Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The weirdest concert I've ever been to

All right, I'm going to have to work harder to make sure that I post more often. I promised myself at least three days a week, and it's been more than a week since something went up (this entry is pre-dated).

So last night was the like the 13th show of the year. Setting: Troubadour. Artist: Nellie McKay

The show was supposed to start promptly at 9 p.m. with no opener, so Dave and I decide to get there about 8:30 p.m. We walk through the security and ticket line and are given "Lost passes" to the upstairs bar and balcony seats (which are already full). I'm pretty psyched, since I've never been granted access to the secret seats (which have housed Morrissey and Jim Belushi at shows coincident with me). Dave says it's b/c we're early, but i've been really early before and been shut out, so this is pretty cool.

Nellie McKay, whose first album was released as double CD at her insistence over her record company's wishes (can you say artiste?), comes out at about 9:20 and immediately says that she has just met her band this evening. the crowd doesn't seem to care, b/c she's here right in front of them and doesn't appear ailing. her last appearance in Los Angeles had been at a radio station festival show in the spring and she was so sick that she played just a couple songs. Unfortunately, the first two songs, while played pretty well with her brand new backing band, are riddled with an important sound level problem--the vocals are way too quiet compared to the band's mics. the audience complains about it, especially b/c many of her arrangements are piano only so the backing band is kinda weird (weirder still watching them sift through sheet music). at other shows i've been to a little complaint about the sound levels usually ain't nothing, but i can already sense a weird defensive vibe about this. Both sides seem at fault, the complainers seem to have a tone of you-better-fucking-fix-this-or-i'm-gonna-be-an-asshole-audience-member and she seems like to be taking this personally (when in fact people love her and just want to be able to hear her voice better).

But the next couple songs are performed with a louder and a bit clearer vocals so the crowd seems appeased and the vibe seems to be disappearing. People in the crowd were laughing along with her ironically jokey lyrics and feeling the vibe of her playful piano tickling.

Nellie then says she wants to do a new song called "Columbia is bleeding" about animal testing at Columbia University in her now-hometown of New York City. She plays the song, which no one knows and if the fans are at all like me didn't really "get" the lyrics hearing it the first time in a club, and it's received what seemed to be pretty favorably. People clapped and cheered and some laughed, though not necessarily apparently at that song per se. But about one minute into her next song she stops.

And then she rails against the audience for laughing, saying that "animal cruelty isn't funny. would you laugh if i sang about slavery? slavery isn't funny. rape isn't funny, unless you're sarah silverman. not all of my songs are funny." in my head all i can think to myself is nice job of criticizing the crowd for laughing at you by making a joke about someone else. She continues with this holier-than-thou criticism of the audience (keep in mind this is someone who makes jokes in her music, has a little girl voice sometimes and plays piano mostly with spritely paced major chords and keys) and a woman from the upstairs seats yells: "SHUT UP AND SING."

" ... [unintelligible response], you bitch!"

OK, gloves are off (or other applicable cliché). This leads to a GIANT FUCKING MELTDOWN. Nellie starts non-sequiturizing into complaints about her record label, Sony, for fighting her on the length of her upcoming album. She wants to do a 23-song, 75-minute CD, while Sony wants 16 songs and 48 minutes. She asks the crowd if any of us would NOT buy her CD b/c it was 75 minutes long. Of course we all agree with her and relatively onboardish with her rant, even if it does seem a bit vitriolic. But rather than be rallied by our support and agreement, she keeps going. So someone encourages her to start her own label. She says she'd like to but Sony controls her contract and that she has offered them a "quarter million" to get out of her contract, even though she doesn't have it and now she's hysterically crying and trembling, and if she cannot get out of her contract and cannot record her music the way she wants to she may never sing again, which would break her heart, b/c she cares so much about the music and that's all that matters to her and blahblabhblah and at this point the audience is stunned. I'm speechless and almost sweating b/c tghe audience is that uncomfortable. She's crying hysterically now and tears and snot are flying into the audience. people who had totally backed her on the record length thing, like me, are now really put off. dave is mouthing "one of the weirdest shows ever" to me and taking a pic with his camera phone. the band is just frozen more or less, with the bass player throwing her occasional smiles of support.

After about 10 minutes, the histrionics end. And she then goes right into her next song and plays it fine. The audience response to this and the next few songs is timid, except for the ass lickers who say that they love her. It's like she's the dynamite on the season finale of Lost on stage and we don't want to disturb it by clapping inapproriately or anything.
honestly, i;m thinking the whole thing might be staged, given her history of deceit about her career. I'm 19, no 22, no i'm not saying. My grandfather was a murdered, except he wasn't. My dad's a lech, except accding to dad he supported her for years and her mom. The buffalo news did an amazing article on all this a few years ago. now this doesn't detract from my loving her music, but perhaps i don't love the artist.

Eventually the vibe blows over, the show kicks ass and oh yeah, she comes into the audience to hand a photocopy of an article that appeared in a magazine about animals that were left behind or mistreated in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She has only about 20 copies and (luckily) for dave and i we each get one. We were actually like first and third to get one. She was very nice about handing them out, too. the show ends two hours after it starts and it was great for the most part, but still ...

So that;s it. the weirdest concert i've ever been to.

A couple other things for this posting check out -- a novel about horrible pharmaceutical companies, that ironically was commissioned by the pharmas initially to portray them as the goodguys.


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