Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ani DiFranco

Ani DiFranco
Originally uploaded by tonbabydc

Ok, so I'm not going to hate on Ani DiFranco.

I happen to think that she's amazingly smart and witty and honest and funny and talented and a damn good songwriter. I really enjoyed that "Little Plastic Castle" album, and "Living in Clip" has a downright amazing ratio of good songs to not-good-songs for a live album of its length. I struggle to come up with a double-live that can keep pace with this one, in fact.

*Hmm. Shame there are only 14 tracks on "No Sleep Til Hammersmith", and no I'm not linking to that one. You agree or you don't.*

Incidentally, I never bothered to listen to anything of Ani's after those two albums, but they're enough to demonstrate to me that she's an absolutely amazing talent Just pointing that out.

All of that said, I look at this stub, and I can't help to feel terribly self-conscious. Because other than going vegan, I cannot think of a more cliche way to scream out for attention as a wannabe hipster than to suddenly embrace a feminist songwriter. (Note that this is true of lesbian rock as well, but note also that this was the late 90's, and the line between political, feminist, punk and lesbian seemed to blur beyond any sort of semi-clear delineation. Damn Riot Grrls are always making me feel stupid about this kind of thing.).

((By the way, is Ani doing dudes again or what? I never did figure that out)).

Anyway, the fact that I admit to enjoying Ani DiFranco's music while expressing embarrassment over it says a heck of a lot more about my continuing sense of insecurity than it does about her music.....and that, unfortunately, can probably be said for just about every one of these damned blog entries. Except maybe that time I saw Bruce Springsteen do that fucking Ghost of Tom Joad tour. Maybe I shoulda just listened to "Born to Run" and "Nebraska" then never picked up another Springsteen album and I would remember him with the same fondness that I hold for Ms. DiFranco.

Ok, so as for the show, it was fine. Very intimate, lots of interaction with individual members of the audience. Her performance style was very cute and engaging, which I realize to a certain type of music fan completely undersells everything else that Ani brings to the table. I say to them, whatever, dude. If that chick in Sleater Kinney - not named Carrie Brownstein - was half as charming as Ani, maybe I would have gotten around to seeing them in concert, too.

(Carrie - call me. Please. We can get past it.)

Ani was seriously, a brilliantly personal performer. And I did love this show, even if it was at fucking WolfTrap, an utterly ridiculous outdoor venue in the Virginia suburbs that is completely adored by that dispicable group of 30-to-40-something, yuppie, eco-conscious, intellectual, NPR-listeneing boring-ass buttheads of which I am all but a card-carrying member these days.

The thing about WolfTrap (other than the name....WTF?) is that it gives off a sense of intimacy because it doesn't look very big....probably because the shed part of the venue is situated among lots of fields and hills and trees, making...well, everything in your immediate area look smaller by comparison. But in fact, if you sit in the field, you might just be further away from the stage than you would be at the dilapidated grass at Merriweather Post Pavilion.

I'm sure I'm not the first person to consider this, but I assume that it is simply a compromise too small for the WolfTrap crowd to honestly struggle with, as they lay down their quilts on fine tall Virginia fescue and sip overpriced chardonnay with smoked gouda as they passively listen to the music and trade stories with one another about how they used to go to DC Space and "the old 9:30 club".

((I'm sorry, did that sting? fuck you.))

I do wish that I remembered more details about the show, but I don't really. I do recall a lovely version of "As Is", which is probably still my favorite song of hers'. But the details get fuzzy over the years.

The highlight was undoubtedly her bringing the Rebirth Brass Band on tour as her opener. Simply put, Rebirth is the single greatest American band in existance at this moment. Don't believe me? Check them out for free on June 13 here in D.C. During their opening set they worked Stevie Wonder's "Part Time Lover" into the mix, and for the encore of Ani's performance, she brought them on stage to do a Louisiana-flavored "When Doves Cry". It was kind of mind blowing.

So, apologies to Ms. DiFranco that I don't remember more details of her show, but I do thank her - profoundly - for turning me on to the Rebirth Brass Band.

