Three the Hardway

Okay so I am going to attempt to type this despite my right arm and now hand swelling to the point that I feel my skin is going to burst (thank god for spell check). I’ll get to why later. I am still trying to process the events of this past weekend and the greatest kick off to my birth-month since 1998! It was a whirlwind of excitement and music that left me injured and recuperating all yesterday. It started Friday after work, where I ran in to pull a quick five hour shift and run home to throw on my change of clothes I had laid out prior to doing my time. Me, and Anitra (my love), raced to the BART Station, to head over to Oakland and see the Flaming Lips. Our history with the band is a long one. Back before we were actually dating (much less living together) we both went to see the band along with our respective partners at the time, yet it was clearly a moment between the two of us as she spent much of the show on my shoulders as our then current love partners grimaced. Since then we’ve seen the Flaming Lips together at least one time; we weren’t sure if we’d seen them twice since then (we drink a lot). The show was amazing from start to finish! We got there just as the first band was wrapping up, but the second band Ariel Pink was amazing in a Weird War/Make-Up way, they had this ultra retro sound, but it was the lead singer’s strange raggedy drag that had me entranced. He looked like a mash-up of Kurt Cobain and the old Courtney Love (according to Anitra). He kept his shades on the entire set and stumbled about in some glittery eighties outfit that looked like a cross between a jazzercise (remember that) get-up and something you’d find in a Pat Benatar video. It was ill fitting and falling off him. He covered that with a woman’s blazer that looked as if was stolen off the set of Designing Women. Their music was dreamy and psychedelic at times and very 1960s garage rock, again it reminded me of Weird War.  If you don’t know who that is then look them up – you’ll be pleasantly surprised if you like that sort of trippy stuff. Anyway, by the time the main event came on we had sufficiently gotten buzzed; well I think Anitra was drunk (and judging from the pictures she was). Wayne Coyne came out and gave us all instructions about how to act when he rolled the big hamster ball he calls his space bubble over us. You know the drill if you’ve ever seen them, no sharp objects, drink up your beer beforehand, yadda, yadda. Then on came the spectacle. The band came out one by one as he was inflated inside his cocoon and rolled out over the crowd. Despite being pressed up against the barricade he didn’t roll over to our side, I guess someone must have had a beer out or a camera he didn’t like. Which was fine, it gave me a chance to get some really excellent shots. I have become such a camera guy at shows now. I used to go out to see bands and get trashed and dive into pits thrashing about like a spastic teenager does. Now I’m in my 30s (this is the celebration of my 33rd October), I don’t like to get too trashed at shows, lest I forget something, and I take tons of pictures. I also have found that my pictures turn out a lot better if I’m sober (or at least less drunk). I took close to 500 pictures that night, running the batteries out before they finished the last two songs. My camera stayed on with the blinking battery sign long enough for me to get some good video of Do You Realize.  There is a special magic that happens in a Flaming Lips show that is hard to describe. It’s like a celebration, not of anything in particular, just a celebration of being there. It’s not the confetti or balloons, although those help, it’s the love and the general vibe of an amazing band that makes you feel as good as they do. I know it’s probably a contrived feeling created more by the balloons and confetti than I would like to give credit for, but it works. I would like to believe that Wayne Coyne and crew actually do feel the way they put out, I would like to believe that the Flaming Lips do realize that we all have the most beautiful faces and the sun never goes down.

Wayne riding a bear! Just a little bit of the awesomeness!

