Month: December 2013

The Physics at the Crocodile and an Evening of Uncomfortable Situations

How many Santas can be in one place before it gets weird? Four, four Santas in one place at one time is enough, but on Saturday around 6 PM, in downtown Seattle, I was confronted by hundreds and hundreds of Santas within a two block radius of Westlake Center. Why were they there? I don’t know. It would have been enough to give Gretchen Carlson of Fox News a heart attack, because these Santas were not the stereotypical Caucasian, fat, old men in red suits, these Santas had their own version of who had been naughty and who had been nice. I saw a Santa spreading Christmas cheer by giving a passing motorist the finger. (Better than a lump of coal I suppose, but who honks at Santa anyway?) I saw a tattooed Santa in tiny satin underwear (I assume the underpants were satin, I did not touch the underwear or ask if they were satin). There were drunken Santas, sober Santas (a few I think), lady Santas, a full horn section of Santas, and even a gang of Santarchists. Santas were everywhere and the families who had just exited the Pacific Place 6PM snow show had some explaining to do. “Yes, Billy, these are Santa’s helpers. Whoa, Santa, put on some pants.” (Yes, it snows inside at 6PM every evening, and then the Gretchen Carlson Santa shows up. The snow is not really snow; it is probably little bits of asbestos shot into the air that float down on the packed mall center.)

We were in Seattle for the Physic’s album release: Digital Wildlife. The show included DJ Beeba (DJ Gilligan), Shelton Harris and Tyler Dopps, Tangerine, Dave B, and The Physics. It figured to be a full evening of music at the Crocodile, and, to be perfectly honest, I was looking forward to seeing The Physics again.

We ended up at the Crocodile very early because my daughter insists that we never be in a line behind two or more people. We were so early that we walked around for a little bit and then I talked our crew into getting me another shot of coffee. So we went across the street to a shop that served coffee and toast. Yes, toast. Really? Yes, toast. They serve toast? That’s what I said. Who sits around and says, “You know what Seattle needs, a toast restaurant”? Well, the toast thing was not the strangest thing about this place because I believe the entire shop was decorated by furniture that someone threw out or put on a street corner with a “free” sign on it. I felt like I had been dropped into an episode of Portlandia set in Seattle, but the place had some redeeming qualities: David Bazan was playing on the stereo when we came into the shop and anyone who listens to David Bazan is a friend of mine, and there was an upstairs that was so weird and creepy that it had to be experienced. I didn’t even let the used Kleenex tucked into the seat cushion next to me bother me even though I am a huge germophobe.

We finally got into the Crocodile and I went upstairs with all the purses, jackets, and my daughter’s camera (the camera mention is foreshadowing). I like the upstairs at the Crocodile because it is not crowded and not as loud as downstairs, but it is very dark and so sitting by myself in a corner probably makes people think I am some kind of weirdo, but I like to think of myself as the James Dean type of solo cool, not the Boo Radley sitting in a dark house watching little kids creeper, but I am certain that by the end of the evening my actions could be questioned.

DJ Beeba kicked off the evening. I have seen DJ Beeba several times and even though I still have no clue what a DJ does, I have grown to understand that he is very talented. When I saw him at the first Physic’s show I made fun of his Gilligan hat, but by the end of the summer all the hip kids were wearing Gilligan hats. So, here is some fashion advice to those of you who wish to be hip: bolo ties. I still have three bolo ties that my grandpa gave me so who’s laughing now?

Was it hard to get the crowd fired up? Yes, why? Because the Crocodile had a small cattle chute sized area for the under 21 patrons that was packed and a large empty floor for the over 21 patrons who were still over at the toast restaurant getting a slice of marble rye done over medium.

Shelton Harris and Tyler Dopps took the stage and played a tight, short set. The final song was one I recognized and for a moment found myself forgetting that I was an old man who should not be rapping along with the lyrics younger than most of my clothing, but it happened.

While Tangerine set up, DJ Beeba came back out onstage and played that funky music. People were walking all around the stage getting stuff set up and there was DJ Beeba in the background dancing around really enjoying himself.

Tangerine finally got all of their stuff set up (drum set, keyboard, bass guitar, and lead guitar) and began their set. I don’t want to overstate how much I loved Tangerine, but let me just say that I loved them. They have an early 1990s indie rock sound that I could not put my finger on, but kind of like Souixsie and the Banshees with a mix of steel guitar from West Africa, or maybe a little like Cowboy Junkies but less cowboy and more junkie. Whatever it is, it is dreamy, lovely, and Tangerine earned an AARP aged fan.

Dave B was next on the set list and after seeing him open for Sol recently, I was interested to see him again. To be diplomatic, I would say that the DJ at the Sol show hindered Dave B’s performance, but there were no such problems at the Crocodile as DJ Beeba stood in behind the wires and vinyl. Dave B also added a guitar player, drummer, and keyboardist. It would be a cheap shot to say that the guitarist looked like a Math major from UDub, and for once I will refrain from making fun of the musicians. (Yes, I realize I did take a cheap shot while saying that I wouldn’t.)

