Of the thousands of things that this godforsaken coronavirus headache has made me appreciate about those days, not so long ago, when I could walk down the street, breathe the air in deeply, and exhale it upon just about whomever I pleased, none seem quite so unlikely to return any time soon as the live rock show.
Cut to this current moment in time: it is late May of 2020 and my best rock show opportunities are happening via YouTube. And that’s not going change any time soon. You can’t even go to church right now, let alone a rock concert. As God has lobbyists aplenty, I’m pretty sure churches will get the green light to change water to wine in front of a live audience well before a bunch of aged punks like X will be allowed to play the song White Girl while people scream and applaud wildly.
The fake news media is bound to claim that wild applause is not only a symptom of Covid-19, but is also a means of spreading the virus, alleging that when people smack their palms together, as they do when they see a good rock show, the dried-on virus particulates that are hidden in the creases of their palms are dispersed like sound waves into the atmosphere, where the virus particulates then deploy wings and make a bee line for random strangers’ nostrils and open mouths.
Don’t believe the hype. The germs known to be dispersed by enthusiastic applause are thought to prefer clogging up pores rather than sinus cavities, which is considered not a very effective means of infecting the host. Ergo, fear not wild applause.
Once my message gets out I suspect a goodly number of people will applaud my efforts to get rock going again. But please don’t applaud too loudly. I don’t want my pores getting any more clogged up than the already are.
Back in the day, I had a strong belief that if you worked hard, paid your dues, and attended rock concerts in large venues, you’d experience the very best that life has to offer. I grew up in a small and declining city, where we braced for the icy grip of winter by drinking a lot of beer and urinating wherever the hell we wanted. That was the way it was back then: hard work, dues paid, large rock venues, and urinating regularly.
A bit of fiction, perhaps, although I did witness certain unnamed jerks peeing all over creation back then, into the pool, into the fire pit, and so forth. And the large venue rock concerts were a real thing, with people blowing huge plumes of pot smoke into the air, poisoning themselves and everyone around them.
It was awesome! I saw bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones while packed in with drunk young people who threw up all over themselves. And then, I saw that some formerly hugely famous bands suddenly couldn’t fill those large rock venues and would instead play in bars. Bars! The very thought!
Now I can’t seem to bring myself to see the large rock show, unless it’s Radiohead. Instead, I prize the small venue.
Enter Billy Bragg, your favorite folk-punk love troubadour of yesteryear. Turns out Billy and his East London-esque accent were in town to play the tiny Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, easily the best small venue in the area, with great sight lines, reasonable crowd sizes, and actual urinals for us to use. Tickets went on sale in late 2018 for a late 2019 show, so the nation’s most acerbic high school principal had to clue me into tickets and encourage me to buy two pair, which I did while drinking beer and then going off to urinate.
I’ll admit I was a little worried about this show, as I was bringing my lovely bride of 16 years, who attends stand-up rock shows about as often as Jesus did, but seemed game enough if we could stand in the back. We did better, standing some 20 yards away on a secure balcony, with a clear view to Billy and his lefty anti-Trump, anti-Boris Johnson message.
I won’t go through all the songs, as you can always find those by going to setlist.fm, but I will tell you that for about half the show he was talking activitism, and in this bitterly divided world we currently live in, his message was enormously well-received in one of the most left-leaning cities in the US.
Have you ever been to a rock show where the front person spent the first ten minutes explaining, in an oddly strummy fashion, how to behave during the concert? Be courteous. Be kind. Be forgiving. And so forth.
And you’re thinking, wait, did I make a wrong turn and end up a spectator in a golf tournament?
You’re still digesting the bacon grenades you ate at Kaiser Tiger a few minutes earlier, thinking to yourself, when the heck is the music going to start? And at the same time, something tells you to let the monologue continue, as you’re not feeling so well post-grenades and a Polish kielbasa sandwich. No one wants to find his fellow rock show patron planting elbows in random eye sockets when he’s feeling ill from too much midwestern pork indulgence. And anyway, elbows in eye sockets are usually delivered courtesy large males, who have been confounding America with their girth and height for years, requiring patriots like you to wear big shoes so you can see the band.
More specifics: Patrick Stickles’ long and relatively boring diatribe to start the set of his band Titus Andronicus fell largely on deaf (large male) ears at The Bottom Lounge, a short walk from where my friends and I had overindulged on Belgian Fries, German Beer and the aforementioned pork products, such that once the band got revved up, the elbows where flying and craniums were getting flung back and forth in total disregard for my personal safety. I kept my distance from the senseless violence, lest I find myself with a case of CTE.
Despite the lecture and subsequent disregard for proper behavior, I would call this one of the best punk rock shows I’ve ever seen. Knowing almost none of the music except what I had crammed in during my long commute from the outer edges of southwestern Boston to Chicago’s West Town neighborhood, I can assure you that it mattered not, as the band’s penchant for loud and boisterous rock made knowledge of the music secondary, if not entirely irrelevant.
The show wasn't without casualties. A fellow to my left, thoroughly meaning to stay out of the mosh pit, caught a roundhouse skull to the nose and left bleeding. Poor guy.
If Mike Doughty had been on stage the music would have ended right then and there, as Doughty means it when he says no slam dancing. But this was no M. Doughty, so despite the nosebleed, Titus Andronicus played on.
I’m trying to remember how many times I’ve seen the band Spoon, and if my mind isn’t playing tricks on me, it’s about 100 times. OK, more like 7. Although Tim, with whom I’ve seen almost every show, claims to remember about 4, which means he is wrong. What about the Esplanade? What about Northampton?
Not to mention the Roxy, where they sold the place out and yet somehow it remained sparsely crowded. Even Britt Daniel scratched his head about that one, noting aloud, “this is sold out?!” I heard afterward that the owners of the Roxy and the city were in some kind of battle, and the city was punishing the club by seriously curtailing the number of tickets that could be sold. I’m almost certainly misinformed about that, but something was up that limited the gate (not demand.)
Here’s the thing about Spoon: they became popular with Gimme Fiction and Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, but my two favorite albums are their first and second. (Agreed, that’s not something about Spoon as much as it is something about me.) And unfortunately, they never play songs from those records anymore. Their second album is called A Series of Sneaks, and I have half a mind (or three quarters or maybe even 19/20ths of a mind) to message Britt Daniel and say, “You should do a few shows where you play A Series of Sneaks from beginning to end.” (In my town).
And he’ll laugh with great gusto!
He wouldn’t even play “Quincy Punk Episode” when I saw them at the House of Blues, despite his having heard me yell out for him to do so. I want to see this performed live before I leave this planet:
J'Biden Era Tweetage
Democracy is fragile
The world is watching
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On Science, not politics
Truth, not denial
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