Wednesday, May 22, 2013

As We Go so goes Oswego

It is the aptly named, yet vastly understated, K-Rock "Dysfunctional" Family BBQ held at the Oswego Speedway for the first time this year. It's 40 minutes north of Syracuse where K-Rock broadcasts from. It's a good 5 hour drive for us from Jersey, but I used to go to school a hundred years ago in Syracuse so I was not unfamiliar with the area. Beautifully scenic ride through upstate NY. Great tunes and almost no traffic.

We brought the laptop, since I do not have a smartphone and this was our only means of communication with The Big Chris, BW's Security/asst TM/overall good vibe generator! It was only messages through email or FB since his phone service would be out in the States. Bet made sure that the B&B we were staying at had wifi. Right before leaving, TBC asked if I could pick them up some stuff, since they were not sure of the lay of the land and had no rider. Of course I said "No problem!" … now I'm shoppin' for the band! Who would say no?!

About an hour into the trip, after fastidiously knocking off each item on my list of things to bring and do, leaving a bit later than expected due to double checking EVERYTHING, Bet asks the inevitable… "Did you bring the tickets?"…… um, no…" "F-it! We're not going back!" I assure her that we'll get in. She's skeptical, but a captive. This better come off or I'm in deep shit.

We arrive in Oswego and of course Bet hit it out of the park with the B&B again. It was a gorgeous historical home near the lake. A sweet, genteel couple Ole and Tammy got us settled and we were off to a local pub for dinner. After dinner, before the BW bus left TO for the gig, we contacted TBC and he was happy to hear that we had scoped the area and a Wallmart was nearby the Speedway. We got a good night sleep, got up early and awaited our mission from TBC…. and waited… and waited… and waited… (I forgot we were on musician time) at 11:30 we got the message to come on over. Remember, we have no tickets and once we leave, we have no way to contact TBC… we go dark.

So it's up to my bag of BS to get us into see the band. The Speedway is up on big hill and the parking area is a large grass field already filled with thousands of very purposeful tailgaters. 

I pull by the the first parking attendant and explain that "I'm with the band, and I need to bring them some stuff, and we need to park near the bus and… and… and…" She stares at me blankly and waves me up the chain to the next attendant. Three attendants later, we are told to pull over and wait for the head of security as he sorts out a problem, which we were evidently pulled over next to.

A group of very drunk, shirtless, skin-head-like thugs were chicken heading with some nerdy looking' college kids. The college kids were WAY in the minority in this crowd. This place was an anthropologist's dream. As the fight began to brew, security rolled up… along with local police… and Troopers… and border patrol! It was SUV's, golf carts and ATV's all over! After 10 minutes of stunted intimidation, a nice wobbly gentleman was escorted out. My only concern was that the head of security would be in a bad mood as I sang my tune.

He buys my story to a point and lets us park in the reserved area, but leaves it up to us to get in and contact the band. So far so good, and it's off to the main gate to talk our way in, no way to contact the band … with no tickets! In these situations, it can go either way depending on the mood of the people in charge. If we don't get in, I face the wrath of BETTY…. oh, you don't wanna know!

As they frisk all the miscreants, I mean… fans, Bet and I approach the gate to tell our tale once more. It pays to be sober, look un-intimidating, and… oh who am I kidding… to look OLD! At least they entertained our story, but wouldn't let us in without contacting the band. From the gate we could see the bus and TBC walking about but they were 100 yards away! 

After pointless cell phone calls to TBC… Bet and I decided to pitch using her as a hostage for security to let me go scout for the band. We threw in the camera, and they bought it. Bet watched from up on the hill as I made my way through, 1, 2, 3 security checkpoints. The head guy in a cart finally escorts me the last few yards behind the gate, up to the bus, suspiciously. Out pops Dave and he gives me a big hug. The Big Chris is next and security finally gives me the thumbs up. Into the bus, and I lay out my need for passes and the forgotten ticket drama. TBC tells me he's got no pull, so no passes! ARGH! But he does say that he will escort Betty in. Thank God, because the weight of the guilt I would feel, hanging with the band and watching the show with Betty just outside the gate would be too much for my fragile psyche to handle….. hehe!

Me and TBC and 2 security guys take the ride to get The Betty. Success! So hyped, I blurt out an offer to go to dinner after the show… TBC says, "Look, ya got this far… don't press your luck!" Bet shoots me a look. It's all good.