The stacked synthesizers dwarfed the guy manning the keyboards. I don’t mean to say the guy was small, but if Shaq were playing that thing he would look like Gary Coleman. The thing was the size of a WWI tank and could probably hide ten Santas inside if you removed the guts of the keyboard.

Anyway, Dave B was great. I don’t know how all the bits and pieces worked together with the DJ, drummer, guitar, and keyboard, but the group played together flawlessly. Dave B had tons of energy and the crowd filled in the gaps in the over 21 area and the entire place was packed, which soon became a problem for me because my prime location was no longer a secret and people were beginning to crowd the upstairs area and the space I set aside for jackets, purses and a camera soon became a contested area. I know that it is uncool to put stuff on a seat when riding a bus or subway, but I think those rules should not apply to me when I am at a concert.

The good news was that once the Physics took the stage most of the crowd upstairs decided that being downstairs was better. Maybe it was the grumpy old man vibes I was setting off upstairs, but whatever it was worked out for about 30 minutes. The Physics started their set and were joined by Owuor Arunga who added an interesting jazz quality to their songs.

This is where I made what would turn into a big mistake; I stood up to enjoy the Physics’ set. I was not going to start dancing around like an aged Grateful Dead follower; I just thought that I could now do a little swaying (this is as close to dancing as rhythmically challenged people such as myself should do). For a good ten minutes I was really having a good time as Thig and Monk took turns rapping and getting the crowd be-bopping along. Then something bad happened, a couple moved up to the upstairs area and became engaged in “amorous” activities near where I was standing. Who cares, right? Sure, I don’t care if you want to do some heavy breathing in a corner, but if you are looking for privacy let me just suggest that darkness is not privacy. I did my best not to look too creepy, but that was an impossibility, I’m standing right there by myself and the couple was getting pretty serious about two feet from me. How serious? They moved to the bench seats serious. At least they were not blocking my view anymore, but now I was worried that my daughter’s camera was going to get crushed while the couple made the beast with two backs.

I know that I am an older person and that times change, but let’s agree that some things are best reserved for “alone time.” Ladies, if your date cannot find a better place than a dark corner, then it might be time to find a classier guy, a guy who will wait in the bathroom line for a private stall.

Eventually, I stepped in and moved my stuff and completely ruined the mood for the couple, my bad. The good news was that after I said, “You’re about to crush my camera,” and I moved the pile of stuff, the couple decided to find a better place to go, I hope it wasn’t raining too hard in the alleyway.

After Romeo and Juliet left, I was able to get back to swaying and enjoying the show, but the incident did remind me that I am really a visitor to these concerts and not at all James Dean cool.

How was the music? It was great. The show was sold out, the artists were talented, and the Seattle Hip-Hop scene is always entertaining. I don’t know a better value for the dollar than four hours of good live music.

Sol, Friends, and one old dude at the Showbox

Sol and Friends at the Showbox

Sol and Friends at the Showbox

How does a nearly 50-year-old man end up at monthly hip-hop concerts? Well, I’m not sure. I feel a little like Gregor Samsa at times, it’s like I went to bed one day as a young man and woke up with a two kids and a mortgage.

So on Thanksgiving Eve when the rest of the United States was busy prepping for the big feast I was in a line outside the Showbox in Seattle waiting to see Sol and Friends. The show was sold out and apparently Sol is a big deal in Seattle, I know this because the line outside the Showbox at 6:15 was already snaking around the corner. Our 45-minute wait was a colorful one. The Showbox is located right across the street from the Pike Street Market (Yes, the place they throw fish) and between a strip club and Taboo Video that, thank God, would be open on Thanksgiving Day. The people who “live” in this general area are primarily homeless and have fallen on tough times. So as we stood in line we got to meet some of these folks as they worked the line for spare change. Sol had Tweeted or Facebooked or done something with the internet saying that bringing a non-perishable food item would get you some swag at the merch table. (I believe the previous sentence is correct.) So we brought along some boxes of mac and cheese to give to the food bank. The irony of bringing food for the homeless and then refusing to give money to the members of the homeless was not lost on me and I finally broke and decided to offer to buy some dinner for the next homeless person who asked for change. There was a Pho shop right next to where we stood so when the next guy asked for change I said, “I’ll buy you dinner in there.” He looked at the Pho place and then moved on to the next person in line. Now, I know it is difficult to eat Pho. Is it soup? Is it noodles? Can you pick up the bowl and drink, or do you have to use the big spoon? How exactly does one pronounce Pho? Foe? Fu? Maybe the homeless dude had tried Pho and it had been too hot for him, I don’t know, but I do know that I felt better about myself, and that is the important lesson here.

