Revisited: Going to a rock concert

As a fifty-something man, it’s been some time since I’ve been to a live rock concert. I’ve been a fan of the genre for as long as I can remember (at least since 1966’s “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” assuming that counts) and grew up being inspired by rock’s energy and message (the Red Baron gets shot down in the end). Nothing beats a live performance of rock ‘n roll to celebrate those two magical elements in a community of like-minded people.

The last concert I can remember attending before just recently was during my final year in college when I drove 180 miles to see John Denver. Now I know a lot of the purists out there will claim that John Denver hardly qualified as a rocker, but let me tell you that the bespectacled moptop could seriously get down. He wasn’t all “Rocky Mountain This” and “Rocky Mountain That.” He actually had a drummer on several of the songs.

This past summer, I got to attend my first arena show in ages as I accompanied my 17-year-old son to a performance of Canadian rockers Rush. I was delighted to be invited, first because it indicated that Daniel wasn’t too embarrassed to be seen with his dad in public, and secondly because he was embracing a style of music that we could share an appreciation for. Also, I wasn’t on restriction, like the friend he originally planned to go with.

We made our way to the Verizon Amphitheatre just north of Charlotte on a hot July day. Walking through the parking lot, we saw numerous tailgate parties featuring abundant amounts of beer and suspicious smoky odors. The rebellious nature of rock was alive and well in these small groups who were openly defying the property-wide ban on cigarette smoking. When we got to our seats, we found ourselves situated in mid-row between a guy throwing back Bud Lites at an alarming pace and a 6-foot-8 student with limbs the length of a primate.

The three-man band took the stage and proceeded to rock long and hard through a set list of new songs and classics. We tried to care about selections from their new “Snakes & Arrows” album but were really there for oldies like “Tom Sawyer” and “Working Man.” To give something of a theme to the tour, they’d produced a short film featuring Jerry Stiller on a nationwide search for rotisserie chicken (I didn’t get it either), and stage props that included upright ovens that roasted rotating birds. The increasingly drunken guy to our left was really getting into this, repeatedly shouting “chicken! wooo!” and “wooo! chicken!” directly into my ear. As the afternoon heat and closeness of the crowd started getting to us, we retreated to the back lawn and spent the rest of the show looking up at the stars and considering how man should “put aside the alienation and end up with the fascination.”

Then, just this past Wednesday, I had an opportunity to join Daniel for another concert, this time with former Talking Heads front-man David Byrne. We drove through a soaking rain to arrive at a trio of venues clustered together on the east side of Charlotte. I had been to this site several times before but became confused about where exactly I was supposed to park. There’s an auditorium, an arena and a theatre, and they are forever changing labels as corporate naming rights come and go. Were we looking for the Bojangles Arena, which used to be the Blockbuster Coliseum after it had been the Cracker Barrel Arena for years? Or did we want the Papa John’s Theatre, formerly the Time Warner Cable Theatre, formerly the Slim Jim Turkey Jerky Performance Space? We found a line of cars queuing up for a parking lot, so we got in it and hoped for the best.

And the best is what we got. David Byrne put on an absolutely brilliant performance with all the quirky lyrics and bizarre choreography of the Talking Heads. Three back-up singers and three dancers lumbered frantically around the stage in hilarious chaos, at one point performing while lying flat on the floor and at another time scooting around in office chairs. The music was every bit as enthralling, with the new stuff as mesmerizing as the oldies. I will say nothing nasty or sarcastic about Byrne who is, remarkably, a fellow fifty-something.

The auditorium offered very comfortable amenities and seating, though the crowd didn’t seem to know how to use the latter. When the musicians first took the stage, we all stood and welcomed them loudly. We continued standing through the second song, and the third song, and I began to wonder why we had bothered to pay for the seats. When a slower-paced song began, most of the audience took the chance to sit down and rest, but then re-exploded onto their feet when a high-energy number followed. My back is not in the best shape and I was starting to wish we could pick a pose and stick with it; I didn’t care which one, I just didn’t like all the up and down. Perhaps the guidance of a program would’ve been handy, like those we used to have in church that prompted “the congregation rises” and “now you sit down.”

