Thursday, September 9, 2010

another expert

This past Tuesday, my son E. and I went to see singer-songwriter Stan Ridgway in concert at the Tin Angel, a small venue on the second floor of a restaurant in center city Philadelphia. Stan, for those (read: most) unfamiliar, was the leader of the quirky 80s band Wall of Voodoo, most famous for their MTV-heyday era hit "Mexican Radio". Stan has had a 27-year solo career since severing ties with Wall of Voodoo, releasing eleven albums and acquiring a passionate cult following. Stan rarely tours outside of California, but E. and I have been lucky enough to see him live several times. (Yeah, we number ourselves among that cult.)

After dinner and twelve dollars worth of ice cream from the quaint and old-timey Franklin Fountain, E. and I hiked over to the Tin Angel. The street entrance to the Tin Angel opens to a long and steep staircase that leads to the narrow and intimate second-story performance room. Having arrived an hour or so before the official showtime, we took our place in the small queue line that had begun forming.

Ahead of us on the stairs, we soon found out, was the world's foremost expert and authority on all things Stan Ridgway. He was with a younger woman and another man sporting a souvenir t-shirt from a previous Stan Ridgway tour. (I sarcastically lamented to my son that I had forgotten to wear my Stan Ridgway shirt. Now, how would he know I was there to see him if I wasn't properly labeled.) As we stood and waited, the expert expounded on Stan's career, highlighting various other musicians he had played with and carefully name-checking albums from early in Stan's discography. He related stories he had read about the inspirations for songs and appearances Stan had made on foreign music programs in the 80s and 90s. He dropped the names of Stan's influences and collaborators and haughtily announced what he predicted to be the set-list for this evening's show. His two companions seemed about as impressed by his vast knowledge and insider information as E. and I were from our eavesdropping. Not content with spewing little-known tidbits about the evening's headliner, he began a lengthy dissertation chronicling the multitude of performers whose autographed photos graced the wall of the stairwell. His comrades were not nearly as dazzled by his insight as he was, as the expressions on their faces betrayed their indifference. After a lull in his monologue, he returned to the subject of Stan Ridgway by asking his male sidekick, "What's your favorite Stan Ridgway song?"  I was hoping he'd direct the question to me, as my answer would have been, "Hmmmm, that's a difficult one, but I'd have to say I'm kind of partial to... Fuck you, asshole."

It's interesting that I seem to encounter one of these guys at every concert I attend. Every concert seems to have a pre-show band expert placed in the crowd within earshot of me. The expert is there to inform his entourage of live music greenhorns about the show they are about to see. He will tell of the past shows he has seen and rank them in ascending order of entertainment "wow factor". He will prepare his pals for disappointment, as this show can't possibly match the performance he saw the band give in July 19-whatever. He knows every note and every word to every song and will sing along with each one — straining his voice to heard above the crowd as though he was asked to duet. If this guy's behavior doesn't seem familiar, well then, you are probably that guy.

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