The next night was just as intense. After another short shift at work, one in which I left my bosses to clean up and close down the kitchen while I raced home to throw on another set of party clothes and head to the BART Station. This time a little past Oakland, and into Berkeley, to see Arcade Fire! Unbelievable, the tickets came through at the last minute after the show was sold out. Thanks to my buddy Curt (a classmate of my beloved, who has become an awesome friend). The two of us made it just in time to grab a few overpriced domestic beers (that tasted like beer flavored water) and muscle our way down to the floor area of the Greek Theatre. Which BTW is an awesome place to see a show; it’s an amphitheatre small enough to be intimate and big enough to give off a great sound. Neither of us cared to catch the opening act which was wrapping up as we were finding our spot, it didn’t take long for the stagehands to switch over and release the fire.  Now for the diehard Flaming Lips fan, their show can be a big sing along, but due to their commercial success, there are a lot of people there that don’t know every word to every song. You would think the same would be true for Arcade Fire, but not so much. From the first note it turned into a gigantic chorus. It seemed like every single person in attendance was singing.  The sound was deafening like Arcade Fire was actually a group of camp counselors leading the group in old traditional camp fire songs. There were a couple of spastic frat-types beside Curt doing their funky hippie dance and waving a around a big joint that they never did light. It was during this show that I realized how black I was. Sure there was another black guy a few feet away from me all alone in his Slayer hoodie, but I think we were the only ones. I felt it when we walked in the security guards and me gave each other that look like, “Damn, you’re here too brother.” The guy who gave me my wrist band had a look of both surprise and disappointment on his face when he saw me. It wasn’t as evident at the Lips show, but here I stood out like a sore thumb. I saw a middle age couple clutch their beers when I walked by as if I was going to snatch them from their hands despite carrying two of my own. It didn’t bother me; I am used to being the only black face at shows like these. I remember at a Flogging Molly show in St. Louis I overheard some assholes commenting on how I shouldn’t be there and I didn’t even know the words even though I was singing along perfectly. Its okay I’m comfortable with adversity; “Never sweat the small things,” right? The band was phenomenal no matter what was going on around us. I couldn’t believe how much they sounded like the actual recording. It was uncanny. Each member of the band took turns switching between each and every instrument. It was like a round robin style of playing. I was as in awe of their technical skill as I was the power of the music. I was completely blown away, as I clicked away taking another 400 plus pictures. As with the Lips show once I pared down to the best ones I ended up with just over 200. There was so much emotion at the end it felt like a letdown, we all wanted more. They came out and did Wake-Up for an encore, but we all wanted more. You can’t really stamp your feet on concrete though; it doesn’t make the same sound.  The mob filing out was too much and then the trek through UC Berkeley’s campus back to BART was something else. It was weird passing through such a historic landmark in the dead of night. It was also weird not being drunk after leaving a show for the second night in a row. We got home just in time to catch the tail end of SNL hosted by (one of my favorite shows) Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston. Curt hung out for a bit as I uploaded all my pictures and began the editing process that lasted until 5 in the morning. Not that I have a problem staying up that late, but I had to be up again at 9 in order to make it to the third and final show of my amazing weekend.

Now all sing along with me!

Sunday morning’s early bird show took place at the Hardly, Strictly Bluegrass Festival located for its tenth year in the center of Golden Gate Park; which in itself is amazing! A quick bus ride out and a short search for rolling papers later and we were right up front for the first act on the Towers of Gold Stage located at the furthest end of the massive festival. We had already been scared into arriving early by an article in the SF Weekly that said last year’s fest brought out 750,000 people. It actually helped that the only band we really wanted to see was on first. If you don’t know who Lucero is then you should really do yourself a favor and download/buy every song they have and get your fucking life together. They are perhaps one of the greatest bands ever to exist, and the fact that they capped off this weekend of amazing bands was just poetic justice. Their music also holds a special place in the hearts of me and my beloved; we have seen them countless times since our days working at the Masquerade in Atlanta, Georgia together. This band and each and every song they sing bring us closer than any other. I mean ultimately her favorite groups are/were Rancid and Ani DiFranco, while I worship at the altars of Fugazi and The Mountain Goats respectively, but the one band that we both agree is greater than gold is Lucero. We have all of their albums between the two of us and know every word to every song. We sang along at the top of our lungs between passing our flask of whiskey and snapping another hundred or so pictures.  The bad news was that their set was only 40 minutes, whereas Lucero normally plays well past that and even further if you take into account Ben (the lead singer’s) solo troubadour thing he often does next to the bar well into the night. Still, it was great to see them it had been almost a year since I last saw them while back in Atlanta last year. Afterwards we decided to stay in the park and catch Patti Smith who was closing out the same stage four and a half hours later. This gave us time to wade through the growing crowd and try and catch Ralph Stanley over at the Banjo stage (I mean, this was a bluegrass festival originally). By the time we got there though the crowd was so massive you would need high powered military binoculars to see the stage – which some people did carry. Instead of trying to force the issue, we plopped down on the ground in the not-so-hot San Francisco sun, and listened to the music over massive speakers as we watched the crowd. If I thought I was the blackest person at Arcade Fire the night before I was definitely one in a million (literally) here. It was the great coming together of San Francisco hipsters, Crusty Punks working the crowd, and the White republican majority that populates the non-urban areas of most of California. People often think of CA as being this big liberal, hippie paradise. And it is that; inside the cities. But California is huge and much of it is rural farmlands, not unlike the Midwest, and the people that populate those areas are a very white bread conservative type of people that would be just at home in North Carolina where I’m from, or St. Louis, or Texas even. They look just like you would think rural people in the south would, with American Flag button-up long sleeve dress shirts and denim shorts. Mullets tucked underneath authentic John Deer hats (not the hipster variety), and each year they make a annual pilgrimage into the dirty city to hear some semi-authentic hillbilly jams and mingle with the hipster elite, who are way too overdressed for a day spent wandering around a huge park that had just been rained on earlier that morning. I mean seriously, who puts on high-heels and two tons of make-up to spend a day in that? It was odd. I felt like I did when I went to see Charlie Daniels in Central park back in 2002 when I lived in New York. Sure there was another black guy there, but he was wearing a leotard and Blue-Blockers (remember those) and doing a slow motion pop and lock routine. Sure there were a few other African-Americans in attendance, but they were either trying to sell beers out of filthy coolers, or so unbelievably white washed. I had to check my neck to see if I was wearing an African medallion. I mean it’s horrible to say that, but you know what I mean. I like to think that despite my musical taste I still identify heavily with being a black man. I mean every time I go to take a piss I smile! I don’t think I dress particularly white, or particularly black. It’s difficult to explain, but I was really raised to not see color, it was only after I reached puberty and started venturing out into the real world that the question of my blackness came up. Perhaps I’ve been stuck in this weird limbo for a while, not really one or the other, just being myself that it’s more evident to me when I see other alternative-black people who have clearly chosen a side that they want to be like. Well that’s an entire essay for another time. But as I sat there in the sun watching the throngs of people walk by that this was on my mind. I didn’t even focus on the beautiful dulcimer sounds emanating from the speakers. Behind where we set a group of Crusty-Punks and their eight dogs noisily smoked weed and hash and tried to sell to people as they walked by, though I could already tell they were going to end up doing the bulk of their stash and go back out to the streets empty handed. It was nice in so many ways to see this intermingling of various sub genres even if all the faces were the same color. Normally in SF there is an almost absence of white faces, mainly because they don’t take the bus and I live virtually downtown (just near Civic Center). I see a lot of Asian and Hispanic faces, blacks, and foreign immigrants make up most of my neighbors; the white bread faces are usually tourists staying at the Holiday Inn just across the street from my window. As the day drug on though the two previous shows and waking up so early to catch Lucero started to wear on me. I tried to hold it together long enough to see Patti Smith, but halfway through her set I realized there was a reason I didn’t own any of her work. It was overblown and pretentious, a lot of talking about how poets give their blood for this freedom, blah, blah, blah. I mean no they don’t, that’s like me thinking my blogs change the world. I mean when I’m high I might say that, but I don’t actually believe it! This chick has been buying her own hype for so long it was pathetic. Way worse than Elvis Costello who went on before her on another adjoining stage. That asshole was now perpetrating some folksy bluegrass shtick by just reworking the songs from his first (and only good) album that came out in 1979! I mean if the Austin Powers/Burt Bacharach shit wasn’t bad enough now Declan MacManus was trying to be country!?! I shrugged it all off though because I was too tired to deal with the absurdity of it all. As Patti Smith was leading the crowd in some fucked up jazz hands “we are all free” speech, me and Anitra walked out and began searching for our bus back home.

