Autumn Phillips: A listening binge
At about 2 a.m., my arm started to cramp from holding an empty Budweiser for too long. My legs were sore from the day of skiing and my body was setting into some sort of standing rigamortis, but the music was too good to walk away.
I arrived at Levelz at about 9:30 that night to hear local band Buzzcut Sheep open for the Cracker/Camper Van Beethoven show, and I hadn’t so much as stepped outside for air since.
The clock passed 2 a.m. David Lowery and Johnny Hickman were still on stage, long after they were scheduled to leave. They had promised a two-hour acoustic, nonsmoking show, but by the end of the night, cigarettes were blazing and filling my clothes with a weighty layer of stink, and Hickman’s electric guitar was out.
Santa Claus showed up bearing shots of whiskey for the band. Lowery and Hickman partook in the Christmas spirit and started taking requests.
They played “Take the Skinheads Bowling” and everyone sang along.
“It’s so strange. We recorded that song 21 years ago, and people still sing it,” Lowery said.
The clock kept ticking, and the original audience of a couple hundred dwindled down to a loyal group of 30 or so fans standing close to the stage and shouting out song titles.
Someone yelled “Reasons to Quit” (a Merle Haggard cover) and I liked it for the first time. At 2 a.m., with empty shot glasses littering the stage, the lyrics sounded truer than they ever had on an album.
“Smoke and booze don’t do me like before/And I’m hardly ever sober/And my old friends don’t come ’round much anymore … So we keep smoking, and we keep drinking,/Having fun, and never thinking,/Laughing at the price tag that we paid/And we keep rolling down that fast lane/Like two young men, feeling no pain.”
I discovered Cracker during my senior year of high school when the band came out with a self-titled album (the one with the open can of sardines on the cover). That album had all the classic songs such as “Mr. Wrong” and “Another Song about the Rain.” Those were the days when my musical taste required that bands be either weird or funny, and Cracker was funny.
But I lost the CD after graduation and never listened to Cracker again.
The concert was on Saturday and by Monday, I had a copy of Cracker’s “Countrysides” in my car. That, my friend, is how you know that you’ve been to a good show.
A good show sends you on a listening binge.
In Steamboat, we usually see musicians on their way up or on their way down. I can’t count how many times I’ve seen a band here that “I used to listen to in high school.”
I formed a theory the night of the Cracker show: The true test of musicians is how they behave when they end up on a Steamboat stage. When their tour takes a turn to a rural, Northwest Colorado town — albeit a ski town — it means “the industry” probably isn’t watching anymore. They no longer fill stadiums, but they were famous once and the residue of prior glory does something to some people.
We’re just as appreciative an audience looking up to the stage, but sometimes when they look out at the knit hats and flannel shirts, something snaps. Who will forget how Vince Neil stormed off the stage because we didn’t know the words to every one of his stupid songs?
As I looked at Cracker’s Apple G3 on Saturday night, I had a flashback to a show from last winter.
It was late January when Perry Farrell came to our tiny town in the guise of DJ Peretz. Levelz sold out.
It was a surreal scene. Mr. Music himself stood in front of us in a white, button-up shirt and headphones. He pushed a button on his Apple laptop, and that was the most action we saw all night.
He was a beginner deejay, but he had drawn us there with his name, with the memories of Jane’s Addiction and Porno for Pyros.
I saw a sea of people standing at the foot of the stage, looking up. Expecting. He didn’t flip us the bird or throw his beer bottle at the audience. But I felt his stubbornness as he kept his head down. He ignored our stares. He listened to his music and drank bottled water.
A good concert opens a doorway into some kind of musical exploration. Isn’t that why we go out — to get inspired by a conversation or to learn something new about art or music? Even if I get caught at the waist trying to squeeze through the doggie door, at least a show took me somewhere.
I didn’t add any DJ Peretz to my CD collection. The only thing I took away from that show was a bizarre image of hundreds of people standing still at Levelz staring at a man staring at his laptop, an image I’ll never forget.
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