Sunday, August 28, 2011

Is there no one who values courage over life?

When some friends came over for a party on the weekend before my birthday, they brought along some awesome gifts. One of the things I got was this:

Tickets for me and my lady to go see one of my favorite bands of all time, The Protomen. I have written about the Protomen on this blog before, so you can guess how excited I was to see them live. I spent the next couple of workdays listening to the Protomen albums back to back nonstop. When it was time to go to the concert, one of our friends gave us a ride. As we crossed the bridge into San Francisco, the sun was setting behind the city, making the buildings look like black silhouettes with shining windows. It felt very much like we were entering the Protomen world.

Kimo's has a bar both downstairs and upstairs. The show was upstairs, so we went up the stairs, checked in, got our hands stamped and started to make our way over to the stage. Three things were apparent that would soon cause problems, though I did not realize it at the time. First, there was no backstage area. Second, the stage was nearly at the same level as the audience floor. Finally, the only thing moving air in the room were a pair of fans up on the wall on either side of the stage.

The opening band was Sigourney Reverb. They hauled their instruments onto the stage by carrying them through the gathering audience, since there was no backstage area. Then they started doing a sound check... and kept doing their sound check... and more sound check. Finally, they started playing, and I wondered why they had wasted so much time doing sound checks. All they did was flail on their instruments while screaming into their microphones. Nearly all of their songs ended when the band members stopped playing their instruments and the lead singer would say "Song!" into the microphone to let the audience know to clap.

They played for far too long for an opening band. In my opinion, if you're the opening act, you should play about four songs, then get off the stage to make room for the band people are there to see. Your job is to get the audience warmed up for the main act, but if you take too long the audience gets bored and starts hoping you'll just get offstage already (which happened about halfway through the Sigourney Reverb set). Also, they were too loud. I don't mind listening to loud music at a rock show - that's the whole point, after all - but I shouldn't be so deafened by the opening acts that I can't heart the headliners. If I'm going to lose my hearing, I want to lose it to the band I'm there to see.

Sigourney Reverb felt like a midlife crisis. The band members were way too old to be on their first tour. The lead singer was losing his hair and putting on the pounds. The guitarist looked like she was halfway to being a minivan mom, and I was convinced that the drummer was actually an old roadie until he sat down and started playing.

I was eagerly anticipating the Protomen, and I think that a lot of the audience felt like I did: we did not want to boo the opening act out of respect for the main act. But then something happened that I had not anticipated: another band started. They had two opening acts. Once again, they had to haul their equipment through the crowd to set up, and this time the audience was packed in so going was slow. The bassist for Sigourney Reverb slammed his case into my knee as he took his instrument off the stage. Classy.

I think the second act was the Greenmen, but I may have misheard that. They were better than Sigourney Reverb - at least their music had a tune - but they also took way too long to set up, do a sound check, and they played too many songs.

At this point it was obvious that Kimo's was the wrong venue for this kind of act. There was no airflow in the room, the audience was packed in and dancing around, and the air was getting hot and humid with sweat. It was stifling and gross. By the time the Greenmen were done, I was covered in sweat (my own and other people's), and I felt exhausted and slightly ill from the overpowering air. I went to the back of the room and bought both of the Protomen's CDs. I already had their songs digitally, but I can play CDs on the CD player in the kitchen while I do dishes. I also bought a "Light Up the Night" t-shirt.

By the time the Protomen hauled their instruments up to the stage and the Greenmen removed their stuff, the audience was getting restless. Several people heckled the Protomen during their sound check, which I thought was ridiculous because people had put up with the other bands without much complaint, only to start getting frustrated when the band they had come to see was finally about to play.

I mentioned earlier that the stage was almost at the same level as the audience floor, so I could barely see the tops of the band's heads. It didn't help that the entire front row seemed to consist of tall, wide dudes. I remember one guy front and center had long, wavy hair that made his big head take up even more space. Way to go, guy.

But then the Protomen started playing, and a huge smile stretched my face. Here I was, watching the Protomen play live. It was awesome. Here is their sound check, which someone got on video that night:

Protomen @ Kimo's in San Francisco - Sound Check to Kenny Loggins (Highway to the Danger Zone) from Darren Pillen on Vimeo.

It's weird to see the sound check in the video, since I did not really get to see it, as such, on the 23rd.

The Protomen did an awesome show. If you've ever seen them live, or seen recordings of it, you know that they are all great. Raul Panther channels the ridiculous over-the-top enthusiasm of 80's power metal, and the rest of the band follows suit. If you want to see more of them live, I highly recommend Emma Story's Vimeo channel. She is a Protomen fan with a lot of their shows recorded.

The Protomen know which of their songs work well live, and they played some of the biggest, most triumphant songs from their albums. These included "Breaking Out," "Keep Quiet," "Light Up the Night," and a song from their first album, "The Will of One." (I may be misremembering some of their songs.)

It's a shame that Kimo's has no backstage, because the Protomen like having prop changes throughout their show, and the venue meant that Kilroy had to walk through the crowd each time, wearing a mask with no peripheral vision, to bring up Protoman's gun and helmet, Megaman's helmet, and other such props.

It's also unfortunate that, about halfway through the show, a bunch of enormous, drunken frat boys charged through the crowd to get to the front, shoving people out of the way. I tried to hold my ground, partly because I wanted to be able to see something, partly out of principle because I was there first, and partly because the Protomen is all about standing up to injustice. Unfortunately, the dude who was shoving into me weighed at least half again as much as I did, and the lack of blood in his alcohol system meant that my elbows to his ribs went unnoticed. So I went to the back of the crowd to join my lady.

Between the main part of their performance and the encore, the band went to the back of the crowd, and when they went back the stage Raul Panther said "I just noticed that you guys in the back can't see a thing, can you? We have got to be the shortest rock band in the world." True, we couldn't see anything, but the band could all have been in platform shoes and it wouldn't have helped much.

The first encore was "The Hounds," which was the only show of the night sung by the guy who sings Dr. Wily's part. I really wanted to see this, so I went back into the crowd and watched the performance. I recommend checking out some other live examples of "The Hounds" on Emma Story's channel, since this guy always puts on an entertaining performance.

The second encore was "Total Eclipse of the Heart," which was epic. The audience sang along, but I don't know the song so I dropped back out and watched with some amusement.

I remember toward the end when I went to the downstairs bar to get a break from the heat upstairs. When I went back up, my glasses fogged up from the sweat-humidity. That about sums up the venue in my memory.

The venue was terrible, but it was more than worth it in order to see The Protomen live. They have a powerful sound, great stage presence, and they put on an awesome show, even though I could hardly see any of it. I expected to be burned out on The Protomen after listening to them so much before the show and then going to the rock concert, but I found myself listening to them for the rest of the week at work, too. If anything, the show made me resolve that, if I ever see an evil robot, I will show it what vengeance means.


bluefish said...

Shame about the drunk frat boys. What were they doing at a Protomen concert, anyway?

You, look Proto Man, stood up against the injustice of getting shoved aside by a stronger force. And you, too, fought the darkness, and the darkness won.

But you got to see a kick-ass concert, and that means YOU won after all!

bluefish said...

"Sigourney Reverb felt like a midlife crisis. The band members were way too old to be on their first tour. The lead singer was losing his hair and putting on the pounds. The guitarist looked like she was halfway to being a minivan mom, and I was convinced that the drummer was actually an old roadie until he saw down and started playing."

I need to use this in a story. This is one of the best blog posts you've written (which is why I'm re-reading it, while listening to the Protomen.)