‘Tis the season to review concerts
Fa la la la laaa, la la la la
It is cold, my nipples are pert
Fa la la la laa, la la la la
Billy Joel and Lake Street Dive
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
And a band I’d never heard of before.
Damn, am I supposed to rhyme the last line, too? If I swapped the music groups in the third verse, maybe I could say I saw the band in Sacramento. Does Sacramento rhyme with Billy Joel? No? Damn, music is hard. It’s a good thing I leave it to the professionals.
And for the first time since 2019, I saw some of those professionals do their thing this year. So I guess it’s time for me to write a year-end review, which was once upon a time a bit of a tradition on this here blog. Hopefully this post won’t be the equivalent of jamming myself back into work pants.
I’ve already made oblique references to all three concerts, mainly about the experience of going. First, back in April, I wrote about the strange concept of attending a concert at all, and how I was sure I’d be contracting the ‘Rona any day now. Turns out I probably caught it at a concert in June, instead.
That concert was Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, which I also blogged about because we got the magical Billy Joel upgrade from the nosebleeds to the front row. After that, honestly, who gives a fuck if the concert is terrible?
Not that it was terrible. Just saying that if the entire concert was him taking a giant dump at center stage, I would still give it four-and-a-half stars based on the vantage point.
So sure, let’s start with Billy Joel. I mean, what can one say about a Billy Joel concert? I highly doubt anyone’s here to figure out what he’s like in concert. He’s been doing it for fifty years. Hel, he used to have hair when he was on stage!
I saw Billy Joel way back in college, when the River of Dreams tour came to an arena in Oakland that no longer exists. But damn, I saw some good concerts there. Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Tom Petty. And, back in 1993, or maybe 1994, I saw one William Joel. Turns out my future wife was also there at that show. Who woulda guessed? We sat much closer to each other in 2022 than in the 1993(4?) show.
I just checked, and it turns out the Oakland Arena is still there. But the Warriors left for San Francisco, so what’s the point?
Billy Joel is only doing one show a month, so he doesn’t have that “middle of tour” fatigue you sometimes get with the bands, having little clue what city they’re in from day to day. When I saw Joe Cocker in Oakland, he was solid, but a few years later I saw him at a winery on the last night of an eighteen month world tour. He could not WAIT to get off that stage. Living on the West Coast, we often get the tail end of tours.
The nicest thing about Billy Joel only doing one show a month is that it’s not a predictable setlist. He delves beyond his singles. The night we saw him, he went for deep cuts like “Zanzibar” and “Vienna.”
Then again, his playlist is my only, minor, gripe. The others I was with got all the songs they wanted to hear, but I didn’t get mine. Daughter’s favorite Billy Joel Song is “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song).” That came up about halfway through the concert. Wife was hoping for “Vienna,” which also came early. She doubled down on “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” which came up near the end of the concert. She threw down for the trifecta requesting “We Didn’t Start the Fire” while we were applauding for the encore (a ritual we had to explain to Daughter – “No, the concert isn’t really over. No, it’s not halftime. The assholes just hold back their best songs.”). Guess what he opened the encore with?
Daughter also got “Piano Man.” But that doesn’t count, because even if he doesn’t feel compelled to play his greatest hits, there’s no way Billy Joel doesn’t play “Piano Man.”
Still, if you’re doing the math, that’s five straight requests for the two of them. Wife also loves “Downeaster Alexa,” another deep cut he played.
But could the asshole play “Keeping the Faith” for me? Just one teeny song? Evidently that’s too much to ask.
But yeah, the concert was great. He seems happy, which I know isn’t always the case with him. His glaucoma looks pretty bad, an odd mixture of lazy eye with additional glassiness, exacerbated by being up on a Jumbotron. Hard enough to figure out which eye to look at when they aren’t twenty feet apart from each other.
I know we went to see him in New York, but I found it odd when he brought a couple Rangers out with the assumption that we’d know them. I follow hockey a bit, nut I had no friggin’ clue who these dudes were. For all I know, they ride the bench. Maybe they’re water boys. But I had to clap as if these were the love children of Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
It reminded me of the time I saw Trans-Siberian Orchestra. All concert long they talked about an extra special guest star joining them on stage later. A musical legend, they claimed. Someone they were awed to share a stage with. BB King, I was thinking? Stevie Wonder? Clapton? Turns out it was somebody who played in the band Yes. Sure, I like “Owner of a Lonely Heart” as much as the next ’80s kid, but as a general rule, if you have to tell us which band he played for, he ain’t a rock legend.
