Thursday, August 14, 2003

Whistlin' Dixie (Chicks)

Tuesday night is date night for my wife and me. In 1999 I heard a speaker suggest that one of the tools in a healthy relationship is regular time together, just you and your significant other. We picked up Laura Corn’s 101 Nights of Great Romance, and began a ritual that has, with rare occasions, never been neglected since.
We’ve long since done nearly all the 101 Nights of Great Romance, and during the past year, just having an evening where it was only the two of us was something special; it didn’t have to involve a trail of Hershey’s kisses creating a path to romance.
Last Tuesday however, spontaneity was the order of the day. Jenica got home at her regular time of 6:00 p.m. and announced with no small amount of regret that the Dixie Chicks were playing the Skyreach Center.
Tonight. In Edmonton. In ninety minutes.
I said something like, “that is too bad,” walked slowly out of the room, and once out of sight, flew downstairs and surfed the Net to Ticketmaster’s website. Rather than trust an Internet purchase with only 90 minutes to Showtime I phoned directly. A young man named Darren informed me that some seats had just opened up. I looked at the location on the map of Skyreach the website provided. In the first tier, in the middle, seventh row.
Jenica walked into the room, saw the map, added things up, and gave a look of ecstatic surprise, followed by a lip biting that communicated the question, “can we afford this?” I doubt very much that Jen did a lot of “I want thiiiis” to her mom growing up. She doesn’t think to ask for the frivolous things: she’s very practical.
Her pragmatism sets in as Darren tells me the tickets are $85.00 a piece in that section. I tell him I need to consult with my wife, and he warns that he’ll have to make those seats available to someone else. I tell him to go ahead, and hang up. Jenica expresses concern at the price; I ask her if she wants to go or not. She says yes, starts to protest on financial grounds, but I’m already redialing.
Lucky me, I get Darren again. Darren says the seats we were looking at are gone, but there are more one section over. Same rows, different seats. Still in the first tier. I tell Darren, “those will be fine.” Suddenly Jenica and I are looking at each other with goofy smiles on our faces. We’re going to the Dixie Chicks in less than 90 minutes.
Before continuing, I should make it clear that Jenica is the big Dixie Chicks fan in the relationship. My goofy smile should tell you two things. One, I’m happy my wife is happy. Two, I either at the very worst don’t mind the Dixie Chicks or at best actually enjoy their music. The latter is true, and I’m glad for it. I really enjoy their brand of “back to basics” country with a twist. It doesn’t even really feel like country music. It’s Dixie Chicks music. Bluegrass and honky-tonk with a rock and roll attitude.
So we drive to an LRT station, park and ride, and brave the gauntlet necessary to procure our preordered tickets. Two lineups and half an hour later, we enter the third lineup of “really expensive and equally nasty food”, necessary since we haven’t have time to stop and eat. Not knowing whether there is a warm-up act, I tell Jenica to go grab her seat, just in case the Chicks are taking the stage in three minutes.
I hear the music start, but it’s not loud enough to be the main band. The crowd isn’t going wild, and there’s only one female voice singing. I recognize it, but can’t place who it belongs to. The girls in front of me are gossiping loudly, and I find myself learning things about people I don’t know for a good ten minutes before I get to the counter. I make my order, and halfway through it a very impatient older lady sticks a twenty dollar bill in the face of one of the concession workers and demands a coffee in a voice that suggests that she’s been ‘rather put out by standing in this lineup.’ Like I haven’t. The young lady goes, gets the coffee and puts it beside the till. In a form of ironic justice, the woman ends up waiting until my cashier finishes with my order before getting her coffee.
I balance the food tray and two drinks and enter the auditorium. The house lights are down, stage lights are up, and an artist I still don’t recognize is singing in mellifluous tones, backed by a very solid band. I wait until my eyes adjust to the darkness and then begin the slow and tentative process of trying to find my seat. Lucky for me, Jenica has been keeping a vigil. She flags me down with a wave, I take my seat, and my jaw drops.
The location of the stage didn’t sink in until I was sitting down. Unlike most concerts, the Dixie Chicks chose a stage that sits on center ice, a “theater in the round”. These last minute $85 tickets have afforded us one of the best vantage points in the place. I turn to make sure we’re in the right section. We are. I look at my ticket again to see that we read it right. We did. I lean back and smile. Jenica has a toothy grin on her face. She makes an exclamation of how great this is, puts Jann Arden’s name to the voice, and we dig into our food.
