Sunday, January 20, 2013

Alphabet of Nations - The Mesopotamians

October 1, 2011 - Berklee Performance Center - Boston, MA - A-M Show

Looking back at the reviews on the wiki of the two Boston shows, it seems a lot of people were unhappy about a lot of things. Most notably the seats given to the IFC members. Personally, my seating issues were entirely due to TicketMaster. I got screwed by their "Pick Your Seats" option when the tickets went on sale and though I wasn't all that far from the front, I was on the side aisle for both shows about five or six rows back. And since at both shows, Flans waited until about half way through before asking everyone to fill the aisles, sitting down put a bit of a damper on the mood.

For me though, the larger disappointment was in the setlist and setting my expectations too high. We had all done a lot of speculating before the shows about what songs might be rolled out for these special A-M and N-Z performances and whether or not there would even be a song for each letter. (For those unfamiliar with the setup, the band played two shows. The first was to contain songs beginning with the letters A-M and the second N-Z). I was looking forward to the opportunity to hear some rare songs that I hadn't heard before which doesn't happen for me very often anymore. Fact was, I set the bar too high and was disappointed that not only did they not play a song for each letter, I didn't hear a single thing I hadn't heard before at some point. It is entirely my own fault, as they played some relatively rare things (more so at the second show) that the people I was with were very excited about. But I think this may have been the point at which I realized that I had been to so many shows that they couldn't really surprise me anymore. It was kind of a good wake up call for me to reset my expectations and in retrospect I think it may have helped me appreciate some of the shows I have seen since a little more.

Since so many of my crew were all traveling up to Boston from the Philadelphia show the previous night in separate cars, we convened in the afternoon at the food court at the Prudential Center. Gary and I were late because we got stuck in some nasty traffic on 95 which was accident related as I recall. I was grabbing the final signatures for Dan's birthday card that I had been working on all week, from a few friends who joined us in Boston. I have vivid memories of sitting at our food court banquet table we created by shoving about six tables together, and attempting to draw a guitar on the envelope for the card with one of my friend Skye's gel pens and having it come out rather badly. It's the thought that counts though right?

Thanks to the assigned seats, there was no need to wait in line for hours for this show and we spent a fairly minimal amount of time standing around outside. I remember Curt Ramm walking past us and raising my hand to wave before I realized that he did not know who I was even though I knew him. Awkward.

Inside, the show was late in starting. I can't remember now if I ever knew why. But I remember thinking it put a real crunch on the turn around time between shows. The back to back shows also meant no opener so no one to entertain us while we waited. As the show started, we were poised on the edge of our seats to sprint down to the stage when Flans asked us to stand up, but the moment never came and I eventually had to try to relax back into my chair.

The setlist: Alphabet of Nations - Celebration - Ana Ng - Fingertips - Drink! - Los Angeles - Asbury Park - The Mesopotamians - When Will You Die - Cloisonné - In The Middle - Spoiler Alert - Clap Your Hands - Doctor Worm - Battle For The Planet of the Apes - Can't Keep Johnny Down - Judy Is Your Viet Nam - Canajoharie - Istanbul  Encore - Careful What You Pack - The Guitar  Encore 2 - Birdhouse In Your Soul  Encore 3 - Damn Good Times

The Alphabet of Nations introduction was drawn out and a little creepier than usual (and thus more comical in my mind). After the song, the Johns greeted us and Flans explained the concept of what they were doing with the two shows. He said there would be a small amount of cheating, "strictly for our amusement." Flans then explained that right before the show his primary guitar had "hit the deck" and he needed to check and make sure the current one worked. Linnell quipped that he was surprised we hadn't heard it as it had made a really loud noise. Flans also said that when putting the show together they were surprised to see how many of their songs began with the letters A-M.

I have probably noted this before, but listening to Celebration while sitting down and not being able to dance is kind of a bummer. It is the kind of song you just need to be standing up for.

The band played straight through Ana Ng and Fingertips. Prior to Drink! Flans gave the start line about  "we have a brand new album out" but then said the next song was not on it and commented on how weird it was to be saying that. He said if record stores still existed he was sure they would be carrying it and that it was a difficult time for artists and for audiences. Because it was the quiet part between songs and nobody knows quite what to do, especially because we were in a "beautifully, acoustically designed, brutalist, modernist theater." "It's so beautiful it doesn't even need us."

Flans gave us instructions for Drink! that included a debate on whether we were to say the "word" drink, drink or the "words" drink, drink. After asking if anyone in the audience had a smart phone so they could find out the right answer, Linnell decided it was "words". After the song, Flans declared "that was some fantastic, slightly emotionally unavailable chatting you guys did." Linnell added that they were "just going to bitch about the audience for the whole show."

Linnell introduced Venue Songs by saying, "We have this record that's like the worst selling thing in our catalog. So we're trying to kick it up by doin' songs from it and talkin' about it and using apostrophes at the ends of gerunds. If you know what I'm talking about." It's a joke that I think I only just got. Flans said failure was like a magnet to them. Linnell went on to introduce the title of the album and Flans added that it was now available for download on bit torrent. Linnell said he thought that all the songs from it were available to watch for free on their website and that that was probably why no one buys the album. Flans explained that they were trying to lure people in by streaming videos that "enhance the musical experience and leave nothing more to be desired." Linnell added that that was their new business model which got a pretty good laugh out of the crowd.