Same goes for “if you have to tell us what team they play for,” Billy. I get that he’s THE New York guy. And we traveled all the way to New York to see him. But the whole point of him playing Madison Square Garden every month is to make it a destination. He ain’t coming to see us, so we’ve gotta go see him, meaning a lot of us in the audience are from out of state. We’re fine listening to “New York State of Mind,” but if you’re going to bust out a local athlete, it better be Aaron Judge.
From one end of the spectrum, a music legend playing to a packed arena, to another. My first concert of the year was a band I’d never heard of.
Seeing bands I’ve never heard of before isn’t my normal m.o., but my friend had tickets from a canceled pandemic show. The second ticket was supposed to go to his son, who now didn’t want to see a mid-week concert on account of him now having a child and a full-time job.
Besides, I hadn’t been to a concert in a few years. Gotta ease back into it, y’know? What if, my first concert back, it’s, like, my favorite band, but I forgot how to enjoy it? The Beatles, for one night only, but I left before the encore and never heard “Hey, Jude.”
So yeah, if you want to know what songs Airborne Toxic Event played or didn’t play, I can’t tell you. I could look up the setlist for you, but it wouldn’t do much good. I don’t know which songs sounded similar to the album versions and which ones they improved on. The only thing I can comment on is lots of violin.
Or viola, according to my friend. It looked like a damn violin to me. If it was in the south, they would’ve called it a fiddle, and I’m pretty sure they don’t call violas fiddles. Maybe next time I see Airborne Toxic Event, it should be in Texas.
My lasting impressions of the concert were the backlighting on the viola player whenever she did a solo was totally reminiscent of Poindexter doing his rock violin (yes, an actual violin) during the Revenge of the Nerds concert. And the bass player totally looked like Razor Ramon. Not bad for a band of whippersnappers to give this old guy not one, but two, 1980s references.
It almost makes up for having a standing-room-only concert. Almost, but not quite. Cause fifty-year-old calves and knees weren’t made for five hours of standing in the same spot. At least I wasn’t one of the people who passed out. Now that I mention it, those guys were youngsters. Maybe they haven’t gone through the groomsman “flex your knees” training. Then again, one of those pass-outers was just drunk. Us oldies know how to hold our booze. Or else we’re muttering, “What the hell does the beer cost? Boy, back in my day it only cost a nickel.”
(Nickel being a five-dollar bill in this case)
But yeah, in case it wasn’t clear, the concert was good. The band interacted great with the crowd, who were totally into it. But it wasn’t good enough for me to look up any of their songs in the intervening nine months.
Then there was Lake Street Dive. They’re one of my new favorite bands and, as an extra bonus, they are my Daughter’s absolute favorite band. Lots of pandemic days were wiled away with Alexa shuffling through their catalog. As a bonus, we were seeing them in Boston, home of the actual Lake Street, where they were founded. Unfortunately, the dive bar that became the basis of their name has gone out of business.
In retrospect, perhaps seeing them in their hometown wasn’t the best plan.
You know how fans who have been with the band since the beginning hate all those johnny-come-latelies who go to the bathroom when the classics get played?
Well, now I’m one of those new fans. Even worse, I’m seeing them with the old fans who made them a thing. During the concert, the band talked about playing in those dives and how great it felt to come back and play the bigger venues. Many fans in the crowd nodded along. Then they turned and punched me in the face.
Okay, maybe not. But in spirt.
Right before the concert start, somebody saw my daughter, decked out (really, swimming) in her very first concert tee. She asked Daughter if she was excited to see the show. Yep. Favorite band, first concert, all the way from California, yada, yada. She left out the whole “front row at Billy Joel two nights ago,” thankfully, or the Lake Street mob might’ve tarred and feather us.
Then the lady asked the password question. “Who’s your favorite, Rachael or a Bridget?”
