The debut of The Traveling Imaginary

by Ryan Snyder

The inside of the space that Krankies Coffee inhabits has known a few different personas over the years: The sporadic and unlawful pop-up raves of the early ‘90s gave way to the incubational noise of the Werehouse, which in turn birthed the current indierock enclave that exists there today.

But for a single evening last Wednesday, it was home to something less definable in premise. The performance area was closed off much of the afternoon, with only the occasional burst of sousaphone and a shambolic but resonant tenor revealing what was taking shape inside. It was the Music Tapes’ The Traveling Imaginary, an experience only being realized in full in public for the very first time.

To call it merely a “show” wouldn’t be paying its architect, Neutral Milk Hotel’s Julian Koster, the proper appreciation. The Music Tapes have been putting on “shows” for over a decade, piecing together what would become for The Traveling Imaginary one minor epiphany at a time. There was a game involving blindfolds, bells, city names and animal noises; a record player with esoteric Indian ragas spinning; lovely black-and-white musical cartoons; a bean-bag toss; exotic instruments and contraptions; songs by Koster and his cohorts; all taking place within and around a circus tent that may have been a little too large for its debut venue, but graciously so. Koster played its bullhorn-, banjo- and bow-wielding ringleader, corralling his 50odd participant group from event to event.

The beauty of it all, for both the participants and certainly for Koster himself, was that no one really knew what to expect. Koster’s enthusiasm bubbled with a hint of nervousness, not that his audience wouldn’t react to his concepts — rarely was there time to fully process in the whirlwind of activities— but more in the sense that he was trying to both relish every bit of creative nuance while spotting ways to make every subsequent Traveling Imaginary a little more thoughtful, a tiny bit more magnificent than the one before. Provoking smiles certainly wasn’t a problem, not for his audience or for Koster, who wore the biggest of them all.

Umphrey’s McGee celebrated the next 15 years, Ziggy’s just celebrates What a difference a booking makes.

The noise over Ziggy’s R. Kelly fiasco had barely died down by Wednesday with many taking to social media to contest the olive branch that the club extended, meanwhile more than 800 people came out that night for a retina-searing set by Chicago jam band extraordinaires Umphrey’s McGee. The band’s nearly three-hour performance came on the immediate heels of one of the band’s biggest personal celebrations in their history, the 15th anniversary of their very first show, but exhaustion was far from an issue.

The band’s next 15 years was highlighted in two sets bookended by two of their oldest tunes; the first set came and went with “Phil’s Farm,” opening and closing a set highlighted by the dream-funk epic “Red Tape” that tucked in the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” quite neatly. The second was sandwiched in their old saw “Divisions”, which gave way to a blissful take on Pink Floyd’s “Breathe,” made whole by the band’s massive light show.