Tuesday, November 27, 2012
The first thing that struck me was how happy one of the two lead guitarists and the solo violinist wanted us to know they were to be playing in front of us. The broad smiles and wide eyes coupled with frequent nods (by the guitarist) to individuals in the crowd made me want to vomit. I used to live in California. I know plastic by sight; no need to feel. I've also spent a good amount of time in WDC. I know how plastic can be tailored to encase a soulless body. But, truly, neither of those comparisons directly apply to these smiling characters. Their smiles seemed rooted in wanting everyone in the audience to smile with them. Yeah, but, sitting in the 2d row in front of the middle of the stage, trust me, it was creepy. I didn't look at other audience members because I was taking in the wide stage which required 45 degrees in both directions, but I could feel their smiles. I think. I became more certain when several times during the show the Smilers on Stage violated Johnny Rotten's (right?) warning: Don't share the clap. When that happened, and I looked to my left at a 40-something man smiling and clapping, seemingly enthralled with the front men as his female companion clapped in unison, I realized why Obama got reelected: People fold at the reality that a surgeon needs to cut in order to heal; they prefer no more reality than Dove soap bubbling gently on their skin. Stage-created faux happy was entrancing the audience. If only one of them pulled out a flute and led a procession into the windy parking lot ... I'm curious how many would have followed.
TSO relied heavily on lights. They should. They invested enough to feed a 3d world country for a year in watts-consuming glass. It was interesting to watch the variety of lights unfold throughout the evening. I can understand dividing a spot so it creates 15 beams, but I'll need to see how they shot what appeared to be flat layers of striped light - green, white, red in one variant. I couldn't picture the source as the layer shot over my head. At times they overused the lights - shooting a wall of white lights into the audience that had me lowering my head to avoid being blinded for the 5th time.
OK. Sounds like I'm just complaining. Fake happy and blinding lights. I'm just observing. Really. Sharing the clap is worthy of complaining. People shouldn't do that. There's a moral principle involved. Onward.
The show was some story. A guy would read then TSO would do a song or two. The guy would read again. Rinse and repeat. Went on for an hour forty-five. I tried to thread their music absent the spoken parts to grasp what genre they are. One variation suggests a frustrated Pink Floyd tribute band. Another, Broadway wannabes. I concluded that half of them were high, which eased my discomfort with the ever-present smiling (it never ceased - not even for a single chord). The story thing they were doing felt forced. But can one force feed a hungry man? I'm sure the dude next to me said to his companion as they waited in the windy parking lot for the doors to open, "I hope they share the clap."
I knew I was sunk when their story began with something like, "And God called an angel before Him." The angel had to go to Earth to find some person that personified Christ's teachings (or something like that). Whenever someone starts talking about God my mind shifts into another gear to listen for false preaching. Can't help it; wired that way. In the background as the guy did the first spoken part was one of those satellite shots that zeroes in on a place on Earth, closer and closer. We were going to learn where the angel was told to search. I watched to anticipate where it would end. Long Island to the right. Pennsylvania to the left. There's the Hudson River. We're going west of it. Closer, closer. NJ is about an hour across to drive. The shot went street level right about in the middle of it, well west of Newark. Then the guy on the stage exclaimed, "New York!" Sigh ... try Mt. Olive, NJ.
During some of the songs I noticed this blond girl at the left end of the backup-vocals line. Whew. Later on she did a few solos. Was introduced as being from Dallas, Texas. Had dark roots supporting the blonde outgrowth. At the very end, she had a guitar which she seemed to play but her left hand never moved from a C and she only strummed. Probably wasn't live. Anyway, the guitar was black and covered in signatures. When the song ended, she walked to the end of the stage and handed the guitar to a young girl in the audience. I guess that's why they let her appear to play. Giving the guitar away as was done was cool.
So the story somehow includes the extremes. A guy that tells stories where "all the children gather around." Really? Some "businessman" that's just angry about Christmas. Much of the characters felt tossed in haphazardly like a crockpot stew made from leftovers: "It don't matter none what goes in it," the Depression Era woman said, "when it gets a-done cooking it'll all be just one thing cause I says so." It turns out that the angry guy was angry because - get this - his wife dies in labor, the baby is oxygen starved for a few minutes causing "irreversible brain damage," and the guy's reaction? Wait for it ... he tells the hospital to stick the kid in a "state home" and then the dude walks away from the entire situation. The guy's wife dies and he tosses their child? Really? People do that? Oh, yes, businessmen do that. Got it. Whatever. Liberal claptrap. You know who gives up kids? It's when the crackwhore dies in labor, the heroin junkie father is nowhere to be found, then the kid gets tossed ... of course, the surviving father is on Welfare, the dead mother was, too, but let's not go there.
The story ends on a supposed happy note, then the band gets introduced. My heart sank as I checked my watch (for the 5th time) and the guy says, "Let me introduce the band before we do the 2d half of the show." It was already the buck 45 I mentioned above.
They played some music with which I had a passing familiarity. The dude next to me looked like he was going to cry. That blonde with the dark roots did her solos - which didn't surprise me that she would sing all out. In the first half she didn't do much more than chorus line stuff. But as she walked off stage after being introduced she gave the metal music sign.
The 2d half was just 45 minutes. The other lead guitarist, who smiled, too, but not as much, went to the mic. "This is where we leave the stage and you guys clap to bring us back. It's called the encore. But we've done six shows in three days, and we're tired. So we're just gonna stay here and start playing." He said it nicely. I didn't make their tour schedule, so I didn't give a damn how many shows he did and when. And their peak demand is certainly this time of year ... so, dude, just get with it - I have to stop at Wegman's before I can go home.
It ended with all sorts of lights and flames. They added fireworks - kinda.
They put a lot of effort into the show. Invested a lot of money. Many of their members are very talented. The lead violinist never did much of anything. The runs by the smiling guitarist were stock - nothing special. The electronic drumkit was manned by a so-so drummer. The main keyboardist was very good. The bassist played well but looked like he'd been hit in the head too many times.
It you like that type of thing - flashy shows - you'd probably enjoy it. The substance for me was the solo female vocalists - three of them throughout. All had the best voices of the night, and the Smilers knew enough to fade into the background.