Perhaps I should explain for the uninitiated. Two women front Lake Street Dive, and it’s Blair vs Jo all over again. Rachael Price is the lead singer, while Bridget Kearney is the bass player. Sure, the others in the band write a good number of the songs and play their own instruments as well. But it seems to be, mostly, the Rachael and Bridget show. Bridget plays an upright bass, which is pretty bad-ass for a pop/rock band and Rachael has a voice that should not exist in nature, especially not in a blonde thirty-something from, am I reading that right, Australia? But raised in Tennessee. Close your eyes and you’ll think you’re listening to the love child of Idina Manzel and Macy Gray, who happened to steal the soul from Shirley Bassey on the way out of the fallopian tubes.
Lots of same-sex love children today, but you get the meaning.
The two ladies’ personalities, or perhaps their personas, match their role in the band. A lead signer is flamboyant, a bass player the steady bedrock. Rachael is every bit the diva, wearing extravagant outfits, exhibiting elegant curls that must take the better part of a day to make look so effortless. Bridget is down-to-tacks business, her hair often in a yeoman’s ponytail. Scratch that, a side pony, which is the name of one of their best songs and albums. Rachael doesn’t even sport a side pony on the cover of the album Side Pony. Bridget does. I feel like Rachael’s hair would demand a United Nations investigation if it were placed in the same general vicinity as a scrunchie.
Daughter wasn’t sure how to respond to the Rachael or Bridget question. In the Mean Girls world of second and third grade, friendship is a zero sum game. If she chooses one, that’s tantamount to saying she hates the other. Just like the kid she played with yesterday, and will play with again tomorrow, but who is playing with someone else today. Might as well be Russia and Ukraine for the next 24 hours.
Finally, with a little coaxing from me, she opted for Rachael. Shouldn’t have been that hard to figure out. She had a pink strip in her hair before she even turned eight years old. A lead singer if I’ve ever met one.
I, of course, am Team Bridget all the way. And yeah, I was always a Jo-boy in Facts of Life, too.
There’s some cool YouTube videos of people hearing the band for the first time. Everybody’s absolutely floored by Rachael’s voice. Voice coaches are at a loss to explain how she does what she does. It’s refreshing, and the refresher I sometimes need after listening to her rendition of “Rich Girl” for the 1000th time that it is anything but rote. But then I get annoyed that none of those first-timers are sufficiently in awe of Bridget’s bass playing. It fucking slaps!
Good thing I was never around to join the McDuck part of the civil war.
Being one of those rat-bastard new fans, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about McDuck, the original guitarist, leaving. Twenty years from now, some of those old guard will bust out their McDuck shirts to shove all our faces in the fact that they were here first. Like when I throwdown with the other history teachers at my school that I remember referring to Mondale and Ferraro as “Fritz and Tits,” something that doesn’t show up in the history books.
McDuck leaving sure seems like poor timing, with the band on the verge of hitting it big. After all, I discovered them in 2020, ergo nobody had ever heard of them before then. Except maybe people in Boston.
Okay, fine, you want proof that I’m the barometer of the entire nation? “Hypotheticals,” my gateway drug song at the beginning of the pandemic, peaked at #2 for adult alternative. Then McDuck left.
Maybe the hitting it big was the thing that made him leave. Maybe he was all in for the regional shows but didn’t want to do the forever tour that’s become standard for musicians these days. Used to be you could record a new album and live off the residuals. Nowadays musicians only make money when they go on tour. I wonder if the post-1966 Beatles could survive these days. They’d probably just sell their music to commercials a lot earlier. Mr. Socialist John Lennon was nothing if not a chaser of every dollar bill in existence. Imagine no possessions… because I have them all.
Therein lies my problem with joining this band late. I don’t know if McDuck leaving is the equivalent of (to keep the Beatles metaphor going) Stuart Sutcliffe, who left voluntarily because he didn’t want to keep playing gigs, or Pete Best, who was dumped to bring in a better musician. Maybe the concert in Boston was the new Ringo’s debut. And I had no idea.
As for the actual concert, it was great. Even better, after the Billy Joel fiasco, I got my favorite songs, but Wife didn’t. Daughter got the pick of the litter once again, with “Hypotheticals” being the second song of the concert. My number one request, “Good Kisser,” showed up near the end. Wife didn’t get “Call Off Your Dogs.” Too bad, so sad.
At least she was prepared for this eventuality, based on the concert setlists leading up to this one. I have a love/hate relationship with those online setlists. It’s nice to have an idea of what songs they’ll be playing and, more importantly, skipping. Had I prepared myself for no “Keeping the Faith,” I wouldn’t have missed it as much. Or at least I wouldn’t have listed it as the song I wanted to hear so Wife and Daughter could mock me for its absence.