Shame that it took me more than ten years to see them again.........but it sure did make for a fun Halloween 2008 in New Orleans.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Tibetan Freedom Concert- Part II

Tibetan Freedom Concert
Originally uploaded by tonbabydc

(Sorry for the delay in posting part II. It turns out that when your clients have a singular focus on invalidating your existence, you just don't take the same amount of comfort in going home and writing a blog about how much of a loser you are. Funny, that.....)

Back to the show.

This Tibetan Freedom Concert thing was was technically sold out, and close to everyone I knew was going to be there – all of us had field tickets. This was going to be fun, right? Fun! Indie bands! Rock stars! Beer! Sun! Women!




Ok, the plan that I was going to meet my friend Brian at the Rockville metro station in the morning, and we’d head down together and meet up with our other friends outside the stadium.

However, the first misfortune of the day was for Brian and I to somehow miscommunicate; as I waited for him at the Rockville Station, he was looking for me at the Twinbrook station (also technically in Rockville, hence the confusion).

We individually gave up on one another (this was still somewhat pre-cell phone era - more on that later) and headed down to the concert on our own, both believing that we’d somehow find one another on the field.

That didn’t really happen…..

I got myself to RFK Stadium and did a few laps around the ginormous pavilion of food, craft, clothing and anti-Chinese propaganda vendors, looking for my friends. But I was doomed to miss them in the veritable sea of 17 year olds, dreadlocked white guys and shirtless, sweaty people.

Undeterred, I headed into the stadium and onto the field, continuing to look for people I knew.

But it really was pointless. I had foolishly miscalculated exactly how many people can fit on a football field. I wondered in large circles searching for my friends as some old as some old rasta dude (Mutabaruka, maybe?) did his reggae thing on stage.

After that came KRS-1. Taken in by a short but intense set, complete with Omega-style stompers performing with him, I briefly forgot that I’d lost my friends. Maybe this day was going to be ok after all. And it was only like 12:30 or 1:00 in the afternoon by this time….I had all day to find my friends.

KRS-1 finished, then someone came out and gave a speech about Tibet or something. Then Live came on.

(Ok, so right here in my first draft of this entry, I wrote
NINE WHOLE PARAGRAPHS about how much I hate Live. Seriously, I went on a fearsome tear about how totally lame they were and how utterly ridiculous 90's rock was when Ed Kowalczyk was considered to be a great big rock star, and how I considered the guy to be a totally pretentious liberal arts school pansy.

But a funny thing happened in the two weeks between drafting that entry and sitting down to post it. I heard Live on the radio like three different times, and I had to force myself to listen with an open mind.....and now that I'm ten years away from the complete radio and video saturation of those guys, they, you know.......they aren't all bad. There certainly was worse music out there back then.

So, yeah - sorry, Live. I just wish you'd have put your shirt back on and stopped taking yourself so seriously. Between Jim Morrison and that fucking tool from Creed, no one really needed you to fill the "Messianic rock star" void, you know??)

Anyway, I wasn't in the mood for Live, but I stood there and took it all in because I didn't have much choice: the stadium floor was starting to fill in, and I was slowly getting pushed forward and to the center of the field as more people entered. It was a feeling that I would need to accustom myself to as the day went on.

As hundred of high school students started rocking out to Live, I was more or less becoming miserable. Mostly because of the music, but also because of the emergence of a great many crowd surfers.

As Phil had prophesied, this meant that I essentially got kicked in the head every five to six minutes, and eventually I decided to just stop watching Live do their terrible thing and instead watch for crowd surfers so that I’d be better prepared to push them away before they once again clipped me in the ear with their Doc Martens.

(On that note, it’s not that my intentions were rooted in anything other than self preservation, but I still would like to point out that it was a total accident when I grabbed that teenage crowd surfer girl in the pink tank top by her left boobie. I was totally aiming for her back and she just kind of lost balance and flipped her tit on to my hand all of a sudden. Seriously, I didn't mean to squwoosh your over-sized bosom. What the hell were you doing crowd-surfing with your mams all hanging out, anyway???).

All during this clusterfuck of headkicking, boobgrabbing and bad music, the field continued to get more and more crowded.

And it was getting hot. I mean hot as hell. At 6'3", I was at least a head taller than most of the crowd, and I could barley get any breathable air at all. I had no idea how the people standing at armpit level were coping with the situation.

