Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Tips for Rock Audiences

In this final post, I've distilled some observations I've made about audiences over the last few years. These tips can come in handy at shows of any style of music (except for classical, which has its own set of rules) in nearly any venue. They come from a place of caring for you, your body, your ears, your love for music, and a desire for you not to be clobbered by a fellow show-goer.

1. Wear earplugs
Why do some shows get louder as they go on? Because the guy running the mix is nearly DEAF. Repeated attendance at loud rock shows can permanently damage your hearing. Do a favor for yourself and the people who will be around you when you are old, and get a decent pair of earplugs. Heck, get a cheap pair of earplugs. Just use them. Besides, using good earplugs can help separate the instruments and give you a cleaner sound.

2. Be quiet and pay attention
Most of the people who attend shows are there to hear the music. Their satisfaction of the show will significantly decrease if you are jabbering loudly with your friends through the whole thing, and you won't hear the show either. Some bands play songs quietly, so that means that you'll need to be quiet too. If an audience or band member yells in your direction to shut up, that's a good sign that you should take your conversation outside. Please. Reference.

3. Sing along in moderation
I love a good and well-orchestrated sing-along. Really --it's one of my favorite things in the world. But people randomly and loudly warbling along to every song a band plays makes me feel a teensy bit murderous. I know that you know all the words, but consider that the person next to you may have never heard the song before. Unless you are encouraged, sing along in your head or out loud quietly, but be respectful of the people around you so that they can experience the music as it is intended. Reference.

4. Move through a crowd politely
Advancing through a crowd is a common practice, and if you love a band, then by all means you should be at the front. Some techniques will get you through smoothly, and others will invite the ire and elbows of your fellow audience members. Be polite. Be careful with your drinks so you don't spill them on people. Recognize that some people will resist moving for you, and go around them. Stop when you realize you can't get any closer, and just enjoy the music. See techniques here and here.

5. Only shout requests when asked
You may have come to a show hoping to hear your favorite song. As the show progresses and that song still has not come up, you may get anxious. Unless there is complete silence in a room, the band is probably not going to hear what you request aloud. If they do, they interpret that as "I don't trust you to put a good set list together! Abandon that and do what I want!" which is annoying. Let them play what they want to play, unless they ask you for suggestions. Yelling "Freebird!" at any show makes you sound drunk and old.

6. Drink water
This is key at dance shows in hot places or anything at summer festivals. Collapsing from dehydration is not sexy or hardcore, and it causes trouble for the security staff. I have a new rule of drinking one glass of water per alcoholic beverage for the rest of my life, and it helps prevent headaches, hangovers, and wooziness. This may sound simplistic, but it's important. Stay hydrated.

7. Tip the bartender
This one is easy. Ensure yourself good service and strong drinks by tipping the people who serve you.

8. Don't be a drunk asshole
Woo! You are here with your best friends and you omg love this band wooooo!! We are so drunk right now!! This is the best night ever WOO! Please go forth and have a great time at the show, but be aware that crashing into people, engaging others in blathering conversation during a show, or causing your own friends to leave early because you have been ejected from the room is rude, not cute.

9. Turn your flash off
Most venues don't bother confiscating cameras anymore, so go ahead and bring it for some photos on the sly. Just turn your flash off. Yes, it's dark, but understand that your flash makes no difference beyond 20 feet in front of you. All you're doing with a flash is illuminating the heads of the audience members nearby, blinding the performer, and obliterating the nice colorful lighting. So turn it off, turn up your camera's ISO setting as high as it will go, and stay steady.

10. Applaud
Watson Twins IlluminatedPut yourself in the shoes of a performing musician: you are up on stage working, sweating, emoting, and at the end of the song you hear... crickets. An unmoving, silent audience can be devastating to a band, and yet they soldier on. Make the tiniest of efforts and clap at the end of a song. Move your body a little if you like the beat. Give them some encouraging feedback so that they deliver a great show for you.

Thanks to those of you who have been reading this blog for a short time or from the beginning (mostly my friends, I think) and for encouraging me along the way. If you'd like to wander through old reviews, please visit the Fanalyst Review Index.

-Shelley McIntyre
a.k.a. The Fanalyst
Seattle, WA

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Tips for Rock Stars

After more than twenty years of attending rock shows and 2.5 years of nitpicking over them in this blog, it's time for some summarizing summary action. I'm putting The Fanalyst to bed with two last articles. This is the penultimate post.