But, I don’t know, didn’t that used to be the fun of going to concerts? It seems so formulaic when I can look at your setlist from last night and know I’m getting the same songs in the same order. I know they have to practice and it would be difficult and confusing to change up the order every night. It’s not like Billy Joel just decided the songs that morning. He just has the benefit of a month passing between each show, so he can make each one distinct.
Some artists think they’re switching up the setlist by moving two songs. It’ll be, like the second song of the night Saturday, but the second song of the encore the next night. And the other fifteen songs are all in the same spot. I guess that gives it a different flavor from night to night, but meh.
In fact, this Lake Street Dive concert rearranged four or five songs from the night before. And honestly, I think I would’ve liked the previous night’s finale.
Much like Rachael vs Bridget, there seem to be two distinct flavors of Lake Street Dive songs. They go soulful or poppy. The soulful seems to be the basis of their YouTube fame. From at least three “first time reactions” to Rachael’s voice on “What I’m Doing Here” to the jazzy, half-speed rendition (think the difference in the two Beatles’ versions of “Revolution”) of Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” performed live on a random Boston sidewalk, complete with Bridget’s stand-up bass.
And don’t get me wrong. I love the jazzy. If, after discovering the band via “Hypotheticals” and “Know That I Know,” I had looked up their catalog to find a slew of songs sounding like “Hypotheticals” and “Know That I Know,” I don’t know if they would’ve been on constant Alexa rotation, thus making them Daughter’s favorite band and an impetus for a cross-country trip. A band I’ve recently discovered, the 502s, had a similarly infectious first song. And while I like more of their songs, they have a specific style that I can only listen to for a few songs at a time.
Shuffle a Lake Street Dive playlist, on the other hand, and you’ll go from ballads to pop to hard-edged rhythm & blues. I love it all.
Except during an encore.
Their last two songs going into the break were “Bad Self Portraits” and “Good Kisser,” two absolute bangers, the last of which I would’ve been sweating about if I hadn’t already seen it on the previous night’s setlist. When they came back on stage, they did “You Go Down Smooth,” another one that shows off Rachael’s range and Bridget’s driving bass. Three songs in a row, riling up the crowd and building momentum. Interestingly, the night before they had played the same three songs with a swapped order, with “You Go Down Smooth” leading into “Good Kisser,” then finishing the concert with “Bad Self Portraits.”
Yes, they closed out the song with a screecher the night before. The ballad, a snoozer called “Sarah,” was the first song of the encore, not the final song.
So when they started the encore with “You Go Down Smooth,” I was a little worried. Surely they couldn’t do the ballad last, could they? Maybe Wife will actually get “Call Off Your Dogs,” even if they haven’t played it all year.
No such luck. Maybe they felt safe among the True Fans or maybe they thought the ballads are what we really wanted. So they left us on a low note. Turns out it wasn’t even “Sarah,” but a song called “My Speed,” which I wasn’t even aware of until I just went back and checked the setlist. The YouTube version of that song has 80,000 views, as opposed to “Good Kisser,” which has 2.6 million. “Call Off Your Dogs,” a song they don’t play anymore, has 1.5 million. Not saying video views should dictate setlists, but if you’re hoping to direct us toward one of your lesser-known songs, maybe do it in the middle of the concert.
And yeah, I once waxed poetic about Jimmy Buffett ending his concert with an acoustic ballad. But that was a different situation. He came out with the whole band and played an energetic encore. Everyone did their bows and left the stage, but Jimmy lingered. He played the last song by himself, acoustic guitar in his lap, legs dangling off the edge of the stage.
The concert was over, he was playing us off. A digestiv, not a dessert.
Also, that song was “He Went to Paris.” Okay, maybe it was “A Pirate Looks at Forty.” Heck, it coulda been “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” Whichever one of his ballads it was, it’s from his greatest hits. Way more than 80,000 views.
My point is, if you’re going personal for the finale, it’s gotta be personal to all of us.
Props to them for swinging for the fences, though.
Too bad those types of swings often result in strikeouts.
That being said, you better be damn sure I’ll be seeing them again, multiple times. Often with Daughter in tow.
Excellent fucking band.
And if they add “Call Off Your Dogs,” Wife might join me, too.