2014 date.
In some ways, Pamela Lukas has photography in her DNA. Her great grandfather was a photographer in Detroit. As part of his job with an insurance company, he was tasked with photographically cataloging the entire artwork collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts for valuation purposes. As the daughter of an architect, Pam grew up in a home that valued the visual arts and good design. At age 10, she spent $15 of birthday money to purchase her first camera: a 35mm Fuji all-in-one, spotted in a magazine ad. Years later, her photo skills had evolved to a point where people began offering to pay for her services. So in 2008, Pam began selectively accepting assignments alongside her regular employment in a business development role. In addition to shooting bands live and in recording studios, she is working on a year-long personal project shooting local Chicago musicians and performance artists in a studio setting, giving them the freedom to play or pose in a relaxed, low-key atmosphere. “I want to capture them doing what they love, their passion. I like to see them happy,” she explains. “I like capturing the emotion, because that is what makes a photograph.”
Spotlight on Larry…and friends!
Guitar tech Larry Lau is a familiar face to Bottlemen aficionados. The Chicago show was no exception. Here we also make the acquaintance of co-roadie Doug.
5 Questions for the Photographer
XS – What was your personal show highlight?
All of the young ladies came in a side door where I was standing close to the stage. They had big eyes and big smiles. It reminded me of shots that you would see of fans screaming at The Beatles. I liked seeing the light in everyone’s faces, the excitement when they ran into the room. It’s not often something I get to see, since I’m usually in a photography pit. I don’t see that audience reaction right away at a bigger show until I turn around at some point to shoot behind me. But here I was surrounded by immediate delight on all of their faces. I like that. I thought, “Yay, band! Good for you!”
XS – Describe the show in five words or less.
Finely-tuned, high-energy rockers!
XS – What was your favorite thing about shooting this show?
That the band moved around! They look like they enjoy what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many bands I’ve shot where they just stand in one spot and look like they’re just going through the motions of playing. When there’s no connection, I have a hard time with that. I’ll shoot them, but it’s not work I’m going to be proud of. I’m a “let me see you bleed” kind of photographer. I want to see the emotion. I want to see what you have. I want to record that for you. That’s what excites me as a photographer, and they were giving it out! I wish I’d had more access to the center, but I’m telling you, those young ladies weren’t letting anybody in! It was a packed house.
XS – Which shot is your personal favorite and why?
I got a shot of the lead singer (Van McCann) with his back up against the lead guitar player (Johnny Bond). I like that they were interacting and playing off of each other. It’s as important for a band to connect with each other as it is to connect with the audience. I’ve shot bands when they’re arguing with each other or there are outstanding issues. This is Chicago; it’s a bit of an incestuous scene. There are bands with a rotating cast of characters who come in and out of a band depending on who’s talking to whom. Sometimes the tensions get in the way. So for them to be cool with each other, I think that’s really important. It seemed like that was the case so that’s why I really like that shot.
XS – Anything else you want to add?
They were tight. Van did apologize about his voice but it sounded fine to me! He even offered to refund tickets if anyone was not satisfied with the performance. The audience was singing along with the vocals anyway so it didn’t matter. Schubas is a good-sounding place. It’s a tiny little hall, but they certainly did fill it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it that packed before.
They were having fun, which is important for a band. They certainly connected with the audience wonderfully. It was funny, there was one girl who kept saying, “I love you! I love you!” and then I heard her say, “Well you’re supposed to say you love me back!” I had to laugh at that.
I wish they had played longer. It left me wanting more and that is a good thing. I had a really nice time. I was delightfully surprised by their show. I had seen videos on YouTube but due to the tiny stage, I wasn’t expecting a lot. They more than delivered, above and beyond my expectations.
They were nice and tight and in tune. They were in tune with the audience as well and it was great to see all the interaction. It really helps. I think bands feed a lot off of the audience and they give more. They made an offer to open a drink tab for the room after the show. I warned the tour manager that he was in Chicago and Chicagoans are certainly NOT afraid to drink!
Setlist for Schubas – Chicago – February 24, 2015
Post Scriptum: Chicago Shenanigans – The Great Cutout Caper
Throughout the US tour, a human-size cardboard cutout of the headless artwork from The Balcony album cover has been displayed in venue lobbies. Fans are encouraged to take pictures and share via social media with the hashtag #grabsyoubytheballs.
In Chicago, however, the cutout got kidnapped. Reactions ranged from bemused to bereaved. Roadie Larry quipped, “Someone’s robbed the cardboard cutout – don’t make me laugh!” and band manager Arwen Hunt found it “Hilarious!” urging the card-burglers to post photo updates of the cutout’s travels. Guitarist Bondy was less tickled, lamenting, “Some chump’s gone and ruined everyone’s fun.”
According to Megan, a member of the merry band of borrowers, the young men in her circle of friends were eager to leave the concert with a unique souvenir. They casually strolled out of the venue with the cutout, not realizing it was one of a kind. Guilt and a tweeted confession followed, as well as a pledge to return the item two days later in Notre Dame, Indiana while attending a second show. Thus the burgled cardboard journeyed in the back of a truck, held down by snow as the driver proceeded cautiously at reduced speed for fear it would blow away.
At the Notre Dame show, the cutout was returned to rightful owners Catfish and the Bottlemen who graciously posed for a mug shot with the perpetrators. This incident allows us to reconfirm a few universal truths:
– All’s well that ends well.
– Honesty is the best policy.
– Bad judgment makes for good stories.
Special thanks to the band, and to Arwen, Daniel, and Kristina for helping make this adventure possible.
Photography by Pamela Lukas – pamelalukas.com
CHECK OUT PART 1 OF 5: LOS ANGELES
CHECK OUT PART 2 OF 5: SEATTLE
CHECK OUT PART 4 OF 5 : BOSTON