Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Glasvegas Live - The Past, Present and Future of Rock and Roll

On Tuesday, April 7, I had the fortunate opportunity to experience what could only be considered pure magic. I confess I was more excited to see Glasvegas at Minneapolis’ Varsity Theater than any concert I have attended in years. From the first time I heard the single, “Daddy’s Gone” seeing the powerful, atmospheric video for “Flowers and Football Tops” on an extra-caffeinated morning, I’ve been hooked. The few You Tube videos of Glasvegas live, including a blistering performance of “Geraldine,” showcase a band capable of almost indescribable emotion. It is the kind of feeling that makes you play a song over and over again, each time feeling something new inside yourself. The last time I recall a similar feeling was seeing Travis and Stereophonics in 2000, who were breaking the United States on the surge of the second wave of Britpop.

I have been to at least seventy concerts but this was the first time I bought a ticket by myself. I didn’t care if anyone went with me to see Glasvegas – I was jazzed just to have my golden ticket. My erstwhile, energetic wife decided a few weeks later to accompany me, probably after hearing incessant playing of the band on our computer. Playing Glasvegas for the past two months must have stuck something inside her as well. I told her I absolutely wanted to meet the band after the show. I did not care how long it took or if we drove home at the crack of dawn. I had to tell James Allan, Rab Allan, Paul Donoghue and Caroline McKay and tell them how much their music has moved me.

As I’ve gotten older, I noticed how few people I know continue to embrace new music and find something different in their lives. Many seem content to play songs from their youth or listen to their too obvious successors (reality check: Nickelback is Butt Rock part II – different butts, same crappy rock). Glasvegas is the most passionate band since the Libertines and possibly even Nirvana. Hefty praise, I know, but in an era of cookie-cutter, niche-ridden music, hearing a band making music on their own terms takes me back to my teenage years, listening the Clash and Sex Pistols for the first time. Glasvegas took this feeling one step further, incorporating the doo-wop and surf which was a staple of my mother’s record collection. James Allan seemed to be playing my jukebox and as we entered the Varsity Theater that Tuesday night, I felt like the ten-year-old kid who went to his first concert with his mom to see the Everly Brothers 25 years ago.

After we entered the Varsity, my wife, Andrea snagged a Glasvegas poster from a stairway and secured us a spot at the front of the stage. She was generous enough to loan her too-excited husband cash for a t-shirt, as in his excitement for the show he forgot there would be a merchandise table. I was able to see the set list beneath Paul’s microphone and supply of Stella and bottled water. Usually, it is exciting for the audience to be surprised at the song order, but seeing gave me more anticipation for what was to come. As Glasvegas took the stage amidst fog and the echo of doo-wop from the PA, the all too common army of cell phones and cameras raised in the air like lighters from an era long since passed. The opening notes of “Geraldine” sounded and as the full band joined in, I jumped like I was eighteen years old in the chaos of the early Lollapaloozas. Music has a way of transcending age and time; an ethereal experience which brings you outside yourself and into a world unlike any other. The fog was thick, Glasvegas was rocking and I knew at that moment, they would be the next big thing.

What followed was almost a blur; like how you feel on an amusement park ride you hope will never end. Glasvegas’ showmanship rivals Bruce Springsteen’s, bringing your emotions up and down, making you move and then dance slow. Like Springsteen, the live performance eclipses the record because of the raw feeling and belief emitting from the band. James Allan is in total command of the moment, sucked into the surreal world of impending fame. The concept of “Spectorism” (after famed yet now convicted genius Phil Spector) performed live is something rarely, if ever attempted. Yet the songs “Go Square Go”, “It’s My Own Cheating Heart that Makes Me Cry” and especially “Flowers and Football Tops” conjure a “wall of sound” that honestly is very hard to describe unless you experience it firsthand. As Glasvegas began their final song, the gut-wrenching “Daddy’s Gone”, Paul Donoghue’s amplified opening bass notes filled the Varsity. As James began singing, some in the audience knew the words, many didn’t but as the song creschendoed into it’s final chorus (as many Spector songs do) the entire Varsity Theater was mesmerized.

A friend of mine once told me of how he felt seeing Springsteen at the old Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis thirty years ago. Although “Born to Run” may not have much in common with “Daddy’s Gone” on the surface, both are anthems to a generation looking for identity and a voice. As Springsteen gave a voice to those disenfranchised from the Vietnam War and peace movement, James Allan is the voice of a new time and era: lives filled with heartbreak and hope but not the in idealization of “suicide machines” and “dirty arcades.” Instead, Allan conjures the sadness and aspirations inside our souls, challenging us to celebrate social workers and abhor mindless violence; recognize the love and loss in everyday lives without the grandeur of past glory days. As “Daddy’s Gone” ended, James kissed the girls and shook hands with the boys. In an age of despair and cynicism, it is the heart of the romantic that rings true.

I did get the pleasure of meeting Glasvegas after the show and enjoying their more than generous hospitality. But that is where the story ends. I don’t feel it is appropriate to be voyeuristic about such encounters. Although there were autographs and pictures, that was not why I was there; not to broadcast pictures and tour bus stories for the universe to see. It wasn’t why I stood outside a library which years before I huddled inside to hide my family from a storm. As the empty tour bus stood parked, I looked at the library and thought about how our past catches up with us, how the little things in life play such a big part if we only let them. I met Caroline, Paul, Rab and James, told each of them Glasvegas was “the next big thing.” Although their future may be unwritten, their present is filled with the excitement and surrealism of the unknown. As we drove home that night, my wife told me I should play music for my kids the same way my mom did for me. The next night, I did. I felt the ethereal circle of music, which binds all of us who believe in it; the same feeling Glasvegas feels every time they take the stage. They bring it all back home, which is exactly where our hearts need to be. The concert of a lifetime, a band for the ages. I have seen the past, present and future of rock and roll and its name is Glasvegas.

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