My warm feeling did not last long because it was about 30 degrees outside and 50% of the people waiting in line were idiots. Okay, that is an exaggeration; there was one pack of college/high school boys acting like morons in line. I know that the marijuana cigarettes have been legalized in Washington State and I know that people enjoy smoking these left-handed cigarettes, but I have a real problem with people assuming that you can just light up whenever and wherever you want. I don’t long for the days of Reefer Madness but I wish these kids could show a little class. The thing that made me grumpy was that one of the kids went over to this homeless guy and danced around a bit (he was not a good dancer) and then offered the guy the tail end of his blunt. I wanted to punch the kid, but that would have messed up his Flock of Seagulls hairdo and his parents (who I assume live in Bellevue) would have sued me for attending a hip-hop concert at an advanced age.

Eventually the line began to move and we were inside the venue pretty rapidly. I took all the jackets and sweaters from my crew and went to the over 21 area. My crew pushed their way to the front of the stage and waited for the show to start. I took all the winter clothing and found a seat for it and then found a spot for myself. This is when I realized I had forgotten my earplugs. I realized this because I could feel a chunk of wax vibrating inside my ear canal. It wasn’t even loud yet and I was already beginning to wonder if I should go to the bathroom and stuff some TP into my ears, but I decided to live la vida loca and just damage my hearing a bit more.

Soon the venue was packed and my seat was pretty good, Dave B was the opening act and through some stroke of luck, I just happened to be sitting next to his sister. She was a very nice young lady and not happy that Dave did not have water backstage. I saved her seat and she got Dave some water and then he began his performance.

Dave B had a lot of energy and got the crowd to put their hands in the air and dance around like they just didn’t care. The big problem with Dave’s performance was his DJ.

Now I am ignorant when it come to what the DJ does exactly, but from my perspective here are the job requirements: push buttons on a computer, turn some records and do some scratching, and know what song comes next. This is probably oversimplifying the job, but Dave B’s DJ seemed to lack one of these skills: knowing what song was next. I am not saying I could do better because: 1. I don’t know any of Dave B’s tunes, 2. I don’t know how to make a computer do anything other than collect the words I type and connect to one of the tubes of the interwebs. But, if I were being paid to DJ an event I would write down the songs we were going to play and then play them in that order.

Since Dave B and his DJ were not on the same song, there were several breaks that kind of killed Dave’s momentum. It was like watching the last three minutes of an NBA game, a little action, a timeout, a little action, another timeout, and then finally Dave B’s set was over. He seemed to take the problems in stride and therefore I decided that Dave B’s parents had done a good job of preparing him for life, it didn’t hurt that his sister seemed like a very nice person also.

The next act up was Sam Lachow and I wasn’t sure what to expect because I knew next to nothing about him, so when a dude in a sleeveless parka came onstage I thought that might be Sam. Sleeveless parka dude had a sax and was standing off on the left side of the stage looking awkward, but then a DJ got behind the turntables and started to play some music. Parka dude was dancing a little bit and I believe he had his eyes closed. Dancing with your eyes closed is a dangerous thing because even though you can’t see anything, people can see you. So unless you are a real dancing machine, I suggest keeping the old eyeballs open. Dancing sleeveless parka dude was not a dancing machine; he was like a seventh grade boy dancing by himself to ABBA’s Greatest Hits. I know that men like me who cannot dance should not toss stones at other men who cannot dance, but if you stand up on a stage and look like you making love to your saxophone while wearing a parka, somebody has to stop you while your pants are still on.

The dancing saxophone playing sleeveless parka dude thing only got stranger as the DJ soon was having technical difficulties and had to retrieve Dave B’s DJ to connect some cables or something, this took a bit longer than it should have and soon the dancing saxophone playing sleeveless parka dude was left onstage with no music playing. You could see that he was wondering what he should do. He had a couple options: stand there like a pine tree in a windstorm, leave the stage, or bust out with some Careless Whisper. Maybe he didn’t know Careless Whisper, but if he had started playing that, the crowd would have gone nuts. Instead he stood there like the last kid to get picked up after little league practice.

Eventually all the wires were connected and it looked like I would finally get to see Sam Lachow in action, the music was bumping, the crowd was fired up, and then the strangest collection of people ever to take the stage at a rap concert took the stage. The sleeveless parka dude was there, a tall guy who looked like he just wandered out of the Cascade mountains after a year-long hike, a lady dressed in a camo jumpsuit wearing a backpack, a dude with a backwards baseball hat, and a guy who looked like he stepped off the set of the 1988 movie Colors. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but let’s just say it was an odd cross-section of people and completely breaks any stereotype an old guy like me might have about what rappers look like.

