Archive for the ‘Concert reviews’ Category

Here’s one of my many life goals: To be all ready to go on New Year’s Eve. Not just dressed to go out – I always aim to have my desk cleared, my body humming along like Ken Griffey Jr. rather than Boog Powell, and my big projects for the year lined up and waiting for me to dive in.

Some years I’m ready, or at least I’m close. Not this year. I gave up yesterday and finally started 2014. Happy New Year, everyone! Thanks for reading this blog, even though I’m pretty sure I insulted you last year and I’ll insult you this year. I wish you all health and prosperity and plenty of good music in the next 12 months. Which brings me to my last musical topic of 2013, the band we saw on New Year’s Eve.

But first: When did New Year’s Eve become a public party? When did people start gathering in clubs, taverns, and dance halls to listen to loud music and drink like it’s St. Patrick’s Day?

F. Scott Fitzgerald mentions raucous New Year’s Eve celebrations in his books, but I can’t recall reading anything like that in earlier authors – for example, Mark Twain, Louisa May Alcott, William Dean Howells, Ambrose Bierce, or Stephen Crane. If H.P. Lovecraft liked to party, he kept it out of the papers.

Here’s another question: What makes a good New Year’s Eve band?

While Special D and I have extensively researched this topic, I’m not about to speak for her. Here instead are three of my ideas:

1)      Please practice, and not just the stuff you play the rest of the year. Learn “Auld Lang Syne.” Federal law requires you to play it at midnight so it would be a good idea to memorize a couple of verses, or at least write them down in big block letters.
2)      You must have a sense of humor; not everything is about you. Your audience will begin to evaporate at one minute after midnight. Maybe they want to finish the evening in their bathrobes eating ice cream; maybe they want to copulate at home rather than against one of your speakers. It’s not a comment on your musical talent.
3)      Original material is good, but on New Year’s Eve we mostly want to hear pop songs we already know. Don’t fret if you massacre one or two originals. That’s part of the fun. If you wreck them all you’ll antagonize an army of idiot bloggers.

Not a whiter shade of pale
When we suited up on New Year’s Eve, Special D added her boa to the fancy black number she wore. White Fang was pleased to be let out of the Nordstrom bag where he usually lives. He practically growled with antici…pation. We then headed uptown to a hall called The Secret Society where they had two bands and two djs waiting for us. The band I want to mention is called Brownish Black.

Where most bands might offer one unusual characteristic, say double the horn players or double the guitarists, Brownish Black’s lineup included three horns and two singers. That’s plenty of firepower right there, but they also fielded a bass player who played barefoot. His flashing white feet were particularly striking when he started marching in place. Rounding out the personnel was a drummer who looked like Justin Timberlake and a guitarist who looked like he’d left Pearl Jam due to artistic differences.

I was very impressed that this visually striking outfit met my first two requirements but totally trampled the third. Brownish Black plays R&B, soul, and funk that they wrote themselves. I believe I heard one cover, maybe two, in two hours of music. (They were probably able to get away with this because they only played until 11, when the second band took over.)

We loved their music, which I can only describe in terms of artists from the ’60s and ’70s:

If everyone in Big Brother & The Holding Company were black, and
if the leads were sung by Aretha Franklin and Peter Wolf, and
if you could borrow Rare Earth’s or James Brown’s horns, and
if everything were written by Sly Stone and Otis Redding,
you’d end up with Brownish Black. Plus the female singer loved White Fang.

I did hear one outstanding cover, but that was from the second band, Satin Chaps. For their opening blast they gave us a funky version of Deodato’s 1972 cross-over hit, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001).” They couldn’t quite translate Deodato’s jazz-fusion into dance music, but I have to give them a shout-out for trying.

Best conversation of the evening
This happened in the men’s room, of all places. Ladies, we don’t have substantive conversations in there. There was one urinal and there were several of us waiting for one inebriated gentleman to finish. When he turned and saw the line, he said, “Oh, sorry fellas, I was reciting poetry.”