Jann’s performance is immaculate. She’s a great performer, and a welcome bonus to the evening. During her show, I assess our neighbors. To my right, two couples who are keeping to themselves, and enjoying the show in a quiet, reserved fashion. Behind us, a young family with two blonde elementary age girls wearing colored cowboy hats. I resolve to remain seated for the evening to keep the view clear for the girls.
This is my dad’s concert etiquette, imparted to me while I was standing in the front row at a concert in the 80s. He came up to me before the band played and asked, “Do you need to be up here?”
I had been one of the first in line. What did this have to with need? I deserved my spot. “Yes,” I replied. My dad always has a point when he asks these leading questions, so I asked, “What’s your point?”
“Well, my point is…” My dad starts a lot of his sentences with this phrase, or his equally well used “in actual fact…”
“My point is that you’re a lot taller than other people here, and it might be hard for them to see.”
I was already over six feet in those days, and back then, before the Goliaths people breed now, it was tall. Since then, I can only remember two occasions where I was in the front row, and on both occasions made a conscious decision to move to the side of the stage, so as not to obscure people’s view. That’s the thing with parental advice; you never seem to take it when they’re right there and have just pontificated to you. You do it later, with that mature spirit of a two year old saying, “I do it myself.”
I digress. Back to the Dixie Chicks.
There are two empty seats to our left, which turns out to be a Godsend, because sitting in front of us is one of those people for whom the word ‘jerk’ was created. He’s not a full out ‘asshole’; to be worthy of that appellation, you have to be intentionally rude. This guy is just socially unaware on a cosmic scale.
He’s really loud in the break between Jann Arden and the Dixie Chicks, telling the guy to his left that he “whistles really loud.” You know the whistling; where you stick your fingers in your mouth and do some cherry-twist thing with your tongue. The kind that makes kids inadvertently wet themselves. He tells his neighbor to inform him if it gets to loud and if he doesn’t hear, to give him a good elbow in the ribs to let him know. His neighbor looks way too passive for this duty, and Mr. Whistler really has no intention of honoring this caveat, as will be demonstrated later. He’s one of those “I’m obnoxious but I’m friendly so you ought not to bludgeon me with a police baton” kinds of people. Sitting beside our poster child for ‘obnoxious red neck’ is his girlfriend, who is … not petite.
So Mr. Whistler makes 40 less one trips to the concession, or bathroom, or beer gardens in the break. He smiles as he does it, that smile that tells those sitting in his row that this isn’t all that big a deal, and it shouldn’t bother them. And he’s right; it shouldn’t bother them. We should all be patient with the man, because who knows, maybe he has incontinence issues or really nasty gas, or is ADHD or something. The problem is, if you had any of these problems, downing a keg of beer in a half hour would not be the solution.
Enough about Mr. Whistler. A brief respite is in order.
The lights go down; onstage is a huge drapery that looks like a Chinese lantern, illuminated from within. As it lifts, the band is revealed and they break into “Goodbye Earl” as Natalie, Emilie and Martie rose on a hydraulic stage lift into the center stage. Our seats really are good. Worth $85, no doubt. For about a second. The brief respite ends.
Then Mr. Whistler stands and starts screaming and shaking his beer-free fist like he’s at an eighties rock concert. Granted, the girls are all wearing denim and black leather outfits; Martie’s sports “STP” and “Pink Floyd: The Wall” Patches, perhaps leading one to assume they're at a rock show. Still, I cannot excuse the reality that my $85 has suddenly made me witness to Mr. Whistler’s ass and his inability to shake it in any rhythm consistent with the music being played.
If everyone in the section were standing, this wouldn’t be an issue. No one else is, except Whistler’s girlfriend, whose frantic flailing is threatening to knock the drink out of the person sitting next to her. If I stand up, the two Dixie Chick fans behind me, who aren’t even over five feet tall yet will no longer be able to see. Their dad would be forced to hold one of them at a time, for ninety minutes straight.
Fortunate for Jenica and me, there are the two vacant seats to our left, which we now take advantage of. My right side neighbor is not so fortunate, and he has both Mr. Whistler and Ms. Sprat to contend with, who are, as my aunts always used to say “making a better door than a window.” He politely asks Whistler and Sprat to sit down. Whistler yells, “It’s a concert!”
