This isn’t a bad way to end the “summer” concert season.
I’m sitting at my local watering hole after watching the third stern talking to that Hillary has given The Donald this election cycle and – somehow – they have managed to go from debate viewing to live music in about 20 minutes.
I’m ok with this.
That 20 minutes was just about long enough for me to reflect on a pretty light series of concerts this past summer. Not dating anyone can tend to stall one’s live music ventures.
Or misadventures in the case of my summer of ’16.
Here’s the rundown:
Temper Trap was good…aside from that basic white girl throwing up three feet from me. I hadn’t been to the Wonder Ballroom since seeing Feist there in what could have been the last century. An old grade school pal and too infrequent coffee buddy of mine put the place back on my radar earlier this year when describing the experience of taking her daughter and her friends out to an all ages show there. Badaboom-badabing, I’m cruising their calendar and come across this Aussie band that I’ve only ever kind of heard of. I knew one song.
I bought two tickets.
I wasn’t sure if I was being optimistic about finding a date or if I was secretly preparing to indulge my grumpy old man-ness by insulating myself from people who were lacking about three decades too little life experience to safely get too close to me.
It occurred to me later that I sure hoped it was the former because in a General Admission venue, protecting two “seats” could prove challenging.
It was the latter. A fact that really stung once the poster child for birth control emptied her stomach next to me.
I think by the time I left the Echo and the Bunnymen concert at the Crystal Ballroom a couple of months later I was beginning to realize that it wasn’t the near-unknown or nostalgic bands from my childhood (who refused to play their classics instead of stuff released within the last 10 years, incidentally) that really had me feeling I had squandered the summer’s live music opportunities. It was the fact that I had squandered the summer’s live music opportunities. Usually, I can be counted on to randomly pop into a show that I happen by. And you just know how good that show is gonna be if you can buy a ticket at the box office while the opening band is still playing. But sometimes you find a real sleeper that you enjoy.
That hadn’t happened this summer.
Mostly because I was still grinding my nose at the Zeeb and that had me working Friday and Saturday nights until 11:00 or later.
And I was insisting to myself that that was ok.
But in addition to missing random opportunities, I had also missed some of my favorite bands that had rolled through town this summer in pretty rare appearances.
Tears for Fears.
Morrissey. (Sorry, LB…)
Cashed Out, a Johnny Cash cover band.
Willie Nelson. Yes, I would have loved seeing that old codger!
Countless opportunities to see Life During Wartime, a Talking Heads cover band.
So, I’m not sure what my mindset was when I walked into Echo…but I know I had an agenda: Hear them perform my favorites. End of agenda. Ironically, I had tried to get tickets earlier and couldn’t and then the week before the concert there were magically tickets available.
I should have taken notice of that little harbinger.
I get there late, and the place is deserted. The Little Buddy and her 2.0 are at the front between the stage and the bar. How can this be bad?
There’s about a football field worth of empty space between the doors and the minimal crowd.
But the opening band hadn’t begun yet, so maybe people were making a legit date night of it and were having dinner beforehand. And then the opening band began.
I really – sincerely – wish that they hadn’t done that.
I try not to criticize people who do things that I absolutely cannot do. Performing live is one of those things I cannot do. This is not to be confused with people who sing Karaoke. I openly enjoy their shortcomings. Because I could do the same and wisely choose not to. You’re welcome.
I will say that this band – Coastal Fish or something – played every song like their plane was going down and they just wanted one more jam together before the end. But they didn’t seem to be playing together. They were all jamming and none of their efforts really seemed to be in concert with one another’s.
So, it was kind of painful.
Almost as painful as the VIP section that was directly in front of where we were standing.
And had two people in it.
No, wait…another couple just barely showed up during the opening band’s set. While the Coastal Fish ignored one another on stage, I got to watch these two couples do the same in the VIP area. They literally stood about as far from one another as possible. It was awkward.
But then Echo et al took the stage and…nothing up there really changed.
Ian McCulloch pretty much phoned it in. I think he really just showed up for the barstool full of cocktails at the back of the stage, which he called a Crystal Ballroom minion up to refill during their set. He was openly smoking a cigarette on stage. Once they finally got around to performing Bedbugs and Ballyhoo, I got on my Dancing Horse and left early.
