please stop tickling me

In which we laugh and laugh and laugh. And love. And drink.

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Location: Portland, Oregon

Otium cum Dignitatae

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Place in Time

Here is the stage set for The Decembrists, Andrew Bird and Blind Pilot. I realized then that I should have taken pictures of the actual musicians, later that evening, but everybody does that.
Seriously though; I should have shot the Decembrists at least. It was probably the most visually stunning show I've seen so far this year, with David Byrne being a close second.

(Taylor Swift gets an honorable mention third place, though, for the water gag. I'm sure it will be industry standard in a year or so, but for now it's novelty to have a machine that spells out words in falling drops of water. She'd sing, "oh," and the word 'OH' would appear amidst the waterfall. So this means that there's what amounts to a sprinkler up there that is controlled by a computer program that strictly polices each and every spout so that it shoots the exact amount at the exact moment.
Like I say, once upon a time not everybody had a video wall, either. I notice that the Jonas Bros. already have a water gag too, so get ready.)

I was getting ready to dismiss this entire two-day event as Twee Fest '09, and to be sure, it kind of is. But it was still good, goddamn it, and I appreciate that people working this particular angle can make money this way.
And that angle would be: pretty music, played on quirky instruments. Vaguely perverse lyrics and knowing archaism, but the general vibe being that everything's just fine. Ladies in pretty dresses and the men cleaned up just nicely enough. Whistling is allowed here, and the occasional weird breaks of classic rock are both ironic and one hundred per cent serious homage.

At first, I was sighing to my cynical ass self, noting that Andrew Bird's road guy was a hipster charicature right down to the Bianchi single speed he brought with him. Also, a light blue terrycloth shirt with enormous collar, turqoise belt buckle, feathered hair and cookie-duster moustache. I think I can actually be forgiven for rolling my eyes and saying, look at this fucking hipster...
On another level, I was kind of thinking of rock journalism of the past, and how so often the writer is right there at the right time; it's clear that they're right in the middle of a pivotal point in history. I was thinking; maybe ten years ago. Maybe when it was a bit harder -well, impossible- to envision that orchestral pop with strong countrypolitan tinges might sell out small outdoor venues.

But really, this is the moment. Colin Meloy is a total hipster superstar. He is exactly what those who sell things might very well enjoy selling you. His songs will be in quirky rom-coms. They may very well show up in a televised attempt to sell you a certain brand of beer. He writes really catchy songs, and knows when to get the crowd to sing along. He also will awkwardly sandwich in a plea for health care reform, and how we all oughta bug Ron Wyden about it. It was charming, as opposed to annoying.
And the fans worship him/them. The whole thing had a decidedly revivalist vibe to it. On one hand, they were singing most of a song cycle/concept album, so the theatrical elements had to be there, but I get the feeling that this is the way it always is. Certainly for home town heroes come back to roost.

They did a stunning version of "Crazy On You" by Heart as one of the encores. It was sung by the two lady guest-vocalists, who were undulating and pointing at the audience, drawing them in. It was the moment -hardly the first- where we crossed right over irony and into appreciating a kickass song that, y'know, I always did like...
And there even was The Crazy. That nice little piece between outright clinical insanity and where the rest of us live. Where we are in the mysteries, feelin' the magic. This tends to be a collective thing.

These are hipsters growing up and having kids; the audience certainly reflected this. These are the people with the day jobs, and for the first time in pretty much all of our lives, they were watching people on the stage who were the same age, and had managed to quit theirs, to just do this for a living.



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