The real bummer was that when Live finally finished up, things didn’t get any better. The field didn't clear out one bit, and I was pretty much stuck in the middle, about 40 yards back from the stage. Between myself and the exit, there were a couple hundred kids I'd need to wade through if I was going to get out of there before Dave Matthews started his fucking abortion of a set.

And it was ultimately hopeless. The Dave Matthews Band took the stage and I was trapped there in the middle of all the goddamned frat boys and rich kids and their 17 year old girlfriends.

(I'm not going to give you nine grafs on why Dave Matthews can blow me, but rest assured that I would gladly camp out for Live tickets before I ever again see the DMB. And that's no joke).

As lame as Dave Matthews was, he somehow became the least of my concerns before long: the entire sky became covered in storm clouds over the course of his set, and the humidity was unbearable. At least one girl fainted and had to be carried out of the field during the set, but we were jammed in there so tight that it was nearly impossible to get her evacuated. As she was finally carried out, scores of kids were pressed together and nearly dragged out with her.

This was getting scary, and no amount of extended solos, happy ass songs, and lame covers of “All Along the Watchtower” made it any better. The afternoon had become downright unpleasant.

By the time Matthews had mercifully ended his set the sky was dark in that way that happens in D.C. right before a summer storm. I watched another limp girl get carried out, and took advantage of the opportunity to inch closer to the field gate. But it was honestly impossible to move faster than baby step pace.

By this point, I had forgotten all about my friends.

I stood there – stuck – as Sean Lennon got on stage and gave a pretty thoroughly condescending speech to the crowd about some monk who was there with him. He came off like a total douche.

Then there was Herbie Hancock. Fuck.

You don’t have to tell me why Herbie Hancock is important. I know all about the stuff he did with Miles and Stevie and Wayne Shorter long, long before he did that RockIt stuff. (Which, incidentally, was all the rage with me and my friends back in grade school).

But in a deathly crowded and humid stadium field, its safe to say that no one was feeling it. It had started to rain ever so slightly, but not in any way that brought us relief. And I could have sworn that I heard thunder rolling above his music.

And then, midway through his second song, a sudden
BOOMing sound ripped across the stadium floor, scaring the poop out of basically everyone.

Suddenly - almost immediately - Herbie and his band got the fuck off stage and someone got on the PA to tell us to get off the field. All several hundred of us. Right. NOW.

But we were stuck. I mean totally stuck. Must have taken ten minutes to move the fifteen yards to the gate. One again, I saw a girl pass out and get taken out more or less in a crowd surfing fashion, as there literally was no room to carry her any other way.

Rumors were circulating that someone had been struck by lightning. Someone said something about a bomb. Event workers instructed us to take cover inside while the storm passed, and explained that a girl had been struck by lighting while talking on her cell phone.

I finally got under cover and climbed to the upper level of the stadium to grab a seat to take it all in. It poured down rain for about fifteen minutes, and a bunch of hippie kids ran around in the infield in a ring-around-the-posies type of dance, despite repeated warnings from the PA that they were in danger of getting themselves struck by lightning.

I waited there in the 300 level, knowing that the storm would roll through in a matter of an hour or less, when all of a sudden the PA announcer informed us that due to the lightning, the event had been canceled, and that they would resume with a full day on Sunday.

Well, this wasn't as I'd planned. I was not going to see Sonic Youth. Or Beck. Or REM.

Nope. I'd just paid $30 to see Live and the Dave Matthews Band, which was basically everything I was trying to escape at this moment in my aspiring hipster life.

Soaking wet, exhausted and grumpy, I got up and trudged down the walkway at RFK Stadium, occasionally stopping to peer over the wall and survey the crowd of similarly bummed individuals. And lo and behind, one time I peeked out and who did I see but that singer from that band, REM.

Now, I'm not actually a big REM fan or anything....but I'm pretty sure that celebrity sightings were pretty rare for me at that time, so this was kind of the highlight of the day.

He was talking to one of the event organizers, probably saying something like "Oh, shit, the rain just stopped and the su
n just came out, and somehow there isn't a cloud in the sky all of a sudden. What the fuck are we going to do now that we've told all these kids to go home??"

That's when some idiot next to me shouted out "STYYYYYYYYYYYYYPPPPE!!!!!"