Tips for Rock Stars

These are not new concepts, but they warrant tabulation and repetition. They come from the perspective of an audience member, not a musician. They come from a place of love for you and for your music. They can apply to new bands, old bands, solo singer-songwriters, and duos. They apply equally to rock, country, dance, electronica, and other styles of music. They are free to implement. They are for boys and girls. Whether you sing teary songs of loss or polka songs of booze, they are for you. Because you are a rock star.

  1. Make an entrance
    You don't need to plunge through a cloud of dry ice and strobe lights to effectively announce your presence, only to walk purposefully and commandingly on to the stage. Slinking up to your instrument will make people think you are doing a sound check. Take up space.

  2. Look good
    While I love a band in a uniform, it isn't necessary to go all Devo on your crowd. Simply avoid crappy jeans, ratty t-shirts, and ball caps. You are a rock star. Dress like one, and do your hair like one. Besides, it shows that you respect and care about your audience, many of whom got dressed up to come out and see you.

  3. Talk to the audience
    Yes, they want to hear lots of songs, but what they really want is a personal connection with you (otherwise, they would just listen to the CD). If you ignore them, they will think you don't appreciate the fact that they are the reason you are on stage. Talk to them. Say hello. Tell them what you saw in their town today. Tell them a story.

  4. Say your name
    The audience at every show you play will contain at least a few people who have never heard your music before. Unless your name is written on a huge banner behind you, say it out loud several times during the show. Make sure these new potential fans walk away with your name seared on to their psyches.

  5. Tell your audience what to do
    Dance, clap in time, scream, move closer, sing! Provided there are enough people in the room, they will respond to your commands with glee. Crowds love receiving instructions - it helps them bond with each other and bond with your music.

  6. Play the songs your fans already know
    A live show is the perfect place to introduce new songs, but do this in addition to the songs your fans already know and like. They came to your show hoping and expecting to hear their favorite song, so play it for them. If you are dead bored of the song, mix it up or try different instrumentation, but get it out there.

  7. When the crowd wants to sing along, let them
    If your popular song is a ballad or has a rousing repetitive chorus that the majority of the crowd clearly knows, quiet the band down and let the crowd hear themselves sing, even if only for a few seconds. This is supremely satisfying to an audience, and they will do their best to please you and each other with their voices. It doesn't matter if they get the words wrong. Let them sing.

  8. Look at your audience when you play
    You may be playing an instrument, operating a sampler, talking to a bandmate or futzing with guitar pedals, but try to spend the vast majority of your time playing to the audience. Otherwise, you will look like you're phoning it in, and audiences will take your lack of attention personally.

  9. Don't be a whiny baby
    I know that your sound guy was barely paying attention during sound check and that now the levels in the monitors are totally messed up. I know that you can't hear the bass. Ask that it be fixed, and move on. Ask again if you need to. But please dear lord do not stop a song to complain about the mix, the instruments, the microphone, or anything else. Your fans will walk away remembering the complaints more than your music.

  10. Fake it
    Maybe you spent 11 hours in a van to arrive at your gig and you're feeling grimy and exhausted. Or maybe you are terrified of this show. Or your pet just died and you are stricken with grief. Unfortunately for you, your audience does not care. Take those feelings and hurl them into your performance. Even if you don't feel like it, pretend that you are a professional musician that is here to create a positive experience for your audience. Suck it up and deliver to give your audience the best possible opportunity to love you forever.
Feel free to chime in with additions or rebuttals.

-The Fanalyst

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Because We Know All the Words
Paramount Theater, Seattle, WA

It is beyond me why Foreigner is playing at the 2800-seat Paramount Theater. They're great and all, but believe me when I tell you that they played the Lake of Torches Casino last month. I suppose the challenge of filling this large venue is why I my friend and I are here for a total of five dollars.

IMG_3531The crowd is far more diverse than I expected. Walking through the lobby I spot a 10-year old girl with her mom, two punk teenagers with bright pink hair, several Tukwila rocker chicks, a handlebar mustachioed biker guy, and a pack of well-scrubbed technology workers. 80s anthems: they unite us in a way that can be matched only by natural disasters. As broad as the age range is here in the lobby, the real indicator of the advancing median age of the audience can be found in the Foreigner onesies for sale at the merch table.

IMG_3548We settle into our excellent balcony seats next to a lovely couple. The fellow sings for a band called Temperedcast, and he is VERY excited to be here seeing Foreigner, particularly since Jason Bonham is on drums. Always the bridesmaid, Jason continues to ride on his dad's reputation from Led Zeppelin as the band carts out the Zep medley ("let's help Jason send a message to his father!") and a cover of Misty Mountain Hop, which I suddenly realize has the same guitar riff as Uncontrollable Urge by Devo and YES I understand that I am the last person on earth to figure this out. People in the audience scream BONHAM! when Jason is introduced.

