Saturday, a group of us went to the free Bright Eyes concert in the park, which was a fantastic show. Except for the whole raining-for-90-minutes thing.
I will admit right off the bat that I am not a huge emo fan. I like a lot of music, and will listen to anything except country. But I’ve never been terribly interested in music that will make me depressed and sad, or exasperate those conditions if they were pre-existing before the music came on. Seriously.
That, and I don’t have any clothing with extraneous zippers, I don’t look like an albino goth and I don’t wear eyeshadow. At least, not in public.
This is not to say that I’m totally ignorant to Conor’s music or his following.
I read at my buddy Dick’s friend Lazy-I’s website this snippet:
“Some won’t come because they despise Conor’s politics. Some won’t come because they despise Conor’s music. Some won’t come because they despise the kind of people who like Conor’s politics and music…And then there’s the weather. And on and on. But maybe the most telling indication of how many will come to the concert in the park is that cheerful Petco clerk bagging my milk bones. ‘Bright Eyes? Never heard of ‘em. Is that a local band or something?’”
My Iowa high school math counting skills tell me there was about 9,000 people at the show. A respectible amount, to be sure, and if the weather had held up, they all would have had a good time.
So the crowd was a little smaller than in past years when washed-up fogie acts like the Doobie Brothers without any original members, 60s act Three Dog Night, and the Beach Boys Without Brian Wilson took the stage. These acts are uninteresting, and basically cover bands playing the songs of an artist or band since most of their current members were not in the group when they were popular. But the name, and recognizable songs, guarantee lots of 40 and 50 year old people will show up, many with their kids, to see the show.
Now, I’m not denying seeing those bands can be a good time. When its a free show, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with seeing what amounts to a good cover band — and I admit to going to the Doobie Brothers show myself, and after a couple beers I might even admit to singing along to “China Grove”. Whether or not its the guys who played on the record on stage, the songs are good, and when its free (or even less than 10 bucks) its still good times.
But there was something different going on with this show. I figured there would be a mix of young people who were regulars at the Sokol and had seen Bright Eyes a hundred times, young people who knew who Bright Eyes was and were curious to get an introduction on a neutral setting outside of the Sokol, and young people who had no clue who Bright Eyes was but heard there a free show in the park.
Notice I didn’t say middle-age, or even older, anywhere there. I didn’t notice anyone over 40 in the crowd. At all. That’s not a bad thing, just an interesting thing.
We got to the show mid-way through the second act, a guy named Gruff Rhys. With no backing band, Gruff sat on a chair with his acoustic guitar, a Casio BeatBox next to him, and strummed away singing Welsh folk tunes. Oh, that’s right, its called emo now, not folk! My apologies.
Anyway, this guy was boring. I’m sure he was good, but a guy sitting down playing in front of a festival crowd, with no backing band is by definition boring. In a coffee house, in a club, that’s great stuff. In the middle of a park with 10,000 people, that’s lame.
I can’t be sure, but I think at one point he actually got up and was walking around, and the music — and the vocals — continued as before, even though he was holding no microphone and his instruments were unmanned. If that’s indeed what I saw and my eyes weren’t deceiving me, then Gruff is much better than I give him credit for. Because playing instruments telepathically is a skill more musicians ought to have. Just think of the wild groupie action you could experience if you could play the solo to “Pour Some Sugar On Me” from backstage?
One thing I am sure of is that at one point, Gruff said in the middle of a song, “There’s supposed to be a keyboard section at this point in the song, but since I don’t have a third hand, I’ll just sing it for you instead.” And then he proceeded to sing the keyboard notes, all the while strumming away at his guitar and keeping beat on the Casio. I’m not even making this up.
Just before Bright Eyes came on, a guy grabbed a mic and told the crowd there was rain and maybe even lightning coming. I thought hey, whatever man, rain is cool, man. Yes, there was a group to our right in 1969 Woodstock one-piece flower-print outfits, and subconsciously I started using the word “man” as a verb. Strange how that happens.
A light rain started just as they came on stage. Dick and four of the others huddled under an umbrella. Gilby and I stood out in the open, because we’re men dammit, and we didn’t need an umbrella. After one song in what was quickly becoming a torrential downpour, I felt like Ron Burgundy in the bearpit. I immediately regret this decision, man.
The funny thing about water is that once you’re wet, you can’t get any more wet. Like Spinal Tap’s cover for the epic album “Smell the Glove”: How much blacker could it be? The answer is, none. None more black. Well, that’s how it is in the rain. How much wetter could I be? The answer is none. None more wet.
After six songs, what had been a large t-shirt was now doing an exemplary impersonation of a Four-XL. Hanging down around my knees yet somehow maintaining its basic shape and neck size, while gaining weight like Stallone in Copland, the shirt was slowly going from light orange to dark orange to wet orange.
After seven songs, I started ringing it out. Sheets of water were coming out, which was not a good sign. More rain continued to fall.
To our left was a crazed dancing machine, a guy and his boyfriend who were dancing in a manner not possible without the aid of artificial stimulents. I can’t even try to describe it. So I won’t. But trust me, it was insane.
Soon thereafter, we decided we’d had enough of the rain and left to go to the bar. One problem: I was so wet that would be a most uncomfortable proposition. So I stopped and bought a Bright Eyes tour t-shirt for $15, and changed in the bathroom of the Dundee Dell. Jeans were still wet, but at least my shirt was dry. I hung the wet shirt from a coatrack at the end of our booth, where it dripped — nay, lightly poured — water until a respectably-sized puddle gathered on the floor below. Also, whenever people would walk by and bump into it, the surprise of cold wetness was more than they were bargaining for and their facial expressions were classic. This never ceased to be hilarious.
Dick had his drenched socks off, hanging off the back of the chair to dry out. While the umbrella kept his upper body dry, his feet were exposed. I had no sympathy.
When we left the Dell, he decided he was going to change into dry clothes before we headed to the next bar. He said to me, “I’ve got some jeans you can borrow if you think you can squeeze into a 32 or 34 waist.” I replied, “If they’re dry, I’ll make it work.”
Actually, I can wear either of those sizes, its the legs and the butt that cause a problem. But I got into ‘em, cos they were dry. And my nasty-ass wet shoes went back on, and back to the next bar we went.
After one more bar, it was 12:45 so we headed to Iowa for an extra hour.
Taking nothing away from Basement Karaoke, but you’d be hard pressed to have more fun — or more stories, at least — than that right there.