dancers vs. gawkers
Two concerts attended.
In PDX: Spoon at the Crystal Ballroom (9/6/07)
In Euge: Wolf Parade at the WOW Hall (9/10/07)
Backstory: I have a theory that concergoers have been so star-struck by all those pesky music stories in Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME, etc. that always seem to focus on the rise of the stardom of the musician rather than, well, their artistic output, that, when said concertgoer arrives at concert venue two hours in advance and plants his/her butt front and center, the only thing on his/her mind is to watch, very carefully, the facial expressions of the Rock God Of The Moment and, when the mood suits, cameraphone a quick-snap to send off to the friends who need a good insult.
My theory also has been amplified by a short essay written by Willamette Weekâ€™s Amy McCullough after she visited a Decemberists show in Eugene last spring. The jist of her article is in the last line: [The Eugene crowd] was excited, and it turns out excitement is damn refreshingâ€”whether itâ€™s cool or not. So, apparently Portlanders take their constant barrage of good music, good shows and good venues for granted and Eugeneans don't. This leads PDXers to yawn where Eugeners yelp. Or so the theory goes.
The verdict on Spoon:
A band at the peak of their powers. Just released one of the most critically adored albums of the year. Have played nearly all the major music fests of the summer to much acclaim. Lead singer and guitarist Britt Daniel playing his newly-adopted hometown of PDX (Full Disclosure: Myself and some of my fellow EW staffers met Britt at the alt-weekly conference back in June. He was at an after-party. He chatted up Camilla. Molly and I squirmed. Britt sat on my sweater. The sweater has not been washed. We all fall prey to the celebrity mania, much as we hope we wonâ€™t.) Their energy was palpable. The crowd obviously knew most of their songs, as loud whoops went up with each opening chord. But did the crowd move? Not so much. At one point, Britt had to comment on the ridiculous layout of the Crystal Ballroom, which is awkwardly divided diagonalwise into the Under 18 or Those Who Want To Be In Front of the Stage section and the Over 21 and Wanna Hold a Beer Cup in their Paws While Watching the Band from A Distance: â€œHey, we need to get the drinkers up in front.â€ I think I saw more cameraphones in the air than people dancing, but my study is not entirely objective.
The verdict on Wolf Parade:
I asked around before the show, â€œSo, do you know much about Wolf Parade?â€ The answer was invariably â€œI heard they were cool, and I heard a few songs on their MySpace, but no, donâ€™t know much about Wolf Parade.â€ The band announced at the start of their set that they were going to play some â€œnew stuffâ€ we probably never heard before â€œunless you were at our Portland show last night.â€ Also, theyâ€™d throw in a few â€œold songsâ€ for good measure. The crowd could care less either way, such was their roar of approval. After a clunky first few songs in which there were gaps of minutes or more between songs in order to fine-tune guitars and switch amps (during which the crowd continued to roar), the band got their act together and, as is usually the case at some WOW Hall shows (if youâ€™re lucky), a mosh pit broke out. (Or, as the Canadians called it, â€œHey, thatâ€™s a fine circle pit.â€) The crowd then experienced the music â€” the show, imagine that â€” as opposed to the antics of the band. Well, there was dancing. Moshing. A few intrepid crowd-surfers who didnâ€™t go very far. It helps that Wolf Parade donâ€™t have any standout leads. The few musicians near the front slapped the crowds hands at intervals. They didnâ€™t play their MySpace music selections, arguably the only songs nearly everyone at the WOW recognized, until the encore, which was admirable. By then the crowd had been rocking out to their new stuff. The MySpace encore elevated the show to the next level.
My theory will be put to the test again with more shows in Portland and Eugene this fall. Currently on tap for Eugene: Built to Spill, Bright Eyes, Arctic Monkeys, Frank Black, Architecture in Helsinki. On tap for PDX: Patrick Wolf and Broken Social Scene.
The theory stands, for now.
UPDATE: For a dissenting opinion (you have to read to the end), go here.