When British Sea Power announced the dates for their massive three-month U.S. tour, I joked with some friends that it was a good thing they were starting on the West Coast, as that would give me ample time to cobble together a rock tourism jag, should I be so enraptured after their California gigs. If you were any of these friends, however, you knew that I wasn't kidding. At all.
British Sea Power, Johnny Brenda's, May 9, 2008: In the two months since British Sea Power's San Francisco date, a lot has happened. In March, I crossed the legally contestable line between pleasantly charmed to thoroughly besotted, with all the baggage that entails (scouring the Internet, mapping itineraries, learning bird calls). April and May, however, brought a number of major shows that, in addition to reminding me why I do stupid things for music, helped bring me back to earth. Or some semblance thereof. The two-month interim has also helped cool my jets and will hopefully prevent me from typing anything mortifying. Bwahahahahahahaha.
But to prove that some shred of sanity remains, I'm happy to report that I won't be submitting my application to the Third Battalion any time soon, as I highly doubt I'd survive training camp. For one thing, I can't hold my liquor. For another, the sports references would be lost on me. But dammit, I'd love to see some of the band's weirder shows in England! Clearly, British Sea Power is in on the secret of tertiary markets--a subject near and dear to my heart. (Hello, Marfa! And, if all goes according to plan, Alaska this summer.)
So anyway: Philly! When my best friend went to grad school here, I occasionally flew in to visit and to drag her to shows in and around the tri-state area. I always liked that Philly hosted a lot of the same names as New York City, but in much smaller clubs and with a lot less hype. Johnny Brenda's fit this pattern to a T. The tiny stage, the saloon-like feel, the relaxed air--no wonder I didn't break a sweat while my flight was delayed for three hours in Chicago. (It's also a good thing I hadn't planned on attending the World Cafe show.)
Though the logistics didn't worry me much, I gotta admit I nursed a different set of apprehensions going into this show, as I often do prior to any trip, regardless of who's playing. Had I overcommitted? Was I being greedy? Can't I be happy seeing shows back home like everyone else does? Long story short: No, a probable yes, and no.
All doubts dissipated even before the opening notes of "Lights Out for Darker Skies," when Noble, Yan, and Hamilton, guitars donned raffishly, convened for an impromptu lineup, flashing wan but warm smiles at each other before shuffling off to their respective quarters. Then again, maybe the stage was so small that they had nowhere else to go. In fact, early on, Nobby remarked that he'd like to see the members of the Polyphonic Spree on that sliver of stage (my tip: pyramid formations). But when those familiar power chords followed, I got a ringing reminder of why Do You Like Rock Music is, by far, my favorite album of the year.
The band offered a couple of variations in their shows since I saw them in California. For one, they played the effortlessly charming "Open the Door," a song that a mere two months ago Paul was swearing he would never hear live. Lucky bastard!
The other variance was the band's rediscovery of its wild side, not that I ever doubted its absence. I'll chalk up the relatively proper San Francisco and Visalia shows to jet lag instead. I've been following their U.S. exploits, so I know they've been indulging their impishness across the land, but it was a wonderful thing to see again. So despite Noble's claims of sleep deprivation, he worked up enough energy to scale the heights, play from the balcony, tote a sizable amp, and sweep Yan up in his arms. Yan returned the favor by hoisting Nobby over his shoulders in a classic wrestling maneuver.
There was actually quite a bit of audience participation tonight, most notably when Nobby decided it was time to crowd-surf. We (the royal "we"--I never got a hand on him) punters obliged, supporting him across the floor and boosting him back up to the second-floor railing; he managed to take over from there and plant himself on the balcony. Before this happened, though, Nobby (with a knowing nod) presented his guitar to Paul for safekeeping, and somewhere in the craziness of "A-Rock," I picked up Phil's signal to hand him his cornet.
Oh man, it felt good to be back, and even better: Tonight was only the beginning.
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