Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Faint

Smoke-Free Corporate Rock
B.B. King Blues Club, New York, NY

The only fitting end to a corporate-sponsored weekend is a corporate-sponsored rock show. Tonight's sold-out concert is part of Camel's Sin City promotional tour, held in a city that does not allow smoking in clubs. To get in to the VIP area, people must sign up for the Camel mailing list and wear glowing red Camel necklaces for passage (a handy visual indicator of their inclination to smoke or ability to be suckered). In that area is an Elvis impersonator who poses for photos. The pole dancers are more easily accessible.

The crowd is pretty diverse – we have regular guys in tattered Cold Fusion t-shirts, squealing sorority sisters, hulking men covered in tattoos, insanely beautiful girls with their insanely beautiful boyfriends, and nearly-goth boys who wear eyeliner and green eyeshadow. The trait that unites everyone is their glee about seeing The Faint.

Since this is a spectacle, we need a host. Johnny Fayva is a big guy in a sequined suit who sings lounge versions of modern songs and introduces new acts. Miss Saturn is a super-buff and fantastic hula hoop performer. Comedian Steve Byrne is really funny, magician Tomas does smoking tricks which I'm sure Camel loves, and members of dancing girl troupe Dirty Little Secret don't dance as much as writhe, making the boys happy. But Johnny sings too many songs ends his set by stripping down to a leopard thong and pasties, which is not pleasant. My friend refuses to clap because that might encourage him.

By the time The Faint comes on the crowd is beyond prepped. The girls sing along with every song and the boys jump on my feet. The band like a less-happy but equally energetic LCD Soundsystem, and even when they're singing about loneliness or death the crowd responds like it's "Walking on Sunshine." The band soaks up the crowd's joy and delivers a fantastic performance. Why had I not heard of this band until a week ago? It's a mystery.

I'm not sure why corporate-sponsored shows need to be taped, but there are cameras everywhere. I can picture some marketing VP barking "get me more footage!" to the zillion people in headsets hurrying through the crowd. One guy turns a bright light on a young couple and instructs them to KEEP DANCING as he films. Maybe they will show up in the intro video to the RJ Reynolds annual meeting.

It's easy to forget that we're in a fancy blues club just below 42nd Street. Upstairs from us on the street are a million tourists, guys hawking bus tours, people on these crazy 6-person round bicycles, and flashing billboards. It's an unlikely place for a mostly local crowd of superfans to drink PBR and forget that they're being advertised at. Some folks in other cities don't like this tour, but because of this band and this crowd and this city, somehow it all works.

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