Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Welcome to our big rock show.

[Subtitled: "The older I get / Will I get over it?"]

I forced myself to stop being a boring loser for a day, and made the drive up to Humble, Texas (that's "umble" because for some reason the "H" isn't pronounced), to see two rock bands perform at a church that looked like it was made of a commercial/industrial building. Which was cool in a way, because the "sanctuary/concert venue" area had a wide-open feel to it, with high ceilings. (I went by myself. I didn't think too much of it, because I do lots of things by myself. Though, in hindsight, events like this are just not as much fun alone. But it worked out all the same.)

The crowd was about 89% high school students. The rest was comprised of somewhat-aging hipsters and pseudo-hipsters (including yours truly) and the adult-aged "student-wranglers"--parents or youth ministers, I'm assuming.

I walked in and bought a ticket. Take that, ticket company with your stupid "service charge." Service, DENIED. I strolled over to the merch table and picked up some swag, and then made my way into the venue.

The filler music was loud. I was about ten minutes early, so I mingled silently with the crowd gathering. There were chairs lining the walls, but the audience area was clear of obstacles. A great mass of awkward, self-conscious pubescence hovered around the stage. I stood at a distance and observed. Girls screaming. Guys trying to look cool. Guys trying to make girls scream. Ah, youth.

A guy in a crazy quasi-leopard-print sport coat took the stage. He looked like the lost Stray Cat, Brian Setzer's little brother who got left behind at a Nascar race. (No slam on him, I'm just telling like it is.) He stepped up to the mike and said, "I'm Dr. Sean Riley, pastor here at Faith Center." Oh. Wow. How about that. Good on ya, bud. He welcomed us and introduced the first act.

Opening: The opening band, Laden, began playing. (Don't let the Myspace music fool you; they're a LOT louder and crazier than that.) Young guys, great showmen. The lead singer strutted around the stage like a younger, nicer Brandon Flowers (of The Killers). One of the guitarists was all smiles, and didn't move much. The other, who looked like a slimmer, pre-rehab Jack Osbourne (with a mop of curly hair) was slinging his guitar back and forth, absolutely consumed by the music. The drummer performed like Animal from the Muppets--arms flailing, head thrown forward and back, wide and maniacal grin across his face, hair flying. The expression on his face sold it for me; here was a guy who just friggin' loved playing music. They all did. Their unbridled joy was infectious. Thank God for young, unjaded bands.

Laden was really good, but I reached my first moment of crisis of the evening. From the first notes of the first song, my ears started buzzing, to the point where I couldn't hear or enjoy the music. And here, my friends, is where I made one of the more difficult music-related decisions of my young life. I walked back to the merch table (with the pretense of making a phone call; I actually had phone in hand, making it look like I was really getting a call). I leaned forward and half-yelled to the girl behind the table, "Wanna sell me some earplugs?" I handed her a dollar and shrugged, saying, "This is kind of a big deal for me; I didn't think I'd be this guy so soon."

She smiled and said chipperly, "Don't worry, you don't look that old!"

...Gee, thank you, girl-who-looks-younger-than-my-kid-sister.

I returned to my spot, earplugs in place, and thoroughly enjoyed the rest of Laden's set. They played their last song and went offstage, and then someone came to the mike and called for Debra ___ to come to the stage. She stepped onstage from one of the wings, and the drummer came back out. He tells us that it's been a blessing playing for us tonight. Then he turns to Debra, and tells her she's been a huge blessing in his life, and would she bless him even more by--you guessed it--agreeing to marry him. Down he goes to one knee, ring in hand, with this really odd expression on his face, similar to the afore-mentioned crazy grin, something like "Ain't I a sneaky little devil." She accepts, natch, and they hug and kiss and yada yada yada. Rock on. True love. Rah rah.

Intermission: Thus began the seemingly interminable set-change/intermission time. It was only 20-25 minutes, but it seemed longer, especially since I tried to tough it out and not go sit down with the other old fogies. The Saturday night rock DJ from the local Christian station, Kent Matthews from "LightForce Radio," got up and said hi and tossed free stuff into the crowd. No slam on Kent Matthews, but you know how radio personalities often look MUCH different than how you expect, based on how they sound? Not so with Kent. He looked just as dorky as I expected him to. But whatever. He's on the radio and I'm not. Good for him. (And if you see this, Kent, no offense and let's still be MySpace friends, mkay?)

