Sunday, July 29, 2018

Tom Bailey, The B-52s and Culture Club

This is another one of those concerts that has a saga attached to it, so might want to get a cold drink and even a snack.

We bought these tickets months ago, towards the beginning of the year. Denise noticed these three acts were playing together, so she wanted to get tickets. Then we saw they were playing at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, and while we've both seen some good shows there in the past, there are issues with the place. (More on both of those things to come.) Then we saw the show was also making a stop upstate at the Turning Stone Hotel and Casino, and we decided to get tickets up there. We've been to shows there in the past, and our kids have family up there, so we usually find ourselves up that way during the summer at some point anyway. But then we saw that Tom Bailey wasn't playing the Turning Stone show, and that was a bit of a deal breaker. For those not familiar with his name, he's the singer/songwriter for the new wave band Thompson Twins. Neither myself, nor (amazingly) Denise have ever seen Thompson Twins live, so we figured this was as close as we were ever likely to get. We've seen the B-52s numerous times, as they are probably Denise's favorite band, and we've seen Culture Club, too, so seeing Mr. Bailey was the one important first for both of us. I looked up the Forest Hills LIRR stop, and saw it was part of the Babylon line, so we figured at very least, we could drive to Babylon, park across the street from our old friend, the (former) Pisces Cafe, and take the train there. So we bought the tickets. But as I said, this decision happened back at the beginning of the year. Oh, how young and foolish we were back then!

Flash forward six months, and as I've detailed on these pages, there's been some trouble on the home front. But things have been pretty quiet the last few weeks, so we figured we could get out together for at least the one night. (And that part actually worked out pretty well.) Earlier this week, however, when we started trying to look up the actual transportation, we were getting some funny contradictions out of the LIRR website. In some spots, it appeared as if there were no trains going to Forest Hills this weekend. Also, we realized that the show was scheduled for a 6PM start, and I started remembering there might be some problems parking in Babylon during the afternoon on a Saturday. (And I wasn't sure if this was one of those perverse LIRR parking lots were you have to have a permit from the town to park there. For all the nights we parked our butts across the street from the railroad station at the Pisces, or around the corner at the Joe Michael's Steakhouse, I don't think we ever actually took the train from Babylon before).

In any event, we (I -- I'm way more insane than poor Denise could ever hope to be) came up with this elaborate plan. Denise believed that what the train schedules were pointing to was that there was track work being done in and around the Forest Hills station, and that in order to get there, you had to take the train to Jamaica, then transfer to a shuttle train to Forest Hills. (This turned out to be correct, in both directions.) My addition to the plan was I finally remembered this week that in order to get to the stadium back in the '80s, there was a bus from Jewel Ave.and 164th St. in Flushing to Queens Blvd. and Continental in Forest Hills. (I grew up living in Flushing). So that was our (my) backup plan for if the trains weren't running, or we couldn't park in Babylon.

Now I actually considered earlier this week getting a ticket for the night before for the show at Jones Beach. Bush, The Cult and Stone Temple Pilots were playing. I was a little into STP in the '90s, although I always felt they were copying every other band out there a lot. And there are a few songs of The Cult I like. But if I had gone, it really would have been to see Bush. They're not exactly my favorite  band, but I like them enough that I generally always buy their latest album. In the end, I decided not to go, for three reasons. The first was the weather was predicting lightning storms, and I really didn't want to be sitting at the top of the stadium in Jones Beach dodging lightning bolts. The second is that I looked up the setlists the bands have been playing at, and I found that Bush was mostly playing stuff from their first album. I was really more interested in hearing newer stuff. Finally, Denise had the chance to go to a dinner with some old high school friends of hers on that night, so this cemented it for me. I figured that while things have been going OK at home for the last couple of weeks, it was best not to push it by the two of us being out two nights in a row. So I took a quiet, restful night at home, which was probably just as well.

I haven't been to the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium since the '80s, when I saw the Martha and the Muffins/Howard Jones/Eurythmics show (which I really believe is the first time I ever set eyes on Denise - I swear that she and her friends were sitting in the row in front of me), and a few weeks later, the Yes 90125 tour show. (I think that might have been the last year they had concerts there for a long, long time). But I remember it as being a lot of walking to get into the venue. I knew the LIRR station wasn't too far away, but I knew for a fact that there is literally no parking anywhere near the arena, and there was a lot of walking involved to get into it.