Powder looked up at us, started for a moment, then scurried back in his tent to eat some baba gonoush and meditate or something. (Lest you forget, he has an innate fear of lightning).

So, yeah, suddenly it was an absolutely gorgeous summer day, and the fucking concert was canceled. God only knows where my friends were.....maybe they'd been struck by lighting while talking on their fancy cell phones.

On top of everything else, the Stadium-Armory Metro station was jam packed, so me and 80 of my new best friends dragged our wet asses up to Eastern Market to get on the Metro there.


An hour or so later, I was at home, telling my hip new roommates about the day's events. (They were so hip, in fact, that they didn't attend this concert. That's how it works, you see?)

The next morning I awoke to learn that Radiohead had played a surprise gig Saturday night at the 9:30 Club, and upon arriving at work on Monday, my friends told me all about the awesome show on Sunday, when the Chili Peppers had returned to old school form, and REM killed, and the Beastie Boys were awesome, and Wycliff Jean played and women on the field all instantaneously started taking off their tops and showing the world their breasts.

Me? I spent the rest of that weekend at home in the outskirts of Olney-fucking-MD.

God was trying to tell me something about this agenda of mine to try and become hip, and how it was ultimately a hopeless idea.

But I just wasn't listening, no matter how clear it all is now.....

Monday, May 4, 2009

Tibetan Freedom Concert - Part I

If I had to point to one moment in time when the complete irony of my attempts to become hip unfolded, it would be this day. 
My memory is just a tad cloudy, but I believe that by this time I had moved into my friend Greg’s house, which was a terrifyingly dilapidated farm house on the outskirts of Montgomery County….in some strange no man’s land between Olney and Laurel.
(If I was living at Greg's, that meant that I was quickly entering into one of the most exhilarating times in my life. Greg had defected from the Queegs and brought me with him. He then proceeded to move me into his house of horrors, where the two of us could practice all hours of the night as he wrote songs and plotted his next project: an exceptionally loud and noisy punk-pop outfit that would go on to become the Patsies....this minor act of betrayal nearly cost me the friendship of Queegs front man, Matt Reidl, and to this day I consider it to be a testament to his character that we are still close, despite my impulsive decision to ditch his band in favor of a tone-deaf song writer's odd Frankenstein of a band. Friendships have been sacrificed over less).

Anyway, it was kind of a big deal that the Tibetan Freedom concert would be in D.C. that year. Typically this event took place in San Francisco or NYC, but here it was at RFK Stadium: two full days of bands running the gamut across just about every single type of popular music from the mid-to-late 1990s.
All my friends were going to this event, and I definitely wanted to get in on the fun.
But the fact is that I’m not exactly a fan of festival concerts. I don’t like standing around in the heat with no shade to be found. I don’t like getting clipped $5 for bottled water. And I don’t like getting kicked in the head by crowd surfers (because, as my tall friend, Phil, puts it, if you’re over 6 feet tall and you’re in front of the stage, you’re just a speed bump).
The idea of two days of stadium festival madness wasn’t really my idea of fun, so I figured I’d just eyeball the line-ups for each day and decide which one was more to my liking.
I have to admit, this made for a pretty difficult choice. The event organizers had done a ridiculously wonderful job balancing each day’s performers so that there was something for everyone on each day. (Of course, this also meant that there was an awful lot of mid-90’s turd-rock on each day as well – more on that shortly).
My decision was to go with Saturday. That would allow me Sunday to recover from the intense sunburn I was undoubtedly going to experience from standing on the RFK field all afternoon.
If I remember correctly, I thought it would be cool to see Beck, and I thought it might be kind of neat to finally see REM, since I knew I’d never actually go to one of their concerts. And more than anything else, I desperately wanted to see Sonic Youth.
(See, this is key……when a kid raised on classic rock and heavy metal joins a punk band, moves into a scary group house and goes to see Sonic Youth, I like to think that he has finally emerged from his cocoon of bad taste, and arrived at the full-fledged mothdom of hipseterism).
Of course, like pretty much all of my plans to be seen as anything other than a dork, this was doomed to fail. It all started with the dumb decision to only purchase a ticket for the first day, but, of course, things got considerably worse from there.
To be continued....