It was just another concert, and it turned out the way concerts generally turn out for me. Okay, but frustrating as hell.
Why does this always happen? Well, it could be my impossibly high standards, but circumstances do enter into it.
We had tickets to Sufjan Stevens at the newly - and awesomely - refurbished Kings Theatre, and there was no reason to think we'd have anything but a wonderful time. Except all of my prior concert experiences.
Unlike my fellow near 58 year olds, I won't lie to you and tell you about all the concerts I've been to. When I was younger I DIDN'T go to a lot of concerts. I didn’t see Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones. So when I did get to go to a show, I’d invest so much emotional capital into it, it would be almost impossible for the show to satisfy me.
Other folks would come to have a good time, by dancing, standing and talking to friends. But I must have been starved for entertainment, because. I’d sit there leaning forward, never taking my eyes off the stage, making sure I was taking in every sliver of the experience. And heaven help anyone who came between me and that experience.
I'd be there hoping for a PERFECT show, which would comprise the following:
- Great seats.
- Nobody's fat f*cking head in front of me.
- A great song selection. A corollary to this is that there’s a good mix of old and new. Too much old is playing it safe, too much new is not fair to the audience, and reeks of hawking new product, like a 1978 Dave Mason concert that my friends and I would later refer to as the “Here’s another one from the new record…” show.
- Faithful but enthusiastic renditions of the songs. Not robotic note for note replications of the record, but also not drastically different arrangements of them, a la Dylan.
- If you’re a solo act, a good band
- A good sound system.
- No assholes. which means nobody talking throughout the show, and nobody screaming out during quiet songs.
- A three hour show. Okay, this isn’t as important as it used to be. I’d have to hit the bathroom during such a marathon. And I saw a pretty short Elvis Costello show in 1979 that was nonetheless one of the more intense concerts I’ve ever seen, and so I didn’t leave feeling gypped, like that other EC, whose 1974 show was the epitome of the bad concert. I’d waited months for that show (and years for him to come out of hiding) and it sucked, striking out on virtually all of the above criteria.
Would Sufjan do any better, I wondered? It’s funny how things change, though. I’d set my expectations so low I’d almost forgotten we’d even gotten the tickets.
When we entered the theater, we couldn’t believe our eyes. It had been closed for a long time, but had just been refurbished, and was absolutely beautiful.
And the opening act - Moses Sumney - started at eight sharp! - was really very good. A perfect start.
So Sufjan comes on and starts off great, playing songs from his new record. And playing them. And playing them. About seven in a row, actually.
Now, given my inability to appreciate music the first time I hear it, I try to prepare for a show by listening to the new album a few times ahead of time. Arcade Fire didn’t give us much of a chance releasing The Suburbs the day before we saw them in 2010. Sufjan had a little more consideration. But I still felt rushed, and only got a few grudging listens in.
A good, but solemn, record. And while you can definitely put it on when you're in that mood, you may not want to remain in that mood for the length of an entire concert, which should be a little more, uh, fun. And given how I’d been feeling in general, more solemnity was the last thing I needed.
He did play some other songs, but they seemed few and far between. And it took him almost half the show before he even talked to the audience. So it was a little too much like going to mass.
But how did we do overall?
1. Seats? Row S. Excellent. A-
2. Fat F*cking Heads? Not bad - I had a great view but there was the young lady who insisted on resting her head on her girlfriend’s shoulder, blocking my wife's view. But then she'd lift it again. And then put it down again. I was outraged by proxy, but Mrs. Jaybee said she didn’t mind. B+
3. Song Selection? As I said, too many new ones. B
4. Faithful but enthusiastic....? A
5. The Band? Excellent! Stripped down, and mixed gender, too! A
6. Sound System? Usually excellent, but sometimes the guitar was too loud and Sufjan also tried - in the wrong way - to expand the tone of the material. B+
7. Assholes? Surprisingly, sensitive Sufjan draws assholes just like any other artist. Despite threats to the contrary, talking during the show was pretty minimal, but there were the douche bags who screamed out during the quiet parts of songs. What are these people thinking? That they're adding to the experience? And a new phenomenon. People showing up late for the show! Like an hour late. Really? Is this just one stop in your wonderful evening? Who are these people who buy tickets to shows and come in when it’s more than half over? That’s like buying a pizza and throwing away four slices on the way home. B
8. A three hour show. Not even close, but I don’t care anymore. A-
Overall, the show gets a strong B+, with the song selection being the biggest problem. Which is a damned shame since I’d find out later how great, and how durable, these new songs were.
But it's like deciding when to eat dinner. At my age, I spend a lot of time not being hungry, only to immediately follow that with that nice hungry feeling, but only for about five minutes. It’s immediately superseded by nausea, thus making the timing of a meal challenging, to say the least.
And with new songs, if you overplay them you get sick of them songs before the show. You need to play them just enough to want to look forward to hearing them again. And then stop until the show.
So I went into the show thinking I’d gotten to the essence of these songs - thinking I was ready to really enjoy them. But I was wrong. It was too soon. I’d only skimmed the surface. But I’ll talk about that at another time.
So it wasn’t a great show, but I’d only blame Sufjan for the abrupt end to “Chicago”, which should have gone out on a fading choir of angelic voices. See?
We’ll go back to the Kings Theater in October to catch Yo La Tengo and I’ll report back on my narrow comfort zone and the potential attendant assholes. Let’s see if I, or they, learn anything.