Mick Jones' introduction of the band concludes with lead singer Kelly Hansen. The Temperedcast guy next to me is shocked. Wait - the lead singer isn't he original guy? Uh, no, the original guy is off playing Christian rock at a SUNY Brockport Alumni Function. Kelly Hansen sounds astonishingly like Lou Gramm circa 1984. I find it interesting to note that Kelly is not permitted to speak - only to sing. As the hired gun, he is not afforded a persona outside of singing the Foreigner songs, just like how the handlers do the talking for Mickey and Goofy when you meet them at Disney World.

IMG_3486Down on the floor Mick encourages people to get out of their cushy seats and come to the front of the stage. I've been keeping my eye on a rocker chick down there wearing a tight red and black mini-dress and sparkly black heels (I see her later in the bathroom). She dutifully shakes her bleached hair and tries to discreetly distance herself from her lunkhead boyfriend. While she stays put, a bolder version of her manages to get on stage and dance for about ten seconds before being ushered off by a giant security guy.

IMG_3534My friend notes that the older members of the band must have doctor consults seared into their psyches. They do what they can to maintain an erect posture and rock out at the same time, resulting in an awkward robot sway from side to side with their instruments. This does not diminish their tried and true rocking out-ness, however. Foreigner sticks to the hits, keeps the banter to a minimum, and delivers to a T the energetic show that casino audiences the world over have come to expect.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: *
Band to Audience Rapport: ***
Audience Focus: ***

More photos from the show

[P.S. This is my 100th review since beginning the blog in June 2004. Woo.]

Thursday, October 05, 2006

TV on the Radio

Dry Bar, Sweaty Floor
Showbox, Seattle, WA

TV on the Radio's first album sounded to me like it had been made by robots in an indie rock laboratory. The songs were crafted and interesting to the complete omission of emotion. So I was a little hesitant when my friend handed me a ticket and told me to go. I picked up their latest album "Return to Cookie Mountain" to prepare, and it has not left my CD player. These guys have figured out how to rock the house.

IMG_3256The Showbox is sold out tonight, packed with every scenester from Georgetown to Northgate. Since it's an all-ages affair, my friends and I head straight for the bouncer-protected bar, leaving the floor area to the under-21 crowd. At all-ages shows we like thinking that our ability to get into the bar makes us more special and gives us better sightlines. It's the whole VIP-section dynamic. But what really happens is that we are segregated from the rest of the crowd and we end up with a less immersive experience of the show than the kids on the floor. And it's just as hot up here. I quickly get antsy and head to the floor for some jostling action.

As I try to shimmy my way to the front, I get stuck between two sets of drunk BFFs (best friends forever!!). Behind me a guy sways woozily with his arms around two gals, and in front of me are two girls who OMG LOVE TVOTR soooooo much. They switch between three modes: hugging each other, pumping fists into the air and screaming WOO, and girl A accosting random guys while girl B text messages someone on her phone. Latching on to BFFs has its advantages and its pitfalls. While you can be sure that you will get closer to the front by following them as they brazenly plow through the crowd, 90% of your pictures will be blurry due to them elbowing and falling on you all night.

During one song, a mosh pit breaks out in front of me thanks to maybe 5 guys who choose to make it so. One grabs his other friend's hair in a catfight like move, they crash into other guys, and the other guys crash back. We all know this weird moshing will only last for one song since a lot of TVOTR's tunes are kind of droney, so we give the dancers space and patience. I suppose it's better for these guys to use dancing as a vehicle to release their aggressions than using an actual vehicle as a vehicle.

IMG_3192The band has this audience captivated, and the sweat and movement provided by lead singer Tunde Adebimpe only helps in that effort. He is a whirlwind, and infuses even the slowest songs with an intensity that you don't find so much in this genre. While we can't understand a thing he says when he addresses the crowd, he is unfazed as a girl from the audience gets up to dance on stage for most of a song, merely shooing her off when it's over. David Andrew Sitek, on the other hand, wearing a v-neck shirt that looks exactly like one I bought recently at H&M, remains perfectly still so I get pretty good pictures of him.

