Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Brett, Ben, and John Show

I've been trying to find the right way to say what's on my mind and despite every effort, I think some things are just best to keep in house (and by that I mean in my own head). I think too much negative can come from really speaking out and I thank those of you who have reached out offering to let me talk. The truth is that the stress of life has been a heavy burden for all of us. The job thing has worn us down to a frazzle - with me on the verge of reentering the world of retail - not something that I had targeted. Hah! Get it?

Anyway even music has been ruined for me in recent times. I find myself not wanting to really listen to anything, nor did I want to go to any of the concerts that I had tickets to. Still I went to the Ben Folds/John Mayer show last Saturday, and will go to The Police in New York in two weeks. As for that 311 show that I alluded to a while back, I'm not invited. I guess I was too critical of them and by the time the behind the scenes machinations had taken place, I was persona non-grata. I know I've been a real dick in regards to my criticism of music but what went on here hurt me badly. I'm a fairly easy person and a big pushover. A simple "give them a chance" would have worked. Everything could have easily been resolved.

Anyway, with all that in mind, we headed out to see the show last Saturday at the New England Dodge Music Center in Hartford. That's where the review will begin. This facility is about as nice as they come in the local music scene. The onetime Meadows Music Theater is a large pavilion with a sloping hill beyond it that works for lawn seating, which is where we sat. The amenities were fine too, as there were plenty of drink choices (granted, at $10/each for 24 oz, and only one per customer) but everything was neat and comfortable. Restrooms are scattered, and if you were willing to walk across the property, you found facilities with no lines. If the show was on, you could see it on the large screen image that was projected on the side of the pavilion.

Parking was free, but the flow of the traffic was not the easiest thing in the world. We almost ran to the car after the show and I can't even imagine what it would have been like if we had been even a few minutes after that. Yet I think if I learned the ins and outs of the place, future shows would be easier. Nothing can be as bad as the one way in, one way out of Dutchess Stadium for Def Leppard and Bryan Adams in 2005.

In a rare instance of a show starting on time, Brett Dennen came on around 7:00 with no fanfare - not even an introduction. He kept reminding us who he was as he plowed through a set that lasted maybe a half-hour and was very decent as opening acts go. The atmosphere was such that the music fit perfectly into the background as conversational. I looked at his site for a setlist and didn't find one but can tell you that I wouldn't be sorry to be in the presence of him and his band ever again. I'm told that he's getting some local radio airplay.

Incidentally, he went to the merchandise booth following his portion of the show to sign autographs. That's OK with me - I like that.

After Brett Dennen's set, we had a visit from my niece Katie and her boyfriend Avery. Avery just got back from Africa and unfortunately got sick as he came home. He looked somewhat weak but seemed to be OK. He's a talented young musician and a tremendous match for Katie. Who knows where their lives will take them but they're a really good couple for now.

Just as Katie and Avery left, Ben Folds took the stage. One thing that bothers me about any supporting acts on a tour is the way that they're treated. For Brett Dennen, the cameras for the big screens weren't even turned on. From our perspective, we could see somebody was on stage but that's about it. For Ben Folds, one camera was on and stayed steady - thus when Ben moved out of the shot, you couldn't see what was going on. Weak.

I don't think I've ever gone to a show where I wanted to see the supporting act more than the headliner, but this was the case and Ben didn't let us down. His setlist was surprising but not disappointing:

1. Gone
2. Theme from Dr. Pyser
3. Army
4. All U Can Eat
5. Jesusland
6. Kate
7. Bastard
8. Landed
9. Such Great Heights
10 Underground
11. Not the Same
12. One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces

I was surprised by this because I figured the one song that he would play would be his most favorite - "Brick." Still The Wife or The Sister-in-Law pointed out that he didn't play that because Planned Parenthood had a booth behind the pavilion and "Brick" is about an abortion. Then we all laughed and looked at the condom and directions for condom use that PP gave the girls. The fact that Ben played "Kate" made me laugh out loud because my niece was in the audience. Katie (or "Kate" as she occasionally gets called) couldn't be more unlike the person in the song, who "I think she smokes pot." You'd have to be in my brain to understand, I guess.

Ben's set was just great. Now there were disappointments in that there wasn't a huge amount of audience participation (though he did use the audience during "Not the Same" but not for "Army."), and he didn't play "Rockin' the Suburbs", which is a guitar-heavy song and his band included a piano, drums, and bass. He played for one extremely quick hour and was gone with no encore. The impression I got was that although the majority of the crowd (heavy with teens and college students) were there to see John Mayer, they left pretty pleased with Ben Folds.

I could have left after Ben departed but I wouldn't do that. I wanted to get my money's worth, even if the tickets were really only about $30. John Mayer took the stage around 9:15 and opened with his first big hit, "No Such Thing." Gotta tell you, I wouldn't have opened with that one for a simple reason. Mayer is from Connecticut and went to school at Fairfield Warde, where a few of my sister's kids went. I would have held "No Such Thing" for later in the show and dedicated it to everyone in Fairfield County, or something like that. As it was, he did a funny stretch where he name-checked a bunch of local haunts (like the Duchess restaurant off Exit 24 on Interstate 95).

Mayer is slick - both as a performer and a person. He is quite witty, but says his quick one-liners so fast that you'll miss them if you're not paying attention. You can tell that he's one of those in show biz who "get it." He knows how lucky he is to be doing what he's doing (and getting freaky with Jessica Simpson - though that's now over). His show was full of the production values that Ben's was very much without. That's not a knock. Mayer could just play on his own since he is an extremely talented guitarist but is smart enough to add a fantastic backing band, led by one-time Pretenders guitarist Robbie McIntosh (who also supported Paul McCartney a few times, among others). The show wasn't entirely an unexpected treat, but was very enjoyable. Mayer demonstrated that he was more substance than style, despite the legions of female fans which can lead him to being regarded as just a pop doofus. That wouldn't be fair.

Here's John Mayer's set list:
1. No Such Thing
2. Belief
3. Good Love is On the Way
4. I Don't Trust Myself (With Loving You)
5. Neon
6. Dreaming With A Broken Heart
7. Waiting on the World to Change
8. Vultures
9. Bigger Than My Body
10. I Don't Need No Doctor
11. Why Georgia
12. Gravity
-- encore --
13. Slow Dancing (acoustic)
14. Your Body is a Wonderland (acoustic)
15. I'm Gonna Find Another You

Not to say I don't have a beef with Mayer. As he opened the show, he said that he would "rock his ass off." Um...John, how is playing for a little over an hour and a half "rocking your ass off?" Let us consider those ballads that you threw in. Is that rocking? No? OK, maybe we're stuck on semantics then.

In short though, what a fun way to spend an economical Saturday night. The complaints that I've mentioned are purely small potatoes in the grand scheme. Besides, who could complain when I was spending a night under the stars with The Wife, The Sister-in-Law and her boyfriend ("The Boyfriend")? I was happy to be spending time with The Wife, most of all. I would welcome a concert experience like this anytime. Just so long as I'm welcome.

Rock on!

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