Sunday Stories: “Listening Party”


Listening Party
by Zachary Kocanda

I only remember the exact day this happened because it was after the last Adlai the Last show at Lincoln Hall two days before Christmas in 2014. I had seen the band open for Passion Pit in 2008 when I was fifteen, and my friends and I agreed the band was OK, but we were there to see Passion Pit. Back in high school, I read Pitchfork’s website every day, and my friends and I prided ourselves on knowing all the latest indie rock bands, tuned in for late-night new music on WXRT and local Chicago-area college radio stations with DJs who name-dropped friends of friends of friends. Unfortunately, we all lived in the suburbs, so we rarely made it to Chicago where all the bands played their shows.

I wrote music reviews for the high school newspaper, and I reviewed Adlai the Last’s self-titled debut album after the Passion Pit concert. If I remember correctly, I awarded the album a 6.4 out of 10 (using Pitchfork’s ten-point scale), noted that the album was unpolished, but it had heart. “Auditorium Anthem” was the best track on the album, I wrote, cliché yet heartfelt lyrics aside, then redundantly described the song as anthemic. I recently relistened to the album, and I agree with me from high school.

Back to their last show. My friend Dylan, who was a year older than me and lived in Chicago, had an extra ticket to the concert and asked if I wanted to join him. I hadn’t listened to the band’s most recent album (their last album, as it was), but I was back from college for Christmas with no plans besides family parties, so I agreed to be his plus-one. I enjoyed going to concerts, but I had to be invited to them, because I would never make the effort to buy the tickets myself. I agreed to pay for Dylan’s drinks at the concert, so it evened out. I took the Metra from my parents’ house in the suburbs to the train station downtown. Dylan met me there and we took the L back to his apartment. He had just moved in with his girlfriend, who was out with friends that night. A third roommate, Dylan’s cousin, was moving out at the end of the month. Back at Dylan’s apartment, there was time for us to listen to Adlai the Last’s last album, All the Way with Adlai, before the show, so Dylan put the blue vinyl on his record player, and we sat there in his living room for an hour listening to it, quietly sipping our beers, nodding to each other at the guitar solos. Dylan asked if I liked the album, and I said the band’s sound had matured over the years, and I liked it more than their other two albums, a low to mid 7. Dylan had seen the band play the album in its entirety last year, and he said the songs sounded even better live.

The concert was better than I expected. Packed room, sweaty, wall to wall denim jackets. I even sang along, trancelike, to the songs from the debut album I first heard five years ago and hadn’t listened to since high school. There had even been a dorky call-and response: “All the way—!” yelled the lead singer, to which the crowd yelled back, “—with Adlai!” I participated enthusiastically.

Dylan and I stopped by the merch table after the show. I didn’t have any cash on me, so I asked him to spot me and buy the newest—and last—Adlai the Last LP after at the show. “A Christmas present from me,” he said, handing the dude at the merch table a wad of cash, buying the record and a shirt for himself. Plus a pin. He affixed it to his denim. Then a few minutes later, outside the venue, the band signed the record for us during Dylan’s smoke break. Dylan joked that he was thankful the band didn’t recognize me from the mixed Adlai the Last review I wrote half a decade ago.

This is all to say that when Dylan and I returned to his apartment, the front door was unlocked, and he said he always locked the door, but his cousin was forgetful, so maybe he forgot to lock it. But then we entered the living room, and the place had been tossed upside down. I remembered from visiting Dylan last year that he proudly displayed busts of both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy, both of which were still there, and he breathed a sigh of relief. The statues of the Kennedys had been in Dylan’s family for years, and coming from a clan of proud Irish Catholics, it was important for Dylan to have the brothers displayed in his apartment.

I asked Dylan if he wanted me to call 911, and he said he would call his cousin first. I then tried to swallow, felt how dry my throat was. I asked Dylan if I could get a glass of water, and he asked if I could get him a beer. I walked into the kitchen, opened the fridge, and grabbed an IPA for Dylan, another beer for me. I closed the fridge, and in the corner of the room, I saw the person who had broken into the apartment. The two of us made eye contact. I didn’t know what to do, and he didn’t know what to do either. I just stood there, and he just sat there. There was a Revolution tap handle shaped like a red fist on the counter. When the intruder jumped toward me, I grabbed the fist from the counter and hit him on the head, and he fell back into the corner into the garbage and recycling bins, knocking over beer bottles that had been stacked there. I yelled for Dylan, and he ran into the kitchen, then ran over and started to kick the intruder.

“Ow!” the intruder yelled. The man pleaded for my friend to stop, and Dylan lowered his fists (real fists, not the tap handle), and the man said he hadn’t even stolen anything. He was there because Dylan’s cousin owned him money, and he was only going to take as many items as he would need to sell to make four hundred dollars. Dylan said no one in the apartment owned anything particularly valuable, most definitely not his cousin.

“There’s the couch,” Dylan said. “It’s from Ikea, but it’s one of their more expensive ones. Pain in the ass to move. Barely fit in the front door when we moved in.” Then he thanked the intruder for not taking the Kennedys.

