I am not, by nature, someone who is particularly prone to planning ahead. Unlike some people who one might classify as “flaky”, this is a deliberate choice and not something I internally struggle with. I like not planning. I have my reasons, and to me they’re all true. But rather than delve into an expository on those reasons, I think this vignette of my life last night will serve to illustrate. Showing, not telling, they tell me.
Months ago, the Weakerthans let me know via their e-mail list that they would be coming to visit the city where I work, San Francisco, on October 3rd. The Weakerthans are a relatively obscure Canadian band who have chosen to stay on independent labels despite being talented enough to go for the big-time. They’re one of the bands I only know because I’m friends with David Gray (don’t misunderstand the musical mixed metaphor here – I’m talking about my friend, David Gray, not a Scottish folk singer… perhaps it’s best if I just call him Gris from now on). But unlike most of the music I’ve heard only through Gris, the Weakerthans are really good.
So they say they’ll be coming in October and I start to ready the usual suspects of people in the area who would want to go (Em, Gris, Anna) and get people excited about the show. Then I let it go for awhile, right up until this week when it flashed into my head that something exciting was coming up in October. By this time, rechecking with all the usual suspects reveals that no one else wants to go (everyone’s quite busy) and, lo and behold, the Weakerthans snuck a new CD out a week ago that will clearly be the basis for the show’s set and I don’t know it! Double-decker disaster!
(I initially thought that my e-mail list which is supposed to automatically keep me abreast of all things Weakerthans failed to inform me of the new CD, but upon review it seems that I was easily misled by the title of said disc. It’s called “Reunion Tour”. And I think they announced it in the same e-mail wherein they invited me to see them on their… tour. Chalk one up for not skimming the e-mail updates … or perhaps for bands never ever titling non-live album releases with the word Tour. Incidentally, the band has never broken up.)
Swift action was called for. I came to work yesterday with a plan to acquire the new CD at a music store near my place of employ and (gulp) listen to it at work sufficiently to catch up with it for the new show. I gulp not because there’s any sort of restriction on me listening to music at work – it’s all but encouraged – but because I pretty much can’t concentrate when there’s music on. Any noise that I can make sense of makes it almost impossible for me to zero in on anything else. Ambient, non-linguistic noise does not have the same problem, even at high volumes. I have always been amazed by people who legitimately seem to focus better while listening to music.
So the plan rolled out and I was able to find absurdly rote work to do for the first 40-minute run-though of the CD. Not enough to learn it, but at least I could know which songs to get excited about. And then I decided to hang out in my office for 40 minutes after work to more closely repeat the experience. It wasn’t until I was rechecking the show time on the website of the club (Slim’s) during track 7 that I actually saw the words… “PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS SHOW IS COMPLETELY SOLD OUT – THANK YOU!”
I knew the Weakerthans had stayed independent, so there was only one possible interpretation of that sentence. I wasn’t going to get to go.
Just as my heart was recovering from the shocking jolt of this realization (I had really been spending the whole day preparing for and thinking about this show), a plan began to hatch in my mind. So, only slightly fazed, I put together a sign to print out with a collection of Weakerthans song titles reworked to implore concert-goers to give me an extra ticket they might have (e.g. “This is a Ticket Seeker Never Leave Open”). I wrapped it up with a quote from “Pamphleteer” about standing on a corner, trying to get people’s attention, [and a ticket]. And I made it clear that I would pay face value for the ticket and was not seeking a freebie – although I would gladly have paid well more than the $15 face value of the ticket, I was quite concerned about being rung up for some sort of scalping infraction were I to put in writing that I would pay double face value. In fact I was quite concerned with this whole project that I could get hauled in (or at least shooed away) under scalping accusations of some sort or another. There’s a reason actual scalpers don’t entreaty customers with signs.
My larger concern, of course, was with investing hours of time in the cold with my sign and ending up going home without seeing the show. If it sold out in the first place, who knows how many die-hard fans they had accumulated since the last time they played SF? Would there be a fleet of people with signs like mine, boldly bidding $100 for entry? At least if I got shooed away early, I would only be out a brisk mile-plus walk across the city.
So I got there at about 6:20 (doors 7:30, show 8:00), to stand against a pole by the entrance perfectly positioned to face the line. The line had three inhabitants, stalwartly bracing against the wind tunnel formed by Slim’s on the right and… the tour bus on the left! Interesting. The box office was closed, so I couldn’t cajole them. I asked the three line-standers if they had an extras, then hauled my sign, backed with cardboard from my backpack. The wind was blowing such that it pinned the sign against my chest, which was rather fortunate… had the wind or arrangement of the street been reversed, all my hair would have obscured my face and the sign would constantly be in danger of catching the wind on a corner and blowing down the road.