MAN IN LINE: What poem?
POETRY LOVER: The one where the guy’s wandering in the fucking woods.
2ND MAN: “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”?
3RD MAN: Robert Frost.
POETRY LOVER: I love this club.

Robert Frost, by the way, was once arrested for dancing nude in a fountain on New Year’s Eve.

Random Pick of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
Twenty-eight songs by one of the most excellent bands of the 1980s.

I was looking for a job and I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Morrissey says the right thing, always.

Random Pan of the Day
The Smiths, …Best I (1992)
The Smiths, …Best II (1992)
They could’ve done this on one disc! The filler they’ve included illuminates The Smiths’ biggest problem – how little their sound varies. Plus there’s no excuse for including “Oscillating Wildly,” the most boring instrumental in the history of boredom and instrumentals.

OK, it’s 2014. As The Smiths sang, “Please please please let me get what I want!”

Bruce Springsteen says he learned more from a 3-minute record, baby, than he ever learned in school. I’m grateful to have graduated from a much better school system than the one Bruce was stuck in. I learned more in 3 minutes in any class at Somerset High, Somerset, Massachusetts (Go Raiders!) than I ever learned from Deep Purple, Three Dog Night, or Tommy James & The Shondells. But Springsteen was right to emphasize 3 minutes, and not just because “a 4-minute record, baby” doesn’t scan as well and anyway is too reminiscent of a 4-minute mile.

Three-minute records (which I take to mean 3:01 to 3:59) are still the bread and butter of popular music, even though the format they were created for, the 45rpm, no longer exists. This length gives you enough time to sink into a song but not enough time to drown. (In general. There are 2-minute songs that drag and 4-minute songs that fly. Anything by Coldplay is automatically too long.)

I’m guessing that most of the music I listen to (and you, too) is in the 3-minute range, with the next group following at 4:01 to 4:59, followed by 5 minutes, 6 minutes, etc. The number of recorded pop songs longer than 10 minutes thins out quickly, and for every triumph past that mark (The Door’s “The End,” David Bowie’s “Station to Station,” Love and Rockets’ “Body and Soul”) you trip over something like Mountains’ live version of their own “Nantucket Sleighride,” which weighs in at a hard-to-overlook 17:34.

I can only assume that back in 1972 the band performed their masterwork behind a screen of chicken wire to protect them from volleys of beer bottles. “Nantucket Sleighride” is a symphony as imagined by a quartet of metal-munching hippie delinquents. “Nantucket Sleighride” goes on so long that is has themes, movements, fugues, moods, tempos, lyrics, tides, a guitar imitating a triangle, a tugboat yearning for its mate, and what I think are wet blankets fired from a circus cannon.

The boys in Mountain, who did their best to out-bloat Wagner, produced a song that will never be included in any list of the 1 million songs you should listen to before the universe explodes. However, I took a lot of drugs to this album, Sludge Hammer*, and thanks to the miracle of nostalgia and disjointed synapses I still find “Nantucket Sleighride” to be audacious and irresistible.

What happens to pop music after 17 minutes and 34 seconds? That way lies “Tubular Bells,” Quicksilver Messenger Service, prog rock, Yes, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Phish, Emerson, Lake & Palmer, probably Yes again, motels, money, murder, madness, and today’s special guests, The Allman Brothers Band.**

The Allmans’ Eat a Peach (1972) is generally thought to be the band’s high point, though not by this critic. Give me the economy of Brothers and Sisters (1973) any day. I don’t care that Eat a Peach has all those live tracks because that’s where the problem is: “Mountain Jam,” which is not only 33 minutes and 41 agonizing seconds long, it was inspired by Donovan. Apparently, it’s impossible to keep Donovan out of a music blog these days.

