September 02, 2004

I'm a rocker. I rock out.

So I checked in on Travis Morrison's home page on Monday, as I do every week or two to see if there are any updates about tour info or his new CD, and I was shocked to see that he was playing a solo acoustic-guitar-and-nothin'-else show in our fair city on Tuesday, and I hadn't heard anything about it! Am I not on your mailing list, Travis? What's the deal?

Anyway, Rose and I saw that the next time he was due in town, he'd have a full band in tow, and while we totally want to see that, we also wanted to see his acoustic set, because we had heard it was very silly and filled with loopy covers (a la his version of Ludacris's "What's Your Fantasy?"). So we went to the show, despite having no particular interest in seeing either of the acts following Travis (the Hold Steady and the Wrens).

Travis's set was great -- the deconstructed cover songs included Mary J. Blige's "Be Happy", 'Til Tuesday's "Voices Carry" (appropriately turned very dark and claustrophobic), Prince's "Erotic City", Matthew Wilder's "Break My Stride", Sophie B. Hawkins's "Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover", the aforementioned Ludacris cover, and a couple other things I didn't so much recognize and don't remember now. He also did two of his own songs, including three improvised verses in "Song for the Orca" based on animals called out from the audience. (The verse about penguins, to the best of my recollection: This song is for the penguin / Swimming underwater at 45 miles an hour / To escape from predators / I could use that.)

Since the first performer was who we had come to see, we then found ourselves in the odd position of wondering whether to bother staying for the other acts. The Wrens at least had some name recognition for me, since Pitchfork loves them to pieces, but I'd seen the tail end of a free concert they played at Williams College (when I was there for there for Williams's twice-yearly triviathon), and liked the first song I saw very much. The ones after that...seemed sort of like the answer to the musical question, "Hey! We're drunk and it's late -- should we play a well-rehearsed song or fuck around and maybe roll around on the floor?" So I had mixed feelings about them already.

There was that other band before them, though: the Hold Steady -- a band about which I knew only that they apparently were a band, given that their name appeared on my ticket. They were an odd combination of influences. The music was highly competent fist-in-the-air-style arena rock, and the vocals were...crazy shouted rants by a Peter Sellers lookalike simultaneously channeling Mark E. Smith, Johnny Rotten, and Fred Schneider. He was a twitchy, twitchy man, prone to breaking guitar strings, and fond of clapping his hands, though not necessarily on the beat. Surprisingly entertaining, honestly (especially when I could understand the lyrics), but the ongoing lack of any sort of vocal melody eventually got to me.

So then the Wrens came on, and things started out promisingly with a reverbed-out cover of Sinead O'Connor's "Black Boys on Mopeds", and a sad little piano ballad. Then they started to play the rock music, and things got a little tiresome. Like, you know -- the guy standing right behind our staked-out-early table on the balcony started SCREAMING, and the bass player got all rock star and started throwing his bass way up in the air, and then he did the same with a folding chair, which kind of smashed into the drum kit on the way down, earning him quite the glare from the drummer. I felt I could read the drummer's mind at that moment, "Yes, you are in a rock band, and yes, there are lots of screaming kids watching us right now, but could you chill the fuck out?" Said bass player also had this habit of EMPHATICALLY POINTING AT PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE. I put that detail in all caps because lowercase just doesn't capture the full attitude of his pointing style. At a couple points, he pointed right at our corner of the balcony, which made us feel a little odd -- like we should wave hello or something. The guy behind us loved the pointing, though. It made him jump up and down and up and down...which made him splash his beer on us. Hurrah. I leaned over to Rose and said, "So...they're fine."

"I could stay, or I could go," Rose replied.

"Well...let's stay for a couple more songs and see how we feel."

About thirty seconds later I decided I already knew how I felt. Headachy and bored. So we left. What can I say? Wrens, I'm glad all those people like your band. Maybe I would also like you in a situation where I have control over your volume level and I am not concerned that your bass player is going to end up accidentally leaving a gash in someone's forehead.

But you know what? It felt great to leave the concert early! Like, yeah, I saw the guy I came to see, it was awesome -- I don't need to stay to feel like I got my money's worth! I can just leave! Very liberating, honestly. Sort of like a tiny little act of rebellion. And isn't rebellion what rock and roll is all about?

Posted by Francis at 12:15 AM