High- and low-brow cultural goings-on in the Second City, brought to you by a roving microtechnoanthropologist

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Friday, February 03, 2006

24: Starring Us

So somewhere around the time of the birth of the universe, I sent out an e-mail to my pal M, L, and J (and, by extension, to his lovely wife) alerting them to Great Big Sea's presence in our neck of the woods on February 2. M opted out in a timely fashion and the other two (three, by extension, opted in).

I bought the tickets and sent out a "Mission Accomplished" (no flight suit) e-mail when they arrived in the mail. At New Year's when JRH & T were hosting the denizens of Telecommuniculturey, I reminded the dumbass about the concert. He said, "Oh Yeah. That's next month." A week ago, ticketmaster sent me a reminder, which I forwarded to the non-Painful-Acres-residing parties.

JRH: "Oh yeah. That's next week."

On Wednesday afternoon, after struggling mightily to be able to use the damnable T-Mobile hotspot, I sent another e-mail, saying we needed to plan:

J: "Oh yeah. That's tomorrow. I'd better talk to the LittleBossyOne Quick!"

Surprisingly, his wife (who is far too good for him) did not really feel like making a trip, the last-minute nature of which was entirely manufactured by dumbass. We did miss her, though. And the great irony of this show being the one where we lacked pal M and T, we had gained chairs and a completely nonsmoking environment. I sent up flares trying to find someone to use the spare ticket, but on such short notice, we came up empty. For a few brief and shining moments, it looked as if Dr. I any ork had narrowly missed being kidnapped from O'Hare where American Airlines providentially tried to strand him. And THEN it looked as if we could've gotten P out here as a willing participant (IF ONLY WE HAD MORE TIME), but alas, it was not to be. Instead, we set up the LittleBossyOne Memorial Coat-Holding Chair.

Annnnnnyyyway. In the course of our "Yes, it is February. Yes the concert is THIS February" discussions, JRH indicated that he'd be appreciative of a place to crash. They have graciously hosted us numerous times and we were well past due for returning the favor. Unfortunately, as of the timing of that request, my house looked like a crack den. Nonetheless, I assured him he was welcome and he said he'd leave his town around lunch time. Figuring in a trip between 1.5 and 2 hours plus traffic stop for speeding plus body cavity search for being a smartass I expected to see him somewhere in the neighborhood of 2:30.

When I got home from my classes at OTSFM, M (best. spouse. ever.) was in the process of removing some of the 12 trillion boxes around the house. I did some half-hearted straightening up and got to bed. I dragged myself out of bed a little more than an hour after I'd intended, and we got to work. In our nonmethodical way, the kitchen, living room/dining room, and the bathroom got cleaned. I closed the door on our bedroom, which remains in Code Crackden conditions.

Side note: at noon, when I was still in my nightshirt and black slipper booties, the doorbell rang. Thinking it was JRH, I deployed the rage beam and struck a UPS ded on the porch. I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm sure he deserved it for something. There was also an apparently vacuum-related doorbell false alarm at some point.

Meanwhile, in the cornfields of Illinois, JRH departed with none of the following: the directions to the house with which I had provided him, my address, my phone number. Fortunately for him, at some point he realized that he had a web browser on his WWII Field Phone and he arrived at Telecommuniculturey HQ around 3 PM.

M was still working away, so I forced JRH on a brisk walk to pick up my contact lenses and get something to eat. On the way into the deli, a Nextel phone rang. With our finely honed reflexes, we both began fumbling for our phones.

Me: That's not my ring tone.
Him: Mine is usually on vibrate (big surprise).

Meanwhile, a woman manages to get around the roadblock to the deli that is us, calmly chatting away on her Nextel phone.

Once back at the old homestead, my phone really did ring, just as I was trying to log back into my computer. It was L wanting the elusive "plan."

Me: Hold on. I'm IMing my husband.
L: Where's he?
Me: In the basement. (like duh.)

Something vague but still within the ballpark of a plan emerged: L would come to the Telecommuniculturey HQ and we would depart in one car for the land of zoned parking and concert venues with no parking at all. We'd left on the late side, but weren't too worried, because we'd confirmed that showtime was 7:30 and that our seats were, in fact, assigned.

Although traffic cooperated (once we got off 95th street, anyway), the parking situation was looking grim for our heroes. On our second pass by the Vic, however, we did find the sign that directed us to The Egress, aka an ill-lit patch of gravel approximately the size of my bathroom where a guy with stolen air-traffic control batons allowed at least 372 cars to park (self-park, mind you. Despite the fact that we were sardined and head-to-tail, there was nothing valet about this) at the usurious rate of $20. Welcome to Cubbytown.

We hoofed it down the alley (because we really needed to by this point), discussing the possibilities of an opening band and if we could expect smoking jackets and readings from the finest Newfoundland literature, given that the concert was billed as "An Evening with Great Big Sea." As we toddled at a furious pace, I began to rue the fashion cascade that had led me to opt for the jeans with which I really need to wear the boots with high-ish heels, which is normally not a problem, except that the day before I'd been wearing a problematic pair of shoes, which usually aren't problematic unless the nylons one is wearing decide to shred at the toe, causing pinky toe blisters, which normally wouldn't be happening, because one would normally be wearing comfy, sturdy cotton tights, except one couldn't find them the night before, and even that could have been remedied at midday if stupid CVS had had anything other than more stupid nylons. Anyway, owie toes and fast walking.