I was bludgeoned by “Mountain Jam” at an Allman Brothers concert in 1975 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-shirt. The Allmans in those days packed enough amplification to sterilize everyone not wearing lead dirndls. I didn’t wear my dirndl that night and now you know why I’ve never had kids. Somewhere around the halfway point of “Mountain Jam,” my mind floated away and I could no longer hear the music. All I could do was stare at the band. If I had gone to a Bangles concert in 1985 and they had played a 33-minute version of “Walk Like an Egyptian,” I’m sure I would’ve lost containment then, too. But at least I would’ve been staring at The Bangles. The Allmans, even when they were flush with youth, were not stareable.

“Mountain Jam” makes the Allmans’ 22-minute “Whipping Post” from their At Fillmore East live set sound like a model of musical frugality. When I was 16 I thought the crescendo of “Whipping Post” was rock’s answer to the 1812 Overture. Now I just hear it as everyone barking at everyone else.

Is it possible to produce a 15-minutes-or-more recording that won’t put people to sleep or send them to their Kindles to read another chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey? Probably not, but one interesting attempt that I know of is The Byrds’ 16-minute go at their iconic “Eight Miles High,” from the album Untitled/Unissued (1970). It’s focused, it’s well-played, it crosses the line into jazz, and if I’d gone to that concert instead of to the Allmans’ I’d have 16 kids today. Oh, wait.

Reader challenge: I can’t think of any particularly lengthy songs (say 12-15 minutes or longer) after about 1990. If you can, please enlighten me. I have a hypothesis that song lengths have decreased since the hippie era, at least at the long end, but I need data. Phish, Widespread Panic, and Blues Traveler are disqualified. Come on, people, let’s move like we have a purpose!

* OK, the real name was Live (The Road Goes Ever On).

** Special D just raised her hand and asked where Pink Floyd is on this list, but I don’t see the point of her question.

It’s time for a wee bit of head-banging with today’s special guests, AC/DC. But before I tell you how to cope with these Australian wunderkinder, let’s deal with some of the more common reactions to their music. And people definitely react.

Former co-worker Karrie objects to AC/DC’s “misogynistic lyrics, badly rhyming lyrics, and badly rhyming misogynistic lyrics.”

Former co-worker Curt compares AC/DC to “an expensive, exotic cheese…smells horrid, leaves a bad taste in your mouth, but when paired with the proper wine and foods…it’s exquisite.”

Current wife Special D opines, “They’re really annoying if you’re not drunk.”

Critics: All their songs sound the same!!

Though I enjoy a big blast of AC/DC, I can’t refute these charges. (I never found out what former co-worker Curt thought you could pair them with. Prozac?) However, I believe that AC/DC is the one butt-kicking metal outfit you should listen to because, in today’s time-starved environment, they are by far the most efficient. From Anthrax to White Snake, you’ll never find a band that rocks this hard with all of these strengths:

1) All their songs sound the same? Of course they do. Angus and Malcolm Young only know a couple of riffs. They can’t even get the artillery on “For Those About to Rock” to go off at the right time. But those riffs are good riffs!

2) Because everything sounds the same, you can forget 17 of their 18 albums of original material and just buy Back in Black.

3) Back in Black is the second-biggest selling album of all time. (Thriller is first.) No one will make fun of you for having the vinyl, the CD, the eight-track, or the cassette in your collection because they’ve already seen it in 50 million other collections.

4) If you’re stealing this stuff online, why are you reading this?

5) The album cover is black.

As for the lyrics: You’re listening to the lyrics? Don’t do that. If you do, you’ll quickly realize that the members of AC/DC face some serious hurdles in establishing mutually respectful and beneficial relationships with women. Unfortunately there’s no patch you can download to improve these guys. I’ve grown adept at hearing the words without hearing the meaning. It helps to concentrate on the really loopy declarations, as when Brian Johnson threatens us with…a bell, or when he claims he doesn’t need to be hosed down or that he’s caught “in the middle of a railroad track.” Just step over one of the rails, Brian, you’ll free yourself in a jiffy.

