Feb 27, 2016

Feeding the hungry - a very different kind of review

This was supposed to be a review of Adam Lambert's "The Original High Tour" stop in Connecticut but the experience resulted in something else..something I'm sure the editors at DigitalJournal, the only publication that will publish my writings on the Lambert subject (and that's only based on having an account not due to accepting a pitch), would care to have on their site as it would not be positive.

...well it's not all negative so let's get the good part over with first.  Starting with taking a wrong turn when arriving at Foxwoods Fox Tower and ending up in the valet parking line, panicking but then finding out there was no charge for the service...I started the night feeling a little special.  This is the first time I've been to this venue and on entering I discovered that I was right at the theater unlike experiences at Mohegan Sun where I ended up parked a mile walk from the arena.  At Foxwoods there was a cool little candy shop called Licks at the entrance I came in where I bought a present for my daughter who almost literally kicked my ass out the door to go to this show.  I got a bottle of water and decided I'd give the opener a shot and opted to go into the theater rather than eating dinner.
Glee alum, Alex Newell is one great singer.  He's also got wonderful stage presence and really had the audience connecting.  If I was in a different venue I might have been standing and dancing along but we'll discuss that point later.  Alex was very punctual and went on at 8:03 p.m.  His set was about 45 minutes so it should have been a 15 minute break for pit and drink stops.  Instead people probably could have gone and grabbed a sandwich but again, that goes in the negative side of this post.

The theater is very comfortable.  The ushers were very pleasant.  Definitely not the big, open, grungy space that is the arena at Mohegan Sun.

Adam's performance, albeit late starting, was impressive? I mean it's Adam.  He's voice is still phenomenal, he hits all the right notes and when singing has decent stage presence.  The set was a combination of old, new and covers.  I did like the new arrangement of Fever.  Nice way to erase the memory of the more trashy Glamnation version and closes the door on the former guitarist/bassist quite nicely.  I was disappointed that Nile Rogers was not home to play in on "Let's Dance".  Nothing will ever match his performance with Adam and Sam Sparro at Hammerstein Ballroom of that number.  The costume changes were kept to three and were pretty minimal on an Adam-scale.  We learned that Terrance Spencer can also sing as can the other dancer, Holly.  Choreo was more polished.  The band was tight.  The sound mix was good.

Then the show as over.  I had my car in less than 5 minutes and when I was back on Rte 2A heading home in less than 15 minutes, I was very glad I gave the valet a $10 tip.  I will definitely utilize their valet service every time I go there in the future.  I need to find this service at Mohegan and maybe avoid walking a mile and a half IF I ever go to a show there again.

Please understand that I am just comparing the two casino venues to each other due to their proximity to each other, the fact that they are both casino complexes and are both managed by the local native American tribes.  Probably the closest similar theaters to the Fox Tower theater in this area for a rock show would be either The Bushnell in Hartford or The Klein in Bridgeport.  The Meadows aka The Xfinity Theater at The Dodge Music Center in Hartford is an "indoor" venue in the cold weather...there are sliding doors across the back of the amphitheater that are closed.  But it does not have a balcony, has a concrete floor and a sound system more geared to the theater being open so that people on the lawn can also hear.  Oh and to do a rewind to the ticket purchase experience?  I cannot compare to Mohegan as I don't have the experience to make the comparison.  However, compared to Ticketmaster?  Much better.  I ended up in the Orchestra, 22 rows back right by the sound/light booth for $78 after taxes and fees (ticket was $65).

So let's start with the ticket price in the negative column.  I have paid far less for much better.  I have to say that I feel bad for the people who spent more than that for tickets to this show.  Why?

