Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Betty Who, Two Feet and Panic! at the Disco

The end of last year, for my daughter's birthday, I had to choose between Panic! at the Disco tickets, or taking her to a Supernatural convention. Now Panic! had played the Nassau Coliseum last summer, and when my daughter learned that she'd missed them (and that her younger cousin had seen them), she was a little bummed. So as much as I love Sam and Dean Winchester, I decided on the Panic! tickets.

Then, shortly after her birthday, she started going out very seriously with a guy who had previously been a friend. So seriously, in fact, that she went to Maine for the Christmas holidays with him to meet his mother. I figured I'd wait to make sure the trip went well, then tell her it was OK with me if her boyfriend took her to the concert instead of me. But she surprised me (and made me feel good) by telling me that in spite of the new relationship, she still wanted me to take her.

So last Wednesday, we headed out to the  Ronkonkoma LIRR station to take the train into Brooklyn for the show. We got there early, and grabbed a couple of seats on the train. And shortly thereafter, my daughter spotted my niece through the window, and vice versa. My niece (the little show kid, who's about to turn into the teen show kid) was traveling with two friends (sisters). They were being chaperoned by their Mom, who I'd met at my sister-in-law's house on Christmas Eve.

It was a jolly train ride, full of teens and tweens, all headed to the Barclay Center with their Moms or Dads. At one point, the girls in our little group broke into a Panic! song that sounded vaguely familiar to me, although I couldn't name it if my life depended on it. My daughter was happy, not only because she was going to the concert, but also because my niece's party had brought a pizza onto the train, and they were kind enough to share.

We all scooted across the platform and changed trains at Jamaica, but the train to the Atlantic Terminal was so crowded that I had to stand for the twenty-minute ride. I was feeling pretty good, though, so I didn't mind. (Although there was a twenty-something soy boy on the train dressed like Brendon Urie who took up an extra seat with his poster, which implored Brendon to pull him up on the stage. Secretly -- well, maybe not secretly, since I shared the thought with my daughter -- I hoped that Urie would pull him up on the stage and just slap him silly!)

When we arrived at the station, the mob around the staircase going up into the terminal was immense. But some pleasant little girl wearing an Islanders jersey who goes to Barclay all the time for the hockey games led us to another stairway that no one seemed to know about. We climbed the stairs up to the street level, only to pass two homeless women who were loudly discussing a problem one of them had with their private parts. My niece's two friends looked at one another with eyes wide in surprise. This was their first concert.

When we got out onto the street, I saw a bright building, and confidently declared, "There it is!" The letters on the sign glowed brightly. "B-A-M!" Whoops! Brooklyn Academy of Music. Never mind.

We soon found the right direction, and headed the two blocks to the building. By this time, I wasn't feeling so great. The hot train ride with my coat on, plus the twenty minutes standing on the train from Jamaica, plus the run up the staircase at the Atlantic Terminal, followed by the two-block jaunt in the cold to the Barclay Center was starting to wear on me.

We got inside through the metal detectors, and I regretfully left my niece's party behind (as they were sitting a level higher up than we were). By this point, I desperately needed three things -- a restroom, something to drink, and to sit down.

We found the restrooms after a longer walk than I would have liked, then found a concession stand labelled "Cocktails" that had no line. I bought us a pair of Barclay Center's bargain-priced (ha!) $7 bottles of water. (My daughter later informed me that beers were $15 a can.) Then, when I went to pay, I discovered that my money was no good there. Literally! Apparently, one of Barclay Center's wonderful little innovations is what they call the "cash-free" concession stand. It's credit card, or die of thirst. I grumpily pulled out my card for the disinterested girl behind the counter. (I guess "legal tender" is a foreign term in Brooklyn.)

Then, we headed for our seats. As we walked out into the arena, we passed a double row of unoccupied handicap seats. I asked the young usher if they were all taken, and he told me I'd have to walk to Section 12 to the hospitality center to get permission to use them. (Fool, if I could walk to Section 12 without passing out right now, I wouldn't need a handicap seat!) However, it turned out that our seats wear only two rows up, and the seats were wide and comfortable. And the usher for this section, who was one of those friendly, funny guys who likes to dance with the kids at these kinds of shows, promised me that if there was a problem with the seats to let him know, and he'd take care of it.

At this point, we settled in for the show. It was a pretty festive mood as the crowd filed in. In the section to my right, a group of young girls started singing a Panic! song together. Our usher playfully threatened them, telling them there was no singing allowed in his section.

At 7 PM the lights went out, and the opening act came on. I had no idea who they were, since they weren't listed on the ticket. It was a pop singer singing to canned music, with two male backup dancers. I mentioned to my daughter that the guy looked like Bowie, and she laughed at me. Turns out it was a girl. Welcome to the age of androgeny.