So the hugs and bus hang begin. Ian pops up with his pink pants and plaid shirt and I give him the "Oooh, rock star outfit!" Betty punches me to shut up. We give him the heads up on the scary, desperate crowd and the band setlist discussions begin. Everyone is so funny and genial. The band vibe is very positive and unserious, but professionally concerned nonetheless. It's a short set, with a rough crowd so I say go hard and go fast! 

I had time to pump Ian and Bri about the Crue experience. Many tales that I cannot tell… lets just say that it was a well run, professionally managed circus.. and the food was exquisite! In the end Nikki and Ian hit it off and Nikki invited him to do his radio show so we'll have to keep an eye open for that coming up. 

We talked about the shifting sands of the music biz, and the struggle to make a living today. Bri shared some small tour realities that were staggering; so opposite of what they experienced watching the Crue operation. It ain't pretty, but they're grateful for the chance to play. The convo shifted to Myles Kennedy, the hardest working man in showbiz, since James Brown passed. I asked Ian if he had the chance to ask Myles about the Zep tryout. He lights up like a little kid! "ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? As soon as I got him alone at dinner, I was 'Oh my God, So what was it like!'" Two little kids talkin' about their musical idols. Myles says they jammed for hours. Says it was wonderful! Still has no idea why it didn't happen. I forgot to ask Ian if there was a recording. So cool!

We had about an hour to hang, catch up and then it was time for the band to warm up. Vocal cords and fingers flailing about so Bet and I were ejected into the crowd.

Usually, even though I'm a grandpa and sober I like to "mix it up" with some of the fans. I try to see echoes of my former self in the crowd, look for other music fans, talk history or future music; just about anything to engage an exceedingly insular generation. Sad to say, after watching the goings on at this shindig, I did not even want to make eye contact with anyone. Any conversation could turn ugly on a dime… and I'm not the shy wallflower… I've been known to make a wise remark that might be taken the wrong way. Better to dummy up.  

We saw at least 4 all out brawls between very determined, angry girls. These were no girly cat fights either. Plastered, hair grabbing punchers rolling about on the hot macadam with equally drunk friends trying to intervene. The guys represented as well. Wiry little thugs throwing down at a sideways glance… all the violence kept security on their toes. 

I think that only a small portion of the crowd cared about the music at all. The bands ran the gamut but leaned on the hard. They for the most part fed the beast. All BW's fretting over the sound and the setlist would be lost on this mob for certain. But that's just how professionally dedicated to the show the guys and crew are.

We worked our way to the band area, next to the soundboard. Betty wanted to be down front, but up close to the crowd she thought better of it. Ian told us that good old "Charlie Fukin' Fergusen" was at the board (I only know him from Ian's stage banter on one of the many bootleg BW shows I have). He was furiously working the board against all odds - He's a MASTER!

Despite a woefully bad setup by the local promoter, Bobby (Tour Manager), Bruce (Guitars and ALL), Karen (Stage Monitors) and Charlie (Floor/House Sound) muscled their way through and delivered a near flawless show! Amazing to see what goes on behind the scenes. The crowd surged. Bet and I held our breath and BW hit the stage. The energy was high as the "Head Together" chant washed us. Inhale blazed out; the crowd was jacked and so began the crowd surfing, shoving and beer spilling!

Sure enough, a pit evolved. By That Song some of the people began paying attention and singing along. However, that did little to slow the growing chaos of the pit. Next up was Albatross. Surely that would tranquilize. NAH! Even after Ian, who dealt with the crowd like the pro he is, urged them to be careful… That beautiful intro…. MOSH…. heartfelt verse… MOSH… tasty slide solo…. MOSH… soaring final vocal run… MOSH HARDER!

After a bit it was like F-it! If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. They launch into, you guessed it, Fallin' to Pieces". It was massive! But like  gasoline on a fire! It grew bigger and more violent! Security swept through 2-3 times to carry out the wounded and unruly (not sure how you can sort out either). And the band played on.

They nailed the landing with the Oaf and just like that it was over. We escaped unscathed over to the bus area to say our goodbyes. A couple of the more coherent fans stood by the bus and had Chuck and Ian chat them up and took some pix. I should have told them about the FB group… missed opportunity. 

Not wanting to overstay our welcome, Bet waves bye and Ian waves us back in. So it was back to the bus to talk post show wrap-up and the plans for ROTR. They are all so professionally focussed and always concerned with perfecting their performance even though the mass majority of the mob would never notice. I know I sound like a snob, but really this Oswego crowd saddened me. It's a weird world; 'nuff said.