IMG_3241Meanwhile, my BFFs get two military-looking guys so caught up in the WOOing and hugging that that the guys temporarily forget that they are here with their girlfriends. Once the BFFs stumble away, the guys try to prolong the excitement by shaking some quiet girls in front of them with that annoying "you two are having TOO MUCH FUN. Quiet down now! Har har har!" to which these girls glance back as if to say, "um ya shutup." We need to focus on the blistering end of this show, where members of opening band Grizzly Bear come on stage to bang on instruments and provide further freakout energy to a breathless night.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: *
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: **
Audience Focus: ****

More Photos

Video from this show

Thursday, September 28, 2006


Research Rock
The Crocodile, Seattle, WA

You know those times when you're walking along minding your own cultural references, and your friend casually references a Hot New Thing, then ten minutes later your waiter mentions that very same band or artist and now suddenly they are EVERYWHERE? This happened in Seattle a few weeks ago with Banksy, and now it's happening with Phoenix.

Yes, I know that you hip people have been listening to Phoenix for nearly two years, like the UW senior I meet in line for the bathroom tonight. It's her adorable first time at the Croc, and earlier today she attended Phoenix's in-store at Easy Street. She said they were all great and cute, but that one of the guys gave her pedophile energy with his pervy-ness. She said that I would totally know which band member it was when I saw him.

IMG_3008The attire is refreshingly selective this evening, though it's divided between those who have already put away their summer clothes and those who are hanging on. A lot of boys wear skinny jeans, fancy t-shirts and sport coats. The girls have chunky lopsided blonde hair and strappy heels. I spot at least three fedora hats and a couple of those blasted driving caps that for some reason look fine if you are male and under 25.

IMG_3010Listening to the songs I get the sense that these boys have done their research. I picture them sitting in a conference room pouring over thousands of #1 pop songs from the last 30 years and extracting the best chord progressions and bridges. Maybe one of them brings in a PowerPoint presentation called "Extending the Promise of Tahiti 80." Another kicks off a brainstorming session to come up with ways that their live show can differ from their album. The results of this session clearly include "really long repetitive intro," "expanded bass/drum interlude," and "Thomas stares at crowd." These techniques work to increase tension and drama in the room only to a point; if they go on too long, we stop concentrating and start thinking of which emails we need to reply to and how long that hole has been in the ceiling.

IMG_3016Phoenix is made up of gorgeous boys who must get a ton of action. When lead singer Thomas Mars addresses the crowd, several of us think, um, aren't you guys supposed to be French? He gleams with pre-daddy star power and cranks through his songs accompanied by the bassist and a vocal effect that make it sound like there are five of him. They try to balance the incredibly catchy soon-to-be-hits with the noodling breaks, and it mostly works for this sold-out crowd of pop worshippers. Now we'll see how long hot can last.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: ***
Band/Audience Rapport: **
Audience Focus: ***

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Degenerate Art High School

Danger! Art! High School
Lawrimore Project, Seattle, WA

dae3For the uninitiated, the Degenerate Art Ensemble is, well, uh... it's a band sometimes, and a dance troupe other times, and an orchestra, and an experimental theater company. They perform pieces that bore their way into your skull and can either make you feel supremely enlightened or profoundly unhip. Tonight's loosely organized and happily chaotic party is called "Degenerate Art High School, " and it's a fundraiser for the group.

detention-roomMy friend and I arrive in our best plaid skirts and begin our first lap the Lawrimore Project, which is so spacious and lovely we almost forget we're next to the former INS jail. We have the main performance space, a detention room, a bar in the back, and a dunk-tank outside that features various band members in full marching band regalia. Activities include musical chairs, speed spelling bee, the wonderful Aerialistas, and the DAE band led by majorette Haruko Nishimura. You can see both the Aerialistas and DAE in this video.

cowboy-cheerleaderThe crowd is just on the fringes of Seattle's hipster scene. Most of the people are normal art-loving 20 and 30-somethings, with a sprinkling of adorable boys in skirts, space-age girls holding snakes, nerdy-looking guys dressed as shop or PE teachers, an older man who tries to look down my friend's top, and a local newspaper writer who later will throw his gin and tonic on my legs. However, none of these characters can out-character Stop Rape Guy and Crazy Girl.

As you can see in this fuzzy picture, he wears a t-shirt emblazoned with the words "STOP RAPE." She starts off with a wool cap and jacket, but sheds these items throughout the evening. Their respective bloodstreams course with a substance that is definitely not alcohol. Stop Rape Guy stumbles into people and things in his effort to get everyone to dance. DANCE!!! (My friend suggests we make t-shirts that say "Stop Stop Rape.") Crazy Girl gets progressively more belligerent until her coup de grace during the second round of musical chairs.

musical chairsThe nice orderly hipsters pay their five bucks to participate in musical chairs, where music is performed by DAE. Just before the round begins, Crazy Girl and Stop Rape Guy decide to join in. She barrels her way around the chairs with the group and he marches in the opposite direction. At first we think she's funny, and then when we realize that no security person is on the way to haul her ass out, the tension rises.

