You’d think, since I go to concerts and write about them for a living, that my annual summer vacation would offer a chance to get away, clean the slate and do something different. Well, you’d think that if you didn’t know me, anyway.
I’ve had the past two weeks off. And, irony of all ironies, “not working” made it far easier for me to do my job. Ha!
So I spent my time off playing music, listening to music, visiting some local musicians, touring a local recording studio and going to shows. Lots of shows. This is summer in Buffalo, after all. Our concert schedule crams a year’s worth of gigs into a three-month period. And hey, far be it from me to deny the fact that you’ve got to make hay while the sun shines.
Technically, my vacation kicked off when Kid Rock finished his set out at Darien Lake. I reviewed that one in The News, so I’ll spare you the redundancy. By the Monday following Kid Rock’s Friday show, I was chomping at the bit for some more live music, the weekend having provided me with some brief but badly needed R&R. Happily, the Black Keys/Joy Formidable gig, one of the most hotly anticipated shows of our summer concert season, was slated for the Outer Harbor Concert Series that night.
It’s interesting switching from “critic” to “fan” mode.
The thrill of entering the concert hall, the tinge of anticipation, the electrified atmosphere as the lights go down – all of these are part of a show, and if you’ve never felt them, you’d be hard-pressed to convey the experience to anyone else. That said, I felt a bit out of sorts as the Black Keys cranked out their affable blend of garage rock and white boy blues to the massive crowd at the outer harbor. I kept reaching for pen and paper to take notes, and then remembering – admittedly, with glee – that I was not “on the clock.” Still, I took in the Black Keys’ set with a critical ear and a fan’s enthusiasm. Great show, definitely. But I thought the sound was dodgy at first, could have and should have been much louder, and the Joy Formidable’s set had a sonic oomph lacking from the first 25 percent of the Keys’ performance, and ... oops, there I go again.
The “fan” experience at the outer harbor is a very enjoyable one. There’s plenty of room, the beer, food and bathroom lines move right along, and though getting in and out is slow, with proper planning it’s completely doable.
By Thursday’s G. Love & Special Sauce show at Canalside, I’d gotten over reaching for a notepad that wasn’t there and did something I’ve never done at one of these shows – roamed the grounds, checked things out from the furthest outer reaches of the venue and enjoyed the feeling of not having to worry about missing a tune in the set. As a lifelong “as close to the stage as I can possibly get” guy, this was a big move for me. It was interesting to gain the perspective of the type of concertgoer I’ve been critical of in the past – the folks who come to the show to treat the band as background music for their partying. Canalside is the perfect venue to do this – roomy, spread out, with plenty of space to chat and hang out without bothering people who are there strictly for the music.
After spending some time playing acoustic guitars around a campfire with Dive House Union guitarist Todd Eberwine – great player, even better guy – and visiting Robby Takac’s GCR Studios to watch composer/arranger in residence Richie English work on a beautiful string arrangement for the upcoming Reign of Kindo album, it was back to concert land. Last week’s Tuesday in the Park show at Artpark featured three of the four original members of Bad Company. Singer Paul Rodgers, drummer Simon Kirk and guitarist Mick Ralphs formed the band from the ashes of Free and Mott the Hoople, with former King Crimson bassist Boz Burrell, who passed away in 2006. I went primarily because I’d never gotten to see the band in its 1970s heyday. I left pretty much blown away – particularly by Rodgers, who is a soul-rock legend still in full possession of his incredible gift all these many years later. I admit it: I stood as close to the stage as I could get and screamed my lungs out in a manner that 14-year-old me would have been impressed by.
My fanboy activities continued the next night at the same venue, when the Flaming Lips arrived for a show I’d picked as the coolest booking of the entire summer concert season. My prediction that this would be the show to beat this summer turned out to be true. The Lips – fronted by singer Wayne Coyne, who performed from atop a mountain of mirrored bubble-shaped objects like some sort of psychedelic prophet reciting from stone tablets on high – brought surrealism to the Niagara gorge, the band’s combination of dark psychedelia and ebullient chamber rock summoning a shared dream state between performers and audience members. It was simply awesome, a ritual performance that felt heavy with the weight of significance, even if that significance seems to evaporate when one attempts to chain it to words.
What a heady time I had on my vacation. And, yet, the realization hit me about halfway through – when you love music so much, taking a vacation from it would feel like a punishment, not a gift.