K-Rock Dysfunctional Family Picnic
The days of the proper arena show are passed. Gone is heyday of the Kiss stage show and ostentatious pyrotechnics. When Rush stacks their amps seven miles high at the former Brendan Byrne Arena and draws their logo in laser light, only the old-timers are impressed. Single-headliner, monster-rock arena shows with their stringently assigned seats and hot dog vendors are kitsch for late-teens with their stim thirst and disposable income. They don't want to sit through three or four bands with naught else to entertain them when the openers suck.
Lollapalooza was the better mousetrap that changed the concert landscape. At the time of the first one, I wasn't impressed by Perry Farrell's cash juggernaut. But in hindsight, I give him credit: His mousetrap not only charged the prey a hefty admission, he also got paid by the cheesemakers to compete for the privilege of being the bait. Events like the K-Rock Dysfunctional Family Picnic (DFP) -- which I can only assume are held in every large radio market -- are Farrell's grand-nephews, cousins to Lollapalooza's deficient offspring like the wan Lilith Fair and struggling Van Tour.
At this point, for most of these events, the music is largely inconsequential. Witness the musical-chairs lineup on the Lilith Fair: So long as there's one A-list, two B-list and half a score C-list acts in every city on the tour, it doesn't really matter who's who. Just fill the stages and make sure the batik booth is confirmed for the duration. Promoters concentrate on demographics, lifestyles and brand awareness to bait the trap. At the DFP, the cheese was a rickety plywood half-pipe, Doc Martens temp tattoos, post-hippie jewelry and free samples of Yahoo. (And, of course, the do-gooder element: a second stage where, for a $1 donation to LifeBeat, several of the bands signed autographs.) If Farrell's sideshow was a 90s-style, Six Flags theme park -- dozens of vendors, competing henna booths and more charities than you could count -- then this sad showing of meta-activity was the local county fair.
It was a gorgeous day, though, a perfect Friday afternoon. The perfect day for playing hookey. Breezy 60s, not a cloud to be seen, a stone's throw from the water. Even for a larger venue, Jones Beach is a great place for a show. The stage is visible from all points; the sound sufficient in the back, but not distorted and smothering up front. And, then there's the food court -- further reinforcing the mall atmosphere, putting the suburbanites at ease with familiar trappings -- which I must admit was a pretty cool thing to have right outside the stadium. While I didn't indulge at the "Fried Dough" booth, I was happy with the chicken burrito from the Caliente Cab outpost. And there was the crowd: Enough young women, dressed appropriately for the hot weather, to satisfy an army of pederasts, followed closely by packs of shirtless boys. Toss in a few cranky fathers with fanny packs and beepers on their belts, keeping a considerate distance from their image-conscious kids -- yet still close enough to interrupt the licentious advances of the 20-year old Island boys -- and it was quite fun to press through the throng.
One-hit wonder musicians are the stock and trade of these kind of things. Just as Rick Springfield beat out Bruce Springsteen for a Grammy in the 80s, so do undeserving acts secure slots on these relatively high-paying, one-day gigs while countless more talented bands languish in Brownies-level obscurity. The upside, though, is their surprising professionalism, no doubt maintained by ball-busting label management. While I still prefer small-scale live shows for their sloppy, anything-goes presentation, it was nice to see and hear several super-tight bands in a row. No nonsense. No lead singers asking the crowd for a beer. No banter between the bassist and the house sound guy.
King Norris opened. We were backstage at the time, so we didn't see much of what I assume to be Fred Norris' "I can still rock" vanity project. But from what I heard and glimpsed through the back curtain, his outfit is a refreshing hard rock band -- such an unwelcome rarity in this day of crossovers like Fatboy Slim hogging the heavy rotation slots in every major market. Granted, King Norris would never secure any significant air- or stage time without his Stern connections -- and they really should keep to their own Kenny's Castaways crowd -- but they did a fine job of playing to the quarter-filled arena. Next up, a band I expected to hate: Blink 182. Ten years ago, before MR&R began to obsessively categorize the punk rock subcultures, I saw dozens of bands like Blink 182 at the Court Tavern in New Brunswick, NJ and CB's matinees. At the time, those bands were riding what we thought was then the commercialized success of groups like Fugazi and The Descendents, years before any member of Green Day had even had his first wet dream. But, Blink impressed me by tearing through their set like veteran old timers, and I actually found myself digging the show.
Live followed, another band I've never been crazy about. When their first album was released, the singer, Edward Kowalczyk, had that emo-crooner thing going on; he had a cute haircut and the right clothing, ready for his oblig interview with Kennedy. Now, he's a Bono knock-off: shaved head, dramatic sunglasses and black leather pants. The bassist, Patrick Dahlheimer, has even followed suit by aping The Edge. But, if you like Live, you would've enjoyed their performance here, even excusing the self-important singalongs and Kowalczyk's blatant hard-on (which I only noticed because it was about five feet from my face, me down in the skimpy photog's bullpen, him standing above me like a priapic god). They, like the other B-listers, were professional: tight, enthusiastic and sincere.
By this time, our backstage access had been rescinded (Howard Stern was soon to arrive and the topless women were being painted -- they wanted to clear out all non-essentials), yet we had no proper seats. We decided to stay only for Kid Rock, the new Vanilla Ice. According to his website, Kid Rock's toured with the ultra-cred Boogie Down Productions, Ice Cube and Too Short. That surprises me to the point of disbelief; I'd assumed he was a manufactured idol, no more genuine than the Backstreet Boys. His peculiar amalgamation of pimp-daddy hiphop with metal riffs is, by definition, derivative, but once again, the quality of his performance, if not the quality of music, won me over. And when Joe C. joined Kid and his Twisted Brown Trucker band on stage, I laughed out loud; Joe C. is a rapping midget. The Kid may be a buffoon, but he presentes the closest thing to a rock 'n' roll sideshow I've seen this side of Alice Cooper.
We hopped a bus at seven, forgoing the headline performances by Limp Bizkit, Rob Zombie and the rest of them. We'd gone, seen a hundred cute young girl and been surprised by a few decent performances, Plus, the Knicks were playing, and Giselle was anxious to watch it live. Bus to the train; train to a cab. I was home by nine, my own short-attention span taxed by the experience. The Knicks won at about the same time the last train would've pulled out of Freeport, and I was glad to already be home.