Sunday, November 13, 2016

Waterparks, Tonight Alive, State Champs and Sleeping With Sirens plus Leonard Cohen R.I.P.

For anyone who actually reads my mad ramblings on this blog, you might remember that earlier in the year, I was going through a period where I was just dying for live music. I was particularly craving some live music by some new and modern bands I've never seen live before, as opposed to an old favorite band from the seventies and eighties. After keeping my eyes open to see who was coming around, I noticed that Tonight Alive was coming to the Paramount in Huntington. They were actually playing a 4-band show in what was billed The End the Madness! tour, headlined by a band called Sleeping With Sirens.

I'd heard of Sleeping With Sirens before, but wasn't really that familiar with them, but I figured what the hell. The tickets were relatively inexpensive, so being a large person who likes the extra space, I bought 3 of them, planning to take my wife and keep an empty chair between us so I could stretch my legs. But when I told her about the show, I sensed a distinct lack of enthusiasm on her part. In fact, her expression looked a little like that of a deer that has accidentally gotten caught on a barbed-wire fence. So I asked my kids if maybe they'd want to come instead, and much to my surprise, I learned that my daughter in particular was kind of into Sleeping With Sirens. (A few years ago, neither of them listened to anything but hip-hop, so I've been happy to see them both expanding their taste).

Now my favorite band of the previous decade was Paramore. I love their brand of high-energy pop punk, and I particularly love their lead singer, Hayley Williams, for her powerful voice, her frenetic performances and her distinctive and heartfelt lyrics. (Paramore was actually the first live concert we ever took our kids to). I got into Tonight Alive a few years ago because they're a band highly influenced by Paramore, with a charismatic female lead singer of their own named Jenna McDougall.

We arrived in Huntington about a half hour early, only to find a line of kids around the block. So we grabbed some pizza across the street and waited for the crowd to filter in.

Now 3 or 4 weeks ago, Denise and I saw The English Beat and Squeeze at this same venue. And right away, I noticed some big differences between this show and that one. A few of the more prominent ones were:

1. The age of the crowd. The Squeeze crowd had an average age of about 50. They were a pretty lively 50, but they were still 50. At this show, I'm thinking the average might have been 19, and that was only because there were some other parents in the audience dragging the average upwards.

2. At the Squeeze show, the Men's room had one of those bathroom attendants who stands around and hands you your paper towels after you wash your hands so feel guilted into tipping them. I'm guessing that the venue has learned from hard experience that with a crowd this young, they shouldn't even bother because the tips won't be a-flowing. So no bathroom attendant.

3. The Squeeze show crowd was mostly older married couples. At this show, the girls outnumbered the boys about two to one. Every time the crowd screamed in approval, the pitch was painfully high.

4. Security, security, security. I'm sure there must have been a security person or two at the Squeeze concert, but I don't remember seeing any. Here, the bright-yellow shirts were everywhere, and I soon learned why.

5. My wife is a lot more fun at a concert than my kids are. Denise is an 80's gal who used to hit Malibu and all of the other big Long Island dance clubs regularly. During English Beat and Squeeze, she was bopping up and down like crazy, and if there had been room at the seats, she'd have been up and dancing. My kids are way too cool for that. Even when they're enjoying themselves, they kind of sit there impassively, although if I don't let her see me watching her, my daughter will almost imperceptibly start to nod and tap her foot to the music.

6. Crowd surfing and mosh pits. Surprisingly, there weren't any at the Squeeze show. This is probably because we'd have all gone home with broken hips, etc. But for this show, particularly during the last two bands, little mosh pits developed like vortexes in different parts of the floor, while wave after wave of crowd surfers were passed towards the stage.

Now at this point, I have to say a word about the security. I've been critical of the Paramount in the past for it's sound system (which still wasn't that great last night) and for some of its prices. But these security agents last night were doing God's own work.

