| Main |
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
At the SurfJam
The weekend of music was approaching like a freight train, and I was afraid I'd miss getting run over.
First, it was Austin City Limits Festival weekend, for the last few years a glorious clusterfuck of heat, open-air wafting tunes and secondhand doobiesmell, and saggy breasts on parade.
We usually go for the doobiesmell.
Apart from that, you have the after-parties, non-ACL shows by ACL performers, ACL studio tapings and this year, fucking Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount Theatre.
Gods of live music: why do you twist our necks so?
We decided to see just one day of ACL this year, mostly because we just didn't feel like driving to Austin three times in addition to the exhaustion that usually sets in from all the walking and standing and heatstroke. So we picked Sunday because of my wife's favorite band at the fest, Los Amigos Invisibles (more on ACL in a separate entry tomorrow).
Anyway, that left us with Friday and Saturday fairly wide open. I decided we were going to see Sufjan. Unfortunately, the two shows were way sold out and the ticket prices on places like stubhub.com and on Craiglist were... well, you know how when gas prices go up like a dollar in one week, you just stare at the Exxon sign from your car with your 1/8th of a tank left of gas and you're like, "Holy FUCK!" It was just like that, only without the large sign and the gasoline fumes.
Tickets just a few weeks ago were going for more than $100 per ticket to the Sufjan show. People were trading Sufjan tickets for three-day ACL passes. Something like 40,000 bands you could see over three days versus one little skinny white guy from Michigan on stage with a banjo.
There was no denying the power of Sufjan.
I waited and waited. I started to believe that unless I wanted to pay $250 for two tickets, I just was going to have to miss the show.
Then I saw a post on Thursday afternoon for two tickets, 2nd row balcony, $130 for both.
Hot damn! Sure, these were $25 tickets, my wife would remind me the next day, shatting my thin happy bubble. But they were $30 each with the service charge, I countered. And sure, I paid more than double what they were worth, but the gouging itself was a light gouging. A gougeite. Barely enough gouge to leave a mark.
So we were set. We put on our best T-shirts and headed to town for the 9 p.m. show. My wife, who's not a huge Sufjan fan, insisted on caling him "SurfJam" and I couldn't argue; it lent the show a secret, fun dimension.
We also decided, upon arriving on the scene and finding a very high ratio of drama club high schoolers, that this show was Dork Paradise. But this was a good thing. It is among dorks and nerds that I feel safest. For me, being surrounded by dorks and nerds for a performance is like being ensconsed in the finest down comforter. Contrast this to going to a UT game where the jock/alumni ratio is more like rolling in cacti.
But in putting words to my thoughts on dorks, I digress...
We came in and were ushered, via flashlight, to our seats, and they were magnificent. The second-row balcony seats were dead center. We could see every square inch of the stage and the sound was fantastic. What sound? It was opening act My Brightest Diamond, led by Shara Worden. We came in as she was singing an ethereal bit backed by violins.
It was entrancing, but she soon shifted gears to rock out. I wasn't familiar with any of her songs, but I can say she seemed to have a lot of PJ Harvey's tricks down with a little bit of Portishead thrown in. Her voice just sounds dark and lovely, but her between-song banter was goofier and more ingratiating than the music itself.
She played several songs of varying tempos until she got to a rock-out song where she instructed to the audience to dance along to the chorus which, she assured us, we'd know when we heard it. What followed was such a cacophany of noise and undanceable histrionics that no one quite knew what to make of it. There was certainly no dancing. Instead, we all just figured we were in the middle of a massive inside joke.
But no matter. After a 20-minute bathroom break/intermission, it was time for Sufjan.
15 damn people came on the cluttered stage to play their myriad instruments. There was a grand piano. Violins, cellos, lots of guitars. A huge drumset. And each person in a neat uniform adorned with big butterfly wings.
Sufjan came out with more eagle-like wings (all right, "Majestic snowbird") and sort of moped his way in the dark toward the piano. Everybody went nuts.
He played I song I hadn't heard before, which I presumed to be about butterflies because of, well, everything I was seeing no stage as well as a helpful video montage of kites. Dude is obsessed with flying things, all right? And states. And Christmas. He did pretty fantastic versions of "Casimir Pulaski Day" (way to make us cry on the second song, dink), "Jacksonville," "The Mistress Witch from McClure," "Chicago," and my current favorite "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out To Get Us!" He did a song from an upcoming holiday album called "The Worst Christmas Ever," "Detroit," and other stuff from albums I've yet to listen to.
Each song, even ones I've heard lots of times, sounded as if it had been rearranged. The ending of "Predatory Wasp" was a damn trainwreck of noise, and not unpleasantly so.
It was emotionally draining, all the crescendos and quiet moments. Apart from the music and the applause, it was the quietest concert I've ever attended. Nobody made a damn peep at all when they weren't supposed to. Apart from the annoying flash of cameras that cut through the dark, you couldn't have asked for a more attentive audience. I think everyone was just trying hard to process all the sound. Complex musicks were happening.
The show ended and a few young people left, probably unaware that no musician who's doing well on stage really ends it on the first "Goodnight!" The crowd whooped and stomped their feet so hard that my wife and I were seriously worried the balcony would collapse on us.
Sufjan came back out with a much smaller ensemble and having dressed down, losing the wings. The five-piece group did "John Wayne Gacy, Jr." and it was like pure damn death. So beautiful and haunting and just... man... goosebumps. And then one more song to close and that was it. G'night, SurfJam.
We got out of our seats and followed the crowd downstairs and we could hear teens and hipsters comparing notes on what they'd just seen and sharing bits of lyrics. Everyone was... I guess the word would be "Enchanted." We'd just come out of a spell and were wondering how the magic had been conjured. We wanted to know more about the mage and how he'd caused us to feel this way.
Mostly, we were envious of the Saturday night audience who were in for an amazing show.
Monday, September 18, 2006
The Space Monkeys return today in a brand-new comic.
So much happened over the weekend, I'm still trying to sorta process it. I saw Sufjan Stevens Friday night, which was in itself amazing, but then I went to this dude ranch on Saturday and then to Austin City Limits fest on Sunday. In there, I also judged entries for a journalism contest, saw Chicken Little and lots of Project Runway, cheered against my better judgment for the Latinos on Survivor and then found out that my switch to a new job was announced to the newsroom (I'm going to be a full-time feature reporter writing about technology/culture).
So... uh, yeah. It's been a little busy around here. I'll be writing about it all shortly.
| Main |