I heard the next day that LB and 2.0 had pretty much done the same. I had lingered in Lola’s – which is one floor below the main stage – and watched another song on screen, so they may have actually paroled themselves before I left the building.
So, that was it. 2016 was looking like a live music let down for old Xtopher.
Until last night.
There I was, deflecting The Silver Fox’s invitation to The Big Legrowlski to watch the debate. I wasn’t sure they were airing this one, since I was sure that they had live music scheduled to start at 8:00. His Foxiness reminded me that the debate only lasted 90 minutes, but I was not sold on the reality of the transition from politics to live music within such a tight window.
Now, I know they can do it.
Plus, he had – in classic Fox style – double booked himself and was going to be leaving early to watch a Portland Timbers match at their stadium up the road. But after a few grumpy texts and a couple of hours to cool off, his Fox-timism won me over and I joined him there just before the debate.
Is it frightening or funny when the debates are more outrageously bizarre than the Saturday Night Live sketches about them?
I’m going with scary…
But, now it was showtime!
Since I had been abandoned by The Fox, I decided to stick around and see what my little taphouse turned bro-bar could do with live music.
My advice? If you have a chance to see John Hull live, do it. If you don’t, go to his SoundCloud and give him a listen. Totally worth it. If you like the same type of music I do.
Which is the best music, after all.
After his first couple of songs, I had a run-in with my own trademark awkwardness when he introduced himself and…oops, I mistook “Any John Hull fans out there?” for “Any John Holmes fans out there?”, which was quite the non-sequitur and caused my head to snap up from my phone in a not-too-subtle manner.
I think he noticed. I was sitting at the front table.
After his first couple of songs – his own – he performed a couple of covers:
Jason Mraz with some Bob Marley mixed in to incredible effect. Gotta love an acoustic mash up.
Sting – Roxanne. Which he really made his own.
For some reason, he decided to ask the crowd if there were any requests. All three of us. But he wasn’t talking to his girlfriend, who was sitting at the other front row table. He was talking to the woman in the back of the room, who occasionally had the bar manager and owner sitting with her. I had been invited to that table, but passed, because E.O.G. and also, a friend of the bar from the bakery across the street had dropped off a box of their day olds and I was busy resisting that temptation. I think we all know how that would work out for me if I was within arm’s reach of those poor pastries. Anyway, Back Of The Room gal choked on coming up with a request, so I suggested some Tracy Chapman.
One great acoustic performer covering another seemed like a legit request.
He didn’t know any titles off the top of his head but gamely told me to suggest one and maybe he could make his way through it. This is where he met my trademark awkwardness when I inadvertently insulted him by requesting…Give Me One Reason To Stay Here.
I think he noticed.
Instead he played a Death Cab for Cutie song – I Will Follow You Into The Dark – and proceeded to give us PNW slobs an education in Death Cab trivia. Ok, one thing a San Diego boy might want to remember is that while, yes…Death Cab is also “kind of” known as Postal Service, they are from Bellingham, WA and we probably already knew that both bands shared a frontman but were in fact different bands.
But the cover was still solid…what this guy might have lacked in trivia accuracy, he more than made up for in just being a guy you want to sit and listen to for a beer or two.
Abdicating music selection to the crowd for another attempt at a random pick, he got Sweet Caroline as a cover suggestion…which I thought was pretty mean. Not everyone can trot out a Neil Diamond. Not even the cover bands that I’ve seen can deliver consistently. Damn if this guy didn’t end up bringing it home. Even getting the crowd – which had grown to double digits at this point – involved in the sing a long component of the performance.
I know that won’t be my last live show of 2016 – not with the holidays coming up! – but not a bad way to transition out of summer shows and get me excited for what the rest of fall and winter have to offer.
Then I can gear up for 2017 and hopefully put a little intent behind my music experiences and get my live show mojo back!
I feel tempted to go back and capitalize all of the seasons like good grammar dictates they should be, but then I’d be proof reading my work and that would degrade my stream of consciousness style…but I just want you all to know that I thought about it.
Love and pizza, yo!