Can women enjoy AC/DC responsibly? In 2003, Special D and I saw an all-female AC/DC tribute band called Hell’s Belles. The guitarist could mimic the Youngs perfectly, and in honor of Bon “Bon is gone” Scott she wore Australian-flag underwear. The singer was a black Janis Joplin who had us thunderstruck from the moment she opened her mouth. The ensemble restricted themselves to the less misogynistic epics, never resorted to bagpipes or cannons, and they even replaced the gong that opens “Hell’s Bells” with a triangle.

The spectacle of a stage full of women playing the music of these sexist birdbrains, coupled with some serious skills, made for an experience that was probably better than seeing the real thing. I’m sure they smelled better, too.

Thank you, AC/DC, for shaking me all night long, or at least for the 36-minute running time of Back in Black. You guys will always rock. Stay away from my wife.

Stop Making Sense
Talking Heads
1984

I’d like to have a few words with you today about the value of friends. And I don’t just mean how much money you can borrow from them. My friends have more than once straightened me out about music. Today I’d like to tell you about my friend Donald and the gift he gave me: Talking Heads.

Donald was a great guy, but there was this one thing about him. He was weird. He was bookish and hyper-intellectual, a guy who, in 1983, when this story begins, listened to King Crimson, Yes, Neil Young at his most cheerful (“Cortez the Killer”), and contemporary classical – a subgenre of classical music that most people avoid because it makes their teeth fall out. One of Donald’s heroes was Béla Bartók. Have you ever spent any time with Béla Bartók? You can easily reproduce Bartók’s most renowned music by cranking up an orchestra inside a revolving cement mixer. However, I once heard something melodious by this man. I was eager to tell Don about it:

Run-DMSteve: I heard something I liked by Bartók!
Donald: What was it?
Run-DMSteve: It was called “Hungarian Sketches.”
Donald: That’s wimpy Bartók!

Everyone is trying/to get to the bar
The name of the bar/the bar is called Heaven
And you thought I was a snob. Later Donald was sorry that he didn’t encourage rather than disparage me. Let me add right here that in addition to the millions of books he’d read and songs he’d listened to, most of which I wouldn’t touch on a bet, Don was one of the best defensive centerfielders I’d ever seen. He could chase down fly balls that were barely in the same area code.

Don was the person who made me a fan of Talking Heads. Until I met him, I hadn’t thought much about this band, except to turn their songs off when they came on the radio. When I heard Talking Heads on commercial radio in the late ’70s and early ’80s, I didn’t hear much I cared for: The insipid “Love Has Come to Town,” for example, and the incomprehensible “Psycho Killer.” In fact I mainly knew “Psycho Killer” from the parody by The Fools, “Psycho Chicken”: “I plucked him once/why pluck him again?”

The band in Heaven/they play my favorite song
Play it once again/Play it all night long
I understood why Donald loved David Byrne, the main creative force behind Talking Heads, because Byrne was weird. And that voice. Where have I heard that voice? On a Saturday morning cartoon, perhaps. Byrne’s voice is otherworldly (like David Bowie, Lady Gaga, and Gary Numan) and comical (like Weird Al, Fred Schneider, and the guy who did the yodeling in the Dutch prog-rock band Hocus Pocus). At any moment you expect him to de-materialize. Or else say “Well fuck it then” and pull out an accordion.

It didn’t help that Andy Warhol did some early radio commercials to support the band in which he a) acted like a total nerd, and I don’t think he was acting, and b) basically said that he liked Talking Heads because they were nerds. And those of you who have met me and are now asking why I couldn’t get down with a heightened degree of nerdiness can just shut UP.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens
When Talking Heads came to Seattle in 1983, Don insisted that I go with him, his wife, their precocious grade-school daughter, and a couple of his fellow hyper-intellectuals (minimalists, surely). Don might have even bought my ticket. If he didn’t, he should have.

The concert wasn’t what I expected. The songs I had previously disliked or had never heard were accelerated and deep-fried in funk. The concert followed a storyline, with Byrne opening the show alone and welcoming his bandmates singly and in groups as the songs progressed. By the time Byrne climbed into his Big Suit to sing about his girlfriend with bows in her hair (and nothing is better than that) and suggest that we stop making sense, I was banging my face into the stage. I never felt that way in a synagogue.

