Bunbury, Iron Maiden, and Wilco
Here’s a big Lionel Ritchie “Hello” to all ten of you. We’re back in a different van heading to Wilmington Delaware and if everything goes perfectly we’ll still be late. Speaking of, “Hello,” in 10th grade I had a crush on a generously proportioned blond girl who took no notice of me until the week before she moved to Kansas. We exchanged notes before she left and embarked upon an utterly pointless long-distance relationship marked by letters so tedious in their shopping list length that even the memory of untouched tits and bee-stung lips (they really were puffy) could maintain my teen-aged tumescence for very long. And at that age anything from a gentle breeze to the Battle of the Network Stars (Oh Victoria Principal) could achieve the ache that launched a thousand tissues. But before she started writing about all the cute guys she was meeting and I realized I dreaded writing back, our song was, “Hello.” We both bought 45’s and listened to it as tragically as possible. My friends couldn’t even look me in the face and before my natural mortification could kick in I learned not discuss it around them. Regardless, 10 grade was actually a pretty good year. In that same class (geometry) I met my first love, a delightful woman who I still count among my dearest friends, primarily because she never brings up my fumblingly inept and eternally embarassing behavior. I also saw Bruce Springsteen for the first time. Oh and of course there was that time I accidentally hacked into the Pentagon’s computer by using a “back door” left by the programmer and ended up having to sneak in to NORAD to stop us from accidentally starting World War III. That Ally Sheedy is a good egg. I still get Christmas cards from her. She’s a Christian now, which I guess shouldn’t be too surprising as she sure was into missionary work back then. *
I really did intend to not write any more tour blog after the west coast jaunt, but I missed writing and more importantly having a reason to write. Since I could find no convincing argument that my daily life was of any interest I hope you’ll continue to indulge me as it appears the year has thrown us a few more opportunities for adventure.
We only played one show since we got back and it was at the inaugural Bunburry Fest in Cincinnati. I tell you what, I was shocked (shocked I tell you) at how exhausted we all were when we got home. Even after a week I still felt tired, and every time we’d run into each other everyone said the same thing. I swear I felt fine at the end of the tour, but obviously it’s a much more taxing endeavor than we realized. Chuck said he’d been depressed a bunch and my moods were all over the place, though mostly south of suck. Oh well, if we ever do that again I’ll know that particular transition is a prickly thing.
Anyway, back to Bunbury. It was a three day, mostly rock festival down on the Ohio River. And in the interest of full disclosure I will say that the founder of the festival is the drummer in my band Messerly and Ewing. However I wouldn’t view the nice things I’m about to say as suspect, because if it had blown I just wouldn’t say anything about it at all. It’s amazing to me that a guy could decide to just up and start a festival and then go right ahead and do it. Obviously I hoped it would go well and lots of people would show up, but the cool thing was how pro everything was. I mean we had our own dressing room, they’d send golf carts to get you, we got meal tickets for the artist/crew dining tent. I’m sure that’s typical festival shit, but a treat for us. And every band got the same treatment too. We were on the same stage as GBV so their dressing room was next to ours. It was cool to get to hang and chat with some of them. Of course right before we were to set-up a huge storm blew through and the grounds had to be evacuated. After it was over and with the inevitable squeegying of the stage, of course the schedule was completely off. We were told our set needed to be cut short so we set-up as quickly as possible and got most of it in. It was hot as fuck out but we played to a good-sized crowd facing us on a steeply rising terraced cement wall with the river at our back.
I spent two days at the festival and came away with the nagging feeling that too many rock bands these days are kind of boring. Take Gaslight Anthem for example. They seem like nice guys and do all the right rock things on stage. When their set started it was great, but after awhile it was like they’d played the same song 14 times. Where’s the dynamics, the sense of a journey being taken together? The most fun I had at the whole thing was at two DJ sets. Dan Deacon and RJD2. Everyone was dancing and smiling, there was a sense of community, the music was varied and had hooks. (I fucking hated Neon Trees - a particularly nasty combination of contrived and cynical. Like an alt-rock Eagles) A rock show is a weird thing. It’s a conscious combination of spontaneous and contrived. A band might want it to be all about the art but if you step on a stage you are tacitly indicating that you intend to be entertaining. On the other hand rock was meant to destroy the old show biz bullshit and it’s great when you feel like a band is taking chances and might fall on their asses. Which brings me to two big ticket shows I went to in the last few weeks. I usually only see bands in bars so this was an unusual concentration of shows with beer in plastic cups. The first was Iron Maiden with Alice Cooper. Speaking of 10th grade, when I was in high school metal was pretty much all we listened to. (well and classic rock - it was northern Ohio after all) I saw Maiden three times, Dio twice, the Scorpions, and a bunch of lesser lights. The cool thing is my son is now way into Iron Maiden and so this was a big deal that they were coming reasonably close. I’m no fan of Alice Cooper but the show was all theater and pretty fun. I had a blast at Maiden. I think it’s been since high school since I saw a show with explosions, leering skeletons and extended twin guitar breaks. The band was having a blast you could tell, and I jumped up and down and danced like an idiot. My boys loved it and I got them a full-sized flag of Eddie as the Trooper. A few weeks later I went to see Wilco. I’ve seen them a ton of times but not for an album or two. The first half of the show was very pleasant, but I don’t know, too much of their stuff lately is beginning to approach indie easy listening and there was just no fire. Then they played a few songs off of Summerteeth, and by dint of playing some songs with actual emotional heft or maybe just being rock songs, the crowd woke up and then so did the band. From then on they acted like being there mattered (get it?) and by the end I was singing and dancing like a fanboy again. Well sort of, the post-Bennett years are kind of hit or miss. Damn, what an amazing bunch of musicians though, Glen Kotche, Nels Cline, and John Stirratt are so freaking good at their jobs.
So after thinking about it for the last 30 or so years, and in particular the last few weeks I think the things I want most out of a rock show is the feeling that the band realizes it’s the greatest job on earth to be up onstage playing, especially when you’re lucky enough to have people there who give a shit about your music. I want to feel like the band is trying to take us somewhere and not just promoting a record. Rock, even poignant or pissed off, is ultimately joyful, communal, cathartic, and fun. Writing songs with hooks, dynamics, and decent lyrics helps too.
*I have no idea if that’s true although it wouldn’t surprise me. Anyway, I wouldn’t want to fuck War Games Ally – too young. Nor Breakfast Club Ally – too much drama. No I’d want Short Circuit Ally – so vulnerable, needy, and caring.