Friday, July 24, 2009

Fit to be Tie-Dyed

I can count the number of pop-and-rock concerts I've attended in my life on some of the fingers of one hand. On Thursday night, one more digit (not the middle one -- I'm not that crude) flipped over as I accompanied Nicky and Nicky's uncle Jeff to Hippiefest 2009 at Pier 6 Pavilion at Baltimore's Inner Harbor. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I'm as far from being a true "hippie type" as just about anyone you could name... and yet, I do enjoy a lot of the music from that era, so this was a fairly easy sell for me.

The weather for the concert was fine, aside from a brief (and heavy) shower. Luckily, Nicky had gotten tickets under the "big tent" where most of the audience sat. (Numerous freeloaders, meanwhile, took up residence across the water by the Marriott Hotel on the other side of the pier.) Not so luckily, our seats were right in front of one of the main speakers. Pre-concert, piped-in "genre music" didn't prepare me for the blast of noise that assailed our eardrums once our "genial hosts" -- Flo and Eddie of The Turtles -- flounced in and commenced with what would prove to be a steady, evening-long string of lame attempts at contemporary pop-culture references. Then Joe Molland of Badfinger took the mike and (joined by a generic back-up band that would accompany virtually all of the remaining performers) proceeded to power through several of that band's old standards. By the time Molland got to "No Matter What," I knew that I HAD to get out of the direct line of fire... no matter what! Nicky agreed with me and we moved to two empty seats off to the side where the assault on our senses would be a bit more indirect. Jeff, having apparently built up a certain amount of immunity over the years (he's a bit older than Nicky), stayed where he was.

Next came Felix Cavaliere of The Rascals, whose obeisance to the past was a bit less cut-and-dried than Molland's. He created several medleys intertwining Rascals' hits like "Groovin'" and "A Girl Like You" with Motown standards such as "My Girl" and "Midnight Hour." It was fairly imaginative and well accompanied by Cavaliere on a Korg electronic keyboard wheeled out for the occasion. Both Nicky and I greatly appreciated his salute to the troops overseas before he did "People Everywhere Just Got To Be Free." He wound up with -- yep -- "Good Lovin'", and Nicky, remembering that we'd played that song at our wedding reception, got up and started dancing, then roped me into it as well. Cavaliere, like Molland, was in excellent voice for someone who's been getting reduced prices on menu items and museum admissions for some time.

Flo and Eddie's non-"comedic" contribution to the festivities was... how shall I put this... something more than a put-on, yet something less than a serious effort. It was already hard for me to take a guy (Flo) who looked a little like Henry Kissinger wearing a Larry Fine wig seriously as an entertainer (even one well past his sell-by date). The fact that he spoke as if under chemical influences, did a joke about grabbing his crotch, and made unfunny references to The Jonas Brothers and American Idol were several more steps down the ladder. The subsequent renditions of Turtles hits like "Happy Together" and "It Ain't Me, Babe" were accompanied by arm-flailing, leg-kicking, and other nyuck-nyuck-nyuck routines that made F&E seem like little more than a senior version of some of the kiddie rock bands on Nickelodeon, or something like that. It was borderline embarrassing, actually. Maybe these guys should stick to patter and let the other bands involved in Hippiefest parrot their past platters.

Chuck Negron of Three Dog Night is older than most of the other worthies in the Hippiefest lineup, but that didn't prevent some actual groupies from clustering near the stage and doing the arm-waving, come-hither bit as he performed. He, too, sounded good as he did such hits as "One," "Joy to the World," and "Mama Told Me (Not to Come)." At the very least, he looked about as good as Chuck Norris (I figured a reference to another famous "Chuck" was appropriate).

The final act on the bill was Mountain, which, I'm not ashamed to admit, I'd never heard of. I've heard their one pseudo-hit, "Mississippi Queen," but didn't connect it with them until I looked it up once I got home. Unlike the other performers, Mountain dispensed with the backup "tornshirts" and came out with their own guitars, drum set... and EXTREMELY LOUD ancillary amplifiers. They're still operating as a going concern, it seems... and evidently, they believe that everyone who listened to them in the old days has long since lost his or her hearing, so what's a few additional decibels between friends? The resulting cacophony was all the more irritating to listen to because I had no frame of reference for the band's work. At least I'd known how Badfinger's songs sounded before Joe Molland laid siege to my auditory faculties. Nicky and I finally gave it up and stationed ourselves by the exit just as "Mississippi Queen" (which I at first though the band was merely covering) was being cranked out. That made it easier for us to escape once the air settled down and the cheering stopped.
In a concession to the physical needs of their original fans, the Hippiefest acts took breaks between performances to allow folks who needed to "go urgently" to do so. Many people in the audience, as you might imagine, dressed and looked as if they resented the fact that the 60s were over, but I'm sure they appreciated the lavatory-based lacunae. I'm resigned to the fact that some members of the "Baby Boom" generation will continue "playing pretend" to their graves. At least a good deal of that generation's music still repays repeated reairing today. Can one confidently say the same of The Jonas Brothers or Hannah Montana? I didn't think so.

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