Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Live Experience of a Show

One thing I've never understood is the need to document every aspect of our lives for posterity.  This becomes especially difficult if you attend a show. 

What I love most about going to a show is the freedom to turn off from our every day lives and experience something real and in the moment.  However, without fail, there is always someone insists on recording the entire experience.  Now, I can accept that they want to record it for themselves, but they continually insist that somehow their act of preservation through filming supersedes my action of first hand experience.

At the Pietasters show I attended on Friday night, there was a woman right in front, who insisted on moving up and down the front row to film the show at the oddest angles. At one point, she was trying to film inside of a saxophone with a camera phone.  While I've never witnessed a show from the perspective of the saxophone, I'm fairly certain that it is an experience that no one needs, since the video would not be capturing anything of interest and the sound is almost certainly all saxophone, as it will drown out the remainder of the music.

It actually became so bad, the poor woman was oblivious to the crowd swelling behind her and pushing forward to scream into Steve Jackson's microphone, which managed to push her to the ground and cause her to lose her glasses.  She did find her glasses and she certainly broke no bones, but she was so focused in her act of cultural preservation, she let her self-preservation go. 

I think this speaks louder to our general need to record everything, destroying the concept of shared memory and human experience, because the machine recording becomes the maker of the actual record, even though I've watched videos from shows I've attended and the sound is completely different once you watch it filtered through a phone and loaded to the internet.  I think these actions destroy part of our human experience and we end up choosing to believe our machines over our memories.

As for the Pietasters, they were excellent as always, providing a high-energy show packed with their classics and a strong selection of their newer songs, which are far better than the average ska band from the 1990s recording new material.  If they are playing in your area, I would strongly recommend going to see them, though I do ask that you try to enjoy the experience live, while you are there, rather than distill it for future generations.  

Saturday, March 18, 2017

T2 Trainspotting, Who Is It For?

The upside of working in  New York City is that you get certain cultural opportunities that other people miss out on.  It is priced into your area rent, so you should make the most of it while you can.  While most people would think this would be the fine arts, such as museums and musicals, this extends to additional access to films and concerts that you would not consider fine arts, but are still a cultural opportunity.

Last night, after attending an early Pietasters show at Webster Hall, I was only three blocks away from the Regal Cinema in Union Square showing T2 Trainspotting.  After waiting for two release dates to come and go, I was determined to see the movie as soon as possible.  My original assumption was that I would see it in New Jersey, but it was playing at exactly zero theaters in the state  So, with that out of the way, I sucked it up and paid $16.35 to see the movie.

Assuming there were only ten or so minutes of previews, I hustled my way up two sets of escalators, determined not to be late.  Of course, there were more than twenty minutes of previews, so I was in fact early, despite my horrified belief that I was late and was missing the opening of the film, something I've only done once, during the third time I saw Chasing Amy in a theater back in 1997 at a $2.50 movie house in South Jersey.

That being said, I was still excited, as was most of the audience, because Trainspotting is a cultural touchstone for many people, including those who didn't fill their veins with heroin, but found the movie intoxicating nonetheless.  The sequel is loosely based on Porno, Irvine Welsh's follow up to the same characters from the Trainspotting world, cutting the plot down significantly to focus on a limited number of events and characters.

As to the film, it was truly filmed for people who loved the original movie.  It was full of callbacks for people that the loved the original, small and large.  The movie doesn't struggle despite being slavish about remixing every beat from the original, changed to reflect what 20 years added would feel like.  The cinematography was outstanding, mixing a variety of styles and film types to depict different eras and thoughts.  The story, stripped down, was very much a going home story.

Going home stories always remind us that the world moves forward, despite our constant yearning to go back to simpler times or times when our futures were before us instead of slowly moving into the rear view mirror, as we ask ourselves where did we go wrong.  And the movie brilliantly spells this out in the Choose Life speech, which looks at our decisions and our world 20 years later, giving us pause to examine our failures.  The story also has a slant about neoliberalism and the people left behind, which I find rare in art at the moment, but will likely blow up in the next ten years as the pool of people left behind by society's breakneck pace will no longer just be people who work with their hands, but also those who work with their minds.

That being said, if you saw the original, you should see the sequel, but seeing the movie without the original would make large parts make no sense, since the context of the sequel is solely the original movie, so the movie is for people, who love Trainspotting, but at the same time saw their lives not move forward as expected, but move slowly behind, as their lives are slowly bleeding out of them, with no way to cauterize their slow, impending death. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

New Form of Hell

Hell can be many things to many people.  We all have our fears and our pain, but I recently learned that all my years laughing at back pain has come back, as if it was capable of vengeance.