There is a party/everyone is there
Everyone will leave at/exactly the same time
The following year this tour was immortalized by Jonathan Demme in Stop Making Sense. I saw this film three times when it was released and I saw it again on the big screen with a younger generation of nerds in 2009 when it was rereleased. It was every bit as powerful in 2009 as it was in 1985 and I was surprised at how well I remembered it, whereas I don’t remember much about the concert at all and in fact I don’t even connect the band I saw live with the band I see in this film. (One of the few things I do remember from the concert is that everyone on Don’s side of the family brought a book.)

If you’ve been to a rock concert, you know that musicians who have been on the road a while forget what city they’re in and sometimes what song they’re in. They forget the words, make up new ones, hit the wrong key, crash into an amp or the bass player. Guitar strings break. Drums fall over. On The Clash’s From Here to Eternity, Joe Strummer croaks “Take it from me” to Mick Jones in the middle of “(White Man) In Hammersmith Palais” because his voice is shot.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
There are no mishaps or indecisive moments in Stop Making Sense, a record of a concert that never was. It was filmed by multiple cameras over three nights. The sound was run through a studio the way milk and ice cream are run through a blender. It makes Ladies and Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones look crude and The Last Waltz look stagy. Bob Dylan’s Renaldo and Clara is a pebble on its shoe. Stop Making Sense is so powerful that I hate to think what my life would’ve been like if Demme had decided to make his movie about Queensrÿche or Kenny G.

Writing in The New Yorker in 1984, Pauline Kael said she loved the film but that the songs all sounded the same to her. What makes Stop Making Sense irresistible? Is it the way the tension builds in the first half as the band multiplies and the black-shirted roadies wheel out the equipment? Is it that supreme moment in “Once in a Lifetime” when the two female singers with outstretched arms rise behind the ranting David Byrne? It is all the quotable lines?

–       Same as it ever was
–       You may ask yourself, how did I get here?
–       I feel like talking to someone/who knows the difference between right and wrong
–       This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around
–       Changed my hairstyle so many times now/don’t know what I look like

I have the answer and here it is in one sentence: Stop Making Sense is to a real concert what high-end pornography is to real sex.

Table 1. Shared characteristics of Stop Making Sense and high-class porn

  • Lengthy Bolero-style build-up
  • Everybody knows where everything goes
  • Everything is illuminated
  • Everything is audible, too
  • No time-outs
  • No encore

Stop Making Sense is a fantasy that musicians and audiences can all aspire to. And no one has to take their clothes off.

When this kiss is over/it will start again
It will not be any different/ it will be exactly the same
I play the Stop Making Sense soundtrack a lot but only a few of Talking Heads’ other songs: “Cities” (which was cut from the film), “(Nothing But) Flowers,” and “Sax and Violins.” One of Byrne’s collaborations with Brian Eno produced a gorgeous song called “Strange Overtones.” But mostly it’s Stop Making Sense for me – one of the pillars of my musical universe.

In 1984, Donald walked into a costume party at my house wearing a suit and a tie and carrying a guitar and a boom box. He placed his boom box on the floor and announced, “Hi. I have a tape I want to play.” Wherever you are, Don, I thank you again. If it weren’t for my friends I’d still be listening to Three Dog Night. In my parents’ basement.

It’s hard to imagine that/nothing at all
Could be so exciting/could be so much fun
Rest in peace, Amy Winehouse. I have rarely heard a voice like yours.

Heaven/Heaven is a place/A place where nothing/nothing ever happens.

New Year’s Eve 2010
Baby Boomers Social Club Dinner & Dance
Red Lion Convention Center
Portland, Oregon

I remember in the late ’80s when the Gen Xers first figured out that the Baby Boomers were sucking up all the oxygen on the planet. Back then I had several discussions with these tiresome people. They complained to me, with their imperfect command of their native language, that, like, we Boomers were always whining and hogging the spotlight and like grabbing everything for themselves, dudes, and what’s up with that? I always listened politely and then reminded them that we are really good-looking, too.