Flansburgh commented on Los Angeles "show business insiders really love that song." Then followed a lengthly description of the show they had played at Asbury Park with a giant 30 gallon trash can in the middle of the stage catching rain water. They agreed it was an affect that would be really expensive to achieve if you wanted to have it as part of your show so they were really lucky.

They played another banter free run from Asbury Park through When Will You Die. Someone in the crowd pointed out after that last song that it started with a "W" which Linnell acknowledged. It was attributed to the "cheating" they had warned us about.

Flansburgh explained when introducing Cloisonné that he can normally say that "the bass clarinet" are three words he can usually say with confidence will never be heard again in the venues they are playing in because they normally play in "shit holes." But he was was forced to admit that the bass clarinet was probably at home in this venue and that there had probably been one there yesterday and would be even more tomorrow. "We should have brought more of them!"

The Avatars of They welcome multiple special guests. First Meg Ryan made an appearance and complained about how much she disliked They Might Be Giants. Blue Avatar had to shush her. Then they introduced Curt Ramm on the trumpet. Green asked that a spotlight be shown on Curt but it didn't happen immediately. "No? okay." Then the spotlight showed up creating an amusing too little too late scenario. Blue said they had to take out an additional insurance policy in case Curt blew the roof off the venue. "This guy is amazing. A-ma-zing," he whispered. Then Blue loudly declared that the next song was Spoiler Alert before they launched into.... In the Middle, In the Middle In the Middle? Whoops!

Flans stopped the band from launching right into the Avatars exit music to do an Epic Fail Baloney Sandwiches commercial break, in honor of Blue's setlist screwup. Then Blue said they were going to play Spoiler Alert anyway. Over on the other side of the stage Danny was hurriedly trying to explain to Curt what was going on. It was a pretty entertaining screw up.

Finally, Flans invited the audience to flood the aisles for the "spontaneous dance contest" during Clap Your Hands. There were record prizes including ones by Donna Summer and Ted Nugent. Thanks to fast feet I snagged a spot on the left side of the stage in front of the drums. The dance contest continued right into Doctor Worm. I was positioned in a perfect spot to make another attempt at getting a photo of Danny's leap but as usual didn't time it right. Which was more awkward when he turned to me after the show and mouthed "Did you get the picture?" while miming holding a camera. "I tried!" was all I could say. But it is nice to know it is a joint effort.

Flans pulled out his flashlight to divide the audience for Battle of the Planet of the Apes. At this point I got very distracted as the venue security chose that moment to try to get all of us standing by the stage and in the aisles to return to our seats. I think we pretty much looked at them like they were nuts. It was like they had no concept of what was going on in the show. I think we, as a crowd, made a collective decision to ignore them. If memory serves they tried once more before giving up. But it sure put a damper on my show experience. Wait through most of the show to get to stand up and rock out and then have venue security basically ruin the most audience participation dependent portion of the show. Way to go Berklee. *angry face*

The people won the battle. Flansburgh discussed organizing chicken fights during the shows next. There was a humorous line from Linnell about how the band's history would read "they used to play music but now they just host chicken fights".

There was a Join Us block of Johnny, Judy and Canajoharie, though they paused to award the vinyl to the dance contest winners, before that last one. Flans held back the Donna Summer album (which was apparently a collaboration with Barbra Streisand) to see if any dancers really "took it to the next level" before the end of the show because Barbra and Donna "certainly did".

Curt did an impressive introduction to Istanbul, but the song featured zero fake endings. I imagine they were just pressed for time but I've gotten so used to it going on and on, that it seemed abrupt.

They went straight into Careful What You Pack from the encore break. Then Flans commented that they had forgotten to tell Curt that they had a new way of doing the band introductions. He told Curt to just follow along and he would know what to do when they called him. It was a pretty shortened version of the cacophony that was the standard band intro on this run. Flans said afterward that yes, that was what all of their rehearsals sounded like.

The Guitar. Never going to not enjoy hearing that song live. Lie Still Little Bottle was on the setlist for the second encore but they skipped it and just played Birdhouse. I was sure that would be it, what with the need to clear the room and give the guys a break before round two. But I was wrong. They came back and did Damn Good Times too as an extra bonus third encore. Definitely left the crowd dancing.

Afterward I think there was some sort of nonsense with someone jumping on the stage to steal a setlist. I don't remember the specifics, except that it meant that the remaining ones weren't passed out and the crowd was discouraged from approaching the stage by a security person standing at the front. Not to disrupt my setlist streak, Victor sent Mr. Brunette out to the front of the stage with a setlist to hand off to me surreptitiously. I felt like a spy receiving secret documents. I sent him back with Dan's birthday card in hand and felt an enormous amount of relieve to finally have the thing out of my hands.

To be honest, I don't actually know if Dan ever got the card. He sent me a message thanking me for birthday greetings I sent, a few days later and told me that he hadn't received it but that he knew where it was and would retrieve it later. And that was the last I heard of it. I'd certainly like to think it eventually made its way to him, not just because of the work I put into it, but because of all the wonderful messages people wrote in it.

Stay tuned for part two...

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