December 16, 2017

Finally It's Christmas: Chicago

If you know me at all, you already know I'm an incredibly cheesy human being. I prefer puns to profanity on any given day, and it only gets worse being named Holly around Christmas time. I chose to do the two Chicago shows over the rest of the FIC Tour cities because several of my friends were also planning to go, and as you can imagine, the Christmas cheer got a little extra when we joined forces.

The trip began with me somehow packing a full sized sleeping bag, a giant thigh-length down coat, an extra fleece blanket, a holly dress, boots, and a few Christmas sweaters into a carry-on suitcase. I packed everything else in a personal item and managed to pull off not checking a bag or re-wearing anything. It was the first of many Christmas miracles this trip and probably my most impressive packing feat to date (after all that effort, it was 60 degrees Fahrenheit by the day we left. Go figure).

I'd normally talk about both shows separately, but the the setlists were identical and the biggest difference for me was the fact that I was front row the first night and in the balcony for the second show. The first night, Isaac's son also played the role of an elf roadie and handed his dad guitars while wearing a full elf costume. He kept waving to the audience and hamming it up dancing on the side of the stage. It was absolutely adorable and Isaac was beaming the whole time.

Hanson's performances were beyond amazing. There's a reason a video of "Joy to the Mountain" a fan recorded in NYC went viral; that song perfectly showcases their voices and ability to blend in seamless harmony, and it got the biggest crowd response both nights. Zac's rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas" was gorgeous, "Merry Christmas Baby" felt the most nostalgic and put the biggest involuntary smile on my face, and the finale made it clear that Isaac's voice was the perfect choice for "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" that manages to somehow make you feel just a touch of sadness while you're also bursting with joy. To be honest, I was a little disappointed that the setlists didn't vary at all, if only because I didn't get to hear my favorite part of the new album, "Happy Christmas." My all-time favorite is "My Favorite Christmas Sweater," but I didn't have much hope for that one being played since it's on neither album. Maybe one day.

After the first show, we managed another Christmas miracle by getting an overly festive Holly photo with Taylor. The other Holly pictured has since mailed it to me in an equally festive holly frame, and it will absolutely become part of my Christmas decor for years to come.

We made the most of our extra day and a half in Chicago and managed to check off a lot of tourist necessities. We went to Millenium Park and saw the Bean, the giant Christmas tree, and a picturesque ice skating scene that we all knew better than to try. We ate deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, hot dogs and cake at Portillo's, and rode the ferris wheel at the Navy Pier. We braved the Tilt ride at 360 Chicago on the 94th Floor of the Hancock Building, which I thought would be scary since I'm normally afraid of heights. Instead, the unexpected blinding reflection of 1997 Zac Hanson's unimpressed face from the front of my shirt in the window made the experience more laughable than anything else.

The part I expected to be my favorite was the Christkindl German Christmas market, for which the English translation might as well be "Santa Claustrophobia" because it was so overrun with people. We waited in a giant hot spiced wine line before half of our group gave up and left, but I was determined to have my traditional German food to go with it. I'd take the number system and Hanson line cutters any day over a wiener schnitzel kiosk with an infinite number of branching lines and only two service windows. There were times when people who weren't even in the food line were at a stand-still in front of us for minutes at a time simply because there was no room to even leave. It was in no way a joyful experience, but to be fair, the goulash alone was kind of worth it.

By coincidence, SantaCon was happening in downtown Chicago on our full tourist day, so we kept passing dozens of bar-hopping Santas. There was an array of creative costumes, including a full-suited Buddy the Elf and one confusing Santa with severed Coke cans protruding from his face. Someone identified him as "Canta Claus," and now I can rest easy knowing that the worst pun of the entire trip was someone else's doing. In a peak moment of greatness, we caught a glimpse of about thirty or so Santas outside of a bar called "Joy." My only regret was not asking to be in a group picture with them all.

At some point before the trip, (other) Holly had the genius idea to hang stockings from our box in the balcony for the second show. We weren't sure we'd be able to pull it off or if it was even worth trying, but somehow it worked and we found ourselves with a makeshift mantle place with seven stockings, two small battery-powered candles, and a tiny USB-powered Christmas tree. We thought the whole setup was relatively minimal right up until we caught a glimpse of ourselves in a video on instagram later where a couple of blinking necklaces and one light-up sweater had us looking a little more 4th of July than we ever realized (or intended). Thankfully we didn't keep those on the entire time, and we managed to secure everything well enough that nothing fell or shifted. I'm still amazed and excited that we pulled it off.

Come on, it's Christmas; we bring it with us. Stockings, lights--forgive us! #punderfulchristmastime
(lyrics c/o @yelanger)
At the end of the show, the House of Blues trumped our display by surprising Hanson with snow during "Blue Christmas." It was a magical moment that I never expected, and I'm so glad I got to experience it alongside a few good friends and a few badly hand-painted stockings. I don't think I was the only one that teared up a little when Isaac changed the lyrics in "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" to "Through the years we all have been together, as the fates allowed" and motioned to the crowd and back at himself as he said "we." It was a beautiful ending to a great pair of shows and probably my favorite one-off trip ever.

We went back to the hotel in our fancy dresses and laid our candles and tiny tree on a lobby table to prepare for a candlelit takeout feast. One of the few places still open for delivery to our location was a gourmet grilled cheese restaurant, and I think it may be safe to say that cheesy goodness became a big theme of our trip. I feasted on delicious Mexican and pulled-pork grilled cheeses, fried cheese curds, fried pickles, and chocolate milk, and it was everything I've ever wanted from midnight delivery food.

I'll end by saying this: May your days be merry and filled with "Finally It's Christmas" songs on repeat, and forget the candy canes--may all your grilled cheeses be wrapped in quesadillas.


asphodelia said...

Great review! I wish we got the snow too, but instead we got REAL snow! It very rarely snows in the U.K. these days so it was magical coincidence, really. Hanson brought the snow with them.

On a side note - do you have a theory as to why they never play 'My Favourite Christmas Sweater'? So many fans love that song and yet it's painfully neglected. They didn't even play it in Cancun, if I'm not mistaken.

Holly said...

That's really cool (ha) that you guys got real snow just in time for the show!

You're right that they didn't play "My Favorite Christmas Sweater" in Cancun, but I can remember seeing it on a couple of setlists in 2011 for shows I didn't go to so it's been played live a few times. For a few years in a row it felt like they were releasing one Christmas song and then then never acknowledging it again. I guess they did have that urge to do Christmas music in there for a while, just not necessarily a full album until more recently. I'm glad they were able to look back at "Finally It's Christmas" and realize they were leaving behind a gem of a song, but it's too bad they don't seem to feel that way about "My Favorite Christmas Sweater." In my opinion it's clever and funny and kind of pokes fun at traditional Christmas love songs, but not in a disrespectful way. They seem to like to go more of a serious/traditional direction with their Christmas music, so maybe they didn't feel like it fit in? I'm all for it. Give me the sweater puns!