Wednesday, June 5th
The Webster Underground, Hartford
Is there a concert that I have been more ill-prepared for? Stepping into the venue with my cardigan and brand-new sneakers (in fairness, I’d had my old pair of Chucks for four years, and it was time for a change, believe me) made me feel self-conscious. Clearly, this was not the Shubert, oh no. No velvet cushions in this establishment—rather, a bathroom sans soap and doors on its stalls, a strikingly small standing floor, and the bar. The Webster Underground definitely lived up to its name. With a claustrophobic stage and no windows, it gave the appearance of a dank subterranean cell.
That is, not the venue that welcomes prepilly-clad hipsters posing as someone who knows more about music than he actually does (fold your arms and scowl, I told myself, make them want to work for your approval). The Slayer posters also clued me in. As Gob would say, I’ve made a huge mistake.
But as Ron Burgundy would counter, when in Rome! So I put on my best would-be music critic face of go-ahead-make-my-day condescension. (Is it telling that this is my go-to defense? Bah, away with ye, creeping self-doubt!) Out of my element, I lashed out at the opening act, an almost endearing band of talented youngsters called the Monumentos, by stuffing my fingers in my ears. It was garage-rock-level-of-unnecessarily loud and I had stupidly forgotten my earplugs. My friend pulled my fingers out, subjecting me to the fuzzy wail of the double guitar attack. This was garage rock that should have stayed in the garage. Although obviously a tight group of musicians, they had little chemistry or charisma. Only the drummer looked like he was having fun as he threw t-shirts into the crowd and otherwise pulverized his kit’s drums and the ones in my ear alike.
The presumably local band fought their way offstage (only way was through the crowd), and I was ready for the main spectacle. Unfortunately, a second opener began to set up: a power-pop duo called IAMDYNAMITE that were only marginally less boring. The singer wore a bow tie. I liked that. They played one song I liked, featuring a singable woahing hook, but they didn’t know how to end it, drawing it out way after the energy had died down. But hey, their debut album was released that day, so, y’know, go ahead and support music by buying it.
And since two opening acts are better than one, three must really be great, so on came Cadaver Dogs, a splendid blues-punk-metal outfit whose homoerotic overtones were a breath of fresh air in this cock rock-dominated show stinking of testosterone. Not that Cadaver Dogs weren’t the sweaty, gross, mildly offensive spectacle that their name implies. They knew how to work a crowd in the way the previous bands could not. The drummer often stood up for maximum carnage, staring at the crowd with that bugged-eyed, Ozzy Osbourne horror face that oh so riles me up. The bassist, a cross between Alex Ebert and David Grohl wearing a Misfits shirt, held down the groove with his slender fingers, a fear in of itself due to his mop of hair. The life force of the band, however, was obviously the singer-guitarist Matthew, who sported a ferocious handlebar mustache and look of wild abandon. I couldn’t hear the lyrics except for when Matthew had the crowd chanting “dicksucker,” but they often seemed phrased in a repeated blues jive, followed by a glam metal type solo worthy of Van Halen. The bassist told an off-color joke, and Matthew regaled the audience with the tale of last night’s romantic conquest—who, as the bassist discovered, turned out to be a dude, but that didn’t stop Matthew from “sucking his dick” anyway. I don’t know if Cadaver Dogs have a political agenda concerning LGBT rights, but it was at least nice to imagine.
Feeling overheated rather than warmed up at this point, I was quite ready for the headliner, whose name, I guess, has been revealed only in the title: Foxy Shazam. I found this band back in December of 2010, on Spin’s retrospective album of artists to watch in the coming year. I immediately liked them. How could you not? The name itself implies a certain immediately appealing level of flair and kitsch. I had only heard the song “Bye Bye Symphony,” but what more did I need? It was a hilariously over-the-top affair, akin to former tourmates The Darkness’ “I Believe in a Thing Called Love.” Life is a bitch / but she’s totally doable. Music to my ears.
I had heard comparisons between Foxy singer Eric Sean Nally and Freddie Mercury—flamboyant stage antics, sexy androgyny, and singing chops of a angelic eunuch. This was the show I was here to see.
As fate would have it, however, I would see very little of it. As Foxy walked onstage (to chants of “let’s get weird,” started by members of the Monumentos that had mingled back with the crowd), I managed to catch a glimpse of their campy image: tight black leather, colorful oversize glasses, tophats, Guy Fawkes facial hair, and either long curly hair or thick matted beard (no member sported both). You know that at any concert in which the first thing the lead signer does is stage dive straight into an adoring mass, it’s going to be a good time. And that’s exactly what Nally did—promptly knocking the glasses off my face.
For a desperate moment I thought of bending down and picking them up. But alas, it was a vain hope. It was either me or the glasses, and better alive and blind than stomped-half-to-death and 20-20. Goodnight, gentle glasses, we saw much together.
My inability to see was a right shame. I missed much of the theatricality that Foxy are known for. There were times when I thought there was a woman onstage, such is the feminine coo in Nally’s voice. I think he ate six cigarettes as part of the performance, but you know, I can’t be sure. Hell, I thought Slash was up there for a few minutes.
So what else could I do but give up my defense as an apathetic hipster, stripped as I was from my thick rimmed frames? I didn’t have much else to lose, so moshing it was. (And by “not much to lose,” I mean only my wallet, iPod, and phone. Like I said, I was ill-prepared. Don’t expect to have a good time moshing with these items, they nag at you to not lose them and make you feel guilty afterward. My crushed glasses still haunt me.) And mosh I did. Proudly—with a reckless impulse that only youth can harness.
This is the kid who thought the Black Keys was a physical show. Cramped in a much smaller venue with much more aggressive teenage boys, this was brutal. Other people’s sweat and elbows graced me every second of the performance, in one way or another. My friend lifted me into the air at one point to go crowd surfing. I was held up for a few second before dropping to the ground splattered with god-knows-what-hell-bent-heinous-concoction-of-liquids. It was a dull lull in the action and I just happened to be lifted over a weak part of the audience, ok?! I tried vaulting over the crowd at a few more points during the night, where one audacious member grabbed my legs, either to hold me up or grab my shoe, not sure which, but no more airtime for me. Which suited my personal electronics just fine, but greatly diminished my yolo factor. But hey, that’s one way how you break in a new pair of Keds.
When Foxy walked off, I was a little disappointed, since I didn’t hear “Bye Bye Symphony” or get to stage dive. But honestly, I think it was relief, not regret, that flooded through me as everyone started piling out. Relief that I was battered but unbowed. Bruised, blistered, blind, overstimulated, dehydrated, doused in other people’s sweat, but at least I hadn’t lost control of all bodily functions. Heading out into the night where it didn’t smell like the accumulated BO of centuries long dead was a godsend, as was the lightness of the air not thick with the humidity of hormones and dashed hopes of punkers looking to score with that girl brave enough to crowd surf. Yet as the coolness hit me, I could feel myself fading fast. The blackness started to take hold, and not because it was dark and I was blind. Passing out on the streets of Hartford is never a good idea, so I rallied enough to make it to the gas station and gulp down some water.
So I live to die another die. That show was a lot of fun, but I think any more fun would have killed me. I’m glad I had the experience. Now if only I had all my hearing back…
Best one-liner, thanks to Nally: “The world sucks because otherwise we’d all fall off.”
Rager of the night, first place: my friend who collected high-fives and bruises with equal enthusiasm
Rager of the night, second place: the grizzled man with white hair who managed to crowd surf and not break anything. Deluded, but you won’t find me arguing with him.
Awesome stage antic: the keyboardist playing his instrument atop a mound of human hands.