Sunday, February 7, 2010

Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I've Become

“Anticipation has a habit to set you up for disappointment in evening entertainment…”


I should have known this was going to go bad, standing in the line for Arctic Monkeys on December 8th at Mr. Small’s Theatre. It was cold and I was surrounded by people I would never willfully surround myself with. The clothing was terrible, the chatter was worse. I briefly wondered how these people had gotten into the band…was there a single playing over the speakers at Abercrombie and Fitch or something? Had something happened under my radar?


A short preface: I love the Arctic Monkeys. I have loved them for a long time. My impression of the band has always been one of British hooligans; Alex Turner’s cheeky lyrics have gotten me through some bad times, especially when unhappy with the scene and state of music around me. I wasn’t very familiar with the newest record, having just gotten it a week before, but the first two are among my favorites of all time. Performance clips of the Monkeys always show these men being defiant, bold, meaning every single word. The only clue I could have had about what was about to happen to me was the first video from Humbug, featuring the band with their grown-out hair, which may or may not be a statement of how they feel now. Even then, I was willing to accept bad haircuts to hear the music that I loved so deeply played live. I should have known.


What happened, boys? What happened?


“And as the microphone squeaks, a young girl’s telephone beeps…”


We had gotten there quite early; I wanted to be right the fuck in front of the stage. Part of me was convinced I’d never get to see the band live, taking into account their generally tetchy personalities and notorious dislike of American clubs. There were only five shows in the US this tour and I narrowly got my tickets because my boyfriend possesses some sort of voodoo magic. We staked out our spot in the second row, right in front of the stage.


The opening band, Screaming Females, were amazing. They turned out to be the highlight of the evening. They had the kind of rock n roll integrity and musicality I expected from the rest of the night. Marissa Paternoster sounds like a hurricane and shreds on the guitar. She’s really a sight, her finger work is crazy. Their bass player was completely her equal and the interplay between the two made for a solid opening act. However, this is when the existential angst really started to kick in. Something was amiss.


The crowd totally ignored (and at one point, rudely booed) the band. They were antsy and they didn’t come for music; or, to be fair, perhaps they just aren’t serious about music. If they had come for music or passion, Screaming Females was the only game in the building.


“One look sends it coursing through the veins oh how the feeling races/Back up to their brains to form expressions on their stupid faces”


The kids readied their cell phones and recording devices, preparing to document rather than experience. I started to feel sad, thinking about how impossible it is to form actual memories when you’re squinting through a glowing screen instead of enjoying the live music in front of you. This was coupled with an incessant, self-centered need to be heard from a bunch of people behind us. One kid especially, was obviously not just conversing with his friends, but shouting so as to make everyone else a part of his conversation. The last time I was in the front at Small’s was at Amanda Palmer and the sense of camaraderie in that audience was amazing. Not so here. There were shuffling feet and a frantic feeling that spread. I’m no stranger to the front row, I’m willing to take my chances with bodily harm, but usually people are just looking to crowd surf at shows like this. This audience was looking to fight. If that’s your goal, why pay $30 to go to a concert? It’s much cheaper to just go to a bar at closing time.


The instruments were switched, and it was time.


“Calm down temper temper, you shouldn’t get so annoyed/You’re acting like a silly little boy”


I said I would not be moved by these assholes. I was mistaken. One, whom I will not describe, was not “moshing” in any sense of the word, he was just hitting people. The tiny girls and I began to cower, pushed against each other. Asshole keeps pushing. Asshole throws elbows. Asshole throws an elbow into my ribs.


My boyfriend’s a big guy. He’s kind of scary and not really a person you would want angry with you. The elbow dropped, he whipped around. In a moment of reason I was proud of, he yelled, “Dude! Tone it down a bit!” The asshole replied, “I will wreck you, bra!” Let me reiterate. He said “bra.” At an Arctic Monkeys concert. Well, that was the end of that. Steve’s logical reply to that: “WHY? THIS ISN’T EVEN A PUNK SHOW!” only got him more threats and grandstanding. There was shirt grabbing, the asshole threw a fist, I launched myself into the middle of it. I figured he wouldn’t hit a girl and if he did, he was definitely getting thrown out. We somehow got out of the crowd before it could get ugly. I encouraged my man to go outside to smoke and went back to the bar.


Boy, it was even sadder back there.


“Top marks for not trying…”


I was trying to calm down, trying to concentrate on the fact that I’ve been looking forward to this for years and wanted to hear the songs I adored live in person. I found myself standing in the midst of easily pleased and cowed masses, even the worse for the available drinks. I focused on what I could see of the stage, but that wasn’t much. Between the epileptic light show, the goddamned fog machine, and the Monkeys ridiculous haircuts, nothing was going on. The music was loud. It sounded false. It sounded pre-packaged and nothing like the ardent railing against the status quo contained on their records. The lights, oh the lights, I can’t stress it enough. It was like being forced to watch a Floyd laser show inside of a tin can. I cried during “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” Ladies and Gentlemen, a dance song made me cry. It was the death of everything that I erroneously thought they stood for.


You couldn’t see shit from the back, yet people were taking pictures of the nothing. The band had no teeth, no heart, no sass. It felt like a betrayal. There are many clips of the band back when they used to adhere to their ideals; you can see the enthusiasm and fervor. It was like someone had cloned Arctic Monkeys and set them in an “on” position to play, phoned-in in the strictest sense. The stage banter was pap, pointless, drawn from any useless rock cliché you can imagine. “Like I said, this is our first time in Pittsburgh” (around three times), “Give yourselves a hand,” etc.


The shadows the band made on the white backboard of the stage looked like the shadows of previous performances. That was better to watch than the travesty of the actual show. The version of “Florescent Adolescent” they played was so neutered that it didn’t sound convincing. The chatter in the bar ran a low static under what could have been a watered-down recording of the songs.


“And if you could only see them, then you would agree/Agree that there isn’t no romance around there”


I don’t know if this is a new direction for the Arctic Monkeys or what. I just know that a part of my rock n roll heart was broken last night. This is all my opinion, of course, and largely just a statement of how I feel. I mean, there were obviously people in that audience that felt they got their money’s worth. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by acts that mean every fucking word they say (aforementioned Miss Palmer, Morrissey, Psychic TV) but I don’t think it’s just that. I’ve played with local bands that had more animation playing to a crowd of fifteen people. It’s a question of believing in what you do and feeling like your music means something, then conveying just that. I felt like that half-hearted performance was an infidelity of everything they meant to me. I couldn’t clap after any of the songs; my limbs were weak with disappointment. Sure, it sounded good technically. But is that really all that rock n roll is?


Oh, and the asshole from the pit? He got thrown out.

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