Troubled Hubble: Schuba’s Tavern

By • Sep 30th, 2005 • Category: Concert Reviews

Thank You.

For the first minute of Troubled Hubble’s farewell show at Schuba’s Tavern, the Chicago quartet displayed those words on a canvas toward the back of the stage. Though “Painter” Nicholas Freeman – the honorary Hubble and half-naked artist accustomed to dancing around and painting during the sets – would turn the phrase into a symbolic, four-headed abstraction by the end of the first song, the capacity-crowd had enough time for the idiom to take hold. Try as Freeman might, no amount of work could cover what everyone saw, and knew – at the root of the night’s output, no matter what happened or was piled on top, there was an ever-present “thank you” just beneath the surface.

It was a “thank you” from the artist to the band, the band to the audience, the audience to each other and every person to at the show to Troubled Hubble. Though Freeman never specified for whom the message was meant, he didn’t have to – there was never a question what it meant. The crowd could take the phrase however it wanted. Tonight wasn’t Troubled Hubble’s show, or Schuba’s event or the fan’s night out. It was something different per viewpoint. For some it was just a reason to dance or maybe a way to make a few bucks tending bar. For others, it was a way to see their beloved rockers one last time, or maybe for the first time.

For the four Hubbles, it was closure. This show was unlike any they played during their six years. Tonight, when the band unplugged its instruments to exit stage right, it would be the member’s last time as Troubled Hubble – and each person at Schuba’s understood that. There was an air of nostalgia about the crowd, and an even greater level of uncertainty. Acts should only get one farewell show, and this was Troubled Hubble’s go-round with a final adieu; nobody knew what to expect.

Which is why when the band launched into its final 75-minute set with “14,000 Things To Be Happy About,” the line “Growing gets harder/ and time is running out” took new meaning. What once seemed like honest, youthful uncertainty, now sounded like a countdown to front man Chris Otepka’s looming exhaustion. In fact, all lyrics took on new meanings in lieu of the situation. The crowd didn’t sing along to each verse, but rather with each verse – they could finally see up-close-and-personal what Otepka meant. Instead of his words being directed towards a faceless, nameless person, tonight’s songs were aimed toward onlookers or his band-mates. As the lyrics told new stories with the same old words, the congregation couldn’t help but feel apart of each saga. Like when Otepka warned, “Don’t flatter yourself/ I’m almost over you” during the tale of an ex-lover unsuccessfully moving on, “Where Raccoons Don’t Live,” the crowd’s rendition sounded as intentionally false as the narrator’s. Nobody was near getting over the evening’s breakup. In the same way “Nancy,” in which a family falls apart publicly and ultimately splits, had the 400 fans drawing new comparisons from Otepka’s metaphors, “Secret” gave the optimists present hope with the line, “The horse that runs away/ is the horse that comes back some day.”

Over the course of the near 20-song set, the group stuck to the bulk of material from 2002’s breakout release, “Penturbia” and this year’s Lookout! Records debut, “Making Beds In A Burning House,” with occasional deep-cut selections. In an evening ripe with emotion, both on stage and off, the four riffled through songs with nary a fault. And aside from thanking each set of parents and a tearful goodbye, the fact this was the group’s final show was never acknowledged during the set. The omission seemed more than an attempt to avoid the elephant in the corner. It was sincere; as if the band feared admitting it on stage might jumpstart an emotional downward spiral, and cause the night to end right then, without a proper sendoff. As Otepka sang, “We’ll take the fake happy over knowing what’s wrong” midway through the opening song, it felt as if he was speaking on behalf of everybody.

But try as they all might to smile, no one could ignore the finality of the event. Which explained the countless flashbulbs and video cameras that blanketed the venue, and would have been a proper setting for “Instamatic,” an ode to disposable cameras and capturing memories. And boy, were there ever memories. Nobody was short on Troubled Hubble stories. From friends and families who saw the band’s first performance at the Fireside Bowl, to others popping their Hubble cherries, it seems retelling the experiences is as much fun for the group’s devotees as actually having them. From high school students who planned to miss school the following day and college students who scraped together gas money, to a newspaper editor who blew off deadline and a concert promoter who missed his own gig, Schuba’s was a kaleidoscope of faces from the past. It was clear this past, one that totaled over 500 shows in almost every state, played a large role that evening. With some patrons driving from as far as Texas, Ohio and Louisiana, 12 states were represented in the crowd.

That is what speaks the loudest of Troubled Hubble. People love the music. They love the performances and records. But they love the band members more. For every one person that connected to a lyric, stood in awe at a machinegun drum-fill, stared baffled at a surprisingly high bass-line or cheered a finger-tapped solo, there were more who connected to the individuals playing those notes. The sell-out audience was there to make sure some friends were doing okay, not to lay their music to rest. That is why Troubled Hubble has always felt like a fan’s band. Whether it was for helping at the merch table or sneaking in through the back door, everyone was greeted with a smile and sent away with a return invite. If the music could cheer you up, the band members would make sure you stayed that way. Your mood was their mood, and their mood was your mood.

Thus it only seemed right the lighter-waving fans waited for the Hubbles to shed a few tears on stage before letting their own sadness show. As guitarist Josh Miller took the mic and asked for permission to do a couple more songs, his voice clearly wavered. Much like Otepka’s cracked with affection while addressing the crowd before the group’s final song together. But who could blame them? The evening culminated with the epic ballad, “What We Do.” Easily the group’s most sincere and best song, it is a tale of enduring loyalty and heartfelt authenticity. When Otepka changed a lyric to confess his love for his band-mates Miller, and brothers Nate and Andrew Lanthrum, not a dry eye looked on. Given the context, the audience belted the lines, “Don’t stop here/ and don’t quit now,” just a bit louder than usual.
When the song, evening and band ended under beautiful, whirling guitars and a chorus claiming, “You used to think that nothing was alright/ but everything’s alright now,” it was all too bittersweet. But that night – as were most night for the six years – everything actually was alright. In fact, it was perfect.

Thank you., Sept. 30, 2005

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