Thursday, February 12, 2004

Bad Shins concert, great concert story

What do they always say? Location, location, location. Well, that sure does apply to concerts (and the spot stakes out when watching a concert).

My adventure to check out The Shins in concert all began with a ream, that was in part my own fault. I didn't learn of their Feb. 5-6 shows in Los Angeles until some time in January (more than three weeks after the tickets went on sale), but the Ticketmaster Web site said that tickets were still available for the Los Angeles shows. Well, after like 15 minutes of trying I realize that the show is in fact probably sold out, so I give up and get pissed (of course this is after I had promised a friend -- designer Amy -- that I'd get us tickets). Well, there was good news though, I found out that they were playing in San Diego Sunday, the 8th. And since I don't work Mondays... voila. Designer Amy is in for two tickets, so things are cool. I'll drive and we'll enjoy my favorite Republican stronghold -- San Diego County.

Fast forward to mid January... Amy and I meet up on a Saturday night to exchange tickets for cash. The only thing worth noting right now is that Amy has a bit of a Costanza wallet, overstuffed with stuff, but yet organized in its own system.

Thursday Feb. 5: Amy and I exchange a few emails about the show, in one of which she tells me that she needs to find her tickets to the show. I think nothing of it, b/c i've misplaced pretty much every concert ticket in my life prior to the show.

Saturday Feb. 7 (evening): Amy calls with "weird news." I'm intrigued but not in a totally good way. "Um, I have torn apart my apartment and I cannot find my ticket." OUCH. Oddly though, and this is a totally cool reflection on her, she feels really bad that she let me down b/c we had made plans to drive down there and now I was left stuck on the long drive. She offers to join me on the drive down with her boyfriend and they'd just hang out in San Diego while I'm rocking at the show, and then we'd drive back (like I said, she's good people). I tell her that I appreciate the offer, but it's cool. And being the great friend that I am I express my sympathy and then offer this great pearl of comfort. "I feel really bad because you already laid out for the two tickets. That was like $34.' Trying to catch myself from the unintended bad vibe I say: "At least it wasn't like Radiohead, which costed like $60." I tell her that if she finds the ticket to let me know b/c I ain't leaving until like 2 p.m. earliest the next day.


So I wake up and have an "idea." Maybe we'll just pile in the car anyway and buy tickets down there. After all, he tickets are just $14 at the door. That's one we can spring for again (woooo-hooo four tickets to one show for two people). However, when I call the bar, it's sold out. But I learn that the really good news is that there are going to be two opening acts. Um, this could be a late night... When I call Amy that morning, she gives me the bad news, too, no ticket. No big worries. I'll still meet up with Kerri (friend from Sweet Home class of 93) for dinner and then rock and roll the show.

Eventually though I hit the road and with the exception of consistently choosing the incorrect lane and getting stuck behind the slowest person on the road, things are good. In fact, without Amy in the car it afforded me the opportunity to go American Idol in my car. I listened to three songs from Avenue Q, which Amy dumped onto my iPod, quite a few times and got to sing along. To all who've never heard me sing before... you never will. It's not pretty. Oh btw, of course I listened to The Shins, too. By the time I get to San Diego, I am stoked about the upcoming show. And any bad karma vibes appear to be gone.

I meet Kerri and we head to the Indigo Grill (a huge recommendation). They serve fusiony Mex food in a bistro-ish kinda setting. Very good food, try the squid ink pasta and salmon or the shrimp tamales. Also, apparently the restaurant encourages strangers at different tables to converse, as evidenced by the really loud pair of tables behind us. Oh well, as you know, the opportunity to roll my eyes at strangers is what I live for (as Kerri did, too, at least while we were at dinner). We finish dinner around 8:30 p.m. Doors opened at 8, but with two opening acts I knew that I had time.

OK, running diary time....