I'm certain I slipped a disc at the base of my spine.  It hurt with an intensity I was unprepared for.  Simple tasks, like getting in and out of a car or putting on socks became physical and spiritual challenges, as the pain settled not only in my lower spine, but in my right leg.  I could tell you that for the first 38 years of my life, my right leg was about one quarter inch shorter than my left leg, but with each step, the jabbing pain reminded me how large that difference was.  But I went to the doctor, took some ibuprofen, stretched my spine and kept walking and moving, which for the most part led to decent healing and a return to full life activities.  My back made a small clicking sound, or more correctly, the sensation of a clicking sound that I couldn't hear, but could easily feel.  But it felt like everything moved back into place and I was set to build some core strength and make sure nothing happened like that again.

Of course, as the snow and ice storm descended on New York City, the possibilities of re-injury were high, but I carefully navigated the poorly dug out cliffs and icy patches which dominated my commute and made it to work safe and sound.  Unfortunately, I needed lunch.

So, full of confidence, I walked to La Esquina, with safe cutouts and only a slightly slippery path.  Picking up some delicious lamb, I began walking back to the office, nary a care in the world, other than the safety of the lamb torta in my left hand.  At this point, it all went bad.

Just walking along, minding my own business, it happened  A woman weighing about 120 pounds was running on the ice and snow, losing control of her limbs, sending her careening into me.  Not just anywhere, like above or below where my spine hurt, but a dead center hit, like Luke blowing up the Death Star.  She went to the ground like a ton of bricks, but I still stood...which was good, because there was no way on Earth I was standing up again if I went down. 

Shooting pain went through my spine as I lamented that I was safely walking to lunch when a lunatic running in Creepers on the ice launched into me.  Seriously, what kind of monster still wears Creepers, let alone on a wintery day, since we all know Creepers have some incredibly slick soles, which offer no grip on sidewalks alternating between wet and icy.  And who still wears Creepers.  I mean, that's a very specific shoe statement.

Being gentlemanly, I ask if she is OK.  She was perfectly fine, because as a trained skater, she knows how to fall by making herself into a ball.  In fact, she bounded up and sprinted along as if she was capable of maintaining safe speed and upright stature in the weather and didn't go sprawling seconds beforehand.  She also lacked the compassion to say sorry or ask if she injured me while trying to plow me over.  But I expect no less in New York City life.

So, once again, I am reduced to standing in stages, the first wear you insist your body will work as designed, until you spine locks and the stage where you use your arms to convince your body that everything will be OK as you slowly lock your spine once again.  So, I sit here, as gingerly as possible, wondering how long will it take to fix my back this which the answer is never. 

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Misfits at Starland Ballroom: A Fine Place to be Threatened with a Hate Crime

Despite living my whole life in New Jersey, I've only had the displeasure of going to the Starland Ballroom twice.  In the venue's defense, they have great sight lines.  However, my enjoyment of the venue ends with the sight lines.

Sayreville is a remote area of Central Jersey.  The Starland Ballroom, located in scenic Sayreville, is down a dark road with only an American Legion Hall across the street to make you believe civilization did not end once you turned down Jernee Mill Road.  So, given this monopoly on space, you immediately get the joy of paying $7 to park your car in the middle of nowhere New Jersey, though at least, you can pay the same money to park at the American Legion and feel a little better about where your money is going.

But, I was bored and decided to break a 20 year pledge to never see The Misfits without Glenn Danzig.  The Misfits, are in theory, a band that shouldn't work.  Cross what I would characterize as surf punk, mixed with horror overtones from a period when horror was camp, they should be a terrible and unmemorable band.  But Danzig overcomes that with his voice, inflection and presence.  Without Danzig, the Misfits quickly descend into farce, as the vocals sound off and basically Jerry Only, Jerry Only's son and a drummer is marginally more than a Misfits cover band, without a lead singer to understand the pacing or sound that makes the Misfits work.  Suffice to say, the show was a bust, as even the classics of the Misfits sound pale when sped up and the lyrics feel glossed over, no matter how much stage show they put together.

The opening acts were no better, with a mix of so-so punk rock and the She-Demons, who set out to prove how far five, attractive, multi-ethnic women in punk rock costumes can go.  Seriously, the band is exactly what you would expect to see in  a Robert Rodriguez movie, there was the blond guitarist, the raven-haired bassist in a hat and leather vest, the Hispanic lead singer, the Irish drummer who kept lifting her left arm above her head before striking the drums and the Asian guitarist.  While all very attractive, they were certainly deficient in the sound generating department, almost like a real-life Josie and the Pussycats.