Bear in mind that a lot of these guys looked like they belonged in one of those Three Brothers Moving commercials ("What are cul-de-sacs?" "Dead ends for rich people.")  But unbeknownst to me, apparently it's become the job of security personnel at these kinds of concerts to line the front of the stage and save the crowd surfers from sexual assault, (more) brain damage and maybe death. All night long, as I watched with a gasp from my seat upstairs, teenagers and young twenty-somethings were lifted into the air and passed tenuously from the back of the crowd towards the front, legs sprawled every which way, in lurches so sudden I was sure one of them was about to get dropped head-first onto the hard floor below. And all night long, these security guys would wade forward into the crowd, put out their arms, cradle these kids to safety and set them gently on the ground, so they could run around to the back of the crowd again like little children at a water park slide to surf the ride again. Meantime, their brother guards placed themselves on the perimeter whenever a mosh pit broke out, giving the kids room to have their fun but making sure no one got killed in the process. These guys were as patient and professional as any security I've ever seen at a concert or stadium event. I can't say enough kind words about them.

I tried to prep myself for the show by watching YouTube videos from all three of the other bands besides Tonight Alive. I found that I liked Waterparks a lot, and subsequently bought their EP Cluster. I found that the videos for State Champs and Sleeping With Sirens just kind of washed over me. They weren't terrible, but they just weren't grabbing my attention.

My kids both knew Sleeping With Sirens a little, my daughter more than my son, and my daughter was a little familiar with Tonight Alive through videos I'd shown her. Tonight Alive has a song on their newest album called "Waves," and my daughter decided it's the kind of song where you sit on the floor of your little padded cell and rock back and forth to, desperately mouthing the chorus "Your love comes in waves, your love comes in waves," after a nice, relaxing episode of shock therapy.

Anyway, the show was very high-energy. All four of the bands received a lot of love from the crowd which was nice. I always feel bad for an opening band when the crowd just ignores them.

My daughter branded all three of the opening bands as "angsty teenage bullshit." I tried to tell her that the music actually sounded pretty happy and upbeat to me, but you know kids ... they never listen.

Waterparks only got to do five songs, but they made the most of it. They have kind of a bright pop-punk sound, even though their closing number was about feeling "Mad All the Time".

Tonight Alive was up next. Jenna McGougall was sporting a crew cut -- I have a feeling maybe she just did one of those things where you shave your head in solidarity with kids being treated for cancer. I was familiar with all of their songs. "Waves" and "Drive", another song off of their new album, were arguably their two best numbers. After the show, my son told me he'd liked Tonight Alive best out of all four bands.

State Champs got to do a pretty full set. They're a pop punk band from upstate New York. I liked them better live than I did watching their videos, but I can't say they really grabbed me. The rest of the crowd loved them, though. The crowd surfing really got started during their set.

Sleeping With Sirens tore up the house. They're another pop punk band with a singer named Kellin Quinn who has a somewhat high, but very powerful, voice. Their music made more sense to me live than on video. I thought some of their highlights were a fast-paced song from their latest album called "Go Go Go", an older slow power ballad called "Fire", and a song that they described as being about zombies, called "Dead Walker Texas Ranger". My kids were kind of disappointed they didn't perform their favorite SWS song, "Roger Rabbit", but they at least both knew the new single "Kick Me".

Anyway, I'm glad we went to the show. At least I got my new music fix for awhile, and it was nice to do something different with my kids.

Finally, just a quick R.I.P. to Leonard Cohen, one of the great songwriters of our age, who passed away a couple of days ago. He wrote a number of classics, particularly "Suzanne" and "Hallelujah". I have many happy memories of listening to Neil Cavanagh and Mary Ann Leone team up to perform "Hallelujah" at the old Pisces Cafe in Babylon. I think the first time the song really made an impression on me was when the show West Wing used the Jeff Buckley version as a background to a scene where the CJ character's boyfriend was shot to death during a grocery store robbery. It was a pretty haunting scene, made all the more poignant by the song.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Cohen.