Friday, April 24, 2015

don't stand so close to me

I went to see my friend Sly's band play at a small venue in the nuevo-hip Philadelphia neighborhood of Fishtown on Monday night. Rock shows on Monday nights don't draw a lot of people. That is a fact and there is no getting around it.

I scored the perfect – and I mean perfect! – parking space directly across the street from the club. I ran over to the sidewalk where I admired my car sitting in said perfect space, while I sent a text to Lis (another friend I had planned to meet at the show) to let him know I was waiting outside. Just as I hit "SEND" on my phone, Lis turned the corner and greeted me. I heard his phone signal a message and I told him to just ignore it because that message was from me.

We paid our admission and walked into the club a few minutes before the first band was scheduled to take the stage. There were three or four other people inside, including the bartender. I understand that this particular club has a reputation for starting shows late, but I doubted that the crowd (could it even qualify as a crowd?)  would double or triple in a few more minutes.

Lis and I hung back at the bar which is, more or less, a separate room from the performance area. From the bar, you can see the stage, but there is a distinct separation delineated by a wide threshold and a long, narrow step. The performance area is also distinguished by its darkened, "mood-lit" atmosphere.

The opening band (of a card of four) finally began to tune-up. It was one guy behind a small drum kit and another on guitar. And they were horrible. No... I take that back. They were loud and horrible. Lis and I were easily forty feet away from the stage, in, essentially, another room, and we could not hear a word the other was saying. I looked towards the stage and I saw two silhouetted figures pushed against a wall watching the band. The rest of the stage area was empty and that's not an exaggeration.


The next band wasn't any better, although I believe they were louder, as I had an even harder time hearing Lis during our conversation. Also, the size of the crowd (crowd?) had not increased over the course of the first band's set.

The headlining band for the evening's show was Split Squad, a so-called "supergroup" comprised of members of such seminal rock acts as The Plimsouls, The Fleshtones and New Wave darlings (and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees) Blondie. Sly's band was scheduled to go on just before the headliners. Now that the warm-up bands had finished, Lis and I made our way towards the small stage and watched as Sly and his bandmates set up and prepared their equipment.

With no formal introduction – aside from Sly screaming the band's name into his microphone – the set began. As the sound from Sly's mighty Hammond organ filled the tiny room, I actually counted the number of individuals gathered around the stage. I counted ten. A quick recount yielded the same result. Back at the bar, there may have been another ten folks. So, with ten people in the audience, needless to say, there was a lot of empty floor space in front of the stage. An awful lot.

"Got personal space?"
[Click to enlarge]
In the darkness, a couple of shadowy figures swayed and bopped to the music. A few people paced back and forth across the empty floor, some making their way to the bar, while others took their choice of open spots against one of the walls. Suddenly, a guy came up from a side flight of stairs into the area in front of the stage. He never took his gaze off of the band as he backed up and planted himself smack dab in front of Lis and me. I don't mean a few feet ahead. I mean close enough that I could see the frayed threads on the back of his collar. I could read the label stitched on the back pocket of his jeans. I could see the amount of product in his long hair, attempting to keep it flat against his neck. I could also see that it was Keith Streng, the energetic guitarist from Split Squad (as well as legendary garage rockers The Fleshtones). Based on past performances I have witnessed, Keith is a pretty frenetic guy onstage. He regularly executes high leg kicks, exaggerated shakes and whiplash-inducing neck shimmies. Many times during a show, with guitar in hand, he scales speakers and drum risers as a springboard to leaping several feet in the air, legs tucked beneath him, achieving impossible hang-time before a perfect landing on the heels of his pointed, two-tone Oxfords. But, now, here he was standing – literally – inches from the tips of my toes – grooving like he was in an empty room. And, save for a few people, he was.

As Shakespeare said, "Ah! There's the rub!"

Did I mention that the place was nearly empty? Well, it was. One could have plopped down on the floor and rolled around and not bumped into anyone. You could have marked out a game of hopscotch on the floor and played without interfering with anyone's personal space. With ten pins and a 16-pound ball, you could have fucking bowled in there and not infringed on anyone's good time. But, Keith chose the immediate spot, several inches in front of us, for his own personal "get down tonight." He pranced and bobbed and danced and gyrated. I was shocked that, in the dim light, he didn't step on my or Lis's feet.

Keith stayed in that spot for almost the entire thirty-minute set by Sly's band, only stealing away during the last song to prepare for his own set. I've often heard that musicians are living in their own little world. I guess Keith's little world is always packed to capacity.

1 comment:

  1. Maybe he was trying to get you revved up for his performance? I've put in my time with these kinds of shows. Good for you for supporting the arts!