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March 7, 2012
I’ll preface this entry with the fact that I am writing five days after the show. That isn’t going to help with the details.
My preparation for the show began an hour before I needed to leave. One of my roommates at the hostel was willing to humor me and fix up my makeup and hair. She gave me promising enough suggestions that I turned my look over to her to do as she saw fit. And so, with my red flamenco dress on, with a butterfly and countless bobby pins and spray in my hair, with eyeliner and rouge, with lipstick and glam eyeshadow, I headed out into the night. I think the shirt and shorts I wore over my attire only did so much to hide my outfit; the makeup was hard to mistake.
I arrived early enough to secure front row center. I only needed the spot for one of the five nights. I only intended to bring my camera to one of the nights. Having seen the show three times over, I had a pretty good sense of the cues. What songs would be photogenic. Which would need the wide angle and which the zoom. Where I might see a really intense facial expression. I was ready.
In honor of the intent of these shows, the opening acts were asked to present only new material. Mikelangelo, who had been feeling a bit downbeat as of late, found this a great venue to unveil some solo acoustic guitar work. His first song had some pretty fantastic imagery of sadness that caused me to quickly drop my camera to my side and let the waves of melancholy wash over me.
Kim Boekbinder took the next slot with new songs done on loop pedals, a guitar, distorted vocals, and rocked from inside a full body lycra suit featuring a Hubble deep space image. The setup is one that requires decent amounts of disassembly, during which Mikelangelo took the mic and ad-libbed banter and some jokes. Having made a reference to the fact that the front row was facing right into his crotch, he picked up on my “Oh!” expression and used me briefly to pantomime oral. I wonder if anyone who was standing behind me thought it odd. Actually, I wonder if anyone standing behind me realized I was a guy.
After a repeat of last night’s Jess Daly and Agent Cleave performance, it was time for the Grand Theft Orchestra to take the stage.
I am aware, albeit possibly only recently, that to be fully into a show, I must be paying full attention to it. All of my senses must be receiving from only the performance. Overheard conversations will take me out of it. Checking my phone will take me out of it. And breaking out my camera will put up a wall. I know now that the wall exists. And I know that I don’t want to be the person monopolizing a front row spot to not be into the show. But there is a line to balance and walk. It is one I am learning to tread. I will not be the person holding an iphone overhead, blocking views to obtain a low quality video I will never watch again. But perhaps I will be the person who breaks out a DSLR, sparingly, to capture some moments from the show for posterity. After all, I am not a musician. My artistic expression comes through words and through pictures. Photography is my way to interpret the art I’m seeing through my own lens and put it back out there as new art.
The first song, a new one that may be becoming the default opener, was my wide angle opportunity. Band shots. Stage shots. Interaction shots. Done. The next song was for my 50 prime lens. Facial shots. Close ups. Intensity and expressions. And then the camera went away. Having read a complaint from Amanda some time ago that the sound of a trigger happy photographer ruined the recording of a quiet song on her last tour I have been very cognizant of the sound of the mirror retracting and coming back into place. I hate the sound. I aim to take pictures during loud songs. I try to keep the camera away from other people’s ears. And I look forward to the day when the new mirrorless camera bodies are just as affordable as the older style ones, when the camera shutter sound goes away. But for now, I just pull it out sparingly.
The band clearly had had fun with “Missed Me” the night before, as they broke it out with nearly the same fervor and energy this time around. The pauses brought on the same level of confusion and tripping over themselves as they rushed to switch instruments. They would all pause in the silence, looking around and making eye-contact, acknowledging that they were ready to proceed, before igniting the brief wall of sound followed by the keyboardist of the moment gingerly taping out the “do-do-do-do-do-do-do.” Amanda played drums with the blissful look of an eight-year-old beaming a “look what I’m doing!” face. Jherek played the guitar as Chad, spinning and flailing around, becoming the ball of energy without the restraints of Jharek on bass. The instruments all imbued each new performer with a different and new personality. This was three bands all playing different parts of the same song.
The energy level stayed high as Amanda left the keyboards to come front and center with the microphone for “Killing.” This is one of my favorites of the new material. Some good word play. Trademark staccato voice and instrumentation. More flowing and soaring choruses. Pained expressions. This was the song that I had seen destroy Amanda the night before, and this time I was ready with my camera. Her makeup didn’t make her eyes pop nearly as much as the previous night, but the pained expressions would still shine through. I waited until halfway through the song. I set the modes on the camera to minimize their impact on the crowd. And I brought it up to my eye just in time for the build-up. I lined it up and… nothing. The band seemed to be having just as much fun as the night before, but they (or at least Amanda) seemed to somehow not be as into it. I guess you can’t be 100% on every night.
Immediately after the song Amanda started speaking about photography. Seeing a whole front row of camera lenses makes her sad, because she knows that people aren’t getting as into it. I started to kick myself. She hadn’t been in the moment and able to lose herself in the emotion, and I was the reason. That guy right in front of her, taking pictures and not soaking in all of the emotions she was broadcasting.*
The band brought out the trout song again, and I tried to listen and get into it. I just don’t think it is going to happen. The imagery used is reasonable, but it doesn’t work for me for some reason. Possibly because it reuses the fish image contained elsewhere. The song feels like an epic. It starts slow and quiet, the guitars are a reverb soaked swim. The band kicks in. The song has clearly delineated parts. The verses and meter take a couple turns. It is written as a grandiose thing, but I can’t seem to stay in it long enough to get through the whole six minutes. It just feels like it goes on a couple minutes too long.**
As the set wound its way to the last few songs, the horn section joined in, this time featuring a “legitimate” trombone instead of the blue plastic one that had made it on stage for the previous shows. It was sad to see that quirk gone.
Chad amused himself on these songs by playing with Jherek, trying to synchronize some big rock movements, playing guitar right up against the bass, and generally trying to get coordinated goofing around. It was cute to watch. Chad was completely into it, and Jherek humored him and got into it too. The dynamic is an interesting one to watch. It isn’t quite younger brother/older brother, nor is it quite zany friend/straight-laced friend.
As they closed with “Runs In the Family,” I noticed that the bass was heavier again. It was fantastic to hear that they had kept that change. The song sounds complete now that the driving beat has taken a more center role. You are propelled through the song at full speed without the ability to slow down or step aside, which seems to only enhance the lyrical content and feel of being out of control of your life.
* I still do think this to some degree. And I still feel bad about it. But less so. I am not that jerk who is detached. I made it a point to line up my shots and get the settings on the camera before the show. I took out the camera only for about 4 songs. And I tried to be respectful about it. And given that a couple days later Amanda was soliciting crowd pictures of the band on her blog, I’m finding it harder to buy into the whole “I don’t support photography” half of the equation. I know her policy is to let fans do what they will, but I think it is somewhat sending a mixed message.
** When I described to a friend that there is a new song which seems to go on too long, they responded that while they love Ampersand, it has the same feeling to them. Having heard that, this time around listening to the trout song, I started to notice similarities. I don’t know music, so they may be completely different, but they sound similar in their progressions. Enough that I started singing “Ampersand” in my head over the new song and found it worked surprisingly well.