Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Perfect Concert (Fifty Year-Old Version)

Knocking on the door of fifty years old, I can gauge my concert history by the number of venues I’ll never see again.  No more Cobo (Billy Joel), Olympia (Mitch Ryder), Premier Center (Chuck Berry), Pontiac Silverdome (Elton John)…and that doesn’t begin to list the many smaller venues that have turned into fern bars, restaurants or parking lots where a younger version of myself shouted at the top of his lungs for a musical hero.

I saw The Highwaymen (Cash, Nelson, Jennings and Kristofferson) play a game of “top this” one night in 1989.  I enjoyed an evening with B.B. King at Hill Auditorium (when he could have sold out much larger arenas in the area) before old age turned him into a nostalgia act.  The Eagles on a warm summer night at Tiger Stadium is an evening I’ll never forget, as is a recent visit with Bob Seger, who I’d managed to miss repeatedly during his (and my own) youth.  A couple of years back, Roger Daltrey put more energy into a forty-five minute opening set than the headliner, Eric Clapton, put into two hours of slow guitar jams.  And while most of the attendees knew it wasn’t really a “Farewell” tour for The Doobie Brothers, we were pretty damn sure it was the last time we’d see them with lead singer Michael McDonald. I would tell you about the first time I saw Jimmy Buffett, but I think I remember more about the hangover than the concert.

That being said, my wife and I can still get excited about going to a musical event.  We have a short list of people we want to see before they retire, stop touring or drop dead.  The opportunity to catch Paul Simon and Sting on one bill was irresistible, so we motored out to Auburn Hills last weekend to catch their show at The Palace.  I would have to say we enjoyed it…but our criteria has changed.

We pulled into the parking lot an hour early, as is my bent, and with the parking lot nearly empty we decided to plant ourselves four spaces from the exit to the expressway.  We knew it would be a nasty walk into The Palace, facing the wind on a night where the temperatures were in the single digits, but we congratulated ourselves for our forward thinking while we enjoyed a pizza we’d picked up a mile from home and a six-pack I’d grabbed at a party store.  Total cost of the tailgate party: Ten bucks and change.  A half-hour before the show, we bundled up and put our heads down, walking into a bracing wind to the nearest entrance.

When we gave our tickets to the attendant, she scanned them and said, “Section 122.  That’s, uh…right behind me.”  We looked twice to be sure.  So many times, we’d found the perfect parking spot, only to find out we’d have to walk around the whole arena to reach our seats.  This was a boon, as my wife and I have one good knee between us and she won’t share.  Crossing the concourse, I looked up to see the nearby amenities and discovered our section was flanked by restrooms, one for women and one for men.  There was a beer depot, staffed but un-crowded, even closer.  As we are persons of a certain age, we availed ourselves of the sanitary facilities before entering the arena, knowing that any trip up the long stairways for relief or a libation would be met with days worth of patellar pain.  Yeah, we bought beers, too.  I mean, we’re not Mormons.

We showed our tickets again to the guardian of the lower bowl and were shown through the curtain.  Bracing myself for the long descent, I gripped the stair rail and hoped for the best.  Instantly, Kathy said, “Oh, Row Q.  This is us.”  Two steps down and two seats over, the two of us settled in.  There would be no quandaries as to whether or not the long trip up the stairs would be worth it…we could zip out at any time, missing only our least favorite songs.

The folks around us were nice and no one drank too much.  People swept their legs out of the way on the rare occasions we needed to reach the aisle over the following three hours.  Though  we weren’t hungry in the least, we feasted on a three-dollar giant Kit-Kat bar as a dessert.

When the show came to an end, we headed to the parking lot.  Having read the reviews of the show as it crossed the country, we knew exactly which song would be the last of the encores.  While nearly eight thousand music fans begged fruitlessly for another song, my wife and I settled into my truck, took another slice of pizza and coasted onto the expressway toward home.

The next day, I detailed the evening’s adventure to my teenaged son.  He nodded as I spoke, remaining uncharacteristically silent when I had finished.  After a moment, he asked, “So…how was the concert?”

“Oh, yeah,” I answered.  “They were good, too.”

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