"My Heart's on Fire"

This is where the story goes south; refusing to wait in two hour lines to use some stinking port-a-potties, my beloved decide to take a piss in some bushes off to the side of the road. The original spot she picked wasn’t very secluded and passerby’s could easily catch a glimpse of her bits and pieces. So she decided to move further into the brush. This, at my encouragement, would be our undoing. After a pretty awesome day of foot long corndogs and warm whiskey, our judgment was not the soundest. She stepped into a hornets’ nest almost immediately and launched an attack of what seemed like a thousand angry yellow jackets! They covered her as she hastily fled the scene. I ripped off her jacket and began to swat away at the little devils. They were everywhere; in her hair, in her boots, all over the inside of her Social D jacket, and then they got on me. Now it is worth mentioning that prior to our trip to Portland in May, Anitra had never been stung by a bee/wasp/anything in her life. At that time we were unsure if the one little sting she received at a rest stop somewhere in Northern California would kill her. It was an intense situation then and now she was being swarmed and stung at least a dozen times. It was horrifying to say the least. I wondered to myself if I was watching her being murdered by wasps before my eyes. She felt almost no ill effects from the single sting then, but now was a different story. I didn’t even worry about the few I received, I was so concerned about her.  Turns out she’s the fucking Highlander and the stings just left slightly raised red marks. The one on her head didn’t even leave a mark! I, on the other hand, woke up the next morning to an arm that looked as if someone had sliced me open and inserted a Nerf football under my skin! Two days later and I’m still swollen and it is painful to type all this out but I felt I had to get it out before my alcoholic brain forgot all of the details. There was a lot more I wanted to put in about the dancing freaks at the park, or the majestic beauty of the Fox in Oakland, but for all that you can just check out my Flickr page.  Right now I gotta take a few more shots and smoke a bowl before heading back to work. Next week I have another triumvirate of shows to go see (Valiant Thorr, Die Antwoord, and Gogol Bordello), before rounding out my birthday month with a visit from my old pal D-Nasty and some good old fashioned debauchery!

Goodnight Berkely

Now playing: The Flaming Lips – My Cosmic Autumn Rebellion
via FoxyTunes

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