Sam, the guy in the backwards hat, was really very entertaining and could spit the old rhymes. The crowd was really pumped and the entire place was jumping. It was so loud that the little piece of earwax rattled out of my ear. Sam seems to have quite a following of guys who wear their hats backwards. I am not a fan of the backward hat look. In my opinion the only person to pull it off was Ken Griffey Jr., so unless you are Junior, turn your hat around and let the bill of the hat do its job. I tell people that I have never seen a smart person wearing a hat like that, but there are probably exceptions to this scientific fact.

Overlooking Sam’s fashion faux pas, I must say that his set was really, really entertaining. I not only enjoyed the cornucopia of characters that he invited on to the stage, I also enjoyed his music.

Sam wrapped up his set and the crowd began to prepare for Sol’s appearance. During this time I had a few moments to think about whether Sam’s music was rap or hip-hop, or something completely different. Music is changing and moving in directions that simple labels don’t seem to fit any longer. I don’t really know the difference between rap and hip-hop because I have not seen a scientific mapping of the genres, for all I know they could be in the same Kingdom and Phylum (Biology class has finally paid off with this obscure reference). Anyway, I decided that Sam’s music might be something a little different from other hip-hop I have heard and decided that I would coin the term “Frat Rap™” because that is what it seemed like to me. Maybe it was the backwards hat, maybe it was the sax dude, maybe it was just me since I don’t know what I am talking about.

The stagehands came out, cleared away the opening acts’ stuff and got the stage ready for Sol. DJ Nphared (who spun the vinyl for The Bar when I last saw him) manned the turntables and computer, a drummer hopped up behind a full set of drums, and then some dude who was obviously lost made his way on stage to play electric bass. Now I don’t like to stereotype people (if you have read this far you know this is a lie, but it sounds better if I say this before I write what I am about to write), but the bass player looked like he fell off the cover of a Lynyrd Skynyrd Album from 1975. This guy’s hair was Marsha Brady long and he has probably had more trouble getting into rap venues than any person in the history of mankind. “I’m with the band” isn’t going to cut it when you look like that and are trying to get backstage. Sol later announced that this hippie was his best friend so I should probably assume other people aren’t as narrow-minded as me.

Well, while DJ Nphared pumped up the volume well past 11, Sol snuck around behind the stage to make his surprise entrance. The surprise entrance is easy once you have reached the big-time because you can get one of those elevators to lift you right in the middle of the stage, but when you are at the Showbox you have to get someone with a flashlight to show you where the surprise spot is, and that kind of kills the surprise.

Whether people were surprised or not didn’t matter because once the spotlight hit Sol the crowd lost their minds. Sol did the whole, “Seattle” thing where everyone yells because we are in Seattle and that is what you do when someone on stage yells the city’s name. The band then started playing and the crowd started hopping around and acting like they were spiking volleyballs in unison. It really was pretty exciting. I even moved a little bit while sitting on my barstool.

The highlight of Sol’s set was when nearly every rapper in the greater King County area hopped up on stage to rap about their enjoyment of the wacky weed. (Sir Mixalot was not there, but he should be working on a new version of his big butt song, I could write part of it for him… “I like big bud and I cannot lie.” Okay, the rest is up to you, Sir.) The wacky weed song seemed to bring out the need for everyone in the Showbox with a marijuana cigarette to light up. I felt super old at this point. I am not a prohibitionist, but I also don’t like to breathe in smoke in any form, so I sat on my little bar stool taking mini-breaths like a two-year-old. My body is a temple, a temple for hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, and French fries, not for second-hand smoke.

After the smoke cleared and the various rappers left the stage Sol closed out the evening with a number of songs that the entire crowd at the Showbox knew, well, almost everyone. I have not memorized any of his lyrics, that portion of my brain is already full of 50 years of music. The rest of the crowd was really into the songs though.

Photo Credit: Avi Loud. Sol mobbed by his fans.

Photo Credit: Avi Loud.
Sol mobbed by his fans.

It’s at times like this that I wish the whole world could be infused with the energy of a concert crowd. Music has such a transcendent quality that can draw us together it should be required that world leaders attend a few concerts together. The world would be a better place. From what I gathered Sol thinks so too. He took a few opportunities to talk to the crowd between songs and spoke about his travels and how music has a unique ability to cross cultural boundaries and draw us together. At least that is what I think he was saying.

The evening came to an end with an encore and it wasn’t long before I was being yelled at by the security to get moving and stop standing on the stairs. I realize that if you are a security guy you probably want people to clear out as quickly as possible after the concert is over, but old people like me break hips all the time when trying to move too fast, so take a deep breath buddy and get another neck tattoo.

We gathered the crew back together and I handed back the sweaters and jackets and we made our way to the ferry. As we waited for the 12:45 ferry we all agreed that the concert was awesome and that it was a great way to spend Thanksgiving Eve.

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