Sunday, February 21, 2016

may all your favorite bands stay together

I stumbled upon a strange phenomenon at my very first concert, but I didn't realize it until years later.

Alice Cooper, the venerable shock-rocker, was riding high as he brought his audacious Welcome to My Nightmare Tour across North America. One month into the promotional road trip, a stop was made at the Spectrum, the all-purpose (now defunct and demolished) South Philly venue that served as the home base for the Flyers hockey team and the 76ers basketball team, as well as inefficiently hosting concerts with its horrible, noise-deadening acoustics. At fourteen years old, this show in late April of 1975 would become my first foray into a life-long love of live music. As my friends and I found our seats and anxiously awaited the start of the show, we watched a lone man take a seat at the end of our row. He was by himself and he sat quietly, staring off in the direction of the stage. Suddenly, the house lights dimmed and the crowd emitted a collective frenzied cheer. Colored spotlights bathed the stage and diminutive hellion Suzi Quatro, the evening's opening act, strutted into view to the strains of roaring guitar power chords. This was a full two years before Ms. Quatro would gain TV fame as tough gal "Leather Tuscadero" on the sitcom Happy Days. This Suzi Quatro was a real-life rocker, seductively plucking a big Fender bass that was slung low between her leather-sheathed thighs. She churned through a forty-minute set to the polite approval of the sea of Alice Cooper fans, although I didn't recognize a single tune.

The lights came on and the stage filled with roadies busily gathering cables and setting up for Alice Cooper's performance. And the guy at the end of our row got up..... and left. He was done. He had come to see Suzi Quatro and his evening's entertainment had concluded. My friends and I laughed to ourselves and commented briefly, but were soon distracted when a malevolent, top-hatted Alice broke into a Busby Berkeley number while flanked by a couple of six-foot black widow spiders.

Years and years and many, many concerts later, my son and I were seeing a show by the sardonically-named Dogs Die in Hot Cars, a Scottish quintet known for their catchy (and equally sardonic) hit "I Love You 'Cause I Have To." The band, who were quite popular at the time (2004, to be exact), had sold out the small Theater of Living Arts and the capacity crowd was getting antsy. Soon, the show began with a then-unknown French band called Phoenix. They have since gone on to bigger and better, including headlining numerous outdoor festivals and nabbing a Grammy Award. But, on this particular night, they were just another opening band in a long line of opening bands. My son and I, pressed up against the stage and bobbing our heads to the beats, glanced to our immediate right. There was a young lady and a woman (who was most likely her mother) dancing and jumping and having the time of their lives. Although the volume was turned up enough to blot out any audible audience singing and conversation, this familial twosome were clearly mouthing every word of every song in the Phoenix repertoire. Every single word of every single song. Three minutes earlier, I had never heard of these guys, yet Mom and her girl were obviously their biggest fans.

Something occurred to me that night as I left that particular concert. I started to think back to other shows. I remembered similar scenarios that, at the time, I just didn't give another thought, but, revisited, I began to see a pattern. After observing rabid fans screaming for The Jack Rubys (who opened for They Might Be Giants) and a small cheering section for a young lady with a guitar doing her best Joni Mitchell impersonation (I forget who she opened for, but I swear they grabbed her off the sidewalk and asked if she knew a few songs when the real opening act bailed), I was convinced that every band is someone's favorite band. Now, I've seen some established acts as warm-ups for a big-name headliner. I saw Kenny Loggins open for Fleetwood Mac. I saw Thin Lizzy open a show for Queen. I have gone to concerts specifically to see an opening act and still stuck around for the headliner. I have even been so impressed by an opening band, that I was prompted to purchase their album afterwards (New Zealand new wavers Split Enz come to mind, after seeing them precede Squeeze in the summer of 1982). But, I don't think I would qualify any of these bands as my (or anyone's) sole favorite. I don't think...

Look, I've been to a lot of concerts over the past forty years. I've seen a lot of bands and I have liked a lot of bands. There have been plenty of bands that I don't like, however I can understand their appeal. They're just not my taste. When I was in high school, I was a big fan of the band Queen. I had all of Queen's albums. I had Queen posters. I had Queen stickers on my books. I saw them many times and always clamored for seats as close to the stage as I could get. I had friends who felt the same way about other bands, too. I knew fervent Who fans and devoted Dylan fans and, of course the ubiquitous Deadheads (As a matter of fact, I went on to marry one of those Deadheads). I was not really a fan of any of these performers, but I certainly understand their appeal. But, there are bands that are so... so... average that I can't image that they are anyone's favorite. I won't name any one band in particular because everyone is entitled to their opinion — no matter how stupid, narrow-minded and tasteless their opinion may be.

This past weekend, a friend sent me a text that read: "You know how we always say that every band is someone's favorite band?" His message was accompanied by this photo he snapped while driving on the Pennsylvania Turnpike —
Click photo to enlarge.
Since this is 2016 and the crazy days of nuevo punk are long in our past, I replied: "I sure hope that's Adam Ant himself driving that car."

I rest my case.

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