Double your pleasure… not really

November 20th, 2008

I’m counting four two-concert nights on the 9:30 Club’s line-up through the rest of the year. That’s when the club, arguably the best venue in the region, hosts an early concert (doors typically open around 6 p.m.) and a late one (doors typically open around 11 p.m.). Want to see both? Buy two sets of tickets.

It sounds like a pretty good idea, especially for the early slot on a school night. But I wish they’d cut it out.

I caught Amanda Palmer’s solo tour Tuesday night at the 9:30 Club. Doors were at 6; Palmer, better known as the lead singer/pianist for The Dresden Dolls, took the stage around 7:45 p.m., after two brief opening acts. (A snafu at the ticket counter prevented my friends and I from seeing the first opening set entirely). Palmer played until sometime after 9, probably for an hour and a half total.

I could have done without the lip-synching (really, a Palmer cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” would have been so much better than Palmer dancing as the song blasted from the speakers to close out the set). And, yeah, I understand it’s the point of Palmer’s rocker “Guitar Hero,” but it would’ve been more cool to actually hear her play it.

I could have done with less theatrics—The Danger Ensemble, a group of Australian performance artists offered its interpretation of some of the numbers. Yeah, it’s an Amanda Palmer concert, so I was expecting a fair amount of goth-rock costumes and circus performers (Indeed, The Danger Ensemble looked like it stepped out of a Victorian era- Final Fantasy VII). Songs like “Blake Says” certainly worked well with the added shtick, but it was a lesson in overkill. During “Coin Operated Boy,” a favorite from the Dresden Dolls’ catalog, the two male members of the Danger Ensemble circulated the audience, rubbing up on people and making out with the willing. Distracting, yeah, but also a downright creepy way to break the wall between performer and audience.

Don’t get me wrong—Palmer was great. She’s not the greatest pianist (the absence of fellow Dresden Doll Brian Viglione on drums made her musical shortcomings a bit more obvious). But she’s a fantastic performer, songwriter and storyteller. And yeah, the whole conceit of the evening, that her corpse, carried in by members of The Danger Ensemble to narration from fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, was the evening’s entertainment. (Her album is titled “Who Killed Amanda Palmer,” get it?). Oh, and that duet with her father on Leonard Cohen’s “The Night Comes On?” Fantastic.

But the biggest buzzkill of the evening was the club’s imposed curfew. Palmer had to clear off by a certain hour in order to make way for the Eagles of Death Metal, performing the later concert.

A woman whispered to Palmer between songs that she only had 15 minutes left to perform. I wasn’t privy to the set list, but from Palmer’s reaction, she had to cut more than a few numbers. The end result was a performance with too much show, not enough concert, through no fault of Palmer’s.

This was my third two-concert night at the 9:30 Club. I caught Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard play a solo set in 2007. Unlike Palmer he also performed the later concert. In other words, super fans could buy tickets to two Ben Gibbard concerts in one night if they wanted. If memory serves, the club added the later performance after Gibbard sold out. A decent enough move to allow fans a chance to catch the acoustic renditions of their favorite songs, but instead, those of us who had tickets were stuck with the earlier performance. NPR broadcast the earlier concert, clocking in at a whopping hour and six minutes. Even the public radio station’s host said it was too short.

The other was a late-night Sunday performance from Snow Patrol. Again, if memory serves, this concert had been rescheduled from earlier. I don’t remember too much from this one, only being supremely tired by the time the band took the stage well after midnight. I was pleased with the set, but I’m wondering if they’d have played a fewer number of songs in the early slot.

Look, I have no problem with late concerts. Even as now I only sleep until 1 p.m. a few times a year, not on a collegiate regular basis, I still make an exception for an act I really want to see. Last winter I drove up to Baltimore to catch The Hold Steady, touring in support of the band’s fantastic “Boys and Girls in America.” They didn’t take the stage until after midnight; I didn’t get back to Virginia until well after 3 a.m. I had to pump myself full of caffeine to get through work the next day, but it was worth it, especially to catch a band on the verge of something great at a small venue like Ottobar.

The problem, then, isn’t the time, but the 9:30 Club’s attempt to cram as much music into an evening as possible. I stopped going to mega festivals like the now-defunct HFStival in high school and passed on Virginfest for the same reason. I’d rather see a band craft a full setlist, to give the audience more than a concert, an experience. Ben Folds said it best when he went solo. He wanted to play a set where each song created some sort of musical, emotional trajectory of story, kind of like a movie. I got the sense that’s what Palmer was trying to do, but to continue the metaphor, no one wants to see a movie that skips the 30 most important minutes.

Staff writer Josh Eiserike can be reached at 703-878-8072.


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