Crazy Girl is fearless--she flings herself on chairs when the music stops, frequently keeping that chair lodged between her legs as she crashes onto the floor. She climbs over the other players and walks across the chairs. The crowd is temporarily stunned into silence by this trainwreck until their fear/protection instincts take over and they start yelling "GET HER OUT OF THERE" to no one in particular. Where are the gallery owners? Where are the security guards? Finally both she and Stop Rape Guy are subdued. By this time the crowd is so invested in the safe completion of the game that they go completely bananas when the adorable girl in pink wins the round.

The organizers somehow recover from that disaster, but now the schedule is thrown way off and we don't get to see the Mike Min piece that we're here for. On our way out of the event we pass by Crazy Girl and Stop Rape Guy, who are lying on the cement ramp outside yelling about a sea of blue vaginas. For some reason, their continued attendance was allowed. It's an appropriate end to an exciting and degenerative art show.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: **
Scene: ***
Band/Audience Rapport: ****
Audience Focus: ***

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

American Idol auditions

The Wanna-Carries
Key Arena, Seattle, WA

I figure that the best salve for missing American Idols Live! this year is to attend the Seattle stop of the American Idol 6 auditions. Well, "attend" inasmuch as I can hang around outside the smoking area talking to people. My friend Slick accompanies me today, and he is wearing fancy duds with the intention of blending in with the auditioners. However, we are both surprised to see the overall lack of care that these folks have put into their attire. Extra hair product does not equal dressing up, my friends.

The deal today is this: a zillion people, some of whom got in line yesterday morning, are assigned a contestant number and time to audition. They go in front of judges (not *the* judges) in groups of four, sing, and get either rejected on the spot or invited to come back tomorrow. A tiny fraction of people who get to come back tomorrow audition for the producers. If that goes well, they audition for Simon, Paula, and Randy. If THAT goes well, they go on to Hollywood for the semi-finals.

Amanda posesA press gal near me says that she and her camera guy have waited three hours to interview someone who makes it through to tomorrow's round. Fortunately, out comes Amanda from Spokane, all professional and unsurprised. Then comes Tony. They are both poised, articulate, well-dressed, and receive generous camera time by authorized media outlets. Slick and I get close enough for good shots and interview questions, but we are at risk since we're flying under the media radar. This place is teeming with security people and AI staffers whose job it is to shield the contestants from solicitors and unauthorized media people. (One tiny fib later: hello!)

Talking to all these happy and/or smoking people makes us long for a good old breakdown. We head around the corner to the Reject Gate. Most auditioners have a realistic perspective on this process and their chances here. We hear "well, it was a good experience," and "at least I got to see Seacrest" from teenagers lugging their lawn chairs and sleeping bags out to the bus stop. Very occasionally, though, a girl comes out of the gate crying, as she really TRULY thought she would be the next American Idol.

pounceeThe diligent security offered around the corner at Winner Gate is not available at Reject Gate. As soon as people come out of the arena, a big guy hands them a flyer for a recording studio. Then another group of guys pounce on anyone remotely emotional, give them lots of encouragement, and get them to sign up for "free" recording time at their studio (one of the guys has an airbrushed shirt that says "Pimps Up!").

Despite the creepy solicitors, the crowd back here is far more interesting. Desiree wears a costume to fit her song, which is "Hero" ("they told me I wasn't loud enough" she says). An example of people leaving the Reject Gate can be seen in this video. A pack of people take turns singing their songs, then harmonizing with each other as confirmation that the judges are idiots and that they really can sing. Also, being in this crowd gives us the temporary, refreshing, and false feeling that we live in City Of Diversity.

OwlOn our way out we stop and talk to Owl, who just made it through to the next round despite battling a sore throat. He has ginger root in his pocket and says he couldn't sing his song as of yesterday. He looks dazed and weirdly calm as he tells me that if he makes it, he's going to call himself American Idowl. I ask him if he's happy, and he says blandly "I'm so excited I can't believe it," while his eyes dart around looking for someone. "My mom is supposed to be here," he says, "I just want my mom." And right then I am Owl's #1 fan and I pray that he makes it beyond tomorrow. Oh how I love this show.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: **
Scene: ***
Band/Audience Rapport: n/a
Audience Focus: ****

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nina Hagen & the Capital Dance Orchestra

Growling Swing
Barcelona Teatro Musical, Barcelona, Spain

Apparently it takes a punk icon like Nina Hagen combined with shiny purveyors of 20s, 30s, and 40s swing music The Capital Dance Orchestra to create this gorgeous audience. Older hippies sip cava with terribly fashionable German couples; packs of excitable gay boys whisper about the hair styles of punk teens; posh older jazz afficionadoes steal glances at the eyeglass frames of hip web designers. It's very.