  1. Foxwoods drew the short straw for location.  Mohegan Sun is right off 395.  2A is still 4 lanes wide at their exit.  But just past it, it goes down to 2 lanes and it is 7 miles on very windy, bumpy, not well lit state highway that passes through some very residential areas.  
  2. The sound mix for Alex's set was really bad in spots.  One number in particular someone needed to pull the engineer's hand off the slide for the subwoofer.  TOO   MUCH   BASS.
  3. Adam's habitual tardiness.  Mr. Lambert?  This is not cute.  It's not professional and when musicians who make a lot less money than you can be on time?  You need work on that.  Adam took the stage at 9:17.
  4. Thanks to the review in the Boston Globe, it was known that Connecticut got the Reader's Digest version of the set list.  Songs like "Shady" and "Lay Me Down" were noticeably missing.  Also the encore was ONE SONG...Really?
  5. The stage lighting was 1) seizure inducing (there were no signs outside the theater warning about this either) and 2) not all directed to the stage.  I was blinded by a blue filtered mover during "Mad World" and like I said..."I was in Row 22".  Yes, there is a big bank of white lights above the stage to light the crowd at the appropriate moments and they were used.  But movers, pars, etc should NOT be shining in the crowd.  
  6. Although Adam's getting better at stage banter, he still needs to work on that.  I will give him cred for keeping it PG13 this time around.  I have no problem with musicians saying "Fuck!"...I am a pop punk fan but when people (inappropriately) bring 8 year olds to Adam's shows, then he needs to cool it on the sexual innuendos which I find are his go-tos when his confidence starts waning.
  7. Did I just say that Adam Lambert...THE ADAM LAMBERT...lacks confidence?  Yes he does.  He spent a lot of years in theater with marks to hit, well-rehearsed choreography and directors doing what directors do...directing him.  Once he was on his own away from his tribe, who are pretty over-the-top (not in a bad way.  If you've followed me you know I'm pretty integrated in it) he was kind of lost when he realized that "middle America" didn't get it.  It's part of why he was the runner-up on Idol.  It's why Prince Poppycock and William Close didn't win AGT.  Part of how Adam has garnered this weird fanbase is because Idol viewers who stuck with him did so because they thought they were doing something taboo.  But back to this item - When Adam realized he didn't have a director and a dance captain and that his audience did not get it, he just went with it on whole sexy thing to cover the fact that he didn't really know how to deal with it.  I will say last night he did do a lot better and I could try to attribute it to Queen but he pulls the sex thing with those performances too. 
  8. What I think has just become, at least to me, an annoying habit.  I would hope after 7 years he would have in-ears that fit properly but he still continues to fiddle with them throughout a set.  If it is a 'tell' then that says that he can't seem to get a sound tech who knows his mix preferences.  Again, they can't hire a competent tech?  I have hoped that he would have switched to stage wedges long ago.  
  9. Adam's fans.  
    1. Oh there are a few scattered in the crowd that are young, not overbearing or judgemental, who are not homophobic (yes they are trust me), LGBT, male but again last night it was a lot of women well over 40.  Yes...I do fit both demographics.  However, I don't come in wearing sequins, too much eye shadow, two pairs of false eyelashes, stripper heels, making sure everyone notices I'm in the front row and "spent good money to be here!",  blowing kisses to a guy who's young enough to be my kid and sporting a coiffure that went out of style with Jackie O.  I'm there for reasons that I have explained in many blogs before this.  
    2. PLEASE STOP BITCHING ABOUT PEOPLE STANDING TO DANCE!!  Yes!  The theater has seats.  To quote Anna Matronic from Scissor Sisters...chairs have a lot of purposes but at a rock show they are NOT for sitting in.  Alex noted in his set...you SIT through a Broadway play/musical not a rock show. The only exception was Adam's performance at Cyndi Lauper's benefit at the Beacon.  THAT WAS a sit-down show...mainly because no one stood for anyone else's set including Jason Mraz.  If there was standing it should have been for Cyndi because she was the hostess.  Adam was her guest. 
    3. IT WAS NOT A FUCKING RAVE!!! Leave your damned glow sticks, blinky bracelets and light up sneakers home.  All you do is blind the people behind you.  
  10. An hour and 20 minute set counting the 2 minute waiting for the encore and only one opening act.  I was in my car at 10:55 heading home.  I won't buy a venue noise abatement curfew cuz this place is in the middle of nowhere and as far as a time thing,  it's a fucking casino so it's open 24-7.  I have been to shows in places that do have curfews but if not a noise restriction GMs tend to bend the rules if the show is going really well.  It's making money for them and the artist to do that.  People continue drinking and eating and buying merch.  As far as saving your voice?  I have a friend who I have seen at the end of a tour, missed zero performances even when sick as dog...if you're hungry you'll sing.
Which brings me to what really had me walking away feeling very ambivalent.  Let's go back to before I bought the ticket.  When I learned how much Warner Brothers was soaking for them.  I told a friend..."I bet you I can find TWO TICKETS for a better show for what I would pay for one nosebleed for Adam's.  I found those two tickets for the 20TH ANNIVERSARY TOUR OF DROPKICK MURPHYS at a small venue in NYC for $35 each....Ok so $10 less than one nosebleed for Adam but...there are TWO openers one of which is Tiger Army who are fantastic and the show is GA which means if I WANT to work my way up front and into the pit I can.  No!  I don't get into mosh pits.  Come on...I told you how old I am.  But if I wanted to...  Also, the bands park their buses right outside the venue and hang out inside so is there a chance I finally get to meet Tim (I interviewed by phone 3 years ago) and Scruffy?  Yeah.  All that for $35!  

Yes, I did buckle and buy a $65 ticket to see Adam.  But even at 6 p.m. last night I was still thinking about blowing it off and suffering from a bad case of buyer's remorse.  My dad offered to pay me back for my ticket if I stayed home.  

Back to the subject of being 'hungry-literally and figuratively.  Artists like Adam, well it's why a label will scoop up someone like that.  They can spin it to make themselves a fuck-ton of money.  In this case WBR knows that people won't think twice about dropping hundreds of dollars on tickets, meet and greets and merch based on the previous demographic of his fanbase.  Which makes up for the fuck-ton of money they spent on My Chemical Romance whose fanbase, along with being more appropriate in most cases, didn't have much disposable income.  But would I have paid more to see them than the $65 for TWO DAYS of Bamboozle in 2007 or $30 for the first leg of the Black Parade in Hartford before that?  You bet.  Hell! When Danger Days came out I road-tripped to NJ and DC for shows.  Their sets were generally 2 hours with 2-3 song encores, great stage banter and audience interaction.  I paid $25 for my MCR Shirts for The Cure t-shirt and full retail for all their music that I own.  I even street teamed for them. 

