Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lupe Fiasco w/ Grand Analog -- University of Manitoba Max Bell Fieldhouse, Friday, September 19th, 2009

Oh, hey, this was only four days ago! Look how timely I am. (I blame Fight Night Round 4.) Anyway--

They're lucky the headliners came through, because this show was heading straight for disaster territory without them.

Now, let me just note beforehand that I was already setting my standards for the organizational aspects of this show pretty low. It was being put on by UMSU, who I remember well enough from my University of Manitoba days that I wasn't about to put too much stock in their large-scale event planning -- and it cost me literally twice as much for a ticket as it would have if I were still a student there, not that UMSU's choice of Ticketmaster to handle the general admission tickets helped my sense of goodwill any. A $5.50 surcharge on a $35 ticket? For what? For printing the piece of paper it comes on? My little brother, a U of M student himself now, dropped $20 cash at Answers on campus -- no surcharges, no taxes, no administrative fees or convenience fees or handling fees -- and they gave him a strip of paper UMSU had photocopied the information on themselves.

The show was slated to happen on the roof of the University Parkade, but then -- the day before the show, you'll note -- they changed the venue to the Max Bell Fieldhouse. (Not that you would have known this without visiting the UMSU website!) It seems they got greedy and just kept selling tickets, or they got greedy and just wanted a bigger beer garden, or they were just shortsighted to begin with and hadn't thought their idea for a super-loud lights-heavy megashow on an open-air roof near a residential area all the way through -- or some combination of the above, which I am not ruling out. But the overselling part seems set in stone, particularly when they announced they'd hit the Max Bell's capacity of three thousand at seemingly the exact same time as they announced the venue change. (In fact, if you look at their news archive there, the sold-out notice appears to have actually been posted earlier than the venue change notice. What the hell, UMSU.)

But hey, no problem, right? I've been to a few of the SmartPark jazz concerts held in that very fieldhouse, and even though you have to bring your own chair for them they've always been organized reasonably well. Not only does the fieldhouse have several entrances that are perfectly suitable for setting up ticket stations, but some of them are right along the exterior of the building -- perfect for getting people through with a minimum of fuss and keeping wait times as short as possible!

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

So what they decided on instead, get this, this is pretty great -- what they decided to do instead is have one lone solitary ticket station, specifically placed well within the building at the end of a winding path around the building, up a hill, and through the attached hockey arena. (Literally, through; you could actually see the Bisons hockey game, in progress, from the admissions table.) They sold three thousand tickets, they had one entrance with maybe three or four people very slowly taking tickets, and they acted surprised when three thousand people showed up and got upset about waiting in line for up to an hour.

"An hour" is an exaggeration, but only very slightly; my brother and I were in line for fifty-five minutes, and we had the good fortune of getting there before half the crowd showed up. Let me tell you, there's really no better way to spend a Friday evening than standing in a line of three thousand people under a hideous Spirited Energy banner. (Ugh, god, Spirited Energy. There are seriously people who want Andrew Swan running the province? Really?)

Of course, kids these days have no sense of decorum or manners, so the "line" quickly became a source of conflict between people who acknowledge the concept and people who don't. Being unwaveringly self-important is apparently a prerequisite to attending the University of Manitoba, these days, because there was cutting and running to the front and general hooliganry en masse -- my favourite people were the ones who kept their cell phones pressed to their heads as they ran, in an effort to avoid eye contact or interaction with anybody who might make them feel bad about it -- and then, increasingly, the people running by were met with booes and jibes and old-fashioned heckling from the stalwarts (or, depending on your perspective, suckers) still honouring the social order of things. The slings and arrows ranged from whimsical ("Quick, hurry, run! There's no time!") to cutting ("If your dad had stuck around, he would have raised you wrong!") to simplistically profane ("It's a fucken line, buddy! End of the line's fucken that way!" -- and, yes, that's written the way the guy pronounced it), but overall it was the kind of comedically ugly atmosphere that you would expect given the situation.

Ultimately, whether people skipped ahead or not, it wasn't as though anybody really missed anything; UMSU didn't even open the doors until 8:30 anyway, because it was an 8:00 showtime and they are UMSU, and then when people could finally get in they were greeted by one of the most mediocre DJs I've ever encountered.

I'm getting ahead of myself, however. Way, way ahead of myself, because there was still a whole lot of lineup before we actually got into the building. It was fourty-five minutes up the line, almost but not quite within visual range of the door, before we ever saw any security -- and OBO must have ran out of actual security, that night, because they'd instead sent a small crew of the 'before' kids from the old Charles Atlas bodybuilding ads.

