Sunday, December 13, 2015

Dear Gin Blossoms

All of our lives we are told to not judge a book by its cover.  I've found, most of the time, I can make a fairly decent judgement of a book by the cover design.  That's how I initially judge every Kindle deal I get in the email.  If the cover has a beach scene or a horse, I don't buy it.  Shaky writing, bicycles, or cool art, I read the description.  Fabio shirtless with a wench, well, that's a buy no matter the price.  Maybe the whole point of the idiom is to not make snap judgements, but whoever made it up should have been clearer.

Before Thanksgiving, I was able to relive the '90s twice in a week.  On a Thursday, a local ska band called The Smizokes was having a reunion show in Baltimore, and on Saturday the Gin Blossoms were playing in Delaware.  I idolized the ska band in high school, and my New Miserable Experience cassette was worn down through middle school.  I had high expectations for both shows, so surely life was going to kick me in the nards.

I saw a flyer entering the Ottobar for the Smizokes show announcing that the ska show was downstairs, while The Insane Clown Posse was having a party upstairs.  Visions of juggalos danced in my head as I walked in to the venue as the first opening band greeted me with forgettable, bland third wave ska an a sparse crowd egregiously divided between thirteen year olds and thirty five year olds ignored each other.  The teenagers were dressed in their finest punk concert gear: shiny leather studded jackets, concert shirts, and Chuck Taylors.  My peers were more hodgepodge in jeans, buttoned shirts, and sensible comfy shoes.  Ska isn't dead, it just goes to bed at a more reasonable hour.

My fears were unnecessary.  The worst makeup I saw was not from a juggalo, but from a misguided teenaged girl who used a beautician's shotgun to apply eyeliner.  The Smizokes played hard, well, and all  ages joined each other to dance on the floor.If the band or their fans had gotten 18 years older, neither showed it, at least until 10PM came around and we all shuffled home to read and get a good night's sleep.

Clearly if the local band had emerged triumphant after almost two decades, then the Gin Blossoms, who constantly tour, would put on one hell of a show.  My girlfriend and I drive out to Harrington Casino with my 90's playlist shuffling through the Ipod.  We got to the casino, grabbed some dinner, played some slots, and went to the auditorium about twenty minutes before the show was set to start.  Things were immediately amiss.  The place was packed, and a line at least fifty people long snaked from the bar.  We didn't really think that when the tickets said that the doors opened two hours before the show that everyone would show up then.  I quickly assumed that this was some sort of reverse concert.  The cool people all showed up super early, most people were seated, and the cool thing to do was to wear your tshirts tucked into your jeans.   Alarmed and confused, we sat in the last row, in two of the only open seats. 

The weirdness continued as a nicely dressed man took the stage.  He announced that the show was about to begin, yet the crowd ignored him and continued to chat.  Reading from a list, he counted down the acts that would be playing soon.  No one heeded him until two magic words were uttered, "Garth" and "Brooks", and nothing short of a standing ovation occurred.  How in the bland sterile halls of IKEA hell does a crowd set to see an alernative rock band cheer that loud for Mr. Trisha Yearwood.  Not even in Delaware.  The next biggest cheer came when for some reason Wal Mart was mentioned.  Oh wait, the reason was that this was in Delaware.  Anyway, the band came on, and immediately the entire crowd sat.  A whole sea of people sat extremely still as the ban d launched into their set, well, all except for the two morons in front of me.  He, a stout lad in his late thirties, kind of shimmied while trying not to drop his beer.  She, a stouter muffin topped, tramp stamped lass of the same age, tried to bounce up and down but somehow failed even at this.  I decided that if everyone else was going to be a drag, so was I, so I tapped the guy and asked him to sit down.  Had I a cane and a hearing aid, I couldn't have felt older.

You, the Blossoms of Juniper, did not help matters.  Yes, the show was good, and you were proficient with the songs.  Something, however, was practiced, unemotional, and sterile.  After one of my favorite songs, Found Out About You, the lead singer kind of leaned back, sighed, and said "That was some good rockin'" like he was remarking about the weather or a peach harvest.  If the band isn't really getting into things, how the hell should the audience?  The damning part of the evening was when, during some banter between songs, the lead singer asked how many people actually knew who the band was.  I chuckled until some furtive hands shot up.  Shockingly few hands.  Maybe 20 out of the whole very large crowd.  This didn't phase him at all, like he was used to large casino crowds coming out to their shows as an alternative to staying home and watching reality tv or throwing rocks at the local harlot.  This wasn't a band where dedicated fans sought them out after years of listening to their music.  This was a band that walked off stage, grabbed a beer, then walked back onstage without anyone chanting for an encore, because they knew it wouldn't happen.  They just started back into their scheduled encore, which was some good rockin' too.

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