Thursday, April 12, 2007

Complexity, Flowers and Stooges

A large portion of my past is inaccessible to me. Growing up in the Philippines, Germany and Japan, I have memories of places that I cannot easily return to. I think one of the reasons music is so important to me is because I am able to make the journey back any time I hear something that I associate with an earlier time in my life. Now that I am in my mid-30's and perhaps more nostalgic, being able to carry my entire musical life with me wherever I go is understandably quite comforting.

Tonight I was able to catch Hothouse Flowers, an Irish rock band made famous when Bono signed them after catching them on a late night Dublin television gig. I was introduced to them by my Scottish buddy Steven Watson almost 20 years ago. The first album, "People", was a bluesy rock album with uplifting lyrics like:

There's a smell of fresh cut grass
And it's filling up my senses
And the sun is shinin' down
On the blossoms in the avenue
There's a buzzin fly
Hangin' round the bluebells and the daisies
There's a lot more lovin' left in this world

In college, "Home" came out. It was more soulful, less soul. One of the breakout songs was a remake of Roberta Flack's "I Can See Clearly Now". As evidenced by the likes of Van Morrison, Rory Gallagher and The Commitments, these Irish boys like their R&B. Later, "Songs From the Rain" emerged more World and worldly. I enjoyed it, but it was quite a departure from what had come before. I lost track of the boys after that which isn't surprising given that they didn't put out another record until 2000.

Now, tonight, I was able to catch the Flowers 15 minutes from my home at the Barns of Wolf Trap; side stage to a National Park for Performing Arts. It is a small venue so I was anticipating an intimate setting. I couldn't get any takers so I went by myself. I received a copy of Exploring Complexity from Amazon today so I took it with to peruse before the show started. (Yes, I know what that sounds like, and yes, I was stared at. Move along.) I had hoped to drag Brent and his wife up from Richmond because it was his birthday (Happy Birthday, Brent!) and I introduced him to them in college, but that would have been difficult.

The current incarnation is Liam, Fiachna and Dave. Kieran Kennedy, of the Black Velvet Band fame (another great Irish band), is filling in for Peter on bass for some reason. (Trivia note: Kieran is married to fellow bandmate Maria Doyle Kennedy who is presently playing Katherine in Showtime's The Tudors. She was also in "The Commitments".)

The first thing that struck me was how old the audience was. I didn't expect the Flowers to be popular with, say, 20 Somethings normally enamored by the artistic stylings of AFI, but I didn't expect to be one of the younger people at the show. I'd say the average age was somewhere in the 40's. There was a gray hair in a Hawaiian shirt a few rows up. The gentlemen in front of me had a hearing aid!

The Barns is definitely a more staid venue, so I expected a good representation from privileged white corporate Northern Virginians, I just didn't expect that to be basically... it.

This realization was made acute because a week ago Doug and I went to catch Iggy and the Stooges at the 9:30 Club. Ok, different band, different genre, different venue, but Iggy is about to turn 60! The Godfather of Punk definitely still speaks to a younger audience though; I felt quite squarely in statistical Meanland at that show. It was a varied and interesting crowd. On the one hand, we had what looked like a trucker grandfather in a plaid button down (over a Devo T-shirt) and a Circle Jerks hat. On the other hand, I had two little emo pixies with glitter and a confused sense of fashion (think 80's punk fashion reinterpreted through Steven Cojocaru, furnished by HotTopic). (Trivia note: I had two extra tickets to get rid of for this show. I almost sold them to (what I could tell) was an Italian Mormon who worked for Al Jazeera. Truth! He was unable to go, however, and I ended up gifting them to a Chilean economist and his female friend who was visiting and didn't speak English.)

The Flowers are in their 40's and so are their fans, apparently. I got the feeling some of those fans brought their parents too.

In any case, the show was solid but awkward. The venue and the audience (especially the jackass sitting next to me who didn't want to be there but was only because his girlfriend was a fan) kind of sucked the enthusiasm from me for the first part of the show. There were highlights and a handful of people dancing.

Most of the classics ("It'll Be Easier in the Morning", "Don't Go") have been reinterpreted in interesting ways, but that ended up sapping the emotional weight of the experience for me. Having never seen them live the songs ended up feeling like cabaret versions of themselves and I found that unfulfilling.

When the show ended is when it really began. The last few songs broke through the Old White Person barrier and we saw emergent behavior arise dynamically (see, I was reading complexity books before the show!) People were on their feet, dancing in the aisles, etc. The encore was "Isn't It Amazing" and then a Gaelic dance song that went into what almost sounded like a Native American jam and then wrapped up with an interpretation of Nina Simone's "See Line Woman".

The evening ended well and I was glad to have gone. It wasn't the emotionally charged experience it could have been, but it was better than a sharp stick in the eye. I would have preferred to have gone to a nightclub to see them with a more diverse audience and perhaps my wife, Brent and Steven as well.


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