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From symphonies to smoke machines: snapshots of three very different shows 

Wednesday, Oct 11 2006

Snapshots of fandom from last week's shows: morning, noon, and night.

If there's one thing the recent Download festival proved, it's that you can brand, cross-promote, and market indie rock all you like, but the best advertisement of all is a roll of masking tape. (If there's two things the event proved, the second is that when the Shoreline offers $3.50 "lemonade," what it's really selling is a tall cup of ice with a few precious sips of lemony water at the bottom.) The daylong concert was booked with marquee talent — Beck, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Muse, the Shins, TV on the Radio, etc. It was also padded with big-name advertisers wanting to associate with indie rockers, promising VIP treatment and backstage meet 'n' greets (and, in the end, handed out stacks of undersold, free tickets as you walked up to the gates). But it all came down to one twentysomething fan of Sub Pop's great gold-record hope, the Shins. He'd arrived at the venue with the greatest-value show of loyalty money can buy (especially compared to the spendy schwag on sale): a button-down shirt with "The Shins" taped across the chest. Not only was the guy proud of his alterations, but he was also proud of the Portland band — which he showed by dancing a giddy sort of Snoopy-in-Peanuts jig to every soaring pop song the group sang, from that Garden State hit to that track in the McDonald's commercial. Riffing off Masking Tape Man's enthusiasm, the Shins were in a fine mood, offering plenty of friendly banter between hits. Yet the biggest conversation starter the act had was a bittersweet new track (off its upcoming 2007 album), which lifted the members' voices together, as James Mercer lead with the repeated lines, "This town, hardly worth the time," and "No connection." Wherever that sad sentiment sprung from, it was put to rest for that one day in Mountain View, taped into memory for future recollection.

In contrast to the Shins' 5 o'clock showtime, half past noon was a little early for a standing ovation. It's a little early for some in the music business to be standing at all, in fact. But last Wednesday, Joshua Bell was bowing and beaming for an enthusiastic crowd of senior citizens who had just risen from their seats. Even the grandmother next to me stopped doing crosswords to offer spirited handclapping. Despite the tight black pants and the rumors of celebrity girlfriends, Bell isn't a rock star — he's a Grammy-winning virtuoso violinist, who on this day performed a beautiful bit of Beethoven (the Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 61) with the San Francisco Symphony . At the symphony's open rehearsal series, seats are marketedly less expensive — and the Krispy Kreme doughnuts, free. But it's an early-bird special, with a pre-concert lecture starting at 9 a.m. sharp, meaning it attracts a demographic that gets carded for very different reasons than your average 21-year-old. That morning, speaker John Palmer helped us separate our rondos from our Allegro ma non troppos, pointing out interesting facts about Beethoven's obsession with rhythm and explaining the changes in violin construction taking place when the composer was writing this piece. Also on the bill: a talk/performance based on the work of Carl Nielsen, which somehow led to Palmer's jokes about ringtones and the infectious nature of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider."

Ringtones may be the ubiquitous marketing tool of the new century, but fog machines are really only recently escaping the clutches of bad glam rock acts from Los Angeles. The bearded set has also embraced effects that turn the stage into a giant bong hit, at least if Pink Mountaintops are any example. Stephen McBean's Vancouver collective was enveloped under giant white puffs at the Independent last week, using two drummers and female backup singers to help cut the difference between the Velvet Underground and Led Zeppelin. But the costumed geishas in attendance were perhaps the night's most lasting presence. In line for the women's room, someone asked one of the handful of painted ladies where she and her cohorts were from. "The Mission," the geisha answered. Apparently, they were here to see Man Man , the headlining band, whose members share a love of white costumes and face paint but sounded like a circus-rock version of Tom Waits. While both Man Man and Pink Mountaintops move on to tour other cities, the geishas declared a plan to stick around. "We're gonna take over," the waiting geisha announced to the bathroom, to which another woman behind her responded, "Good — we need something to take over."

About The Author

Jennifer Maerz


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