We made it in time to: (1) catch another member of L's band who was also playing hooky; (2) get beer; (3) find our seats despite the Vic's best efforts to keep anyone from finding anything. We were on the main floor and had the five seats closest to the aisle about halfway back. They seemed to be pretty good seats, but the standing up nature of concerts plus the lack of adequate rake the theatre (and, seriously, it felt like all the really tall people were in front of us) conspired against us.

When the Vic is not being a concert venue in which seating is disclosed on a need-to-know basis, it doubles as the Brew-and-View. It shows second-run movies (usually a triple feature available for a flat admission fee) and serves alcohol. I've been there twice before: once to see The Matrix (the only time I saw it or felt the need to see it, incidentally) and once to see Con Air and Anaconda. The generally forgettable nature of the former and the amount of beer needed to survive the latter must be responsible for my failure to recall that they've actually preserved and/or restored a lot of the ornate decoration from its days as a Vaudeville house in the early 20th century.

As people ran hither and yon trying to find their seats (occasionally being hindered by security---the only non-bar personnel that seemed to be on duty---whose seating strategy seemed to be a negative one: "No. Your seat is not there. No, I will NOT tell you where it is."), we took in the stage, which basically had four mics, a very minimal drum kit (snare and cymbal, conga drum, shakers, and a stool) right out on the apron and a series of what I knew this time to be motorized lights set up further back, with some translucent material draped between them.

The boys trounced on out theirownselves a very few minutes after 7:30 to the sounds of "Donkey Riding," which, naturally brought the crowd to its feet (and cut off most of my view of Alan for the next 2.5 hours, Oh, woe!). Alan then did a bit of patter to warm the crowd up, explaining that they'd be doing two sets. The audience was helpfully informed that the main difference between the two would be the position of Kris, the drummer. During set 1, he'd be within ass-grabbing distance of Murray (bass), and during set 2, he'd move a bit further back. We were also encouraged to grab a piece of him while we could during set 1.

In actuality, set 1 was more focused on the traditional songs from The Hard and the Easy, their latest album, which consists exclusively of Newfoundland Folk Songs. (And there was a quite hilarious extended riff on exactly how excited their record label was when they pitched the idea of a CD and a tour centering around folk songs, unhindered by singles, videos or any of that modern claptrap.) During set 2, they brought out the full drum kit and deployed the bits of visual excitement as they performed, mostly, stuff from previous albums.

The dual approach worked quite well. The first set was, obviously, somewhat more low key and intimate with a lot of chatter about the origins of the songs and clowning around from Alan and rolling of the eyes from Bob and Sean. At some point, someone held up a sign saying "Where's Larry?" Larry being, apparently, a friend of theirs from a band called "The Punters." Alan, absolutely deadpan began: "Well, Larry is a homosexual." And without missing a beat, Sean put in, "Which is fine. Because we're Canadian. He can even smoke pot if he wants to." Alan went on a bit more and Sean finished up by having the audience agree to bear witness that he talked none of the shit. He felt this to be important,because Larry is 6'7".

These guys are so damned charming that it's hard to imagine anyone feeling a set with them could drag, but just in case, numbers like Charlie Horse (more funny intro chatter humbly pointing out that most bands couldn't come up with even ONE song about a horse falling through the ice, whereas they boast two and counting) and Captain Kidd kept things up beat.

Because my husband bought the new album through iTunes (and has still yet to make it available to me), we don't have the liner notes, so it was a fresh new (and adorable, really) experience to hear Sean talk about "Charming and Graceful," which his grandfather sang to his grandmother in order to convince her to marry him. In other news of Mr. McCann, nothing I could write would do justice to Sean's choreography (complete with rectum-adjacent tin whistle moves) to The Mermaid. Anything I might write could probably get him arrested in several states with a definite arrest in Texas, so I simply refer you to the tour schedule and urge you to see it in person if at all possible.

They did keep The Hard and the Easy set fairly separate from the second. I think the only older song in the first set was "Gideon Brown," (oops, I've just remembered that they also did "I'm a Rover" in this set, too, as well as "Scolding Wife" [mental note: obtain fire shovel for: chasing up and downt the room, purposes of]), and they did reserve "Come and I Will Sing You" for the encore.

Although this worked well for the audience, I think it might have been harder than usual on the guys given how many tongue twisters are inherent to the traditional songs. Alan copped to messing up Charlie Horse and jokingly thanked the audience for setting him right again. And as for "Come and I Will Sing You," although I knew intellectually that Bob did the lion's share of singing, seeing him do the whole song was nearly as exhausting and nerve wracking as being in a Sondheim audience.

In spite of the separation, though, I didn't at all get a "TCOB NOW! No new crap!" vibe from the audience. Everyone seemed to be having the usual fabulous time during both halves of the show, and there was a hell of a lot of cheering as the guys joked about the difficulties of getting the most recent album to see the light of day.

I have to admit, though, that the second set had my two favorite moments as Alan took another new and exciting approach, leading into "Run Run Away" with "Jesse's Girl" (there is some disagreement as to whether he admitted to knowing the second verse with pride or shame) and "I'm gonna be (500 miles)." The second was Alan's apparently improvised little song about Chicago during the second encore "I hear you did quite well this year at 'The Baseball.' As for the Blackhawks. Well, maybe next time."

My only complaint is the same as always: MORE! They played for at least 2 hours, but I could have listened well into the next Presidential administration (in fact, that's a damned fine idea). They also at least might have ASKED if I wanted to accompany them to St. Paul today and on the rest of the tour. I mean, that would only be polite, right?

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