Eventually, near the end of her set, I learned that her name was Betty Who. (Doctor Who's niece, no doubt.) From her accent, I correctly guessed she was Australian. Some of the kids in the crowd seemed to know her, and seemed excited that she was there. The only real ripple of interest I had during her set was when, amazingly, I recognized her next-to-last song. No wonder. I looked it up later, and it was a '90s cover, of Donna Lewis' "I Love You Always Forever". She was alright, I guess, but I hate this new trend of opening acts singing to canned music. (They did the same thing at the Twenty One Pilots concert last year.) And having a couple of dancers didn't make up for it. Not to be mean, but honestly, I'd just as soon that they'd have cut her out of the show, started at 8 PM, and gave my daughter and I enough time to get dinner beforehand.

Next up was an act named Two Feet. I never heard of him before I bought the tickets, but he has a hit song that my kids are familiar with called "Go F--- Yourself!". He played this show as part of a duo -- he had an electric guitar, and there was a keyboardist/computer operator onstage also. As it turned out, the guy is a talented guitarist, but he was a weird-ass choice to open for Panic! at the Disco. Panic! does what I consider very theatrical rock music, in the vein of bands like Queen. Two Feet turned out to be a very staid classical blues guitarist. He's an excellent player, but his brand of slow blues music kind of sucked the life out of the room.

To make things worse, my daughter left early in his set to go use the Ladies Room. And a combination of a long line (due to the mostly female crowd) and a shorter-than-expected set led to him playing his one hit that she knew while she was still in the bathroom. (She said she could hear it pretty well in there, though.) He did get a decent hand from the crowd at the end of his set, possibly because he was a self-proclaimed native New Yorker playing to the hometown crowd.

In between sets, my daughter informed me that she'd taken a peek at the merch stand, and they were predictably overpriced. So she used her phone to go up on Amazon to score herself some Panic! swag. (She's a funny kid!) She also mentioned that she was excited that the two seats next to her had remained empty. Alas, two seconds before the next set, the couple who was sitting in them arrived.

Next up was Panic! Now I don't know Panic!'s music that well. My daughter has one of their (his, really, since these days Panic! is just Brendon Urie) albums in her car. And I've listened to it when I've needed to borrow her car because mine is in the shop, because it's either that or sludge metal. And to prep myself for the show, earlier in the day, I did give their most recent album a listen on YouTube. But my point is, this is a band whose music I was largely unfamiliar with.

The crowd went crazy as they raised Urie and his band through the floor and onto the stage. As it turned out, the band was pretty large. In addition to his core group of himself, a guitarist, a bass player and a drummer, he had a 3-piece all-female string section and a 3-piece all-male brass section who helped him out as needed throughout the night.

Right from the beginning, all of the teenyboppers in the crowd were up and dancing. This was unfortunate for my daughter, who likes to sit and enjoy a show like I do. Because there was a pair of dancing duos in front of us, blocking her vision.

Nevertheless, she still seemed to be enjoying herself. Now my daughter is a pretty stoic kid. (Well, young woman now.) Many's the time I've taken her to an event and not been sure if she was enjoying it or not (because her expression seldom changes), only to learn much later that it was a night that she loved and always remembered. But for this show, I could tell she was enjoying herself, because she sang along for almost all the songs. And about halfway through the set, my friend the usher came up and asked us if we'd like to move down to two empty handicap seats where her view wouldn't be blocked. We jumped at the opportunity, and she got to watch the rest of the show unimpeded.

I have to say that not being a big Panic! fan, and not being familiar with their music, I actually found the show very entertaining. Urie is a high-energy performer with a bit of dance-pop panache, and the show was nicely arranged to keep it interesting. For example, at one point, surrounded by security, he sang his way into the crowd, and all the way to the sound table near the back of the floor. There, he mounted a small platform with a piano on it. And as he played a slow, quiet piano song, the platform was slowly lifted up into the air and carefully pulled over the crowd's head and then lowered back down to the stage. (I did mention to my daughter that as much as I was sure those cables were strong, I was glad I wasn't sitting in one of those seats with a full-sized piano gliding over my head. My daughter agreed. We've both seen The Phantom of the Opera.)

We watched the rest of the concert, then slipped out quietly during the last song. She had to get up early the next morning, and there was no way we were going to miss that 11:20 train back to Ronkonkoma.

A little later, my niece and her squad appeared on our train. They'd had fun, although I think my niece was a little disappointed that her seats were so high up this time. The Barclay Center has video screens, but they're not huge. And I heard her say that the players looked like ants.

As for me, I liked the show a lot, and wasn't a bit bored during Panic's set. And I really relished how much my daughter enjoyed the show. Thanks Panic!, and Barclay Center, for showing my hard-working daughter a good time. And next holiday, don't tell her, but I just might score her those Supernatural Convention tickets as well.