Killing The Pandemic Blues: You Can't Do A Thing To Stop Them
If I can recall correctly (and I'll admit my brain gets pretty muddled at times), I attended my last professional concert in the summer of 2019...July 30th to be precise. It was a great night and if you'd like you can read about it here: https://bfthsboringblog.blogspot.com/2019/08/a-chris-isaak-adventure-gentleman-and.html. Last night was my first concert since then, and it was a different experience. The music was magical and the show itself fantastic (although obviously modified by Covid-19). It should come as no surprise that the performer was the same man and band that I saw back then: Chris Isaak .
A concert while we are still suffering from a pandemic (and with the ominious unknown of the Omicron varient), is a different experience. As a result my experience at the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank was not as thrilling as my previous concert and that has nothing to do with the band or the venue, but with the situation.
I don't go to many concerts. It's expensive (like everything in life seems to be these days) and I am looking for a specific type of experience. I've done my share of stadium concerts and while it is great to say that I've seen Billy Joel, Elton John and Paul McCartney along with thousands of other people, I've come to seek a more intimate experience, one where you can connect with the performers (NOT interrupt or distract). I've seen Brian Wilson in a large concert venue and also in a small theater. Both shows were fantastic, but there is something special about being able to make eye contact with the performers (or at least think you do?). For me this does not just apply to concerts, but to all performances; be it music or theater. I am willing to be patient and find the performer and venue that fits what I am seeking.
Because I was going solo, I was able to find ticket in the third row, albeit on the far left side of the theater. (Which means all the photos I attempted to take came out horribly due to my angle and the lighting...not to mention Chris' mirror suit!) However I did not go alone, thanks to the joys of social media (yes, there IS a upside), I was able to connect with some local(ish) fans. (Including the woman who I had sat next to in 2019! Now that's a definite upside of social media!) We met for dinner prior to the show, which meant we were really able to get to know each other, as the talk of the table was not just Chris, the band and the show. Dining out was also a little strange; as no one in the restaurant was masked (I'm used to at least staff having face coverings), but it was a lovely time.
After nearly two hours of chat, we walked over to the venue. Before entering, we had to show our vaccination cards, but I have to wonder if the person really looked at it or just saw a small white piece of card stock with black lettering. Inside the theater, masks were not required (I had brought), and I didn't wear one (after all I had just dined without a mask). There was a strong scent of popcorn and plenty of patrons were queued up for beer and wine. All I wanted was the ladies room and to find my seat, both of which were easily accomplished.
The show started just a little after 8. (Love when shows start on time.) There was no opening act (which was fine with me) and I was excited to see the band take the stage. Which brings me to my first (of several) complaints. If a show is going to start at 8 and you have paid good money to see the show, wouldn't you want to be there at 8? Now I know that stuff happens, but there were a lot of people who didn't show up until nearly 8:30. Furthermore, a lot of people were going in and out of the theater and not, I have to assume, to just run to the bathroom. If I want a drink, I'll get it before the show. This is a theater not a bar. Aren't you there for the performers and not the booze? I just didn't get it.
I also didn't get the people behind me who were constantly talking. I'm here to HEAR the band, aren't you? There is plenty of time to talk afterwards. (Won't there be more to talk about?)
Finally, what was with the musical chairs? When I was seated, there was a coat to left of me, but no one sitting there. Then three guys came in and filled most of the row leaving a seat between me and then. Three songs or so in, a woman indicates that she has the ticket for the seat to my right. So I get up and let her in...and a few minutes later she asks me what song the band started with ("American Boy"). Which is kind of strange...I mean, why interrupt what is currently being played to ask what was played? After a few songs she goes out and moves up to the second row because the women in the second row have moved up to the first row. Maybe they were supposed to be in the first row? Then later she comes back to the third row. Then she went out...then she came back in. Meanwhile, as much as I would like to be in the front row (or even better standing right in front of the stage), I stay put. I do stand to dance for some of the songs, but I didn't want to constantly block the people behind me (who I am assuming paid good money for their tickets...of course they're talking most of the time, so what do I know?)
All of this craziness did impact the experience for me, although I tried to ignore it. I was not there for drinks or for talking or for moving from row to row. I am there to hear (and enjoy) Rolly Salley, Scottie Plunkett, Kenney Dale Johnson, Rafael Padilla, Hershel Yatovitz and of course Chris Isaak. They are consumate performers. They have been together for a long time (DECADES) and they are TIGHT. They know each other and the music, but give a performance that is fresh and fun. (They must really love each other too because NO ONE stays together that long if they don't have a passion for the music and the people.)
They gave their all last night. As it was a "holiday" concert, songs from the 2004 (Oh my God, that is 17 years ago!) album Christmas along with favorites such as "Wicked Game," "San Francisco Days," "Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing," and "Big Wide Wonderful World" as well as the (happily) expected covers of "Ring of Fire," "Great Balls of Fire" and "Only the Lonely." (It's no secret that Chris and the band are HUGE fans of Sun recording artists.) Thrillingly, they also did the brand new "Pandemic Blues: I Can't Take It." (I absolutely LOVE this one. It might be one of the few good things that came out of this pandemic.) Each member of the band gets their chance to shine; Chris makes sure of that. And shine they do, individually and as a "team." This band will NEVER disappoint. Beyond their talent is the great sense of humor that each has. I don't think it is possible to leave one of their concerts and not feel good.
Sadly, and understandably, the pandemic kept Chris from coming out in the audience, as he regularly does. Nor was anyone allowed up on stage to dance. (And I was wearing my obnoxiously loud Christmas dress.)
In conclusion, it was a wonderful night and once again, at least for a few hours, the cares of the world and my life were out of my head. (If you've been following my blog you have some idea of how stressful this November was for me and I haven't told the whole story!) I cannot thank Chris, Rolly, Scottie, Kenney, Rafael and Hersh for giving me the precious gift of joy thru music. For those magical two hours, stress left me and pure exhileration filled every fiber of my being. What an incredible gift. One that I will never be able to repay or fully express. (But I hope this post is able to express even just a sliver of what the music meant to me.)
Happy Holidays indeed!