The other parts of the concert that gave me pause were the sing-along portions. It wasn’t a formal row-row-row-your-boat kind of thing. I’m talking about how enthusiastic audience members would chime in with the chorus of certain songs, whether they knew the lyrics or not. I wanted to hear Byrne singing “Life During Wartime,” not the bozo behind me who chanted “This ain’t no Hardee’s/This ain’t no Frisco/This ain’t no dueling in town/No time for potluck/Or heebie-jeebies…” and so on.

The end of the set arrived, a reasonable 90 minutes after the show began, and we gave a rousing ovation as the band bowed, waved and then left the stage. Then, more awkwardness – how exactly is this encore thing supposed to work in a way that doesn’t embarrass the performer and afflict the audience with repetitive motion injuries? We all know it’s a sham, that the musicians are going to return for another song or two. Still we play this little game where we pretend we can’t live without them and they pretend to be on their bus, halfway out of town already. Byrne and company seemed to stretch their luck a bit with the amount of time they stayed off-stage, and the cheers were starting to ebb when they finally returned. Embarrassing, yes, and yet we did it all over again following another song. After this one, though, we clipped our appreciation short and managed to get them to stay away.

Though awkward, uncomfortable and slightly scary to someone my age, I must say I enjoyed both of these concert experiences thoroughly, probably slightly more in retrospect than during the event itself. It was a great chance to bond with my son and allow us to share a common passion for a cultural phenomenon that will never die, even if most of its earliest fans will shortly.

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7 Responses to “Revisited: Going to a rock concert”

  1. mollyschoemann Says:

    This was so neat to read! My father was introduced to the Talking Heads when he was in his early seventies (I was born when he was 50), and my little sister took him to a David Byrne concert a few years back, where he had a FANTASTIC time. He knew all the lyrics to all the songs even though he was probably the oldest person there.

    I’ve never seen David Byrne in concert but I love the Talking Heads and a lot of his solo stuff, and it sounds like he puts on a great show. My one claim to fame is that I babysat for his daughter, Malu, when I was 13, because we went to the same Manhattan school. So back when I was in the 8th grade I spent the day at his house, saw him in his bathrobe, got taken out to lunch by him and his wife, and had NO INKLING of who he was. Later when I became obsessed with his band, I was like uh, dang. Anyway, great post!

  2. fakename2 Says:

    I figured I was in trouble during the last concert I attended when the college-age woman two seats to my left pulled out an entire pakiage of foam earplugs. When the concert started, using sign language, I said, can I buy two of those earplugs from you?

  3. Rocky Humbert Says:

    It’s great to be old. The music doesn’t seem loud anymore, and it’s the only venue where you can should “I can’t hear you. Can you say that again?” without embarrassment.

  4. Rocky Humbert Says:

    Correction. “Shout” not “Should.”

    Like I said, it’s great to be old.

  5. fakename2 Says:

    This was the Transiberian Orchestra I attended, and to clarify, the college student hastened to explain that she only bought the earplugs for her parents, who were expected to arrive shortly. She was a good and noble person, and gave me a pair of earplugs for free. Fakesister, who attended with me, brought her own.

  6. planetross Says:

    I’ve seen all of the Talking Heads, but David Byrne. I am cursed.
    … the other 3 weren’t bad … but Debbie Harry and The Ramones might have had something to do with it.

    You’ve seen a Rush concert. I bow in envy.

  7. Harrison Maphis Says:

    I know this is going to sound a bit old fashioned but, I actually like looking after my hearing and whilst I do agree with the previous poster and I really hope I do not get shot down for saying this, but I guess it is essential to take all things in moderation.

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