Amid the (muffled) roar of the impatient and excitable crowd, I had some time to reflect on the earplug issue and its implications. The ramifications of this sudden facet of adulthood. How I could have gotten to this place already, from my days of youthful concertgoing and standing next to the wall of speakers at various shows. I reflected on how much I've changed.

The results of that reflection, presented here, in point/counterpoint format:

Teenage RockerDave: Dressing up in my coolest concert/band shirt and jeans, making sure my hair was perfectly combed. There's gonna be girls there, after all.
AdultDave: Barely had time after work to throw on a non-descript pocket-tee and jeans. Too tired to change socks, I slipped my black-business-sock'd feet into my sneakers. (Kid you not, I didn't even think twice about it.)

RockerDave: Riding with friends to the show in their parent's car, not paying attention to our surroundings, just jamming out to some music and cracking jokes about the day's activities.
AdultDave: Over an hour of rush-hour traffic, listening to talk radio. A wrong turn that took me 5 miles in the wrong direction. A wolfed-down fast-food dinner that didn't sit well. Stressful searching for the venue.

RockerDave: Says "Hey, check out the crowd full of youth groups and stuff!"
AdultDave: Thinks "Ugh. Teenagers. Crap."

RockerDave: Says "I gotta get a tee-shirt!"
AdultDave: Thinks "Forty bucks for a hoodie? Seriously?"

RockerDave: "Awesome, they moved all the chairs out of the way. Time to jump around!"
AdultDave: *shifts from foot to foot, only comfortable to do the "rockshow head-bob" from the back of the room*

RockerDave: "The closer to the speakers, the better."
AdultDave: *begrudgingly puts in earplugs*

RockerDave: Says "Wouldn't it be cool if they played for, like, three hours or something?"
AdultDave: Thinks "I hope they don't go too much past 10, because it's a long drive back, and I need to go to the grocery store on the way home. And considering how wiped I was today, I probably shouldn't stay up too late for three nights in a row."

Okay, maybe that list was slightly exaggerated. But I wasn't kidding about the black socks thing.

The Main Event: FINALLY, the lights dimmed, and Skillet took the stage to rock our faces clean off. I had never seen them perform live before, but it was worth the wait. It's been a while since I've seen a band absolutely leave it all out on stage. After a while, I felt exhausted for them.

The crowd was so into the music, and sang along to almost every word.

Some highlights:

--John Cooper is a great, energetic frontman. Blistering bass riffs. He did this power-stance, throwing-his-head-around thing that made me (as a sufferer of chronic head and neck pain) wince a little. (For those of you who have seen Trevor's hardcore air-guitar technique, it's what I like to call "The Trevor move.") Cooper's tee-shirt was totally soaked after the first few songs. When he'd throw his head back, sometimes you'd see a spray of sweat fly back toward the drummer. I'm sure she appreciated that.

--Guitarist Ben Kasica is all smooth and collected, black button-down shirt, black pants, black-and-white checkered tie tucked in the shirt half-way. Great guitar player. At one point in between songs, he started riffing, with the drummer Lori Peters backing him up. The red, yellow, and white stage lights took turns flashing, the fog machines were going strong, and the stage was backlit by some spots. It gave the appearance of the Rattle and Hum cover.

--Lori Peters was a wild drummer, long mane of blond hair swinging wildly around. Pretty easy to make the Meg White comparison, maybe, but (without having seen Meg play) I'd say Lori's pretty safe atop the heap.

--Korey Cooper, John's wife, played guitar and keyboars. She looked like your archtypical "rocker chick" with the shaggy black hair with red and pink streaks, the tee-shirt, the armbands and bracelets, and the swagger of total confidence that she kicked butt. You could almost hear the disappointed sigh of the teenage boys across the room when John introduced her as his wife. There's something about a girl in a band, man.

