Thursday, May 22, 2014

How Am I Gonna be an Optimist About This?

I have lots of birthday traditions and one is the birthday show.

It's almost always a band I've never seen before, maybe a guilty pleasure, just a night of fun music as part of the birthday week revelry.

This year the show was going to be Bastille, an English synthpop band that had blown up since I'd first gotten their album.

But you can't go to a sold-out show at the National without fortification first, so a friend took me to Cafe Rustica for dinner, mentioning that when he'd driven by the National earlier, there had been a line around the block of teenagers.

Not what I had expected, but it's a free country. Maybe they were all having birthdays, too.

Rustica was full of mostly women when we arrived and took stools at the bar for dinner but soon several couples arrived to mix it up a bit.

It had been ages since I'd eaten there but a bowl of plump mussels in white wine and garlic were as good as when I'd had them there years ago.

We followed that with a seasonal special of watermelon Caprese drizzled in balsamic, a nod to the fact that watermelon is better than tomatoes at the moment.

One of the couples who came in told their server that they were there to do their eating and drinking before going to see Bastille and another couple said the same. Apparently we'd found the place for the post-teen set to pre-game before the show.

Since Rustica is a good place to indulge a taste for the German, I got schweineschnitzel with spaetzle and blaukraut while my friend went with two massive brats smothered in Welsh rarebit.

Eventually, I had to stop eating so I'd be able to move at the show.

The National was already mobbed when we got there, but we found places near the sound booth in the back for Wolf Gang, the English opener.

A five-piece, they all looked young and pretty with pompadours and shirt sleeves rolled up to display tender biceps, so it felt a little like watching an English boy band.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Fortunately, they could all play their instruments well and the songs, pulling from '80s influences and maybe even a little '70s symphonic rock, were catchy as hell, enough to get even the non-teen members of the audience dancing in place.

During the break, we moved upstairs to the VIP section because we had the wristbands to do so and the bartender friend who'd handed me my Cazadores suggested it.

It is easier for a short person to see up there.

The show began with a blast of lights (another thing the bartender had warned us about), the "Twin Peaks" theme and the band bounding onstage to do "Bad Blood," the title song off the album that 80% of the room knew by heart.

Two women sitting at a table in front of us screamed every word of every song as they danced in place in their chairs hanging over the railing in rapture.

The two parents in front of us danced and sang while their kid sat in his chair and watched nearby.

Leader of the band Dan soon shed his hoodie, no doubt burning up as he danced non-stop while singing and occasionally playing keyboards or a drum.

The young female contingent let out ear-splitting screams at the start of every song as if every one were their fave.

And speaking of faves and dreamy, my friend said it felt like being at a show with the 17 Magazine crowd and yet there were more than a few middle-aged people anywhere we looked.

And like this one, many were dancing or bopping in place to the music. No judging here.

After telling us he was a terrible dancer (something we already knew), Dan asked the crowd to squat down and pop up at his command for the song "Of the Night" and sure enough, even the oldsters were springing up and down like a hyperactive toddler on command.

"Things We Lost in the Fire" and "Laura Palmer" made the audience go crazy but that was nothing compared to when he put his hoodie back on during "Flaws" and left the stage, weaving through the boxes and into the VIP section where he passed a foot away from where we stood watching his security guard try to both give him room to interact and keep him from the crazies.

A girl near me reached out to him and he took her hand and stared into her eyes for a second as he sang before moving on to incite others.

And while you might think she'd swoon a bit and then go back to watching Dan sing, no, indeed, she pulled out her phone and proceeded to spend the rest of the show texting on it, no doubt sharing her moment of glory.

Except for her, the show ended then because she couldn't be bothered paying attention anymore. It was more important to ensure that the virtual world knew of her moment than to enjoy the rest of it.

I feel certain she won't be going to birthday shows when she's my age. Pity.

Of course the place exploded for "Pompeii," the earworm of a song everyone's heard whether they know it or not and the entire room sang along to close out the show.

It doesn't have to be timeless music to qualify for my birthday show - although I have to admire a band whose biggest hit focuses on two dead people after a volcanic eruption- but it has to be a good time.

One more birthday tradition upheld.

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