9:03 p.m. After getting a teeny bit lost on the way to Cane's I make my way into the bar. It's crowded but not jammed. It's actually kinda well lit inside, more so than a typical bar is for live music. But it's all right, I figure that since it's an opening act they'll dim the lights once The Shins take the stage. I wind my way to the bar and order a Guinness. $5 please. I'm actually happy with that. Drinks at The Troubador on Santa Monica Blvd were like $7.50. I finally start listening to the band -- it's actually just a guitarist and a drummer -- and they SUCK. Like really just not good. It made me recall Kevin Webster and something he told me back in junior high when I dreamed of starting a metal band. "Don't worry about playing guitar, just get an effects pedal. That'll work." Well that's what this dude's vocals sounded like. They just turned up the reverb and echo and distortion and played things really loudly, like loud enough that you feel it in all your bodily crevices.

9:10 p.m. I wend my way toward the back of the bar, which is basic rectangular shape. The band is on a slightly raised stage up against one wall. It's about 70 feet or so to the other wall, but about 50 feet from the stage is a railing and a stair case that leads to an upper level. There are two bars, on the walls perpendicular to the stage. It's definitely almost shoulder-to-shoulder crowded, but still room to maneuver. I'm standing right near the railing in front of a small staircase that leads up to a raised level between the railing and the fall wall, it's the back of the bar. Right now, the music is louder and for the first time in my life I am starting to actively dislike a band playing in front of me. They finish a song, and I actually refuse to clap. I know, really bad form, but these guys really suck. I played music live for christ's sake for many years in high school, so i know the desire for applause, but at least I wasn't pretentious sucky and just loud to distort our lack of talent.

9:15 p.m. A really stinky dude walks by me. Like hardcore B.O. It's coming from one of my fave concert attendees -- the white guy with dreadlocks. Suddenly, I decide to start acting under orders and taking good note of my environment. Since, Amy couldn't come to the show, she wanted a full report. The crowd looks like that kinda typical alt-rock show crowd. Lots of faded jeans, tattered cuff cotton cargo type pants, tight short sleeve vintage button downs over long-sleeve thermals, moppy, oily hair that is intentionally unwashed and looks so, and low-top Chuck Taylors. That's the guys. Girls are wearing the standard garb, too: floor-length skirts of denim or corduoroy, low-top chuck taylors, jeans that are kinda low-cut, but it's an alt-rock crunchyish show, not hip-hop. lots of T-shirts and zip-up sweat-suit jackets (think Royal Tennenbaums). Also, the issue of hygiene arose. In fact at about this time a girl with clean hair walked by and the smell of freshly shampooed hair actually caught my attention. That's not the best environment to be in. Oh well, at least, I figure that by this time we've got only about a half hour left of band two and then the Shins. wooooo-hoooooo!!

9:25 p.m. Acting under orders to explore (and of course natural curiousity) I explore the rest of the bar. The back wall actually has a window bar -- one from which they sell just bottles of beer and slices of pizza and bottled water. One good thing about being back here, the acoustics are much better. The vocals are more easily understood, but now his unclear enunciation makes him hard to understand and they still suck. Thankfully they're done in just a few minutes.

9:40-10:07 p.m. I start feeling the frustration of the window bartender. Despite two signs that state the prices and what she's selling, there are about a half dozen questions in those 27 minutes asking for mixed drinks or draft beers and one for like a burrito. I also see two great shirts. One has the six multi-faced Dungeons and Dragons dice with the words "Choose your poison" underneath the sketches. It's worn by a brown haired pony-tailed dude with glasses -- classic D&D nerd. The other great shirt of the night, a girl wearing a shirt that says "Guten Tag, Berliner." Designer Amy happens to have the same shirt, I figure that this is good karma.

10:10ish p.m. The band takes the stage. However, right away it sounds nothing like The Shins. No cool, stripped down melodies buttressed by unexpected harmonies. No smooth vocals. Instead it's kind of a rocky hook followed up by Thudding bass drum and chords. Uh-oh. My worst fear comes true. That act I walked in on was only the first act. The second act is just taking the stage. When are the SHins going to come on? I still have to drive back to LA tonight!!! After the first song, the singer (who is accompanied by only a drummer, but I couldn't tell at first because of the whole being short thing), says "we're the magical magicians." Even by their name, I know this won't be good. Later he thanks "All night radio" the first band, who was even worse than Magical Magicians. I figure that this is a conspiracy by the Shins to have shitty bands open for them so that they'll sound great.

