I don’t know the last time I went to a concert. Okay, that’s a lie. When RG Daughter was in high school and was studying “The 60s” in history class (yeah, I know), she became obsessed with the Rolling Stones’ contribution to the music of that fine historical era.
“We have to go see them,” she announced one afternoon, and in true RG Daughter fashion, she already knew the D.C. concert dates, times and pricing.
Being cheap and dreading the thought of seeing musical icons gone old-man band, I bought us obstructed-view seats off to the side. Surprises were in store, however: Our so-called obstructed-view seats were right on the edge of a side portion of the stage down which Mick and the boys played more than not, and no musical old men were they. We were so close to them, I could count the deep wrinkles in their 60-something cheeks, but what a show they put on. What unexpected fun.
Last night, my great guy bought us tickets to see Aaron Lewis’ acoustic show at the Hard Rock. I have avoided concerts at the Hard Rock at all costs. Imagined parking horror, angst over crazy crowds, parking, parking and more parking nightmares have made me steer very clear. Although I will admit to attempting to get into the Kiss concert on St. Patrick’s Day in somewhat of a tipsy moment when my great guy had free tickets to the Improv that evening, of all evenings to be out, at, of all places, the Hard Rock. We declined the multiple scalper ticket offers, however, decided to bail on the Improv and ended up dancing the drunken swirl for hours at Murphy’s Law. What unexpected fun that was, too. And trust me, I don’t do St. Patrick’s Day, ever.
In my mind, concert watching is akin to movie watching in a theater: the potential for stupid noisy people surrounding me and ruining the entire experience is pretty great. And in anticipation of our big date-night concert, I regaled my great guy with my past concert fun.
“My first concert was the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead,” I told him as we crawled through rush-hour traffic heading west from the beach.
“That’s cool,” he said, paying more attention to the line of cars stretching ahead of us as one light after another turned from green to red to green several times before we could inch through various intersections on our “short cut” to avoid traffic.
“No, actually, it wasn’t,” I said, remembering every awful moment of that day when I was barely 18, a day that started with trying to save money by parking in a neighborhood close to DC Stadium (later called RFK Stadium) and being threatened at knifepoint to give up all the cash in my friend’s wallet. This was followed by dropping a gallon of Gallo jug wine I’d hoped to sneak in–the red wine, vintage yesterday, splashing everywhere as the thick jug glass splintered in tiny pieces all over me and everyone else around me. I also vividly remember thinking I was dying of heat stroke at that all-day concert, that, if memory correctly serves, was held on one of the hottest, muggiest, sunny July days ever, and our “seats” were on the shadeless field.
I think The Dead played only three songs, but each song lasted two hours. By the time the Allman Brothers came on (yep, the Dead was the 6-hour opener), I was huddled under the sheet we had brought to sit on, desperate for water, and trying not to make eye contact with every drugged up loser that stumbled over or on top of me. Oh yeah, and then there was the anticipated walk back to the far-away parked car.
And that, as it turned out, was the last concert I went to until I was married with children and stood in line at 6 a.m. at a Ticketmaster box office at the back of a now-closed Hecht Company for Back Street Boys tickets for RG Daughter and her posse of 11-year-old giggling girlfriends. I took full advantage of the “parent lounge” at that one.
Lest I forget, I did see one of my all-time favorites, Al Green. RG Son, had bonded with Mr. “Let’s Stay Together,” when RG Son had visited Memphis on yet another of my kids’ school-related projects that hardly resembled any field trip that I ever took.
An aside: When you have kids and they reach a certain age and study what you once enjoyed as pure entertainment when you weren’t studying, it puts much in the way of an age perspective.
A group of wealthy white kids, mostly Jewish, traveled to Memphis to connect with the musical roots of American blues and all that followed. On a Sunday morning, they visited the Reverend Al Green’s church. To say that many fish were out of water on that day is a vast understatement. Amidst the many “Amens!” and all else during the lively service, Rev. Green welcomed all the out-of-towners, including the group of pubescent white boys from D.C. RG Son, knowing this was THE Al Green his mother listened to on the oldies station, led his group in answering the welcome with a kind of “Hell Yeah!” answer.
“And then, after all the religious stuff, he started singing the songs I knew, you know, because of you,” he told me.
“Really, in his church?” I asked, both jealous RG Son had seen one of my favorites in such an intimate and non-commerical setting and surprised that one of my favorites had belted out his greatest hits in church. But hey, it was his church.
Months later, Al Green scheduled a concert at Constitution Hall.
“We have to go,” RG Son said.
“Of course we do,” I concurred.
Our seats were good, the crowd of middle-aged, mostly African-American patrons was all about fun, but that’s where the good stopped and the “Huh?” began. Because Al Green was tired, out of his element, and apparently voiceless. From the start, he’d start a song everyone knew, then hold his microphone out to the crowd that happily sang the song for him. For hours. For every song. I could have done that at home for free, and danced, too, when no one was looking.
Chalk up another no vote for concerts.
And yet, there I was last night, in the midst of rush hour, headed to a concert to hear a person I only vaguely knew, but that my great guy said I would love because it would be acoustic. He even played a selection of Lewis’ greatest hits on his iPhone while we sat in traffic.
“Oh, I know him,” I said, and I did. Sort of.
“Staind,” said my great guy. “He was lead singer.”
Our seats were good. I was off work the next day and could enjoy the night, and that was good. The crowd was fine. I was even dressed properly after two years in the Keys–jeans and a dressy top. Cool.
Aaron Lewis is a masterful singer-songwriter. I get that. But the first half hour of his concert was nothing more than what I refer to as “Don’t Jump!” ledge songs. I hate my life, I can’t live without you, I hate myself even more for not being able to live without you. My God, I have an iPod ap filled with “ledge” songs that I only listen to when I am at the beach and need a good cry when no one is looking or caring.
Meanwhile, the crowd continually called out names of Staind songs Lewis said he wouldn’t be able to “get to.” But here’s a song from my new record.
A very large man appeared stage to accompany Lewis. “He’s got more talent in his cankles than I ever will have,” said Lewis, and then referred to this large man’s ability on every cool musical instrument ever constructed. I only wish the first half hour of the concert, and maybe even the second, could have featured more of the big guy on those various instruments.
By the last half hour, Lewis seemed to get his crowd and answered their neediness for gravel-voiced songs they knew when he was part of a group. He also looked at his watch three times. Is it over yet? he seemed to think.
He sang two more songs that I both recognized and love. Both songs made it worth the rush-hour push to get there and listening to the previous plethora of numbing “ledge” songs. Bye bye. Concert over.
Not so fast. Every concert has to have its encore.
“Mudshovel!” “Epiphany!” the crowd shouted.
“Shut the fuck up!” Lewis told us. “Shut up in 30 seconds or I won’t play.”
With that, he unplugged one of his many acoustic guitars, pulled his stool away from the microphone and waited for all of us to shut the fuck up.
Which we did.
To which he responded with an non-amplified, beautiful song I don’t know and will never remember the name of, except to say it was exceptional, unbelievable, real, honest–in all its unplugged, heartfelt angst and ledge-ness. That one song, that one last song, made this a concert. A very good concert.
Kind of like the time I saw James Taylor sing a benefit at a tiny Martha’s Vineyard community hall, when he was still married to Carly Simon, and she joined him to sing along in this very special, incredibly intimate venue.
Now that was a concert.
So was last night, at the very end of the night.
I’d go see Aaron Lewis again. But I’d rather invite him and the big guy to play, unplugged, in my living room. And that, I am confident, would be the concert of all concerts.