I went to bed fairly early (for me) on Friday night, enough so to ensure that I had about nine hours of sleep. For most of the last few hours, I dreamed an extended dream that involved a season opener for The Walking Dead that followed a season closer that has never actually occurred. The prior season ended with a huge building explosion, and the new season started a year later, on July 4th, the anniversary of the explosion. There were no zombies (walkers) to be found anywhere in the dream, but the show depicted the fallout from the explosion. The building had been rebuilt, and was just about to be reopened. Sheriff Rick Grimes was there, as was this horrible old woman who was the widow of the villain he had killed at the end of last season. She was out to get Rick. Then there were these weird young Romanian women, who were obviously going to be one of the threats of the new season. They were looking to carve up any "British women" they could find, because "British women are too pretty." The show also showed you what was going on with some our favorite ongoing characters, such as Daryl, and Kathy Fleischmann. (I swear to you this last part is true. My psyche is a frightened, and tortuous place.)

Alright, this is the eighth paragraph of this post, so I guess I should start telling you about the day of the show, huh?

We got to Babylon and parked with no problem, and as Denise paid for the parking, I went inside to get the train tickets. There I learned that Denise's info had been correct, and that the trains were running, but we would have to transfer at Jamaica there and back. OK, fine.

We boarded the train from Babylon, and I spent most of the ride playing peek-a-boo with a kid a few rows away. (I think it was a girl, although Denise swears it was a boy). This was a little tiring, but when we first boarded the train, the kid cried and whined for the first two or three stops while its Mom completely ignored it, so playing peek-a-boo and making the kid laugh was a lot better than listening to it cry for an hour.

As we approached the Jamaica stop, an important announcement came over the speaker about the transfer to Forest Hills. At least, I assume it was important. But thanks to the crack LIRR speaker system, about the only words we could make out were "Forest Hills" three or four times.

When we got to Jamaica, the train opened on both sides. There was another similarly garbled announcement happening on the platform about the shuttle train to Forest Hills. As the doors to the train we had just gotten off closed, we realized that the announcement had been telling us we should have gotten off on the other side of the train. There was what appeared to be the next train to Forest Hills ready and waiting on the other side of the track. So we ran like hell (for us, although I'm pretty sure our "running" looked pretty snail-like to the people around us). We hiked up the stairs, across, and back down, breathlessly hoping to catch the Forest Hills train. Then we learned from a worker on the platform that the train in front of us, which clearly said "Forest Hills", was only going to the yard anyway due to engine troubles. So we sat down in a pair of empty seats in an enclosed area on the sweltering platform, and sucked in some oxygen. (It always amuses me that public officials always encourage everyone to take public transportation everywhere as often as possible. But they make sure that when you actually do take public transportation, it's a godawful experience. Here's my message for the masses. Never take public transportation, if you can possibly avoid it. Take your car everywhere, environment be damned. You'll be much happier if you do.)

Our shuttle train eventually came along. While Denise used the on-car restroom, I commiserated with a guy who liked a lot like Mike Ferrari about how much the LIRR sucked, and how confusing it was to try to get the story on the trains to this concert from their website.

We arrived at Forest Hills at about 4:20PM. We were supposed to have a meetup with some of Denise's friends from her LIRR group. We entered the place, a noisy and crowded little bar/restaurant, where every table was taken and the music was so ear-splitting that any and all conversation was impossible. I used their restroom, while Denise searched vainly for her friends. By the time I was done with my business, she was also done with hers, and we decided to go next door to McDonald's and sit for a bit. Once there, we ran into Denise's friend Lisa, a former Forest Hills resident who now lives in Israel. (She's visiting NY for a few weeks right now, but Denise is always telling me that she sees Lisa posting concert videos in the middle of our work day, as there's about an eight-hour time difference between us and Israel). We had our own little meetup at McDonald's, and Denise checked her phone. She learned that her friend Ernie, who had organized the meetup next door, had to stay home from the concert because he was ill, which was why no one could find each other -- everyone was looking for him.

During the course of the day, we had learned that Tom Bailey was actually scheduled to hit the stage at 5:45PM, so at about 5, we started heading over to the stadium. (Lisa went her own way, to meet with the friend who had her ticket.) As I remembered, it was a bit of a hike. Once you get inside the grounds of the stadium, you have to walk all the way down and around to go through a gate where you can get into the main part of the stadium itself. I was actually still feeling pretty good at this point. (One of the issues I had with this show was that when we bought the tickets 6 months ago, I had started exercising, and thought I'd be in much better shape by the summer. But what's the old expression -- "Man makes plans, and God laughs"?) We got to our seats, which were floor level, a little to the left of center stage, in the next-to-last row on the floor. I got us some waters, and we settled in to enjoy the show.

We each pointed out where we had been sitting at that fateful Eurythmics show, and sure enough, it was pretty much the same area. (Of course, a lot of WLIR people had been there for that show. While we were discussing it at the McDonald's, we learned that Linda had been there too).

The sun was still pretty hot at this point, although I could see that within twenty minutes or so, as it settled, we'd be in the shade. But it was really humid. And after taking the long hike into the stadium, and getting all sweaty, sitting in the humidity got to be really draining. I was tired, and even though I showered before we left, I was pretty sure I smelled like a gnu.

