Seeing The Academy Is
Posted on December 20, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 16 Comments
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.
Also, to head off the “If he’s your friend why didn’t you get backstage passes” questions, I didn’t even ask. One, when I was looking at the VIP packages it was clear that the band was working both pre- and post- show fulfilling various VIP package stuff, so they were going to be busy dealing with that. I didn’t want to be a freeloader on their time when they were working. Being a friend means respecting that people are on the job. Two, I’m old and I live 90 minutes away from the concert venue, and I wanted to be home before it got too late.
Three, from experience I know that when one is doing a gig and/or on tour there are going to be people that you would normally want to spend time with but it’s just not going happen because there is so much else going on. When I am the person who is on tour, I rely on the forbearance of others, knowing they know I would hang out with with them more if I could, but I just can’t. When I’m on the other side of the equation, I don’t get upset when it happens to me.
Four: Have you even been backstage? Cramped, man.
Surely I can’t be the only one who saw the headline and thought it had something to do with Star Wars. What with the Yoda-style grammar and mention of an Academy… :)
I’m constantly amazed at the level of talent it takes to perform music live. There are some artists I can’t listen to at length on records, but who blow me away live. There’s this really odd chemistry that’s hard to define, but the great ones all have it.
For what it’s worth, I really enjoy Journey too. *G* Steve Perry had (still has) a great voice, and his replacement is equally amazing. Plus, they were icons of my (increasingly distant) youth, and you never forget your first bands.
I have been a guitar player for 43 years, and a harmonica player for a few years longer. But it took about 10 years to get to the point at which I could play the two instruments simultaneously to reproduce possibly passable versions of Neil Young and Bob Dylan songs (and lesser compositions of my own).
There’s no question that a lot of non-musicians are impressed with someone who’s put in the time to master an instrument such as the guitar. And I’ve always found that adding that second instrument into the mix – in this case, the harmonica – tends to arouse an additional level of appreciation. But take it a step further by strapping a set of cymbals to your knees and they run away from you as fast as they can!
In my experience, Bogarts tends to skew a little bit younger no matter who is playing there. Being about a block from several thousand kids living in dorms will do that.
About “performance mode”. My experience as a singer when was younger was that being in front of an audience naturally put me into performance mode. I imagine it’s very different for you as a writer, where your work is a solitary act, and being in front of people for readings and such is ancillary to that. But when you’re in the performing arts there’s an energy you get from being in front of people that lights you up.
Cool years? Dude, these ARE your cool years. You can just make up shit out of words and they pay you for it and all the rest of us, who can’t do that, read said words and are just envious. You are a story teller. That’s right up there on Level One.
I have a long disquisition about “cool” which I plan to write one of these days. Suffice for now to say that when I say I wasn’t cool, and don’t see myself as cool now, I’m not running myself down (I think I’m pretty nifty, generally speaking).
Interested in your opinion of the sound. The last time I was at Bogarts, in 2014 to see Paul Weller (since I had seen The Jam at the same venue about 35 years previously), I thought that the sound was fairly dismal. I hope it was better for you.
It was fine. Note: I had earplugs in, which changes the sound profile a bit.
Hah, I was at the show! I chose to get squished up at the barricade, though. I was in college when Almost Here came out and saw them play then, and I just couldn’t linger in the back now, even if I do get much more sore than I did ten years ago. But what an amazing show it was, right???
Don’t stop believing, Scalzi!
Trust Scalzi to know the ‘hoi’ in ‘hoi polloi’ already means ‘the’. You won’t catch him at the ATM machine trying to remember his PIN number.
Yeah, it’s interesting. I went with my wife and son to a Macklemore concert in Seattle a few years back. You hit on many of my own impressions when it came to the experience of watching a concert now and my own very conscious awareness of the wide gap in age between the average person there and myself. Very much a Dad moment. It made me smile, to be honest. The deaf part after the concert was also a little nostalgic.
I saw these guys in Milwaukee a while ago. A cute gal asked me out and brought to the show . Afterwards she threw up in my mouth. I’ll never forget that show .
Thanks for the imagery there, etang! But it does remind me of of something. My beautiful wife (w/long blonde hair back then) and I saw the J. Geils Band during their “Love Stinks” tour in 1980 and we were pressed pretty hard up against the stage by a constantly surging crowd. The show was in the old Indianapolis Convention Center with no seating. I spent the entire time J. Geils was performing doing my darnedest to prevent Peter Wolf from dragging my wife up on the stage, which he tried to do several times (I may very well have never seen her again – not that she didn’t love me – but Peter Wolf? Couldn’t compete with a “real” rock star!).
But here’s the other thing that stands out about that show: the opening act had this crazy lead singer who looked like a mullet-haired Robin Williams of the time and continuously climbed up the huge stacks of speakers then jumped down. A very energetic and entertaining guy! They were here in the US from Ireland promoting their 1980 debut album, “Boy.” The band was U2.
I’m afraid that after seeing them that first time, any epiphanies one might have had after seeing a future legendary band eluded me at the time. That all changed when they released “The Joshua Tree.”