An eternal debate of the rock world: which is more played out—bands selling out, or people bitching about it? What better place to look for an answer than Angels & Kings, the new nightspot by Fall Out Boy bassist-cum-emo mogul Pete Wentz. With this mission in mind, Clubplanet headed over to the trendy River North area with a few friends in tow to survey the scene of Chicago’s very own Angels & Kings.
Angels & Kings: City of Chicago—so distinguished because there’s one in NYC as well—is the latest province of Wentz’s expansionist, Diddy-esque pop empire, joining his Clandestine Industries apparel brand, his new MTV show, FNMTV, and his infuriating Decaydence vanity label, which brings you such beacons of puerility as Panic at the Disco and Gym Class Heroes. As such, Angels & Kings (AK for short) is pretty much what you’d expect: expensively dressed patrons, pseudo-celebrity DJs, a swanky VIP section, exposed brick, intentionally-crowded dance floor, and bartenders who are more attractive than you. It’s the kind of bar that would look cool in US Weekly.
The source of AK’s cachet derives from Wentz’s well-publicized backing. Mug shots of famous people line the walls: Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash, Pete and Ashlee Simpson. Perhaps the most distinguishing aspect of the décor, however, is a collection of Gucci-customized AK-47s, set behind glass along one of the walls. The astonishing contradiction of linking a revolutionary symbol with a hallmark brand of the consumptionist paradigm is oddly fitting. The clientele, however, was a bit of a surprise. I went fully expecting American apparel V-Necks as far as the eye could see, and instead found a sea of vertical-striped button-downs and “sexy” sequin miniskirts. AK deserves credit for drawing neither insufferably hipster post-adolescents nor bleach-blond Cubs fans, thus undermining the usual dichotomy of the Chicago bar scene. AK press agent Markie Price described the typical scene as "inclusive, eclectic and fun– there are no velvet ropes, and no judgments at the bar." The crowd enjoys drinks that would be expensive even outside of the Midwest: $6 domestic drafts are as cheap as it gets. A friend and I enjoyed a pair of $16 champagne cocktails, fancy flute and all. Not very punk rawk, but quite delicious nonetheless.
With the fancy hooch flowing, the conversation moved inevitably towards the now infamous Fall Out Boy—although I suspect that few of the patrons present were even conscious of the establishment’s connection to Wentz’s international marketing schemes. After the half-decade of Hot Topic punk that Fall Out Boy unleashed, it’s hard to believe that once upon a time, people used to talk about them as the band that would save the scene. (I continue to maintain publicly—to my friends’ infinite embarrassment—that 2003’s Take This to Your Grave is one of the finest pop-punk albums ever made). Is it really even worth blaming Wentz for the subsequent deterioration of punk? He’s just a cog in the machine like the rest of us—his cog just involves making shitloads of money. AK is, unfortunately, what has happened to punk music in a world of commodities. You can pretend it’s different with whichever punk band you liked when you were a kid, but let’s be honest about it: in the end, Angels & Kings sucks because of what it represents, not because of what it is. If you want a trendy, expensive, big-night-out kind of place, you could do worse than AK, as long as you never happened to see Fall Out Boy as a teenager at a Knights of Columbus Hall, in which case it will break your heart. Somewhere in Chicago, there’s someone reading this as they throw on a pair of designer pre-faded matchstick jeans. They lace up their retro Nikes, turn up Band of Horses on iTunes, and congratulate themselves for caring about real culture. Naturally, they hate Fall Out Boy and Wentz in particular, but that would only make them even cooler at AK—after all, one must forever follow the buzz.
Despite all this, the evening made me look back wistfully to my erstwhile pop-punk days. As I watched mid-level Yes-Men hit on my female friends, I asked myself hard questions: Could both Pitchfork and MTV be part of the same cultural apocalypse? Was Fall Out Boy ever really any good, or was I just another wannabe kid who didn’t know any better? I wondered if bitching about a band selling out is paradoxically part of selling out itself, part of incorporating the world of fads for sale into who you are. I imagine Pete Wentz—ensconced with Ashlee Simpson in some fabulous mansion—could care less about any of this, but it matters to me. As we walked back to our distantly parked car—we couldn’t afford the $20 parking lot nearby—I had to admit that Angels & Kings is exactly what it claims to be: Wentz’s creation, the archetypal bar of a city that turned the punk hero of forlorn 17 year-olds into a lifestyle-brand that mounts a Gucci AK-47 on a nightclub wall.
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