Tuesday, December 15, 2015

COLUMN: Opening Bands

(Avid Dancer... who are awesome.)

I witnessed something pretty cool the other night. And after the week our world's had, we could all use a dose or two of "pretty cool" right about now.

Two days after I wrote last week's column, the senseless attacks in France happened. I wish I knew what to say. I have family on the outskirts of Paris, and I thank God they're all okay. If you're looking for someone to make sense of this incomprehensibly needless tragedy, you probably shouldn't turn to the guy who normally writes about video games and cats.

All I can offer you is one simple fact: In the history of the world, nothing good has ever come out of hate. That's not rocket science, it's just common sense. Hate simply breeds MORE hate, and nothing positive ever gets accomplished through negative deeds. After hours of CNN-sponsored despondency, I needed a break -- so I hopped on social media to see what my friends were up to.

This was a big mistake. If you think hate runs rampant in the real world, you should see how fast it gallops around Facebook. I was expecting messages of sympathy, support, and condemnation for those who carried out the cowardly attacks. Those were there, don't get me wrong -- but in order to see them, I had to wade through some of the most hurtful, backwards-thinking, phobic, outright racist and downright stupidest rants I've ever seen. Like I said, hate breeds hate.

I needed to get away from it all before I started to lose faith in humanity. I needed to do SOMETHING to prove to myself that our global village is more than a never-ending cycle of hate piled on top of hate. Life and joy and happiness can't be extinguished by a handful of hate-mongering scumbags. I walked out of the house, got in my car, and drove myself to a rock concert.

Last weekend was another major coup for the Quad Cities: We were the only medium-sized market to score a stop on the tour itinerary of singer-songwriter BØRNS. Critics and fans alike are calling him the next big thing, so to catch him touring on the cusp of fame was a real treat.

Of course, this was all due to the musical renaissance that the QC is experiencing thanks to Daytrotter, the Davenport-based website that draws bands from across the country to their downtown recording studio. Over the past year, Daytrotter founder Sean Moeller has been leveraging his website's popularity to get us some truly remarkable local shows. Bands that can sell out mid-sized venues in Chicago are now routinely playing coffeeshops and theaters in the Quad Cities. It's a beautiful era for a music nerd like me.

As I walked into the show, I couldn't help but think about Paris. I thought about those other music nerds who just wanted to go see the Eagles of Death Metal rock the Bataclan on a cool Paris night. I took note of the emergency exits and envisioned myself running out if I had to. But that was the last I thought about terror that night, because then I saw friends. I saw a merch table. I saw a band getting ready to take the stage and felt that familiar tingle of expectation run down my spine. If the goal of the Paris attackers was to make us too afraid to enjoy a concert, they failed miserably.

But that wasn't the best part. Initially, I debated whether or not to get there early enough to catch the opening band. I have a love/hate relationship with opening acts. Sometimes, you luck out and catch an opener who are brilliant. Once I went to Chicago to see the band Doves. We got there crazy early and ended up in the front row when the opening band took the stage.

"Man," I remember yelling in my friend's ear, "For an opener, these guys are pretty good."

That band was The Strokes, and two months later, they were on the cover of Rolling Stone.

More often than not, though, you're stuck having to sit through an inexperienced band lacking in tunes who play for fifteen minutes past their welcome. I get it, though. Every band has to start somewhere, and I'm nothing if not a music supporter. So I arrived that night in time to catch the opener, and I'm so glad I did.

They were an L.A. band called Avid Dancer. And when they took to the stage, the coolest thing happened. The crowd ERUPTED. At first, I wondered if people thought they were BØRNS. But no, it was just a crowd glad to see a great band and eager to let them know. After each one of their songs, the crowd screamed, clapped, and hollered. Earlier this year, I drove to New York City to see my favorite band Ride play their first American show in over a decade, and THAT crowd wasn't as appreciative as the kids in the Village Theatre were to see a band they'd never heard before.

For their part, Avid Dancer ate the attention up. Within minutes, a group that I would presume to normally be stoic onstage were smiling, dancing, and rocking out. Frankly, I ended up preferring them to BØRNS. At one point, the singer grabbed the mic and tried to explain that they were used to playing shows where the audience would just glare at them in judgement.

"We've got two songs left," he said. "But honestly, I'd rather just stop now and come party with you guys for the rest of the night. You're amazing, Iowa!"

It was a feeling umpteen times more powerful than hate. Maybe the crowd was instinctively reacting to what had transpired in Paris. Maybe the crowd just knew they were lucky to get a show this good in the Quad Cities. Maybe it was just the natural reaction of a pack of music nerds to a really, really great band. Either way, that sea of kids jumping and screaming for a group they'd never heard of was just what I needed to feel good about humanity again.

If terrorists really do hate our way of life, I kinda feel sorry for them -- they're missing out on one great way of life.  

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