We stayed aboard for an hour or so, as TBC tended to some of the more needy (dehydrated/injured/inebriated) who crashed near the bus. The man's a prince. We took some pix, gave thanks, and the boys were off to see Volbeat (who's crew they all knew).

So the old folks were off. Back to our genteel hosts at the B&B, who wanted to know all about the concert. We were kinda speechless. Then we were off to Syracuse for a nice courtyard dinner downtown. What a day of contrasts.

Let me just say in closing; I'm perpetually amazed at the BW camp's hospitality and grace. I cannot wait for the Sarnia show and some REAL BW fans! Hopefully as a headliner, they'll go back to their extended setlist. Bet and I REALLY love our little rock & roll adventures. We don't have much money but we do seem to have good friends and lots of laughs. FU Pete! I'm glad I didn't die before I got old.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Wrecked Genes

Hey Big Wreck fans! Time to talk about our latest trip. Bet and I drove out to The Note in West Chester PA. A stylish little place that has a capacity of about 400 in a college town of sorts. We stayed with old buddies of ours Drs. Jerry and Pam; The Grundoons (it's along story). They live about a half hour from The Note. It's a couple of hours from where we live, so it was a real blessing that we could stay over night at their house. Even better, they have become fans of the music. I've known Jerry since 3rd grade and through high school and college we used to crank some tunes. Within the last two years we have had the opportunity to rekindle some musical stuff, through me turning him on to Sonny Landreth.

Along with some other Sonny stuff, I got him Albatross (because EVERYONE gets Albatross) and lo and behold he could "hear" it. As all you Big Wreck fans know, many listen to BW but few people "hear" it. Jerry gets it. And I REALLY enjoy that! I've tried to get people to "get it" for as long as I've known BW. Most people can only scratch the surface; "Sounds like Zep" "He sings like Chris Cornell" "It has that Can-Rock Nu-Rock Nickleback sound", "Every song sounds different". etc. I'm sure you all know what I mean. The Canadians love their BW, but I even hear bitching and moaning that "they're ALWAYS on the radio!" in some circles on the internet. Well not so in the US and I guess all over the rest of the world!

That's why I wanted to write a bit of a tribute to Big Wreck's foreign legion. Us foreigners live in a world isolated from BW dominance. We've got quite a few of us scattered throughout the world on the BW Facebook Group page. We've got genetic mutants in Poland, Brazil, Germany, South Africa, India, the US and other nations. I call us genetic mutants, because I think that it's a Big Wreck gene that we fans all have. We love the crunch, but swoon to the sweet melodies. We bounce to the muscular riff and chill to the sexy-tasty solos. We get goose bumps to the harmonies, but throw our necks out to the dissonant throw down of Falling to Pieces. The lyrics, one part clever wordplay and two parts sincere story telling are so deep they resonate daily. To us Ian's voice doesn't sound like Myles OR Cornell. He is IT! We hum the melodies as we shop, sing the words when we're alone, and dance 'til we fall down dizzy in the basement (maybe that's just me). We get our kids to listen until they tell us they like other music instead, but you catch them singing along when it's on in the car "NO TALKING until this song's over"… and it's never over.

I've always enjoyed turning people on the new music. I love to see when their eyes light up with that "WOW this kicks ass!" look. That's what the show at The Note was all about for me. Bet loves going down front, watching all the nuance of the band interactions up close. At least that's what she says…. (in front of Ian all the time!) Me, I like to talk it all up with anyone who's near. I had plenty of enthusiastic fanage to engage with.

We got there for the first band's set and parked in the way-back. Dave came by and said hello and had to go set up. Bet and I popped outside to the bus to say hey (Grundoon and pam were too shy…), met Chuck for the first time, and hung with Brian, Paulo and Chuck for a few minutes getting the skinny on Baltimore; the show AND the sight seeing. All good and upbeat. They were in show prep mode and concerned with the curfew, two new crew members and a VERY tight setup. Compared to the extravaganza of the TOAD tour this is a back-to-basics gig.

As we trundled off the bus, into the too-cold-for-spring-in-PA-night (no laughing you Canadians) we saw a couple of young dudes with BW shirts on catching a smoke. I said "I guess you guys are here to see the Wreck" (clever, huh)That turned into a 20 minute, arm waving, hand gesturing, Big Wreck Fan club meeting in the freezing cold. Vin A, the singer in an oldies band that tours all over, drove down from North Jersey with his boys and girls to see this band that has torn up his life since he heard Wolves on the radio while HE was touring Canada. "Music today SUCKS! My people (kids his age) don't know what GOOD is! This band is REAL!" He's 25 and he GETS IT! Justin O'Brien from an hour away PA and his Jersey girlfriend hear the commotion and chime in. Justin's 27 and has been waiting 14 years, since the Oaf was on MTV when he was 11 to see this band that hooked him. These guys' PARENTS are younger than me, but we share the same mutant Big Wreck gene! It was GREAT!