--During the second song, about eight beachballs (ranging from normal size to "friggin' huge") appeared and bounced around the crowd. Sometimes they'd end up on stage and be kicked back by crew members. Then one of the enormous ones hit the mike stand, which caused the mike to pop John in the mouth, mid-line. He looked alarmed and a little annoyed, but kept it together. At the end of the song, he walked over and said a few words to the security guy to his left. That was the end of the beach balls. Each one was captured and put backstage, immediately. One kid tried to wrestle it away from the security guard who looked like a former bodybuilder. Silly rabbit. (That's another thing; RockerDave might have enjoyed the beach-ball frivolity, but I found it distracting and annoying. After John got popped in the mouth, I kept worrying whenever one would get close to the stage. I didn't want the sillyness and stupidity of a few to cause him injury that would stop the show. Same thing with the crowd-surfers. Yeah, yeah, I know, I'm old.)

--A few members of the bands, and several folks in the room, were wearing a shirt with the message "To Write Love On Her Arms." I wondered what that meant. Turns out, it has a meaning and a story worth reading. Please read it.

--John liked to tell jokes, that usually fell flat. So he would comment on how poorly they were received. I thought that was funny. Mainly, because I do that too. And he also made about five Napoleon Dynamite references. I don't do that as much. ("Idiot!")

--Memorable between-song patter from John: "I have two kids. My kids are way cuter than any of you!"

--Also memorable: "This next song was written to inspire emotion... like the desire to buy two copies of the album... That was a joke. Nevermind."

--At one point, Cooper slung his bass guitar around his body like the 80's never died and Cinderella still rocked the radio. I think it caught Ben offguard; he looked a little shocked.

Skillet's Set List: In no particular order, included but not limited to (these are the ones I remember):
From "Invincible" (2000)--Invincible
From "Collide" (2004)--Forsaken, Savior, My Obsession
From "Comatose" (2006)--Rebirthing, The Last Night, Yours to Hold, Better than Drugs, Comatose, Whispers in the Dark

The Finale: They closed out the show with "Savior," complete with extended instrumental rockage before the "thank you, goodnight." The crowd dutifully demanded one more song, and John came out and talked for a while. Pretty good little sermonette about the album's title ("Comatose") and how too many Christians are still asleep. He challenged the teenaged audience to "wake up from the American Dream" of affluence and comfort, and live for something outside of themselves. He talked about how his generation was Generation X, and this generation is Generation Me. He described how teenagers are showing higher rates of drug abuse, suicide, cutting, depression, and all manner of other maladies, and how this is related to a generation raised by shallow, selfish parents who taught their kids that the only goals worth chasing are material wealth, fame, power, and attention. The guy really got passionate at the end. Pretty moving stuff. He challenged the crowd to live out their Christianity by serving others instead of themselves.

Then he calls the band out and introduces each of them, and then says they are going to close the show with something "old school." I suddenly got very excited. It had to be "Gasoline," right? That was their first big hit, back in the mid-90's. Had to be. I got psyched as the intro riff sliced through the air.

...Until I realized that the song was "Best Kept Secret," off the "Invincible" album. THAT's "old school" Skillet? I still dug the song, but I was a little disappointed. If that's old school, than the first song I loved by the band is WAY old school. Awesome.

On the way out of the venue, I heard a man and woman talking next to me, and one of them said they didn't think "Best Kept Secret" was old-school enough. I turned and said, "Tell me about it, I was expecting something older like 'Gasoline' or 'More Faithful'."

The couple agreed, and then I noticed they were probably in their early-to-mid-30's, leading along a kid of about 5 or 6. And I could only see this and think, "Of course they are. These are my people now."

There was a Starbucks on the other end of the parking lot, but I resisted the temptation to grab a coffee on the way home. What I told myself was that I didn't feel like waiting in line, but I'm afraid that, somehow, the subconscious "old fogie" was against it because it would keep me up late. Who's to say what's going on in my head anymore.

All told, a great night, and a good show, despite my age-related over-reaction. It sure as heck beat sitting at home watching TV again. But I think, for next time, the strategy will be "more friends, fewer decibels."

[And a final, condemning fact: I started writing this post last night as soon as I got home from the grocery store and put my stuff away, and got tired and couldn't finish. Yeah, exactly.]

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