No format can stop Nina Hagen from being Nina Hagen, and having a swing orchestra as a backing band is no different. She comes out in a red FBI tank top, black and pink tutu, purple tights, and chunky orange heels. She lurches into each number, singing like she wrote the songs to be punk classics but now here they are being presented by a fancy orchestra. Her vocal range is shocking, and at times she reaches down into the caverns below the city to draw up a gutteral rasp that can make the cheeriest song sound downright creepy, as if every dance number is now a dark Weill piece.

Nina has four costume changes during the show which she handles during her frequent breaks, much like Cher did a million years ago. The band keeps playing, however, dually-led by an energetic singer and buoyant violinist. And as they did during the Cher show, some audience members take Nina's departure from the stage as a signal for a mini-intermission, slinking out for a cerveza or a smoke. At one point the couple behind me leaves, and ten minutes later are replaced by two new people. You just can't keep Spaniards in one place for too long.

At the start of the show, only press photographers go to the front of the stage for photos, leaving the rest of us to curse our weak zoom lenses from our seats. Then during her second set one guy creeps down the aisle in front of me to get a better picture. Thus begins the Rolling Permissions Phenomenon (RPP). Some see RPP as a lemmings theory, that if one person jumps everyone else will. But I like to think of it as a self-esteem builder. Two punk girls look at the first guy and say "if that shmuck can go down there and take a photo, *we* sure as hell can." And so then a song later they march themselves down to the front. Soon people are inching their way forward like flies to a lightbulb, getting bolder and bolder with their positioning.

It only takes a couple of guys who walk right up and rest their cameras on the stage for RPP to really thunder. By the end of Nina's third set there are around 40 people at the front. By the end of the fourth set there are 100. And during her encores at least 120 people are cramed into the small asile between front row and stage. Finally, during Nina's first curtain call, the bravest girl of all jumps up on stage to hug and kiss Nina, then turns to her friend to pose for a photo. It's like the whole crowd suddenly remembered that this is Nina Hagen, who was stomped on and spat at during shows for a decade. She of all people will not be alarmed by adoring fans taking her damned picture.

Half of the songs tonight are in English, and half are in German. The Capital Dance Orchestra is fantastic, and the singer belts out Cole Porter and other tunes while Nina gets changed. Of course her German songs are more heartfelt, and she dedicates several of them to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the American peace movement, people living in harmony throughout the globe, and her own ancestors. The audience is charmed and delighted to hear such a unique take on pieces of music that are seldom messed with. But mostly we're happy that despite the backdrop of peppy cocktail music, Nina still growls, stomps, and struts her way beyond the end of a fantastic show.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: ***
Audience Focus: ****

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Estrella Morente

Beautiful Disaster
Palau de la Musica Catalána, Barçelona, Spain

I am here at the 2100-seat Palau de la Musica Catalana to see both the building in all its modernista opulence and a belle of modern flamenco music, Estrella Morente. On our way into the concert hall, some local women voice their surprise at the sold-out crowd, seeing as how Estrella has been out of the scene for a few years. But she's back. And no one will forget this show for a very long time.

You know how in some of your larger concert halls there is a dividing line between the expensive seats and the cheap seats? Usually this is in the second balcony about halfway back. So the people in the front have paid like 50 bucks each, and the back section only 25 bucks. Tonight I am in my most loathed place: the last row of the spendy section. Just five feet behind and a head above me, hundreds of better planners enjoy good sightlines and cheaper chairs.

I sit down expecting to be surrounded by posh local patrons of the Barcelona arts. Instead I am in the midst of French, Dutch, British, and Greek tourists. There are plenty of locals here, though: you can tell where they (the bossy ones, anyway) by how they shush people. In the U.S., shushing is a long SHHHHH sound. In Spain, it's a rounded SSSSS, like you're about to say susurro. There is even circular shushing here tonight, the people are so intent on quiet.