Sitting here listening to still my favorite pop-punk band, Motion City Soundtrack, even before ever interviewing them...watching them at my first Warped Tour in 2006,  at Bamboozle in 2007 and then meeting Justin and Josh at Webster Hall later that same year....these guys are hungry.  Sometimes literally.  But when I asked Justin in an interview in 2013 if he ever fears running out of lyrics he said "Sometimes and then the songs just start coming out again".   Point? He is passionate about creating and will keep doing it.  He, Josh, Jesse, Matthew, Tony and his replacement leave family and friends for months on end to tour.  In fact, Justin said that he gets kind of itchy if they stay off the road too long.  This band doesn't play arenas.  In fact, except for things like Warped Tour, they generally play to houses that hold no more than 3000 people where they give the crowd more than their money's worth.  They lay their hearts and souls on the stage and hope it's enough to encourage you to stop by the merch table so that they have gas and food money to get them to the next stop.  

Some bands can stash away enough money to buy a bus and a trailer.  The label does not take care of that for them.  Most drive old church vans of questionable mechanical integrity.  Props to the company BandWagon RVs for providing affordable, safe rentals for touring bands.  I see more and more of their vehicles every year at Warped Tour and I have a feeling that Kevin Lyman is very grateful to the company too as he has a few less worries about bands making it through the whole tour without vehicle failures.  

When fans bring food to shows, it's not something cute like "I made this for you cuz I'm you're biggest fan".  It's "I made this for you so you have a home-cooked food while you're out here".  Story...a Kill Hannah fan brought a full spaghetti dinner to them during their tour with Flyleaf and Sick Puppies in '07.  There was enough food for EVERYONE including the crew.  I read tweets after that night from all of them saying how wonderful it was to sit down "as a family" and share that meal.  I used to show up with big boxes full of socks, sharpies, hand lotion, chapstick, decks of cards, crossword puzzles, lots of snacks and homemade cookies for my road kids.  I know fans who slip TMs $20 for gas because they already have all the band's CDs and t-shirts.  

Besides a t-shirt and a great show we also get hugs, selfies, autographs, tears and laughter one on one without having to pay extra.  Most small venue shows, artists either hang in the crowd or at the merch table.  There really is no excuse for not meeting someone.  One of my favorite reoccurring Warped experiences is watching kids LITERALLY run into their favorite musician while running to the next stage or to grab a quick soda or hot dog before the next band.  The reactions are priceless.  I've seen and heard everything from squeaks, to shrieks to "Holy motherfucker!! It's YOU!!" And the musician stops, talks, hugs, takes a selfie, signs an autograph and this kid's whole $35 for the day was just paid back in a 2 minute moment.  I remember when I first started down the rabbit hole and was star-struck to the point of terrified.  It started with Casey and JT from Hawthorne Heights.  Who knew that a year after my first encounter with them that we'd be sharing laughs at The Webster one night and The Chance two nights after that.  I cried when I learned of Casey's death and I still share hugs with JT because of that every time I get to see him. 

So did I get my $65 worth last night?  Compared to the hundreds of shows I've been to the past 9 years?  Nope.  I only paid $32 to see MUSE at MSG and that show was soooo much more and they're not in the "hungry" category yet they put on a show like they were.   It's really sad that when you pay more for a pair of handmade shoes you get high quality heart & soul art for your feet that will last you for years but high price tags for music and fine art doesn't work that way at all.

Did last night finally close "that" chapter?  I think so.  Between shitty fans, management and label who have no interest in the type of interview I want to do and an artist that still needs to reconnect with that time he was hungry I leave with this.  Adam has a great voice and does deserve a recording contract.  I will be forever in his debt for the amazing friends I garnered from this part of my journey.  The "key" was the "key" to a lot of experiences and people I will treasure forever.  If some day I get to ask "those"questions (which I won't ever delete from my computer) I don't think it will be a formal interview.  But am I holding my breath?  Not any more. No more getting angry over it.  Time to mourn the loss and this time lock the door behind me on the journalism thing.  Time to get back to enjoying live music for music's sake.  Time to really immerse myself into the next two shows I have tickets for.  Sell more of my crafts to buy more tickets.  

You can post all the negative comments you like.  You can't hurt me any more.  Your words will only make my points.  I hope that someday you experience a truly hungry artist/band and they touch more than your libido.  I hope you get to meet one of them outside of an organized "photo op" and really talk to them to the point where they touch your heart.  I hope you genuinely want to feed them at that point.  Ultimately I wish you "moments" (to the person who always has that very special "hand squeeze" for me whenever we see each other....I can never thank you enough for our "moments").  And maybe...just maybe you'll get really lucky and be able to tell an artist you're old enough to be his mom and have his response be "Fucking no way!!" Thanks, Matt. I still wear that as a badge of honor. "Yes. Yes, I am old enough to be your mom" became my signature tag line in a whole lot of interviews after that.    :)