A Life in the Pit | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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A Life in the Pit

Dan the Fan passes the half-century mark with no plans to quit pogoing.

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If you go to your share of rock shows, you've probably seen Dan Urban do the dance that's made him one of the most recognizable fixtures on the Chicago music scene. He pogos buoyantly right at the edge of the stage, probably wearing a headband, possibly not wearing pants. You might know his nickname, Dan the Fan--and if you're like me, you'll be surprised to learn he turned 50 last Saturday.

That afternoon some of his friends from the local rock community roasted him at the Empty Bottle. Then they threw him a birthday party at the tiny Town Hall Pub, where some of his favorite Chicago bands played--including the Dials, Miss Alex White & the Red Orchestra, and CoCoComa.

Urban says he developed his signature dance style around 1978 at clubs like La Mere Vipere and Neo, when punk pogoing was au courant. For 15 years or so he's plotted out his show schedule in a series of day planners with an elaborate four-color notation system. "I kind of use these little hieroglyphs," he says. "I can fit a lot in a one-inch square." He also uses the books to keep track of appointments with his clients--he makes his living as an herbalist, specializing in allergy treatments.

His favorite thing is to catch up-and-coming acts, and he says he "pogotranced" to lots of his current favorites at bars like Cal's before they released any recordings. He puts Bang! Bang!, the Ponys, and Headache City high on his hot list, alongside the bands from his party. He raves about all the Horizontal Action Blackouts. And he's almost frighteningly loyal to longtime loves like Eleventh Dream Day. Janet Bean, the band's drummer, recalls looking out at a crowd in Yugoslavia in the late 80s and spotting him. "You expect to see him," she says, "so it didn't seem that odd in one sense--at first."

Urban is a Chicago native--he was born at Saint Elizabeth Hospital just a few blocks from the Empty Bottle and grew up nearby. He says that when his father remarried in 1972, the wedding reception was held in a Polish restaurant that's now the Subterranean. "I go to shows there," he says, "and remember that it was the place where I was running around as a kid, drinking the leftovers of everybody's drinks."

Though he goes out two to four nights a week, Urban's not big on drinking anymore. "I love booze," he says, "but can't do it now and dance all night." His age mostly hangs on him lightly, though. "I feel it more when I let myself get a little bit out of shape--five bands, that's like five sets of tennis." To stay in peak condition when he can't go to shows, he says he plays records and bounces on a trampoline at home.

When he was coaxed onstage at the roast, hosted by live-talk-show host Brian Costello, he was carrying a purple Powerpuff Girls backpack and a toy horse wrapped in chains. Costello got right to the point. "What better way to celebrate 50 years than to insult him, crush his ego, reduce him to tears until he never wants to talk to me or anyone ever again," he said. He pointed out that Dan looks like "John Denver's gay kid brother" and "makes Paul from M.O.T.O. look like a dirty young man." Then Costello uncorked a stream of vicious profanity and Dan fled the stage in mock despair, straight into the comforting arms of one of his many attractive young female friends. After he and Costello hugged and made up, Costello signed off with a mangled a cappella rendition of the song that gave Dan his handle: "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy" by the Kinks. "Dan is a fan and he lives for our music," he sang. "It's the only thing that gets him by."

One of the highlights of the afternoon was a pitch-perfect Dan impression from Leah Pietrusiak, an editor at Time Out Chicago: in a T-shirt reading your band, she stripped down to boxers and pogoed around the stage, wearing a tranced-out expression and holding her hand aloft like a Holy Roller testifying. Plenty of folks shared embarrassing Dan stories, but Rebecca Crawford of the Dials clearly took the prize, declaring flatly, "Dan swallowed his pendulum and fished it out of his own feces and still uses it." (The pendulum is used for divination--swallowing it isn't supposed to be part of the process.) Urban not only confirmed her account but went into indecent detail about it.

Costello, who drummed in the defunct Functional Blackouts, told me later that he's known Urban for about four years and respects him very much. "Joe Meno first told me about him and pointed him out to me in a crowd--you know how at shows there's that 20-foot concave half-circle in front of the stage? He's in the middle of it, pogoing away. I feel very glad to live where things like this happen--he just drags people with him."

Urban says he has no plans to slow down in his old age. "When I started out in the late 80s, early 90s, there were only a few shows of what I like," he says. "Now, every Friday or Saturday night there might be two or three. My brain chemistry would be in the toilet if I didn't do this."

A Bad Pun for a Good Cause

Covers for Cover

When Sat 11/25, 10 PM

Where Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western

Price $8-$10

Info 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401

Deborah's Place began in 1985 as an emergency overnight shelter for women and has since grown into a comprehensive network of programs and facilities addressing not just homelessness but domestic abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, and the need for health care, child care, and employment training.

It's also been on the receiving end of many benefit events, including this weekend's "Covers for Cover," hosted by the Empty Bottle and organized by musician and Chic-a-Go-Go cohost Mia Park. Even though Deborah's Place has its own office for dealing with third-party benefits, the center wasn't able to get involved in this one: they're "administratively tapped out, like all not-for-profits," says Park. "They basically said, 'Go ahead, we trust you!'"

The theme of the night is all-female cover bands--the mostly ad hoc groups are taking on tunes by the likes of the Sonics, the Flaming Lips, and Bikini Kill. Park herself will drum in the Blitzkrieg Bopz (Ramones covers) and front Girls on Film (Duran Duran covers). "I've been wanting to start an all-girl Duran Duran cover band for a year," she says. "I was obsessed with Duran Duran as a kid. I ate them, I slept them . . . and now I want to become them."

Her bandmate Marie Walz, an artist and educator, will play keyboards as Nick Rhodes--and her performance is part of an ongoing multimedia project about Rhodes that will include video of this weekend's set. "She'll be showing it in London in '07," says Park, "and the goal is to get him to buy something. Then her cycle will be complete."

The evening also features one of Chic-a-Go-Go's puppet cohosts, Rattina, and a dance performance by members of the Chi-Town Sirens roller-derby league. Admission is $10, or $8 with a donation of toiletries. Park says tampons and pads are usually needed most.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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