Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lost in the moments

When I was a freshman in high school, my parents allowed me to go on an overnight trip to the Twin Cities with one of my brother’s friends for a Cars concert. It was the first concert I saw outside of Duluth.

I don’t remember how many shows I’d seen at that point, but I’m guessing only one. Three years earlier my aunt and one of her friends took me to see Kiss at the Duluth Arena.

We sat in those single-row seats around the bend of the arena, right up from the stage. I can still see the bright red fake blood that oozed from Gene Simmons’ trademark tongue during the show.

That was 1979 – damn, 30 years ago. The Cars concert I went to with Dean – and two girls who were juniors (that’s a story for another place, if only because the truth is far less intriguing than the air of mystery I’m leaving it at here) – was in 1982.

I’ve been hooked on live music ever since. I have no idea how many shows I’ve seen in the ensuing years. And I don’t intend to figure it out now. I’m sure it’s close to a couple hundred.

In the past eight or nine years, very few of those have been stadium concerts. The majority of the shows I see now are in clubs. There’s a connection fostered in those smaller venues between the bands and fans.

Springsteen might be able to grab hold of 25,000 people in an arena and pull them up to the stage with him. But very few other artists can. In a club, the band is right there, so close even the people in the back of the room can tell which musician needs a shave or which one stuffed a zucchini wrapped in foil into his pants.

At a show I wait for that moment when I forget where I am. That’s much harder to do now that I don’t drink anymore. But if a band is good, it can happen. The best part is when you have no idea it is coming.

Like when I went to Milwaukee to see the Drive-By Truckers in late February 2008. I had never heard of their opening act, The Felice Brothers, but I always make it a point to see the entire bill, not just the headliners. This is why.

The Felice Brothers took the stage and launched into “Run, Chicken, Run,” a raucous song that appears on their latest CD. The five of them attacked the song with such ferocity I couldn’t help but get caught up in it. Over the remainder of their set they did nothing to diminish that feeling. It was one of the few times I hoped the opening act would just keep playing.

I had another one of those moments Saturday night while watching the Waco Brothers at Taste of Chicago (that's them at the top of this post). When they ripped into “Folsom Prison Blues,” I was prepared for the excitement. The song is one of their live-show staples.

Band member Dean Schlabowske once referred to their sound as country music informed by punk rock. Their version of “Folsom Prison Blues” illustrates what he meant. They swept me up Saturday inside the wave of energy they created while pounding out the song.

By the end of it I found myself actually dancing. Well, what passes as dancing for me. My arms did leave my side – though I was careful to make sure they didn’t get too high – and my legs did move a bit. Sorry, but even when I’m lost in the moment, that’s about the most you’ll see. The rest of the action is churning on the inside.

I pursue moments like that, moments that snatch you from your life and put you down smack-dab in the middle of a song, a sound, a note. If I leave a show without at least one of those moments I’m disappointed.

But I leave knowing another one is always waiting down the road for me in some club with some band during some song.

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