Estrella begins her set seated and accompanied by a guitarist. She is fabulous with a long drapey shawl, waving a gorgeous fan that inspires fan-envy. Her singing is somewhat emotional, but she's just warming up. Then, in the middle of her fourth song, PAF. The power goes out in the ENTIRE CONCERT HALL. Consternation erupts until seconds later when we realize Estrella is still singing. The crowd goes dead quiet; I haven't heard this many people be so silent since the Sigur Rós show. We collectively pray for her to keep singing, and she does. The room goes wild at the end of the song, and then she and her guitarist walk off the stage. Some confusion and the odd heckle later, a person from the Palau comes on to the stage, saying something that is of course completely drowned out by the shushers. An old man near me stands up and hollers something accusingly in Catalán until he too is shush-monished.

Encouraged by shouts and rhythmic clapping, Estrella and a pianist come back on stage. Now freed from the microphone and charged by the agitation from the audience, she sings while roving the stage. Her emotional output has gone up tenfold. The crowd goes bonkers. However, there is still a significant amount of stirring among us, particularly since people are getting hot with no A/C. THEN the emergency lights go out and we are in total blackness. Seconds later, the follow-spot guy near us realizes he has power. He aims that followspot on Estrella, and the other follow-spot guys quickly join. Now only she is illuminated on the stage, and she shines like a beacon. Power, amplification, and the air all slowly cycle back on. She keeps singing, and the crowd settles back down. Can this show possibly get any better? OH YES IT CAN.

Two songs later, the power goes out AGAIN. This time, the old heckler guy stands up and starts hollering. He is immediately attacked by a vehement shusher, they fight, then both promptly get their asses turfed out. The band starts, they stop. They try to address the crowd and they are met with shouted advice, admonitions, or praise from every corner of the room. They offer to keep singing unamplified in the dark or come back another day. The crowd chants "Otra dia! Otra dia!" The band breaks into an emotional acapella improvised song anyway, competing with the hecklers, the shushers, and the rapidly abandoning audience members who stumble on the darkened stairs as they group their way out. It is a mess.

The show finally fizzles out when it becomes clear that electricity is not in our future. The band bows, Estrella offers her apologies and gratitude, and it's over. Those of us who remain loiter in the foyer and the courtyard as we are all riled up and not ready to go home. This audience is bound together by some kind of artistic crisis. Some are angry, some sad, and others, like me, are deliriously happy to have witnessed such an electrifying event.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: ****
Audience Focus: ****

Sunday, July 09, 2006

The Pope

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part
Valencia, Spain

The Pope is behind schedule. He was supposed to drive by us in the Pope Mobile at noon, and it´s after 1:00. There are probably 10,000 people here in Plaza de Reina, and a million more distributed along his route. The plaza features tons of police, camera crews, and a large video screen to track his progress, but that screen is 3/4 hidden by a tree. It is stinking hot and shade is at a premium.

Spain is 98% Catholic, so you can imagine that this is a popular event. His timing is good for Valencia, as 41 people died here on Monday after a terrible metro crash. When we hear rumblings in the crowd that Benny has stopped to pay tribute to the families of the victims, we cut him some slack. This does not in any way alleviate our discomfort, however. Squished like sardines along a metal barricade, my friends and I quickly realize that the personal space bubble we so enjoy back home is not available in Spain. We each have a sweaty person pressing his body against us and stepping on our shoes. We thrust elbows back and butt out, which encourages them even more.

I relent and squeeze out to seek shade, and I end up near a pack of seniors. They do their best to find comfort in the heat, with the women fanning themselves non-stop (I position myself directly behind), and the men hoisting their legs over railings to sit the heck down. Their families show up, and the little kids try to weasel their way past abuelo and abuela to get a better view, and they get a stern lecture about how seniors will *always* take precendence over little kids, no matter how cute they are.

Every so often a bus tour of youth group kids from somewhere in Spain will bounce by, all with an inventory of cheers for the Pope. The girls groups are completely together and perform them like an A-school cheerleading squad. The boys get their motivation from the many television cameras scattered throughout the plaza. A brass band hanging out in the shade picks up on one of the cheers and plays along, and the boys believe they've already gone to heaven.

Finally we hear clapping thundering up the street, and since sweat is now dripping down all of our bodies we pray to please deliver the Pope unto us. Since I've now lost my spot against the barricade, I crane to see what I can from senior station. It's not much, and since I'm now dehydrated and shaky, I see exactly the back of the Pope Mobile. We watch him go down the street, get out of the car and wave to people, then go inside the Archbishop's palace for a meeting. And then it's over.

