Seeing The Academy Is

I’ve been a fan of The Academy Is… for a while now, basically since I discovered their last album Fast Times at Barrington High, and over the last couple of years I’ve become friends with William Beckett, the band’s lead singer, who also has a solo career and who many of you know I commissioned to write a theme song for my novel Lock In. The band broke up in 2011, before I could get around to seeing them live, but late this year they announced a one-off reunion tour to coincide with the 10 year anniversary of their second album Almost Here. Well, you didn’t have to tell me twice; I went and bought VIP tickets for me and the family to go see them at Bogart’s in Cincinnati.

Thoughts and observations and whatnot:

1. First, it was a pretty damn good concert, including the opening set by Partybaby, and it was clear that the band has a bunch of fans who were delighted that they got back together, even temporarily, to put up a tour. These kids knew all the words, sang along without prompting and generally had themselves a fine old time, and it was also clear the band was enjoying the fact the audience was just plain happy to see them on the stage again. You could be cynical about this and say this just means the band could have sung random Tweets and the audience would have been just as happy to make the scene, but I think it’s more that everyone in the room remembered why this stuff can be fun for everybody. This makes for a good vibe for a show.

2. I suspect that I may have been one of the five oldest audience members at the show, since most of TAI’s fans were (or at least appear to be) twentysomethings and, unrelated to age, also women. This is a) perfectly fine, b) nevertheless amusing to be a visible outlier at a concert. As I mentioned to Krissy last night, at this point in my life I am well-acclimated to my “dad” status, i.e., undeniably middle-aged dude who is at peace that his cool years are behind him (if he ever had cool years, which, well. I didn’t) and who adjusts accordingly.

For example, as VIP ticket holders, we were allowed to position ourselves early right in front of the stage before the show started, so we could be right there to see the band fling sweat at us as they performed. Did we? Hell no; we went back to the bar area where they had seats and a waiter to bring us drinks as the band played. You crazy kids go ahead and have fun up by the stage; we’re back here not being squished, with earplugs in so we can hear tomorrow. And that’s groovy.

3. Speaking of which, this concert was the first time I had ever done a “VIP” package at a show, in part because I wanted to see what something like that was like, and in part because William is my friend and I wanted to support him and his band a little more than the usual “ticket and t-shirt” level of things. With the exception of the venue making the VIP ticket-holders line up at a very early time and letting us freeze outside for more than a hour before herding us in, it was all right. We got in early, did a grip-and-grin photo moment with the band, and then had about a half hour where the band mingled with the VIP ticket people, chatting and signing photos and other stuff.

Krissy caught me grinning at that part, and this is why: While I make absolutely no claims of being a rock and roll star, I have in fact done the “VIP mix and mingle” thing, in which one works a room specifically for the purpose of circulating among a group of people who are there specifically to see you and/or you and a few other people. In my professional opinion, the band did a pretty good job of it; they were gracious with the fans, made sure to circulate and be available to people coming up to say hello, and seemed like they were having a good time which (whether you are or not) really is key.

That said, I’m not sure the VIP ticket thing is for me in general. This was a special circumstance in that I knew a band member personally, and I wanted to support his band, who I was also excited to see for the first time; I don’t know that many rock and roll stars on a one-on-one basis. I just bought tickets to see Journey next summer (I know, mock me if you want, I don’t care, I like Journey) and skipped over the VIP package. Being a middle-aged relatively successful dude, I could afford it. But honestly I don’t need two minutes with Neal Schon and Jonathan Cain, there are other people who I suspect want it more. I’m happy to let them have it, and to sit in the shed with hoi polloi, croaking out “Stone in Love” at the top of my lungs or whatever.

4. I don’t know many rock and roll stars, but I do now know a fair number of musicians, and the older I get the more I continue to be impressed with the skill and professionalism required to do the job of lighting up a stage. I know musicians as friends and admire their craft as songwriters, but the performance aspect always gets me the most. It’s fascinating to see people I know turn on the performance mode and become this other thing entirely — not a fake version of themselves but a version turned to being in front of a crowd — for the duration of an event.

I recognize it from what I do at events (I call it “performance monkey mode”), but again, to be clear, what I do is different from what musicians do. I dare say what they do requires more than what I do, not in the least because they have to carry a tune and/or play an instrument competently for an hour or more. Performance is hard; some performance modes are harder than others.

This may be another sign of me getting older. When I was young and I was at a concert I would mostly just rock out; now I watch the performance and note what they’re doing and see how hard they’re working and appreciate the effort. I don’t think it means that I enjoy the concert less, mind you, just that I enjoy it in a different way. I like watching people I like and/or admire do their job well, is what I’m saying. The Academy Is did their job very well last night.

5. Finally, here, have a TAI song to listen to. They didn’t play it last night, but it’s right for the season. Enjoy.

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