As we pressed on inside, up front we met all kinds of people of the same thread. Fans for years or brand new "hearers" all traveling multiple miles and many years to see the Big Wreck magic live. You all know that the show was killer. That the solos were chicken skin inducing. Really, though I LOVE every song AND the whole band together, but when Ian just leans into a solo there is a vibration in the air that resonates with your spine that melts away all. Few guitar players possess that quality. It certainly makes you notice. I don't know why more people don't. Oh that's right…. it's a GENETIC MUTATION.

Vin A, a bit enthusiastic (understatement alert) blurts out in his hoarse rocker voice "SOME Albatross". Ian starts cracking up, cause from up on stage it sounded like one of these metal band voices. He points out a poster he saw for some death metal band called "Suffocation" and launches into his death metal voice "Here's the new one from SUFFOCATION - Albatross!" We all crack up, Vin included, cause we GET IT!

Musically, the mix was a bit tough down front, but perfect in the back. The stage amps are immense and powerful. Chuck has a HUGE bass drum and sat low with no riser. Davey was particularly tasty in the upfront mix. Paulo was off by the brick wall and was kind of constrained, but he ripped it like a pro. I was closest to Brian and really got a taste of all the nuance he brings to the music. All the overtones and fill notes that make Ian sound so full are Brian in complete sync with Ian. While Paulo provides counterpoint, Brian expands Ian's sound to muscle it up. Damned good band! Even their old standards BWO, The Oaf, That Song sound tight and fresh! And to hear this room of 150 genetic mutants from the good old USA sing all the words was just WONDERFUL!

Most wonderful of all, though, was this little girl. Maybe 25 or so, 5 ft tall, iPhone in hand, stage front and videoing every move of Dr. Thornley. She was in her own little world. Singing EVERY WORD of EVERY song she convinced me that we shared a gene somewhere. More about her later. We met a couple from Richmond who had seen them the night before in Baltimore. Needless to say; blown away

The show had no big surprises until the end. Tears for Fears Shout REALLY had some muscle. It is/was a perfect cover for Ian's new appreciation for the 80's. After a particularly tasty nuanced Shout solo they abruptly put the hammer down on Falling to Pieces! The ending crescendos into that long pattern of four guitars & banging out that dissonant rubber "bong, bong, bong…" with Chuck changing up the beat and fills. It was like a dub-step chant that began galloping into a boogie beat. You could see that they were all diggin' how Chuck was changing it up. The crowd was stunned. We all cheer and just like that it was over.

I engaged all that I could in the crowd to gauge how their first Wreckage went. Smiles and enthusiastic one-of-a-kind experience kudos were found all around. My gene pool rocks!

I'd say 80% of the peeps there were musicians. They tend to have a radar for the layers of the Wreck. They're hard to impress openly, but once you engage them they gush all over.

I poked a couple who looked to not be rocker types and they opened up about just discovering the band months ago. The guy turned her on to the album, knowing she was a Chris Cornell fan. She COMPLETELY got it. They've been listening for months and drove up from DC to see the band. Fans for life with so much to discover! I t' s i n t h e g e n e s.

Later on, Bet and I went to the bus to say our goodbyes. Dave and Paulo were outside entertaining the 50 or so mega-fans. The crowd gave us some heat for getting on the bus. Jealous….

Through the curtain and into the kitchen/living area on the bus and there she is! That little girl. Her name is Lucretia and she is rapid-fire interviewing Ian. She's all deep into the music, lyric content, how it relates to his personal experiences… wow, she's like "Chatty Bat" (look it up on youtube) (watch about 2:40 in) and Ian's all smiles and wit. It was like looking at myself pumping Ian for info to get that deep connect that was ingrained from listening for the last 14 years. AND she drove to see BW from TEXAS!!!! I'm telling you IT'S IN THE GENES!

Bet and I said our thank yous and byes, Ian gave Betty her a big hug we made some loose plans with Brian, to see them up in Sarnia. And we left the bus.

The crowd booed us, 'cause they wanted Brian and Ian to come out. Well from what I hear they did and hung out for quite a while with the 50 or so genetically modified by Big Wreck fans in waiting!!

PS Still looking for Lucretia from Texas. Get her in the Big Wreck Facebook group!