Dudes. If you were looking for a hotel ballroom full of good-looking people with gray hair and dodgy knees, the Red Lion on December 31, 2010 was the place to be.

She’s Got the Look
Special D made two visits to a clothing consignment store in late December and came away with a stunning Mad Men outfit to wear to this event. I would’ve emerged looking like Mad Max.

I got dressed that evening, was informed that I’d made some less-than-optimal decisions, quickly upgraded, and was cleared by the style council. It was clobberin’ time.

The 200 people at the Red Lion were dressed to kill. Well, most of the women were. The female half of the human race, always sensitive to the needs of an occasion, had all bought new outfits and gotten their hair done. Most of the men were dressed like they were going to the office, or else appeared to have gotten themselves together in a closet with the light out.

I bow to the four men who showed up in tuxedoes, particularly the gentleman who also wore an English-style vest under his formal jacket. These lads cut a swath like James Bond and never lacked for women willing to dance with them. Plus two of them had obviously spent considerable time in the principal’s office for dirty dancing. Any idiot can grind on the dance floor, but how many can pull that off from inside a tux?

Special D also has a talent for making friends, and she returned from an early trip to the ladies to report on the three new BFFs she’d made there and what they were all wearing and why. I’ll let you women in on a secret: We don’t have these conversations in the men’s room.

Play That Funky Music, Bar Band
It’s ridiculous to think that Boomers all love the same music. We were born between 1946 and 1964, which probably sounds like 1066 and 1492 to most people today but believe me, these numbers mean very different things musically.

“Well she was just 17,” Lennon and McCartney once observed. “You know what I mean.” Let’s take 17 as the Golden Age of music. If you were born in 1946 you were 17 when The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan. I was 17 in 1972, when Chicago, Al Green, and Elton John ruled the airwaves. People born in 1964 were 17 in 1981 – they were listening to The Clash, Blondie, and Michael Jackson. And of course as we age we find even more music to listen to, even if it’s Coldplay.

Any band that’s going to play to a room full of Boomers and not have their throats cut will have to cover a lot of ground. So it was with the band that played for us. I’ll call them Bar Band.

Though they could be counted on to know at least 70% of the words to any song in their repertoire, and though two of them came out of a funky R&B background and I think the other two went to charm school, Bar Band kept us moving with an assortment of bizarre covers and arrangements and inexplicable song selections. As Hunter S. Thompson put it, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.”

Magic Carpet Ride
Bar Band opened with “Pretty Woman,” which was subdued rather than joyous. I was wondering how four people could make so little noise when they swung into Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me.” The female keyboard player reminded us of Janis Joplin, and with the two R&B boys pouring on the funk they turned an overly sweet song by one of the worst bands in history into a four-minute kinesthetic delight.

(The dance floor, by the way, was packed almost until midnight, and the die-hards were still kickin’ it when we left around 12:30.)

Transitions were not Bar Band’s strong point, unfortunately, and they followed “Say You Love Me” with Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run.” Normally that’s a good choice, but not when you slow it down until you’re in John Cougar Mellancamp’s “Jack and Diane” territory. At this point I realized our musicians were all from the ’70s and were a bit too adept at free-associating.

Two years ago when Special D and I last came to this dance, the band neutered just about everything, perhaps out of concern for our blood pressure. When they played “Mustang Sally,” that song was about a horse. Bar Band happily put the sex back in Wilson Pickett’s masterpiece. They also did well with Eddy Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise.”

But the two highlights of this set were The Doors’ “Love Her Madly” and John Lennon’s “The Ballad of John and Yoko.” Get. Out. They turned “Love Her Madly” into a head-banging dance tune with an off-the-hook keyboard solo straight out of Barnum & Bailey. Then they served up “The Ballad of John and Yoko” as a boogie.