Band members began to filter back and forth between the bus and the club, sometimes glancing at my sign and a couple took time to stop and read it. (The fonts were to small and people have a harder time seeing than I do, so people would often have to stop right next to me and sort of lean in to get the full impact of the sign. But people kept doing it.) Very few actual concert-goers were showing up. And then John K. Samson, the lead singer, turned the corner with an apparent local friend of his and was chatting with him for awhile. Then he popped into the club, then back over to the bus, and then came by to read my sign and say hello.
Dialogue in these situations is always a little strange. I don’t think stars (major or minor) like the fan who just opens up and starts talking about how they think the star is brilliant and speaks to them or some such. It may be true, it may even be implicit in the interaction, but it’s just weird to hear, especially in an off-the-cuff interaction that doesn’t have indefinite amounts of time to explore lyrical interpretation or the symbolism of syntax. My perception that this is the case is drawn from strained interactions with debaters when I was one of the top debaters on APDA… it’s probably the closest I’ve been to feeling what an adult celebrity might feel like. (And I’m not trying to exaggerate here or delve into grandeur – I’m very well aware of what debate was and wasn’t. I’m just explaining a sensation of an interaction that seems vaguely microcosmic.) Novice debaters I’d never met would walk right up to me and start talking about how they felt about a round, or try to get my opinion on a type of case, often with no introduction, warning, or observation of the fact that this was a weird thing to do. The lack of introduction exacerbated things like them knowing my name and my not knowing theirs. And they almost all seemed to come from the school of thought that if you just talk to someone like you’ve been good friends for a long time, then everything will go perfectly. It was often too odd for words, and always left me feeling a little bad about not having memorized the 214 people who might be registered at a tournament and anticipating everything they might say to me.
So I didn’t want to do that.
“How’s it going?”
“Good. (laughs) I like your sign.”
“Thanks. I didn’t think you’d sell out.”
“It’s okay. I’m just hoping to get in to see you guys tonight. I’m sure someone’ll come along with an extra. I’m pretty confident.”
“Well, I’ll see what I can do for you. I’ll see if we can work this out.”
“That would be great! Thanks.”
He stopped by a couple times thereafter, once to tell me that he was “working on it” and another to say that he thought it was going to work out.
Shortly after the last interaction (about 50 minutes from when I’d started standing there and the line had now grown a bit with no extras in the crowd), someone clearly in some sort of band-manager position came up and asked me to write down my name on a piece of paper in a Sharpie I could hardly open because of the wind tunnel cold. Five minutes later, she said I had been put on a list for the will-call line and could buy a ticket!
The rest was history and became like the normal experience of going to a show by myself, one that (like doing many things alone, such as going to movies) I often really enjoy as a uniquely personal event. Going to a show with others is great fun, but the event becomes as much about the people you’re going with as the music itself or the band or even how one as a person experiences the whole environment. Going by oneself really isolates the emotions of the event itself… I wouldn’t choose that kind of approach every time, but it’s nice from time to time. Plus I get to eavesdrop. And I really enjoy eavesdropping on the conversations of strangers. It’s one of the best schools we have and the best ways of grounding ourselves in the perspectives of others outside our sphere or vantage point.
I did manage to write “THANK YOU!” on the back of my sign and get John K. Samson’s attention with it during the second or third song, which he acknowledged with a smile and nod. I say a smile, but John K. smiles more than anyone I’ve ever seen on the stage at a show… he constantly seems elated and giddy to be performing. Which is a pretty reasonable reaction, if you ask me.
Did I mention I was in the front row? I was in the front row. I was the sixth person to get up to the stage despite being the 20th or 25th person in line. Only the first five people in line and I were concerned with actual proximity to the show (as opposed to, say, first in line for T-shirts or drinks).
I filled the rest of the sign’s back with the setlist, which I’ll post at the bottom of this now absurdly granular and lengthy post. The Weakerthans may never play “Sounds Familiar” in concert, but it won’t keep me from calling out for it during the silences. “Reconstruction Site” back-to-back with “Aside” was probably my highlight of this show, though the entire first encore was pretty great too. While I was ecstatic that they came back for a second encore (they haven’t done this in the two prior times I’ve seen them), the actual songs left a little to be desired. John K. even got my hopes up by saying “We haven’t played this song in years” before the final tune, but it was not the aforementioned “Sounds Familiar”. That would be a great way to close a show, but it seems the Weakerthans like to end on an up-note, unlike say, Counting Crows, who would totally close on “Sounds Familiar”. If, y’know, it were their song.
Psalm for the Elks Lodge Last Call
Our Retired Explorer
Relative Surplus Value
Sun in an Empty Room
Left and Leaving
Tournament of Hearts
History to the Defeated
Plea from a Cat Named Virtute
One Great City!
Confessions of a Futon Revolutionist
Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure
Swingin’ Party (cover)
Exiles Among You