THE BLOG
01/29/2013 02:46 pm ET Updated Mar 31, 2013

She Speaks in Tongues: The Chicago Band That Changed My Mind

I don't often go out to hear live music. The one notable exception is summertime concerts at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Though, to be fair, it's possible that those concerts are just an excuse to eat a ton of cheese (thanks, Pastoral -- is it weird that I have a cheese punch card?) and drink wine out of a plastic cup while my kid pioneers interpretive breakdancing in the grass.

My distain for leaving my apartment to stand mashed up against strangers, plugging my ears against the sounds I came to "enjoy" can be traced to two sources: my husband was a member of a touring rock band for a while (I can still smell the van if I close my eyes), and I'm unwilling to voluntarily spend time (let alone pay for the privilege) in overwhelmingly male-dominated settings that haven't proven to be very feminist in my experience. And as we're talking about my leisure time here, it stands to reason that I'd like to spend it surrounded by people who think it's cool if I manage my own genitals and get paid fairly for my work.

Hence, a mild apprehension crops up whenever a friend invites me to come check out their band. This coupled with the fact that if I had no scheduling constraints I'd happily be sound asleep every night at the geriatric hour of 9 p.m. means that I've just never really been cut out for rock 'n' roll. Or so I thought.

It was with some uneasiness that I ventured out for a live music experience recently, to see She Speaks in Tongues at The Empty Bottle. They were not a totally unknown entity as I've been pals with frontwoman Kate McCandless for a while. She had been inviting me to come see her work ever since she performed in an art piece of mine. Her job was to tirelessly dance and eat massive amounts of fruit with her bare hands and feet in a terrarium for two hours at a time, two days in a row. Basically, I owed her a big favor. And as anyone with musician friends knows, that favor will almost always be cashed in the form of your feet on a sticky floor late at night.

But, delight! Because it was an early evening show! So I arrived at The Empty Bottle, considerably less cranky than I would have been at 11 p.m., paid for that super-cool hand stamp, grabbed a gin and tonic, and met some friends to watch the show.

Kate, clad in a burlap sack dress with a bushy shock of big blonde hair, walked though the crowd, parting us like a sea as she climbed up onto the stage where her band mates were waiting at their instruments. Immediately, images of Old Testament prophets came to my mind. I've always thought of them most of all as mystical performance artists and have a soft spot in my heart for their weird outsider projects. Kate's presence was so intense! Rippling through us was a current that seemed to flow from her in all directions - right out of the ends of her frayed hair like radiating waves. She looked/it felt wild and charged.

With every gesture meticulously calculated -- nothing lacking -- nothing superfluous -- she performed her musician things with her equipment. And then she opened her mouth. Something grabbed me by the throat and guts. "Oh my God," I thought. "I can see every inch of this person." It was like she turned herself inside out. Suddenly tears started streaming down my face! I was shocked; shocked by what I saw and heard, but probably more so by the fact that it seemed as though there was some kind of pond in my head that fell out of my face at the intake of Kate's breath -- like there was a ripcord connected to her lungs. And I stood there for the duration of the set weeping and feeling like a major weirdo. This? This is not what I expected.

Something otherworldly and spiritual happened in me when Kate sang, "My man's got a heart like the sea." And without coercion or even a trace of a patronizing I'm-here-to-teach-you-something-smirk, Kate opened up a space for me to notice a rare, plain, spectacle of outrageous femininity in one of the last places I hoped to find it. The sadness of it was overwhelming and it immediately jammed up against the even more powerful realization that the solution was unfurling in my ears and masterfully calibrating her every nuanced movement before my eyes. She Speaks in Tongues was a revelation.

I left feeling charged up and ready to get back to doing my own work. To me, this has always been the hallmark of a really good art experience -- that it leaves me itching to get to work after seeing and being deeply affected by someone else's contribution. She Speaks in Tongues put a bold vision forward that evening at The Empty Bottle, the most exciting part of which was the sense of possibility that each one of us might have an equally substantial contribution to make. I can only hope that mine is as masterfully and soulfully executed with just the right touch of otherworldly mystique.