Rocking in our chairs

Lighters go out, baby boom crowd goes bust at concerts nowadays.

Observations

May 13, 2001|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,Sun Staff

This is not a review of Sting's concert at the MCI Center in Washington last weekend. Reviews usually appear a day or two after the event, and typically exhibit deep musical knowledge and deft criticism.

This is a review of the concertgoers at Sting's concert last weekend. The review comes many days after the fact because, let's face it, we're all slowing down a bit. For another thing -- well, we forgot the other thing but it wasn't very deep or knowledgeable.

There will come a day when baby boomers will have seen their last concert. They won't know it was their last concert; they simply will wake up one day (at say, 10:30 a.m.) and look over to their spouse and say, "Honey, why don't we go to concerts anymore?" Your honey will say, "because remember what happened at our last concert 20 years ago?" And neither honey will remember what happened 20 years before, and the subject will be dropped and it will be time for a walk anyway.

But we can remember this week what happened last week at the Sting concert.

It wasn't great.

But it wasn't the Stinger's fault. Sure, he could have talked more to the crowd and not been so business-like, so tank-topped, so buff. But he was very good. He played a lot of his "Brand New Day" stuff and threw in Police classics from a world known as the 1980s. No, it wasn't his fault we didn't have a wonderful experience.

Remember when we were younger and every concert was unbelievably great? There was no critical assessment. There were no bad shows. The Little River Band could have been the Beatles up there on stage. We stood throughout the entire show. No one cared about parking. We came early -- hours, sometimes days before the show. Even the opening act was sacred and not to be missed. And there wasn't a grown-up to be seen.

Remember naively believing that encores were spontaneous gifts and not built into the musician's set? Now we know the house lights come up to signal the end of a concert. Then, we believed the Doobie Brothers would come out one more time despite the adroit men in black T-shirts having removed every piece of stage equipment eight minutes after the last song. We held out. We had hope. We came to play.

Now we come late to concerts, hoping to skip the opening act. (Sting's opening act canceled anyway, leaving us to still ask the question: who's Jill Scott?) Now we bring our children to concerts to see the Dixie Chicks or Bare-Naked Ladies. We come to concerts to eat and sit. Sitting is good; too much standing is too much work. We paid $60 for the seat -- not the space in front of the seat.

Just look around any baby-boom concert crowd. At the Sting concert, no lighters were lit, the delicious scent of cannabis wafted not -- although someone was wearing Paco Rabanne -- and no one was topless, unless you counted receding hairlines.

The guy next to us at the MCI Center came strictly for the pizza. Not yet a graduate of the Subway diet, the man in the golf shirt kept getting up to get little pizzas. He talked to his female companion almost the whole show. We never saw him look at the stage -- that flat, noisy, flashy thing where the musicians stand. He looked like he had missed the exit to Camden Yards.

Another sign the apocalypse was upon us came when Sting sang his up-tempo songs. (In music reviewer talk, this means songs with a "rock beat.") You could see the terror and indecision in the faces of the men. Do they stand while Sting sings "Everything Little Thing She Does is Magic" and clap or move their body in a way suggesting a dance movement? Or do they sit and pray for a ballad? Their female companions, meanwhile, are already up and dancing as if it was some concert. What is wrong with these female people?

When did clapping to the beat of a song become such a complicated concert exercise? In our younger days, we'd play air guitar along with Pete Townsend or strum our chests before Tom Petty. Guys look around the crowd now and notice their clapping is out of rhythm. When you can't clap along to a song, you know it's time to sit down. Luckily, you've paid for a seat.

There were other sad signs. Concertgoers attempted to rush the stage with all the steely determination of people filing into a funeral. They retreated without making a scene, and we all were privately relieved.

Sting's guitarist, looking fresh out of Cockeysville Middle School, flung his guitar pick into the crowd as if it was a Cal Ripken foul ball. The pick might still be on the arena floor. At this age, we don't want to play catch at concerts anymore.

Sting very politely ended his concert before 11 p.m., which gave us time to grab a bite to eat.

The pizza did look good.

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