I had a pitcher of beer in me before the show and I haven’t yet decided if that was too much or nowhere near enough to prepare me for the experience.
Show started at 20:00. Or rather that was the start time printed on the tickets; Neil (we’re on a first-name basis, I hereby declare) didn’t make his appearance on stage until about 20:20, which coincidentally was the visual acuity I had no chance in hell of achieving because of the set designer’s affinity for bright blue and purple lighting and for aiming that lighting directly in the audience’s eyes.
But anyway. I met Julie Anne and her parents at McMenamins Queen Anne (map) immediately after work. They’d arrived a few minutes ahead of me and grabbed four seats at the bar and started with a drink; I stopped at the seats long enough to request a beer of my own and immediately made a beeline to the restrooms, because I’d sucked down a liter bottle of water on the drive from Bothell to Seattle and my teeth were floating.
So we had dinner, at the bar, which made conversation among the four of us something of a trial. We looked like shooting-gallery targets as we’d rock backward and forward alternately so we could see each other as we talked. It didn’t matter much overall because JA and I talked some and her parents talked to the couple seated to their left, their New Best Buds Ever!, and when we were finished with dinner and emptied our second pitcher, we left immediately for the arena. I was feeling pleasantly buzzed and figured if I wanted anything else I could get it at the Key.
It was plainly evident as we crossed Mercer Street onto the Seattle Center grounds that Julie Anne and I would be the youngest audience members by nearly an order of magnitude. Even among the milling crowd waiting for the bag checks and for the ticket scans at the entry doors, we were surrounded by mainly middle– and upper-class white persons, typically couples wearing business attire and with their graying hair perfectly coiffed, and all in their 50s and 60s. Here and there was the odd 40-year-old or thereabouts, and on our way out after the show we saw a 7-year-old girl on a leash. Oh, and there was the “PROGRAMS GETCHER PROGRAMS HERE SOUVENIR PROGRAMS” hawker minion on a podium just inside the arena doors; he was maybe 16, I’d guess.
Otherwise, we were it for the under-50 crowd.
I’ve never been a big fan of Neil’s. I’m familiar with a lot of his work, of course, having heard much of it played 17 million times on the radio through most of my life. Always treated it with a vast indifference; most of it, I could give a shit about. While it’s not the type of music that makes me stab at the tuner to change stations to avoid hearing it—in fact, there are few songs or musicians to which I react in that manner; I prefer just to wait out the abominable music or switch to CD in really bad cases—neither is it the type of music to which I pay much attention. I find myself humming along or even, horrors, singing aloud (!) to the songs I know well enough, and a time or two I’ve even tapped my toes to the catchier tunes.
But overall, shrug.
I was surprised to find that indifference of this type manifests itself nearly geometrically more profoundly when the music in question is being performed live, even when the rest of the crowd is eyebrow-deep in the hideous schmaltz of the moment, lapping it right up.
I was okay until he sang “Play Me,” and that godawful lyric erupted at 3.7 million decibels:
Songs she sang to me
Songs she brang to me
Here we have a spectacular example, probably in fact the preeminent case, of blatant disregard for grammar solely for the sake of a rhyme. It instantly breached my Detachment Shield and I puckered up a bit. The anticipation alone was appalling.
And a few songs later he belted out “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” with one of his female backup singers on duet, and the Saccharine Level hit 200 on the 10-point Twee Meter, and I rolled my eyes for five minutes straight.
And finally Neil performed “I Am, I Said” and I flashed back to Dave Barry’s column about stupid songs some years back, what with the deaf chairs and cakes in the rain and other silliness, and I immediately entered a semi-catatonic state for the remainder of the show.
I will admit freely to being pretty caught up in the moment when Neil screamed out “Coming to America,” with his two projection screens displaying beautiful images of American landmarks and indicating the patriotic nature of the song by fireworks and waving flags and eagles in flight. But that was nearly shot to hell by the white-man’s-rap act Neil did to finish out the show, in which he implored us to love one another and to reach out and blah blah blah. I was grimacing so hard I nearly experienced a tooth cramp.
We broke free into the cool September night and discussed the CHEEZ FAKTOR and the various other amusing elements of the show, and that’s when I began my internal debate about the alcohol amount required for the show.
Still haven’t settled on an answer.