Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fire in the Garden

My son asked me early this year what band I would most want to see in concert.  I had a hard time thinking of anyone worth taking the trouble for.  Of course, “trouble” used to mean waiting hours on a line during work or school hours.  Now it means going on line and finding the exact seats you want, so there aren’t any excuses, except for the astronomical prices.  Green Day were relatively reasonable ($50 for good seats) compared to the outrageous (over a hundred) for the Black Eyed Peas. 

So what are my objections to concerts?

Well as a notorious cheapskate, I like to get my money’s worth.  I want a long show.  I described one of my first major disappointments (Eric Clapton) in a previous post.  Springsteen puts on a nice long show - you can practically take a lunch break during it.  And there are some where a nap is more appropriate.  By contrast, when I caught Elvis Costello in 1978 the big worry was that he was only playing for a little over an hour.  Well, those were the most furious 75 minutes I ever spent in a concert, and by the end I felt he gave us everything he had.

And the volume.  I’m all for loudness, but sometimes it’s not called for, and it can take a geezer like me a few seconds to even figure out what song I’m hearing.  The details - some of which I treasure - can get lost.  I guess I’m an album person.

And I can NEVER make out what anyone is saying.  When the singer has some clever patter between songs, and everyone laughs, I can usually be found asking my friends what was said.

But the real reason why I’m not willing to say that the show was great is because I’m a god damned perfectionist, pain in the ass, killjoy, buzzkill, Mother Superior, no fun at all, sit while everyone else stands and dances lameass.  While at a show, I’m constantly on guard for the thing that’s going to ruin everything for me.  I remember going to a Little Feat concert in 1978 and being so afraid of missing a SINGLE SECOND (I hadn’t seen them before), that I had gone to the bathroom three times before the show even started.

Then there’s the standing.  I used to not stand at shows, and learned how ridiculous that was.  I can recall shows where I’d rage against the people who sat in the front row, but still felt that they had to STAND UP.  What do you mean you can’t see?  You’ve got the best seats in the house!

And I’m always looking out for the basketball team/group of assholes that’s going to take its seats right in front of us just as the show is about to start. 

I won’t even tell you the evil thoughts that go through my head when people would scream or yell during the quiet songs.  Or when some jerk off yells for a song that you know they’re going to play.

Then I remembered the Arcade Fire.  Now that’s one band I’d love to see.  Word had it that when they  played it was with an abandon few other bands could match.  And sure enough, a few weeks later I found out that they would be playing locally.  And Spoon - Metacritic’s Artist of the Decade - would open for them!  Mrs. Jaybee and my son Michael were very happy to hear I got the tickets and I was pretty pleased with myself.

But then of course I begin to remember all of the things that make shows less than spectacular for me and my enthusiasm waned.  So much so, that before it actually begins I tell Mrs. Jaybee that this may turn out to be the “Inception” of concerts.

The show was opened by Owen Pallet, who used to work with the Arcade Fire.  He’s out on his own now, playing violin and using tape loops to “build” a performance right in front of you.  He would start by playing a motif on his violin that he would then sample (Geezer alert: sampling is the recording of a piece of music, legitimately or otherwise, for use in your own performance or recording).  He would play the “loop” (Young person alert: “loop” comes from tape loop, which was what you got when you recorded a sound or a piece of music and then spliced the tape in the form of a ring or “loop” so that when played, the sound would play over and over again.) repeatedly, and then play something else over it.  He would then sample that, and continue to add layer upon layer to it, sometimes with the violin and sometimes by singing.  There were some magical moments that only listening to a new artist can provide, then it wandered and sagged a bit in the middle, and then finally rallied at the end.  Overall, a very good performance by a new young artist.

Then came Spoon, whose 2002 album “Kill the Moonlight” is one of the best records I’ve gotten this year.  And even though they only played one song that I knew, they rocked really hard, and weren’t the least bit fazed by either the big venue or the headliners.  Britt Daniels appeared to be having the time of his life.  An excellent set.  So, what’s my next Spoon album going to be?...

Now it’s after ten, my wife and I are beat, so I tell her I’m afraid this is going to be the Inception of concerts, and on comes Arcade Fire.  Their first record was one of my favorites from last decade, their second, after an initial disappointment,  just kept growing on me.  They just came out with a there new record two days before the show, and we were still trying to absorb it.  (More on that record at another time). 

So, how were they, you ask?  Well, I sang at the top of my lungs through most of it, along with 15,000 other people.  That’s pretty rare given what a snob I am.  And some moments were, as my son put it, epic.  Like “Laika”, “Haiti”, “No Cars Go”, “Lies”, “Wake Up” and a new one “Sprawl II”.

But was it great?  I don’t know.  But I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a great show.  Okay, Springsteen in 1978 was great, and several others have come close.  But I think it’s an overused word and have resolved to only use it when I mean it.  So maybe the answer is no.

Why?  Maybe because some of the newer, mellower songs don’t quite fit into the typical ecstatic roar the Arcade Fire are known for.  What is a brave move for a third album isn’t necessarily a good idea when planning a show.  By contrast, “Laika” from the first album is kind of a crazy song, which was why it was so great in the show.  “Haiti” is a little more mellow, but they upped the ante for the show and RĂ©gine Chassagne really wailed on it.  

And even if the new songs turn out to be great, I need a little more time to take them in.  I can’t always appreciate them when they’re being played for the first time, especially at a show.  It’s a  mistake to release an album either shortly before or during a tour, but it’s one a lot of performers make.  Instead, they should put the album out, let it simmer in public for a while, and then tour.  But I really envy the people who are going to see them a few weeks from now. 

Maybe it was the distracting videos (which I guess is why they were there?).  Maybe they should have just trusted that their own frantic behavior during and between songs would be enough to keep us interested.

As to the show itself, I want to love every second of it, so every song that isn’t transcendent is a wasted opportunity.  For instance, why did they do “Crown of Love” - a perfectly good song, but a bit of a plodder - a strange choice for an otherwise ecstatic ritual?  Why not the faster/louder, “Anti Christ Television Blues”, or, if they felt they had to slow it down, what about or “Neighborhood #4 (7 Kettles)”?, or “Une Annee Sans Lumiere” with it’s fast windup?

But enough nitpicking.  There were more than enough wonderful moments at this show.  I think the real reason for my less than ecstatic reaction is that I’m fifty three years old, and that I came to the show after a long day at work, and that AF didn’t even come on until 10:15pm, which is when I am about to crash. 

What I’m saying is that I was TIRED, and the fact that I enjoyed it as much as I did is a real tribute to the band.

So I guess what I’m saying AF, is that it’s not you, it’s me.

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