So, if the actual concert wasn't bad enough, I did enjoy a fine confrontation with a neo-Nazi skinhead.  Oh, the years since that last happened.  So, before the Misfits set, I purchased a Coke from the bar, a common choice if you need to drive a car home.  So, I turn around from the bar, also common if you plan to do anything other than watch the bar.  Before I even take my first step, someone walks into me with some steam, spilling about ten ounces of Coke onto me.

The question became, is proper bar etiquette to apologize that you spilled someone's drink and offer to purchase them a new one, or is it to relentlessly call them a faggot and threaten them with physical violence.   Before last night, I was certain it was option one, which I would have politely declined, because things happened in a tight area.  However, my new friend, believed number two was appropriate.  He steamed into me, while I was standing still and told me to, "Watch where I was going?"  Now, standing still, covered in Coke, I replied that he should watch where he is going. 

My new friend, a small neo-Nazi skinhead, standing 5'4", maybe 120 pounds with glasses, felt his hard man status was threatened by being wrong and not owning the place.  As we all know, with a neo-Nazi skinhead never exists, since inside their uniforms they are all soft and afraid of any sort of altercation, which would shatter their unique worldview, the only place where they are ubermensch.

So, he turns around and calls me a faggot and who didn't watch where I was going.  I was standing still, which I pointed out to him.  Well, incensed, he upped his faggot calling game and let me know I didn't want to have a confrontation with him, though admittedly, only he thought he was dangerous to anyone's safety.  I, on the other hand, was content to walk away and wonder, was he going to strike me and whether New Jersey's hate crime laws covered situations where someone attacks you believing you are a member of a protected group, but not.  I was not excited about developing new case law, but genuinely felt safe knowing that the possibility of two years in prison for a such a small, young neo-Nazi would be very hard on him.

Of course, while I was being harassed, was there any security, of course not.  The four security personnel inside the club were one up on each side stage and two in front of the stage with no one in the back.  Needless to say, I cannot recommend anyone go to the Starland Ballroom for any event, since I can only associate the venue with the potential for hate crimes in an unsafe environment.  Good job!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Most Odious Affair

Don't you love leaving work after a needlessly long day, only to be confronted by celebrity culture and human feces.

Walking past Elaine's at 10 PM is an awful experience, as desperate people wait in line to be served diner food by never weres and not quotes. But we all have our failings, though I certainly thumb my nose at theirs.

Even  Worse than the usual gaggle of people were the limos parked just outside. Everyone waited with great anticipation as to who would emerge. Would they be famous, would they be able to steal a loathesome selfie they squeezed into with the uncaring famous person to pretend for a scant moment their lives were better and full of meaning? God, I hope not.

Moving past this sad statement on modern life, I head through the second block to the subway station and aside from nearly being thrown down a flight of concrete stairs from the embrace of sad lovers, I arrive at the station to wait three minutes for the train.

It was here, I found where a human being took a shit. The feces was I mistakenly human, say three to four inches long with solid compact and girth. To be fair, the mahogany colored log was fairly impressive, especially for someone with a diet restricted by income. But just near the, ever present, puddle of urine was the glistening, fresh dump, waiting to disgust all passersby. And despite the fact I just walked past fresh, human excrement disposed in an unsanitary way, I was less disgusted than I was by the desperate lookieloos I walked past to find the steaming dump to send me off on my voyage him.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Aquabats at Gramercy Theatre or Defying Expectations at a Ska Show

If you've ever been to a ska show, you know there are really two times you need to know, the time on the ticket and the time you should actually consider showing up.  The time on the ticket is usually illustrative of when the doors will open, but really is not the time you want to arrive.  The North Arlington high school band might be a find marching band, but eight of them getting together to form a ska band wasn't my idea of a good time 20 years ago, and is less so today.  Even worse, the Vernon high school band will have the same idea and follow them.  You can tell their friends, because they are the only people at the show who've heard any of these songs before, aside from what is usually a poor choice for a cover, picking a Specials or Operation Ivy song, which they manage to mangle. 

So, having experienced this enough times, you learn to take a measured eye to when you want to show up.  So, the Aquabats were playing an early show this evening at the Gramercy Theatre, with doors at 6 PM.  So, there was one announced opening band, which often means two or more bands, just no one important enough to mention.  And most shows in New York fail to start on time or even an approximation of on time.  So, I decided to get there for 8 PM, figuring music starts at 7, gives enough time for one or two bands, but likely gets me there to watch the Aquabats.

