Going to a summer concert is more than an American tradition; it is an art form. We spend most of our time running away from the outdoors, and for good reason. Our ancestors fought and died so that we could have roofs and air conditioning, but every summer we give Mother Nature the finger and head to outdoor shows to get down in the open air.
Some outdoor-concertgoing lessons can be learned from the Warped Tour and the Paul Oakenfold appearance at Riversplash last week.
Just say no to black: The Warped Tour, with its huge number of punk, emo and metal bands, has a lot of fans dressed in black. About 80 percent of the shirts being hawked at the UMB Bank Pavilion were black. Lots of fans were wearing their favorite black band T-shirt. These people were suckers. With last Wednesday's heat index well into the triple digits, the heat-absorbing characteristics of that darkest shade was cooking St. Louis' teenagers like hot dogs under a sunlamp.
But shirts are our friends: Better to cook slowly under a black Bad Religion shirt than turn lobster-red in front of strangers. A thousand St. Louis mothers would have wept if they'd seen their teenage sons doffing their shirts to get into the Flogging Molly pit. Before the first set had ended, sunburned folks were standing out like red gumdrops in a bowl of licorice.
Being a rock star isn't as glamorous as you think: The VIP tent next to UMB's main stage wasn't a Champagne jam full of bassists doing lines of coke off the breasts of strippers. The tent was crowded, instead, with bands lining up in the insane heat for a free meal...of meatball subs. The sight of men with mohawks and eyeliner (and all black clothes, the suckers) sitting on wooden benches scarfing the free meatball subs in the triple-digit heat was enough to make someone want to get a job in accounting (which is air conditioned).
Dehydration saves you time: Although fans were chugging their four-dollar waters as fast as they could, the lines for the bathroom were remarkably short. Who had spare liquid to pass through their kidneys?
St. Louis wants to rock: Around two in the afternoon, when it was as hot as it was going to get, New Found Glory opened its set with its one good song ("Hit or Miss"), and the crowd, which should have been cowering and begging the gods for respite, went nuts. Lead singer Jordan Pundik grabbed the front of the stage and the crowd went forward, pressing together as the band banged out the pop-punk gem. There was so much sweat flying through the air it seemed like there was a hazy mist rising off the teens. After the song was over, Pundik said, "I know it's hot as fuck out here, but this is the fucking Warped Tour." And the crowd, sweaty and charged, went even crazier.
If you don't like the weather, stick around: The next night Paul Oakenfold made his appearance underneath the Arch at Riversplash. There was no boiling, punishing heat. Instead the sky was covered in eerie clouds that turned the whole world yellow, like everyone in the crowd wearing blue-blockers.
A little rain never hurt anyone: When the rain that had been threatening to come all through Mike Gow's set finally turned up while Oakenfold was spinning, the crowd, already at a fevered pitch, just acted like someone was kicking the party up a notch with a little water.
Paul Oakenfold is a great DJ: Part of the reason for the crowd's welcoming of the rain was Oakenfold's reaction to it. The difference between a good DJ and a great one is in one's instinct about crowds. When the rain finally came in big fat drops, Oakenfold reacted by pumping the music up so that the volume seemed to swell as if summoned by the storm. It was a masterful move that kept the show going.
The fire marshal cares: A little rain never hurt anyone, but apparently lightning can. Officials shut down the show midway through Oakenfold's set owing to the electrical storm happening on three sides of the stage. The crowd reacted poorly, booing the fire marshal's decree. Sure, Oakenfold was spinning at Velvet, which has a roof, but the people were there to dance, and they were willing to risk a little electrocution to get the party started. Who says St. Louisans are apathetic?
A few weeks ago, I reviewed Columbia band Paradise Vending's latest album (and mentioned that lead singer Chris Canipe is a pal). It's good stuff. Check them out this Friday at Off Broadway, and ask them about their label, Emergency Umbrella, which is putting out lots of great stuff (Billy Schuh and the Foundry is another act that hits the Lou on occasion).
Columbia is a perennial thorn in St. Louis' side as far as getting good shows goes (the Pixies are hitting MU but not here, for instance), but that fertile college ground keeps throwing great music our way. Moving from cronyism to nepotism, my brother Jake's band Princess recently showed its band mockumentary at the St. Louis Filmmakers Showcase (featuring my brother in a dress screaming "I feel like a woman" -- Mom loves us both equally), which showcased a lot of the imagination that's going on in that mid-state city. Between the legendary Blue Note, Mojo's and the Hearnes Center, Columbia gets a lot of shows worth driving an hour and a half for. This Saturday the Blue Note is featuring Sonic Youth...ouch. Blonde Redhead and Rjd2 are making Columbia stops in the near future as well. Get off your duff, get on the road, grab some Shakespeare's pizza and relive your college days (or someone else's) in Columbia.