Alas, Bar Band is not made up of underground geniuses who fight the man, go to the wall, and never do anything by the book. Their slow songs sucked, chiefly because most of them were by Norah Jones. Their passion for Bonnie Raitt didn’t help. All of her songs sound alike to me. Isn’t she actually Militia Etheridge?

Bar Band played “Route 66” as a lounge parody. They were lucky Depeche Mode wasn’t there to fling hubcaps at them. And don’t get me started on their decision to play something by Loggins & Messina. “Hey little girl won’t you meet me at the schoolyard gate”? Sorry, I already have a date with Ringo Starr. He says I’m 16, I’m beautiful, and I’m his! I had no idea.

Pump Up the Jam
Set #2 found real rock ’n’ roll in short supply. “The best dance songs are about sex and/or death,” Special D opined, after Bar Band had tortured us with Jimmy Buffet, Brooks & Dunn (boot-scootin’ makes my heart go all achy-breaky), and more Norah Jones, or possibly Bonnie Raitt. Plus they wrecked another sure thing from Steve Miller (“Keep on Rocking Me Baby”).

But the two guitars were playing longer and funkier riffs. Bar Band excelled with “Hip to Be Square” by Huey Lewis & The Snooze, “Old Time Rock ’n’ Roll” (can’t escape that one), and Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream,” which actually held a touch of menace.

Blondie’s “Call Me” was fun to dance to, but the singer’s Janis Joplin voice kept throwing me. If Janis had lived she wouldn’t have been singing in a New Wave band 10 years later. The spooky keyboard solo made me think of Halloween.

And then there was “Sharp Dressed Man.” Had Bar Band ever heard this song before? Special D thought someone had maybe described it to them. They ripped the bass line right out of “Smoke on the Water.” This marriage of Texas bar blues with faux British prog rock was fun and perplexing.

I should mention that inbetween sets the PA system played watery hip-hop for people to do the line dancing they learned at corporate retreats in the 1990s. Smokin’. Back at our table, Special D kept busy networking with all the new friends she was making while I contended with a platoon of good-natured inebriates. Two women asked me for a future dance, but fled before I could get back to them. They sensed my power.

Don’t Leave Me This Way
Things slowed down as we approached midnight, though I can’t say exactly how as my notes from the last hour are hard to read. I’d eaten seven or eight desserts by that point. We had some good dance numbers, including the always popular “Takin’ Care of Business,” but Bar Band also tried out “Jailhouse Rock,” and they played it nice and slow, just the way I like it. (Not.) They followed this downer with “Folsom Frakking Prison.” They were unable to turn it into “The Ballad of John and Yoko” and quickly cleared the floor except for those people who will dance to anything, including the theme to Welcome Back, Kotter.

With midnight looming, Bar Band launched into an extended version of “Love Shack.” While they were unable even to suggest The B-52s, it was very danceable. They easily eclipsed the Seattle bar band we heard on New Year’s Eve 20 years ago who tried playing “Free Bird” but couldn’t remember the words and ran out of notes at 11:58pm, when they were forced to sing “Auld Lang Syne,” which, of course, they hadn’t practiced.

After midnight we got the only Beatles of the evening, “I Saw Her Standing There.” I have to admire Bar Band’s decision to play one Beatles (and no Rolling Stones). That takes guts, or peyote. The last song we stayed for was “Play That Funky Music,” and they did.

The Kids Are Alright
It was a pleasure to dance to a band that could bring it (most of the time), in a crowd where I didn’t look like somebody’s Dad. We even had people in our midst who were older than us: The youngest members of the Silent Generation (1925-1945). If you’re 70 and you like to dance on New Year’s Eve, where ya gonna go? You go with the younger kids. And a lot of them kept going right through midnight. You’re only as old as you feel…the morning after. Happy new year!

The B-52s
Boston, Mass. 1979
Portland, Ore. 2007
In the summer of 1979, when The B-52s sang “Everybody had matching towels,” I was one of the people in that little club waving matching towels. Mine were white with a red checked pattern and I bought them that morning at Goodwill.