I arrive promptly at 7:58 PM, executing my timetable perfectly, where I was given a cursory bag check by one of the four men guarding the door who don't care, followed by a look, but not a scan of my ticket.  This boded ill in my book, because I've never failed to at least get a scan and an opportunity for a wristband, should I want to purchase a high-priced adult beverage. Walking in the door, I'm greeted by the Aquabats on stage...stating it is nearly time to go home.  In a first for a NYC ska show, the Aquabats went on around 7:15 PM, with no notice from either the Gramercy Theatre or Aquabats social media.  Generally, bands have wizened up and post the time they are going, so people don't miss the show they might have paid $30 to see.  I actually paid $30 to see approximately 1/3 of the Aquabats show.

As an aside, this is the third time I've seen the Aquabats live.  In the 1990s, I saw the Aquabats as part of the Warped Tour, good, not great.  In the 2000s, I saw the Aquabats, with the Aggrolites opening for them at BB King's in New York.  To this day, the show remains the only time I purchased a ticket outside the venue, since I desperately wanted to see the Aggrolites at this sold out show.  The Aggorlites were phenomenal and the Aquabats were very good.  Tonight fulfilled my need to see the Aquabats in the 2010s. 

Not only did I miss 2/3 of the show, I was greeted by six plus minutes of uninspired stage banter.  Six minutes is a long time to talk on stage between songs, which also included specific instructions for men, women, and appropriate hugging during the song.  Fortunately, I avoided all hugging.

The best part of the show was the background videos.  The Aquabats put a lot of care into the video clips they splice together and loop for each song.  During Captain Hampton and the Midget Pirates, they played clips from Treasure Island, that were well chosen and actually quite funny separated from the rest of the film. 

Unfortunately, musically, the show did not hold up.  I barely caught Super Rad, which is one of their better songs and it came across a bit weak, without full singing and some incomplete horn work, even given there was only a saxophone player.  The other songs were perfectly acceptable, but not worth the time I spent to get to New York to see the Aquabats.  They closed with Pool Party, which required bringing every small child on stage, except for the two children who walked in with their father at 8:30 PM as the hard out was about to be enforced.

Sadly, this is only the second worst show experience of 2015, as there is a Toasters show at the Brighton Bar, one of the finest concert venues in New Jersey, that lives in infamy.  


Saturday, September 19, 2015

The Last Chance

After many shows across many years at more venues than I can probably remember, I have finally come to grips with the worst venue for shows is The Chance Theater in Poughkeepsie.

Living in Central Jersey, The Chance is quite the hike for me, but I once drove to Providence, RI to see The Slackers just because, so that isn't really an issue.  However, Poughkeepsie, unbeknownst to me at the time, is one of the worst cities I've had the pleasure of going to, reminiscent of a slightly better Newark.  When the upside for a location is ample parking, you have a real problem.

The one time I managed to go to The Chance was to see The Pilfers.  The show was nearly cancelled and two of the four bands didn't show up, because the pre-sales were so poor.  But The Pilfers and The Hub City Stompers were there and Coolie Ranx sold me a Pilfers shirt, while we talked about the Chawaleng record release show.  However, the venue was cavernous and as the other bands knew, the turnout was quite poor.  Now, The Pilfers were rarely playing anywhere at that point in time and couldn't make a dent in sales, so I should have realized, Poughkeepsie is not a ska or punk town. 

So, when I saw The Adicts were touring the US, there were two local shows, one in New York City on Thursday about 5 minutes from where I work and one at The Chance tonight.  A true no-brainer in my book, I should just go see them at Stage 48, which would be easy and local and no-muss, no-fuss.  The problem was that Rancid was also in New York the same day and announced their show first, leaving me with Rancid tickets on Thursday and Friday and an opening on Saturday night.

Part of me, the rational part of me, thought perhaps I could sell my ticket to see Rancid on Thursday night and see the Adicts, who I never saw before.  But vigorous me, felt I could go to four shows in four days and should just go see The Adicts in Poughkeepsie, with some version of Sham 69 playing in Long Branch tomorrow.  So, I purchased my ticket, despite thinking, how would the Adicts sell enough tickets to justify playing fact, that is exactly why I bought my ticket as soon as I found out, to do my part in justify their arrival.

Of course, rational me was correct as the Adicts cancelled about 30 minutes ago, making The Chance 0 for 2 on delivering the show as promised.  I was very excited to see The Adicts, a band I've never seen before and one known for putting on a great show, but alas, because Rancid tickets went on sale first, which was a great show in its own right, and my greed to wedge four shows into four days, there is a strong chance I will never get to see The Adicts live, because I believed The Chance could deliver on a show.

In the good news department, TicketWeb was really standup about the entire endeavor, providing both notification and processing my refund in the time it took me to write about this, so good for them.  I appreciate when a small company does things right...especially since they ticket about half the shows I go to.