Friday, December 16, 2016

A Night at the Ballroom

We’re the cool parents.

Well, no.  I wasn’t cool when I was young and cared.  Nor have the intervening years made me any cooler, to be honest, and I stopped caring long before I graduated from high school anyway.  Kim insists that she was cool once, but I’m sure I have leached that right out of her simply by my presence in her life.

So we’re not cool, not really.  But we can do cool things, and that’s about as good, I think.

Last night we took the girls to see Panic! At the Disco in Milwaukee.

Naturally yesterday was the day that winter well and truly arrived here in Wisconsin.  The high temperature was in the single digits, Fahrenheit, and Wisconsin winters are pretty clear about which digit that is most of the time – sometimes with both hands.  Plus it was windy enough that the schools here in Our Little Town opened late that morning to give the wind-chill a chance to get within hailing distance of 0F.  So: cold.

But we were undaunted!  We are hardy souls!  Besides, we’d paid for these tickets and by all that was sweet and holy we were going to use them.

The Rave is one of those venues that was clearly built for better times early in the last century.  It’s a monstrous pile of a building not far from the interstate in an area where the streets are narrow, jumbled, and impassable if there are more than half a dozen cars moving at once.  Naturally there were about 3500 people there last night, all of whom drove at least one car and from the looks of it possibly several at once, perhaps by remote control, and my guess is that this was not all that uncommon of an occurrence at Rave events.  Fortunately the Milwaukee PD understands this and was there to direct traffic, although if I might be so bold as to make a recommendation I would suggest that they wear white gloves next time so you can actually see the hand motions before there is any need to go all single-digit on people.

Kim dropped me and the girls off near the entrance and went in search of parking, so the three of us found a door and walked in.   She joined us later, and if you’re not impressed by the sheer improbability of that achievement in a place as dark and crowded as this one was, you’re not thinking clearly.

The lower levels are an odd cross between ‘70s Italian restaurant (all dark brick and neon) and 80s mosh pit, with signs discouraging crowd surfing and telling you to leave cameras, video-recorders, and weapons elsewhere.  They don’t say anything about phones, though, and since most people under 30 have no idea that there are cameras and video recorders that don’t also text or surf the web I’m not sure how effective that policy is.  They certainly didn’t try to enforce it.  There weren’t any weapons that I saw, though, so at least that one was good.

You climb up a few flights of stairs, go through a line or two, get patted down and wanded by security (which I did twice, since I went back downstairs to check in our coats), and then you walk up the final set of stairs to the ballroom.

The ballroom is exactly what it says it is – a cavernous space roughly the shape and twice the size of the Goodyear blimp, lined with pillars and box seating on the second level, that no doubt was jammed with dancers during the Coolidge Administration.  It looked like the sort of place where a decaying aristocracy would waltz away the night in order to ignore the oncoming war.  There were no seats on the main level.

As soon as we got there the girls disappeared into the crowd on the floor of the ballroom.  They spent the concert out there in the center of things, doing whatever it is teenaged girls do at these concerts.  As a parent, you learn not to enquire too closely about things sometimes.

It was an all-ages show so the level of nonsense was a bit muted from what it might otherwise have been, however, though they did serve alcohol to those who were of age.  I decided to pass on that, though Kim did give me some of her cider and it was quite nice.  If I can forgive that particular company the smugness of its advertisements I may in fact buy some myself in the near future.

Kim and I found a spot way over on stage right.  This was a nice place to land for several reasons.  For one thing, it was on the far side of the room from the main entry point, so relatively few people actually made it that far into the room.  Most people got bogged down in the middle, in front of the stage.  This meant that we could stand right up close to the stage, without being pressed in by bodies.  We were about fifteen paces from the singers most of the time.  For another thing, the stage thrust out a bit from the proscenium arch, and we ended up actually behind the singers most of the time.  We couldn’t see them if they went upstage of the proscenium, but most of the time they were out there on the lip of the stage, working the crowd, and we had a pretty much uninterrupted sight line the whole night except when the guitar player would wander by.

This also meant that we were behind the speakers.  They had a LOT of speakers (“Meet my friend, Marshall Stack!”) and they used them hard.  I was wearing a fairly heavy sweatshirt and we were a good fifteen feet behind the speakers, and I could feel that sweatshirt vibrate just from the noise levels.  The hell of it was that we could see the levels on the sound system from where we were – they never got anywhere close to red.  They could have easily doubled the decibel level of that concert, though the building would likely have fallen down if they had.

There were two opening acts.

The first was a jaunty young woman called Charli XCX, who had a minor hit a few years ago about driving her car into a bridge abutment.  I have to say she was a lot of fun.  It was just her and a DJ providing instrumentals as far as I could see from my vantage point, but she bounced and whirled and generally got things up and lively.

At the end she did another of her songs that most people in the crowd seemed to know – Kim and I were rather toward the older end of this audience’s age range, and they were much more familiar with her stuff than I was – and everyone who had such a thing on their phones cranked up the flash app and swayed back and forth.

The next act, however, was a drag.  The guy was some kind of DJ, apparently from France of all places, and he spent about an hour playing other people’s music in increasingly distorted and random contexts.  I suppose if this were a party where you could dance if you wanted or just wander over and get some food it might have been worthwhile, but in a concert setting he was just a parasite on other people’s talent and I was glad when he finally wound down and went away.

And then the main act came on.  You could tell because all of the sudden the audience was shouting louder than usual.

Panic! At the Disco used to be a band, but now it’s just one guy – Brendon Urie, the lead singer – and whatever musicians he tours with.  He’s a thin man with an unruly mop of hair, and forty years ago he would have been David Byrne except with a much better voice than Byrne ever had.  His music ranges from fairly heavy duty rock/emo sorts of things to songs that are essentially Sinatra updated for the new millennium.

He certainly had a grand time up there – one of the things about being where we were was that we could see the expressions on his face pretty clearly – and I think he got a kick out of the fact that the audience would sing along with him.  He also managed a complete backflip from a platform about two feet above the stage, which I’m sure gives his manager nightmares every time he tries it.

The radio station that sponsored the concert had some nice photos up on their website too, and since I was there I figure I can post some of them.  All credit goes to 103.7 KISS FM out of Milwaukee, so the copyright lawyers can rest easy that I am not trying to steal their stuff.

This was Charli XCX.

I’m not too worried about getting pictures of the second act, to be honest.  I couldn’t see him from where I was standing and I never saw any reason to fix that while I was there. 

But there is a part of me that wishes I had seen Panic! At the Disco from up front, even though I liked where I was and would probably have been rendered clinically deaf in half a chorus if I had.  Noise is for the young, at least at those levels. 

If you look behind the small box in back of the guitar player in the next picture, that’s pretty much were I was most of the night.  The green dot would be just above my head.

It took forever to get out of the place – the coat check room alone was an exercise in barely controlled chaos far more unruly than the concert itself – but eventually we found our way to the car.  And after some sociologically fascinating experiences driving away from the venue, we hit the interstate and were homeward bound.  We got home around 1am, which is pretty late for a school night.  But sometimes you do things because they are worth doing, and the next day can take care of itself.

We took our daughters to a concert, and it was a grand and lovely time.

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