Of course none of us who had arrived at the club equipped with extracurricular textiles had considered what we were going to do with them after that line, since the rock lobster immediately appears and there’s no time for towels after that. They mostly ended up kicked into a corner. I’d like to think the club donated them all to Goodwill the next day.

I wish I knew the exact date of that show, and the time of the evening when they launched into “Rock Lobster,” because at that moment I was cooler than I’d ever been or ever would be again. (I saw The B-52s again in 1980 and 1981, by which time I was hauling a strobe light around with me.) Before the 2007 show I considered going back to Goodwill for more towels, but you can never recapture your old glory. Not even if you drove a Plymouth Satellite/faster than the speed of light.

Lady Gaga in concert
The Rose Garden, Portland, Ore.
August, 2010

This summer I won two tickets to see Lady Gaga. I was trying to win tickets to Arcade Fire. You take what you can get in this life.

Her concert lasted two hours, in which she demonstrated her ability to fill 45 minutes with good songs. The evening, a drama that could only have been choreographed by Wagner and Tolkein while both were seriously faced, included a UFO, a haunted truck, a slice of subway, a jungle gym, surreal videos, blood, trap doors, platforms shooting out of the stage, platform shoes, a burial, a resurrection, taekwondo-style dancing, and enough stilettos to stake a circus tent. And wigs, including one that looked like a mushroom cap. I want one! All we were missing were bagpipes, artillery, and a miniature version of Stonehenge.

Lady Gaga and her court, when not hurling themselves into every song at Warp 6, were busy changing clothes, except the guitar player, who took his shirt off but should have left it on. (Up in our private suite, Special D wore a white feather boa, which she occasionally loaned to admiring gay men.) In the middle innings, Gaga cooled down by playing two songs solo at the piano. Someday she’ll look back at this interlude and wish she were dead. I certainly did during her inane warbling. I give her credit for setting the piano on fire, but I take it back because the piano was not consumed.

Nevermind this acoustic crap. What about the songs that made her famous? Can she write or is she just bluffin’ with her muffin? Let’s examine the thematic material in Lady Gaga’s oeuvre. No, let’s not. Let’s confine ourselves to “Telephone”:

Situation: The singer is dancing at a club.
Problem: Everyone is calling her.
Result: She’s stressed.
Resolution: It occurred to me that she should stop answering her phone, but this hypothesis was not tested or even considered.
Lesson: Stress is bad, but stupidity makes it worse.

That leaves the actual music. Lady Gaga stuffs so many happy hooks into each song that they can’t be dislodged from the fluffy insulation inside your brain. (In that respect her sound is like the seamless, vacuum-packed assembly line that was Boston, except you can dance to it.) For 24 hours all I could hear in my head was “Poker Face.” Even while I was asleep, dreaming about dinosaurs or cheerleaders, they were dancing to “Poker Face.” At least it’s her best song.

To rid myself of this neuro-plague I counterattacked with an hour of music that was the opposite of Lady Gaga’s: thoughtful, intricate, subtle, quiet. Alas, the Cowboy Junkies are too quiet. I could still hear “Poker Face” while listening to “Sweet Jane.” What’s the next notch above the Cowboy Junkies? That would be Coldplay. But I was afraid of swapping “Poker Face” for “Yellow.” I finally hit on the freeing formula: the neo-human, glacier-fed, synthesized wall-of-drone of late-’70s David Bowie. I listened to Station to Station, Low, and Heroes. Twice. Done!

We hear a lot about Lady Gaga’s influences. There are the big names, like Queen, Kiss, and Madonna, and the lesser-known but edgier bands, like Mott the Hoople and the New York Dolls. You could even make a case for Grace Jones, at least during her disco years, and for raw chutzpah her only peer is Tiny Tim.

But to me, Lady Gaga will always be Prince in a bikini.

And yes, I enjoyed her show. Especially when they fired her out of a missile silo and she landed on her 6” heels without a waver or a wobble. How I wish I had that woman’s knees! I’d put them on eBay.

Run-DMSteve