Of course, that evening far fewer people line the street to watch him drive by again. The street that my hotel is on. Where we have balconies. We all feel like idiots for having waited for hours in the sun earlier in the day, but we chalk it up to experience. Benedict and his security crew sail down the street, and we have all the photo opps we can hope for. He gives a mass the next day for a crowd of over a million (I'm guessing, but based on the number of port-a-potties here I think that's safe), who I hope get some spiritual comfort from their number one guy.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: *
Scene: ****
Performer/Audience Rapport: **
Audience Focus: ****

Friday, July 07, 2006

Bob Dylan

Tangled Up In Bob
Valencia, Spain

Thousands of people are crowded into this outdoor venue to worship at the altar of Dylan. To my left is a 13-year-old boy with his two older brothers, which warms my heart immensely. In front of me are two handsome businessmen in their mid 50s. At 2 o'clock is a pack of 30-somethings who stare reverently at the stage. And to my right is a group of young guys who are so wrapped up in the fact that they are here that they frequently forget to watch the show.

Dylan addresses the crowd not at all. In fact, he does not speak until the very end when he says thank you and introduces the band. However, the crowd cares not one whit. Dylan could have coughed and wheezed to musical accompaniment for the entire show and the audience would have cheered just as enthusiastically. But it's the crowd's attempt at singing along that gets everyone all discombobulated.

As you know, Dylan is a word guy. It's amazing the songs even ended up with melodies, but of course that is what people latch on to, particularly when a large percentage of them don't speak English. So we have these weird moments where Bob is making up a brand new melody for a song but the crowd is trying to sing along with the original tune. "Tambourine Man" features not one single interval from the original recording; Bob opts instead for frequent repetitions of his favorite interval, the octave.

As the show progresses, people start figuring out that if you go ahead and mostly sing the octave and switch out the words, you can learn these new melodies pretty quickly. A guy next to me got the formula down and now will forever remember "Rolling Stone" as having exactly three notes. The people at the front are having none of that, belting out the original melody loud enough to drown out Bob.

Bob gets drowned out a fair amount. His voice is completely trashed, but of course that will not be silenced. While his keyboard is probably super loud in his monitors, we can barely hear it. The band works around this nicely: they focus on him intently, pick up the theme that Bob is plonking out, then repeat that theme quickly before Bob realizes his instrument is not turned on. Bob has retained his harmonica chops, though, and the crowd freaks out whenever he does a noodling solo.

After a while the crowd gets more quiet, probably because it takes us all fully until the chorus to recognize what song we're hearing. This requires concentration. The set list is tweaked and polished until it sheens, however, and right at the end they kick it up with "Highway 61" which thankfully everyone knows. The closing numbers erase the confusion we experience for the previous hour, and we glide out into the warm night believing we just saw one hell of a show.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: **
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: *
Audience Focus: ****

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Gay Pride Madrid 2006

Vikings, Bears, and Short Shorts
Plaza de Alcalá, Madrid, Spain

I'm told this is the largest Gay Pride parade in Europe, and by the sheer number of people here, I believe it. However, as far along as Spain is in the gay rights department, they could use some help from cities like San Francisco with the art of throwing a parade. Come to think of it, if we spent more time on legislation and less time building the floats... hmm.

We begin with a seemingly endless string of societies and organizations that promote tolerance. You've got your lesbians, your deaf gay folks, your university alliances, your religious gays. That's really where I see the most divergence between pride parades here in Europe and back home in the U.S.. Religion is a much bigger issue here.

Spectators are delighted to be a part of this event, as we are looking at the largest collection of beautiful men anywhere. It is stinking hot, so most people clamor into the shady spots, box of sangria or Mahou beer in hand, and cheer dutifully when different groups come by. (But then you have that awkward parade thing where the group gets the crowd riled up then they have to stop for five minutes due to parade congestion. Then no one knows what to do.)

People in costume are at a minimum, surprisingly. The effect of this is that anyone wearing anything remotely themed must pose for pictures every three feet. But we are all about love love love so even the mean tall drag queens don't mind so much.


We *finally* get some float action. A float in this parade is a flatbed trailer, lighting rack, sign for a club or cosmetic draped across the side, and 100 sweating gay men and three women in bikinis stuffed inside. Spectators crane to see the results of millions of hours in the gym, and some stick fingers in their ears to protect against the tinnitus-inducing music blaring from each truck.

Eventually the entire parade route stalls, and the floats crawl along at 100 feet per half hour. The poor hefty guys in the Bearçelona float stop dancing, conserving their energy for when they enter shade again. No matter to the crowd. They go insane for each new float as it inches by, encouraging hardbodies and activist bodies alike to do what they do best. Which today, is to sweat and sing and hurl support at the people who support them right back.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: **
Scene: ****
Performer:Audience Rapport: ***
Audience Focus: ****