10:25 p.m. The bartender asks my opinion of the Magical Magicians. I tell her that they suck and bam! instant friendship. Mary goes on to regale me with stories of other bad bands that have appeared at Cane's or bands who didn't have great shows here, including Damien Rice (who i'm gonna see later). the problem there was that Cane's is great for barbusting shows, not intimate stuff and damien rice is the latter. someone actually shooshed her while she was taking a drink order at that show. wow! I notice that not many people are tipping her and point that out. She laments it, but says unfortunately, it's too common when one works back in window bar. I make sure to drop a buck in the bucket when i order my $3 Coors Lights. More people ask for mixed drinks and express surprise when they can't get them. both of us roll our eyes. We end up talking straight through the rest of the Magical Magicians' show. Mary tells me how this is like the best spot to people watch. I agree. I see more weirdos throughout... more white afros and white dreadlocks, like two whole minorities (i've never been in a whiter environment in since moving to SoCal), more chuck taylors, and lots of people who don't seem to be huge Shins fans, but instead feel like they should be at this show b/c of their age and overall aesthetic. Also, i watch one girl clamor for a manager because there's a radio on upstairs and it had better be off during the Shins show or she is going to be pissed.

10:40 p.m. The Magical Magicians finish and I realize that i've been talking to Mary, who btw is kind of not unattractive in a major way -- but she's married. whatever, i realize it's probably OK that Amy couldn't make the show b/c otherwise i don't spend this much time with the tight shirt wearing beautiful blonde bartender, who's married, i know.

11:07 p.m. The Shins finally take the stage!!! The crowd gets psyched, about a gazillion times more than they did for either of the two prior acts. They open rocking out and it's great. The crowd gets a lot quieter, unlike with the other bands who were largely talked over. The band's second song is Kissing the Lipless, the first song off of "Chutes too narrow." the crowd is grooving even doing a little white kids at an alt show moves. But then the show takes a not so great turn. First off, the vocals mics are still set too low, as they've been all night. And with the acoustics or something when they did more stripped down songs (which they have some great ones) they just didn't work that great. The sound didn't seem to carry well enough or something so the whole crowd being spellbound by the great slow song thing didn't happen. In fact, some people started actually talking, including the dudes next to me at the window bar. They were on the other side actually standing in front of the cash register, no matter how many times Mary asked the to move. I leave to go to the bathroom, too many coors lights.

11:15 p.m. I get back from the bathroom, which btw at Cane's are really clean (kinda like all of San Diego), and my spot is gone. I had been standing just off to the side of the window bar, where another dude and his girlfriend were now. I was forced to stand in front of the window bar now. Technically, I was being the drunk talking dudes now, but Mary gave me the OK and even told me that she'd make sure to tell a manager "I was her cool friend" if they came to move me. The show continues... going along the same... faster, more-rocking songs go over great, while slower more moody stuff is just not working in this enviro. maybe if i was right up at the stage it would have been great... but being in back it was like being at a party with background music almost. Mary gets me my first free beer.

REST OF SHOW: Highlights included "So Says I" "Kissing the Lipless" and "Turn a Square." Despite the lack of Coldplay show vibes (which had like 18,000 people singing along), it was a damn fine show, and just for $17. It wasn't a hostile crowd or anything and most of them seemed to appreciate the Shins. Even some of the people who appeared just b/c they thought they should i think got won over.

Last thing to note... After the show was over, around 12:37 a.m., they stuck the last pizza back in the oven to warm it up. Well, i look back and notice that it's on fire!!!! well, a tiny corner is. I alert Mary and her manager, Steve. They're eternally thankful, give me another free beer, a free bottled water for the road and free piece of unburned pizza (which was really good). So I recommend Cane's, too. Steve even gave me his card and told me to look him up if I'm back, as did my new fave bartender, Mary. OK, i might have a slight crush on her. But she's married.

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