“No problem,” the intruder said. The man said he thought about stealing the busts, but he too was from an Irish Catholic family. His father had a bust of JFK on his desk, and he knew it would devastate his father if his JFK was ever stolen. “Probably give him a heart attack,” the man said.

“I’m sorry for hitting you with the fist,” I said, and the man said that he loved Revolution, that he had been there the other day with some friends. He was good friends with one of the bartenders there, and he gave us his friend’s name, told us to say that we knew him when we were there next, but we didn’t know the intruder’s name to give.

The intruder asked if we had an ice pack, and Dylan said he didn’t, then I handed him my beer, which I had yet to open. The intruder pressed the bottle to his face, exhaled a satisfied sigh. He thanked me for the beer. Then he asked for a bottle opener, and I gave him the one attached to my keychain. The intruder thanked me, opened his beer, and handed me back my keys. Dylan held up his IPA. The intruder did the same.

“If it’s OK with you, I’m just going to get out of here,” he said after a sip. “I’ll take off some money that your cousin owes me, because of this inconvenience, but can you tell him I was here?” Dylan nodded. Then he said he had an idea.

Dylan asked me for the signed record, but I said, “Hold on. Are you taking back my Christmas present?” I asked. “It was a figure of speech,” he said to me. I frowned. I asked why we couldn’t give the intruder one of his records. Dylan owned two copies of the last Adlai the Last album, both the regular release as well as a limited-edition release from Record Store Day last year. Of course, neither of Dylan’s records were signed like this one. He asked if I really cared that much. Dylan said I didn’t even like the album, and I corrected him, said that I gave it a 7.2. Then he frowned, asked me for the record a second time, and I handed it over. Dylan told the intruder that the LP had been signed by all four members of Adlai the Last.

“The band just split up, so its value is only going to increase,” he said, handing him the record. The intruder studied the record, its signatures, colors. There was a metallic foil on the lettering of the band’s name.

“These dudes all live in Chicago,” the intruder said. “People can just find them and ask for their autographs.”

“But how often are they all going to be in same place at the same time?” Dylan asked.

The intruder sighed, asked how much the record cost.

“Fifty dollars,” Dylan said, and I asked, “What about the other two copies?” I wanted to know how much the other two records were worth. The other two copies weren’t signed, Dylan reminded me.

“The limited edition one from Record Store Day is still probably worth more, even if it’s not signed,” I said to both Dylan and the intruder. To Dylan, I said, “Don’t you have other records worth more than fifty dollars? You could wipe out his entire debt with a rarity.”

“You don’t even like this album,” Dylan said.

The intruder studied the album, then said, “I’ll knock forty dollars off what he owes me.” Dylan asked him if he had listened to it, and the intruder said he hadn’t. He said he had attended one of the band’s early shows years ago back when he was in high school. “I was only there for Passion Pit,” he said. He looked about my age. Dylan asked him if he had anywhere to be, and he said he didn’t.

 “I bet after you listen to this record, you won’t even want to sell it,” Dylan said. “It was in my top ten last year.” Dylan asked the intruder to stay and listen to the album, give him a rating out of ten, to the decimal point, Pitchfork-style. The intruder asked him what his rating for the album was, and Dylan said he would share his own rating after the listening party, added, “You haven’t even finished your beer.” The intruder nodded, then sat on the couch between Dylan and me, sipped from his bottle. I stood up.

“Can I get you guys anything?” I asked the two of them. “Dylan?” Dylan was working on his beer, said no thank you. I asked the intruder for his name, but he just said he didn’t need anything from the kitchen. I then asked for his name again, but he started talking to Dylan about JFK.

I excused myself to the kitchen. I filled a cup I found in the sink with water, then filled it again, drank. I opened the fridge, found a Revolution beer in the back, one I hadn’t tried before. Then I remembered. I picked up the fist, felt the tap handle in my palm, studied its weight. I slipped it into my pocket, just in case. I opened the beer, tossed the bottle cap into a Ball jar on the counter, then walked back to the living room.

I sat back down on the couch. Now I was in the middle. There were three copies of All the Way with Adlai we could listen to, but Dylan said we shouldn’t listen to the signed one because removing it from its packaging would lower its resale value. There was about an hour before I had to catch the train to my parents’ house. The album was just under an hour. I asked Dylan if we could listen to the last Adlai the Last record now, and he asked which one he should play. I said I didn’t care, but Dylan stood up, walked over to his record collection, and selected both albums. He stood in front of me, then hid both records behind his back. He asked me to pick a hand, left or right, and I pointed to his left. Dylan nodded. I didn’t see which record had been selected, because by then, I had slouched back into the couch, deeper into myself.

“I’ll need your revised rating after the record’s done,” Dylan said to me. “So really listen this time.” The intruder clacked his beer against mine. I relaxed my shoulders. I listened.


Zachary Kocanda‘s fiction has appeared in the Oyez Review, Another Chicago Magazine, and Hobart. He lives in Illinois. Find his work at

Photo: Simon Weisser/Unsplash

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