Well, no, that's not entirely true; they did have two big intimidating guys who worked exclusively on stage duty. But the rough-and-tumble, take-no-shit types they'd assigned to deal with the public? There was one kind of pudgy guy along the outdoor line who I guess could survive a barfight, and then everyone else in black and orange that night was about as authoritative as my little sister's Shih Tzu. The unarmed, fourty-something 5'4'' woman working the door, the loud but ineffectual college kids insisting that girls go through the left door and boys go through the right door (haha what), the scrawny almost-children conducting the patdown searches inside the hockey arena -- the lot of them are incredibly lucky that the cheesed-off mob of three thousand were behaving themselves, because honestly the lot of them would have been torn apart like bananas in a blender if anything had broken out. I could have carried any two of these security people on my shoulders. I was, as you may have gleamed from the above, not entirely impressed by the security detail on duty. (Not that I'm blaming this on UMSU; I'm sure they did what they could in contacting a reputable agency, and it isn't their fault that OBO sent a full garden of stringbeans.)

But if I wasn't impressed with security, I really wasn't impressed with the opening DJ. (Bam! Segue!) He said his name was DJ Peace, or DJ Quiche, or something that sounded like that; I couldn't make it out, and really it was just as well because I don't think I would ever need to seek him out for anything. His entire repertoire was to play thirty seconds of a (seemingly randomly selected) #1 hip-hop hit, blurt out "AYY WHO HERE REMEMBER THIS SONG WHO HERE REMEMBER DIS HANDS UP IF YOU LOVE [artist]" and then ruin it by singing the last two or three words of every second line before jumping to the next song with little to no transition.

If you were to mute his prerecorded music and listen exclusively to his mic feed, this is what his rendition of Biggie's "Juicy" would sound like:





And then he cuts the music entirely and blurts out "BLOW UP LIKE THE WORLD TRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADE" and you want to hit him. So DJ Cease, or Sneeze, or Sneech, or whatever was annoying as hell, and for reasons I might never understand they let him just keep going and going and going. I don't know if he got more time than Grand Analog, but his set seemed like forever. If you are the DJ in question and you are reading this right now, I'm sure you're a great guy, but oh my god you seriously need to switch up your schtick some.

The venue itself, such as it was, wasn't too great either. The ventilation system was severely lacking -- for a crowd of three thousand, I mean, I'm sure its ceiling fans work fine for the building's normal use by a smattering of athletes -- and I didn't check out the very crowded beer garden, because I drove to the concert, but it ain't getting good press elsewhere. So organizationally the whole thing was really a trainwreck, but it was the names on the tickets that finally did make the experience worthwhile.

(What also made the experience worthwhile? The crowd booing, bitterly and unceasingly, when one of the UMSU Vice-Presidents came up to emcee. So good! Ah, I love it when entire groups of people mass as one just to be spiteful.)

Bless their hearts, Grand Analog worked their asses off. (As they always do, of course.) The crowd was pretty sluggish about getting into them, but screw those hipsters, this set was great. I picked up their new album once I got back into town, and this was my first time hearing the cuts from it live; rest assured, they hold up very well.

Then Lupe finally hit the stage at 11:00 or so, and the place finally popped huge like it had been waiting to do for hours. And it was awesome -- mostly a hit parade, granted, but that was what the crowd came for. The only real diversion was his new material, which he introed by rambling bizarrely about lasers for a while. LASERS is, apparently, the name of his upcoming third album; he announced that it was an abbreviation of "Love Always Shines Every Time, Remember the Smile" -- or something like that, but I remember that whatever he said would actually work out to something like LASETRES. He kind of rambled and spaced out for a bit about how lasers, man, the thing about lasers is that they always shine. One guy in front of me in the crowd turned to his buddies and made this classic >:\ face during the whole thing, which honestly was kind of hard to argue against.

But this was a minor, passing curiosity, and it didn't kill the crowd very much if at all -- and then he busted out "Kick, Push" and everything was all right with the world. The >:\ guy and his buddies, who had spent the entirety of the show thus far acting completely unimpressed and too cool for the room, marked out like you wouldn't believe for this one -- singing along, doing the hand motions for the "and coast" part, the whole nine yards. And you know what? So did I. It was great.

Every artist or band has their one big crowd-pleaser, of course, and you know which one I'm talking about in this case; "Superstar" was one of my Ten Best Songs of 2007You Haven't Heard -- is it seriously almost 2010 right now? Jesus Christ. Anyway, it lurked under the radar in 2007, it broke out huge in 2008, and now it is 2009 and a packed fieldhouse of three thousand grouchy, poorly organized spectators can sing it almost note-perfectly on command if prompted. Music is great like that.

So what was my personal highlight of the whole show? Better than standing in line and helping people boo cheaters, better than seeing "Kick, Push" performed live, and even better than the UMSU rep getting serenaded soundly as the sacrificial lamb for her organization, had to be the bodysurfers -- and I say this for one bodysurfer in particular, a comely young woman who made the mistake of wearing a skirt. Nice as her legs were, though, that wasn't the entertainment of it; no, the greatest part of the whole concert was one section of the crowd throwing her, a good extra few feet into the air, and then the rest of the crowd completely failing to catch her. There was a sudden heft, a flash of legs and fabric above the mob, and then she completely ceased to exist. Vaudeville lives!

Good lord, this post is like two thousand words long. Can you tell that I just recently got out of academia? Many thanks to you if you read this far! I'll try and keep things short and choppy in the future.

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