As we sat, a fellow who had his own press pass came over and asked if we wanted to sit up front further -- he had two tickets he wasn't going to use. But I had a little elbow room back where we were, and didn't want to get squashed in the middle of a row, so we thanked him and declined. He then offered them to the couple next to Denise, who jumped at the chance. This worked out well for us anyway, because it gave Denise the chance to move over, and have an empty chair on either side of her, and I had the same.

Right before the show started, I got a text from my daughter. She'd spoken to her uncle, and wanted to find out if we could get her upstate soon for her sister's birthday. I've detailed for you a little bit of going back and forth upstate for a pair of consecutive weekends recently with our son (and the great Erasure debacle), and I was really hoping to not make this trip again anytime soon. I don't blame my daughter for texting us about it, but this immediately got my mind working on twin tracks. The first was the logistics of getting her up there, as we have a bunch of commitments coming up over the next few weeks. The second was considering the most creative way to off myself. (I eventually settled on piranhas, although I'm not sure where to find any on Long Island. I'm thinking the Riverhead Aquarium?) The thought of driving up there again anytime soon is exhausting and depressing.

Tom Bailey soon took the stage. It was still daylight, and he immediately commented on the heat. He was fronting a 3-piece, all-female band (very Josie and the Pussycats), which included a keyboardists, a second keyboardist who doubled on bass, and an electronic drummer. I actually enjoyed his set quite a bit. He played a bunch of Thompson Twin songs, plus a pair of pretty good synth-based songs from a new solo album he just released, Science Fiction. He naturally closed with "Hold Me Now", the Thompson Twins' best song (and one that Denise's old band The Slant used to do a pretty nice cover of). His set felt much too short.

A few words on the logistics of our seats. As I said, we were at the very back of the floor section. This meant that as soon as anyone got up to dance, we couldn't see anything. This wasn't as much of an issue for Denise, as she likes to get up there and dance with them. But I kind of like to just sit in my own quiet head space and enjoy the music. (Especially in the heat and humidity). And unlike most modern arenas, the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium hasn't invested in overhead video screens. (I believe someone asked them about it once, and their response was, "Pish posh!"or "Overhead screens, overhead shmeens", something like that. I read it online somewhere). Anyway, this wasn't too bad for Bailey's set, as people were just settling into the stadium. But once the B-52s went on, I never saw the stage again.

As the B's took the stage, the sky opened up with a brief sun shower. It didn't cool anything off at all, just got us wet. But it reminded me of that Eurythmics show, when the skies opened up during Howard Jones's set.

The B's opened up with "Planet Claire", which sounded good. At least I think it was them, although for all I could see, the stadium could have just been playing the album over the sound system. (I stood up for just a second, and sort of got a brief glimpse of Fred in a bright yellow shirt, Kate wearing an electric reddish wig, and Cindy in what I think was a blonde wig.)

Now unbeknownst to me, these two middle-aged inebriated couples had slid into seats in the row behind us, over my left shoulder. (Oh yeah. You can already kind of see where this one is going, can't you?). The seats to my left (in front of them) were empty. The B's announced their second song, "Dance This Mess Around", and started it off slowly. (The song sounded a little sloppy in the beginning, to be honest.) They hit a weird interlude, then went rocking back into the song, this time at full speed. As they did so, I was jolted from my plastic seat. The one drunk moron behind me was going crazy as the B's rocked out, and using my row of seats as a drum set. My head spun around in shock at the sudden bouncing, and I'm sure he saw it. His wife (girlfriend?) did too, and said something to him, at which point he begrudgingly stopped banging. But for the rest of the set, every time the B's went into an energetic number, he'd start banging again until she stopped him. Of course, when you enter the stadium, they check for weapons. But I contemplated whether I could use my car keys to dig both of his eyes out. (He was so wasted, I doubt he'd have even missed them.)

So this was pretty much how it was through the whole set. On the other side of me, Denise danced away, enjoying her favorite band, oblivious to the fact that I was seriously wondering if I was going to wind up in a fight with this guy. As for the band, although they, too, commented on the heat (and temperature-wise, it wasn't even that hot, maybe about 80 degrees or by this time, in the upper seventies -- it was really all about the humidity), but they were mostly pretty good ... except. Kate's voice sounded lovely, clear and strong. Fred sounded ... well, like Fred. But Cindy. Cindy, Cindy, Cindy. Cindy has had some vocal problems at certain shows we've seen in the past. And possibly because of the heat, those problems took front and center tonight. It wasn't so bad when she was harmonizing. But when she took her leads, it sounded as though she must have gargled with battery acid before the show. As much as Denise was enjoying herself, even she made faces several times, as Cindy croaked her way through "Roam" and "Give Me Back My Man." Of course, her vocal issues never slowed down the Little Drummer Boy behind me, who was blissfully oblivious to everything except the basic beat of every song, and when it was time to go for another beer.