I’m not quite sure what this means. If it were a Metallica concert, he’d likely have a leg to stand on. Two of them, as everyone in your section would likely be on their two legs as well. And the likelihood of two little girls with colored cowboy hats being in your section would be greatly diminished. If it were a Yanni concert, I doubt Whistler would even be there. It’s a Dixie Chicks concert, and not being a big country fan, I’m uncertain as to the etiquette.
Whistler remains standing, his girlfriend sits down. His gyrations are so distracting I close my right eye in order to focus on the stage. You know someone is being ostentatious when you can’t get your attention to focus on a stage that takes up one third the area of a skating rink. Thankfully Whistler gets either tired or dizzy and sits down. He will continue to do his eighties rock tribute fist wave throughout the show, or air drum sections of songs, but for now at least he isn’t trying to move his hips as well, and he’s no longer blocking anyone’s view. I say a silent prayer for the guy sitting next to him and return my attention to the Chicks.
The show is phenomenal. The girls use the entire stage, walking out onto bridges and platforms to woo the crowd, who really doesn’t need any wooing. Everyone here loves the music, and sings along in the right spots. The girls are flawless musicians, and you can tell the music is live. The mandolin player is fantastic, his fingers a blur at times; Natalie’s voice soars, never lacking control, always clear and defined. There’s no lip-synching going on here, and with it being the last night of the tour, I almost expected her voice to be burnt out. Martie’s fiddle playing astounds me, her fingers dancing across her instrument and her bow frays so many times she has a tech handing her new ones on a regular basis. Emilie handles banjo, mandolin and slide guitar with equal dexterity; I’ve always enjoyed how she plays the banjo with rock star flourishes worthy of Pete Townsend. They rock, loud and proud; sadly, not loud enough to drown out a prolonged session of whistling from our obnoxious neighbor.
It’s a little known fact that high pitched frequencies create the loudest decibel readings. I can say with all honesty and no tongue in cheek that it was loud enough to drown out the music and hurt my ears. And Jenica’s too, since she leaned over and asked him to please stop doing it. After all, he told his neighbor he could, and since his neighbor lacks the testicular fortitude to do so (despite how the 75 degree angle at which he’s leaning away from Whistler), Jenica does.
“It’s a concert!” Whistler yells back.
I once got a Doc Martin boot in the head at a concert. I’m suddenly thinking I want to expand Whistler’s concert going experience to accommodate an Airwalk logo in bright pink on his forehead. I’m pretty sure the chunky guy to my right would get in on a little mob violence about now. I remember the little girls, grind some enamel off my teeth, and remain seated.
The rest of the night is peppered with Whistler being annoying, but like most annoyances, if you try hard enough you can screen them out. There are two moments of bliss when he goes to take a piss, and we enjoy the evening, Whistler free. Those moments were worth the price of admission, right there.
I can honestly say it was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen. The musicians were consummate professionals, never missing a lick even though many of them played several different instruments; one of them played percussion, guitar, Irish whistle, and even a Jews’ Harp. There was a string quartet in spots, dueling violins, huge confetti showers and a song sung in time to their new, just released video. Sometimes I have to say, “They’re good musicians” but am not entertained. Other times, I say, “They’re good performers,” but know there was canned music being pumped through the system somewhere. The Dixie Chicks are both musicians and performers, and they aren’t good; they’re great.
One more moment with Whistler: it is the end of the night, the encore already behind us. As the last night of the tour, the band and Chicks do a full-crew bow to both sides of the Skyreach. We are now all on our feet, applauding. Somewhere in Whistler’s brain, the instinctive lizard hind-brain, something says, “hey, you’re not attracting attention anymore. You aren’t pissing anyone off.” And suddenly, Whistler is standing on his seat, blocking views once again. I look over at the chunky guy and we share knowing smiles.
You see, it’s like this: if I pay $85, I ought to be able to enjoy the show in the way I choose. Reality is, others in my section also paid $85 to be there. Whistler paid $85, and then about another $300 in beer and burgers. Nevertheless, like any activity in public, our $85 doesn’t guarantee us sovereignty over others. We all paid $85, so we’re all still equal, and need to bear with each other as best we can in love.
Barring that, there’s always Airwalk or Doc Martin.