One Million Monkeys

WarningThis blog post is a concert review. It is not the usual kind of post for my blog. My opinion about one of the performers is likely to anger some people. To those people I can only express this heartfelt sentiment: Too bad…

Some months ago, Lisa asked me if I wanted to see Don McLean at the Fox Theatre in downtown Riverside. I said no.

She went on to explain that Al Stewart would open up for McLean. I said yes.

I explained that I would suffer through McLean to hear Stewart. She shook her head, and said that she wanted to hear Vincent and American Pie. I’m fairly neutral about both studio recordings, though I’ve heard Pie about 80,000 times too many.

She reminded me of the McLean concert a few times in the 48 hours before the event last night (8-27-2010), and became progressively more annoyed with me when I said “Damn!” (or something +/- equivalent) in response, so the last time I followed the expletive with a statement that at least we’d get to see Stewart, so the entire night wouldn’t be a waste.

Al Stewart walked onto the stage with guitarist Dave Nachmanoff, and armed with two acoustic-electrics, they played one of the best 45 minute sets I’ve ever heard.

I won’t say they “rocked” because rock ‘n roll does not apply. Stewart’s songwriting still holds up from my viewpoint.

His music is very intellectual, accessible, and clearly of Scots Irish folk derivation, though extended well beyond the limits of the form. I very much enjoy his songs about things like the French Revolution, Airplanes, Basque Separatists, and Bogart Movies. It’s quite a rich tapestry of material.

Nachmanoff is an amazing guitarist: physically as small as John Oates, he was playing an EC model Martin with what appeared to be a 3/4 length neck. Though it wasn’t the same type of music, there was something about the way he was playing, or the sound, or something…..that reminded me of Django Reinhardt (!!!).

After the break, McLean took the stage with a four-piece ensemble to back him up. He opened his set by committing murder on a three-song Buddy Holley medley. It was simply stunning. That’s right. I was stunned by how bad it was. One by one, the songs were throat-slashed, bled white, then drawn and quartered. They fell into heaps of body parts that resembled exceptionally badly-executed paintings by Goya wannabees. He did finally, finally, finally finish the medley. To be polite, I brought my hands together three times in a vague pantomime of clapping. The band was composed of apparently proficient individual musicians, but forced into a group together they sounded bad. No unit chemistry. It was like listening to the first gig of a sub-standard bar band. It couldn’t get much worse, I thought.

But it did.

McLean’s smug self-satisfaction was amusing for a few minutes. It reminded me of the idiot George W. in that it was entertaining for a moment, then pain-inducing for a near-interminable period of time. It ground on and on, like an unmanned tractor, as he played incredibly mediocre covers of sub-mediocre songs mixed with his own sub-mediocre songs that were constructed primarily of rhymes that could have easily been written by a committee of 5-year-olds. The only saving grace was the probability that the tractor would eventually run out of gasoline and lurch to a stop, presumably after the playing of the two songs I knew Lisa wanted to hear.

And speaking of Lisa, something novel was happening with her. I couldn’t bring myself to clap after the first medley, then I noticed that she wasn’t clapping. We’ve attended many concerts together since 1981. That was the only time I’ve seen her refrain from clapping. She is more polite than I am.

After the torture was over, I discovered that she had been ready to stand up and walk out, but was too polite to inconvenience the people seated at the end of the row of seats we were in. I wouldn’t have been that polite, if I had known she was ready to go…

To be fair, in the realm of pop songs, both Vincent and American Pie are at least average lyrical constructions. I am reminded, though, of a possible explanation of how McLean composed them:

Give each of one million monkeys one typewriter and unlimited paper, typewriter ribbons, and time. Eventually one of them will write the Bhagavad Gita…