Yeah, I know it's a show. And if you think I'm unaware of what a sour pain in the ass I can be sometimes, I can tell you I'm not. I try to keep a rein on it, because I don't want to spoil Denise's good time.  But this is me, I'm afraid, in all my annoying (and easily annoyed) glory. (There was a point about ten years ago where I used to write a blog called "The Grumpy Traveler". If they ever publish a magazine called Curmudgeon's Life, or The Misanthrope Monthly, I'll be the first too subscribe).

But I should tell you, there's some history here to my impatience with drunks. Part of my extended family had some issues with alcohol, and I had to deal with some sloppy drunks from when I was a young kid. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, like a lot of young men, I used to drink a lot myself. Then one year, I started to worry that maybe I had a problem with it, and I made a New Year's resolution to give up drinking for a month. It was harder to keep than anything I'd ever done before, especially because I had some "friends" who repeatedly tried their best to get me to break my promise to myself ("We really respect what you're doing, and I'm sure none of us would think any less of you if just had one drink tonight.") After the month was over, I won't say that I never drank again, but I had a completely different relationship with alcohol. And for the last thirty years or so, I've become the kind of person who might have a cold beer once or twice a year during the summer heat, and maybe a glass of champagne on New Year's Eve, but that's about it. Unfortunately, I've also lost all tolerance for drunks. I discovered how obnoxious most drunk people are when you're sober yourself, and at the same time, I've become that one person that every drunk in the bar seems to want to latch onto while they ramble on endlessly with their mind-numbing intoxicated stories. It's like being that one person in the room who's afraid of animals -- cats and dogs just naturally gravitate towards you.

Anyway, the B's closed up as you would expect with "Love Shack" and "Rock Lobster", and the mostly full stadium seemed to love it.

So up last was Culture Club. This was kind of a surprise to me, because I assumed The B-52's would be the headliners. But that probably has to do with how I value those two bands. Here's a secret just between the two of us ... I don't give a damn about Culture Club. I like "Karma Chameleon" (and it kind of came back to me during their set that I like of few of their other songs besides, including "I'll Tumble 4 Ya", "Time (Clock of the Heart)" and especially "Miss Me Blind"), but I've just never been into their style. And if I had been at the show by myself, I promise you, I'd have left right after "Rock Lobster". (Maybe even before, given the circumstances). I did see them once before, at Jones Beach, but that was largely because someone I liked a lot better was opening. (I want to say Human League, but it could have been The Psychedelic Furs also -- there are two different shows we saw during that same summer that mix together in my head). Culture Club did win me over a little that night, mostly because we were sitting in the handicapped area, and there were a group of kids in wheelchairs who were so excited, and were having such a good time (and I think George might have even made a point of coming over and singing directly to them at one point), and I thought to myself that anyone who could make kids like that so happy can't be all bad. But in truth, I like a lot more synthesizer and a lot less funk/Motown influence in my '80s music, so Culture Club isn't really my thing.

At some point, either during the very end of the B's set, or the intermission between bands, some rather stocky lady who was there by herself plopped herself down in one of the seats to my left, directly in front of where you-know-who was sitting (bless her heart). She did this while he was out getting his group another round of beers. So when Culture Club came on, he couldn't really wallop the seat in front of him anymore, because she was sitting there. For the rest of the night, he had to pretty much content himself with just screaming, "Whoooooo! WHOOOOOOOOO!" in my ear at the top of his lungs.

Anyway, Culture Club. They were quite tight as a band, and George was in fine voice. He told funny little anecdotes throughout the night (although at times, he seemed a little frustrated with trying to get the tired and very overheated crowd to engage more). I wasn't much into the set -- the heat, and the drunk, and their style of music all saw to that -- but I can objectively say that they sounded really good. (And well they should have -- when I finally stood up during "Karma Chameleon", their last song, I saw that he literally had what I counted to be a 12-piece band behind him). In addition to most of Culture Club's hits, they opened with Bowie's "Let's Dance" (a pretty good fit for them, I'd have to admit), and at one point during the encore, they played Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" -- never my favorite song, but the crowd seemed to like it.

So that was the show. For whatever reason, the hike back to the train station seemed twice as long as the hike there had been, but we got through it. We caught both of our train connections relatively quickly, and arrived back in Babylon at about 11:30. I went across the street to stand in front of what used to be the Pisces Cafe, and sang one sad chorus of the title track from Tom Cavanagh's The Pisces Rock Opera (well, I did this in my heart anyway). Then, were so tired that we drove directly home without even stopping for food.

As for The Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, it's a good place to see a show ... if you live nearby in Queens! If you live anywhere else, the logistics of getting there and back are such a pain in the ass that you'd have to be insane to go there. (Well, maybe next year. We'll see.)

Hasta bananas, people.