Tuesday, October 23, 2012

CONCERT REVIEW FLASHBACK: Natalie Merchant (03.10.02)


As I've recounted through several posts this past week, I discovered an old, dusty file in my office the other day. The manila folder contained Xerox copies of several articles that I had written more than a decade ago and appeared in old school print publications. Most of these long lost features were interviews that I had conducted with various arena rock stars. However, a few of them were reviews of books that I recently had read and concert events that I had attended. I'm now delighted finally to share these stories with my blog readers. This latest installment of my "Concert Review Flashback" series comes from that old, dusty file and it chronicles my experience seeing Natalie Merchant live in Melbourne, Florida back in 2002.

Natalie Merchant
King Center
Melbourne, FL 

Okay art school
grads, before you
plot my demise, set
me on fire, or force
me at gunpoint to
endure your entire
REM vinyl collection
in one sitting, be sure
that attended this
show as a true fan.

I've been enamored with prolific singer / songwriter Natalie Merchant since I first was turned on to her former band, 10,000 Maniacs, via their In My Tribe record while doing after-hours shots with the staff at a bar in which I was performing back in 1987.

I fondly recall seeing 10,000 Maniacs in 1989 during the band's Blind Man's Zoo tour. In contrast to the popular sex, drugs & rock and roll bombast presented by the day's glut of hair metal poster boys, the 10,000 Maniacs performance offered a refreshing change of pace this band was all about the music. I witnessed an indescribable, magical synergy live onstage that night and it remains one of my all-time greatest concert experiences. However, when seeing Merchant perform tonight as a solo artist, 13 years later, the music took a noticeable (distant) backseat to projecting her unabashed "stipey-ness."

I wasn't terribly disappointed by the fact that musically the show moved at a snail's pace. I also thought it was cute that no matter what she did or said, Merchant's faithful flock cheered with approval. I wasn't even put off by her constant rambling about pelicans, pigeons and beach property ownership in Hawaii. After all, this was Natalie Merchant and I was just psyched that she was playing in my hometown!

The moment of my discontent came when Merchant spotted a woman near the front of the stage who was taking pictures. Clearly agitated, Merchant literally stopped the show.

"You're pushing it with me, girl," Merchant warned the woman over the microphone. "Every time you take my picture, I lose my place in the song." Merchant then asked the woman to give her the camera. "I won't hurt it," she promised.

Merchant then began taking close-up shots of her band members. I thought to myself how cool that was. She was obviously annoyed, but she was going to turn this around into a fun bit. I was wrong.

After announcing to a cheering crowd that she'd now used up all of the woman's film, Merchant exclaimed, "Aw, I exposed all of your film," as she ripped the camera open and tore out the contents. Merchant then handed the now empty camera back to the woman in the audience as the band kicked back into the song and Merchant began to dance about, gleefully swinging the long stream of film around onstage like a high school majorette.

Hmm. I played to enthusiastic large crowds from coast-to-coast while in my own band during the '80s and early '90s. I experienced getting popped in the teeth with the mic due to rowdy fans moshing up front and I was even attacked a couple of times right onstage, yet I never once "lost my place in the song." Okay, there was that one time in Orlando, but my "forgetfulness" was the result of excessive quantities of pre-show Goldschläger.

It seems to me that in the fast-paced, topsy turvy world of rock and roll, getting bent for having your picture taken is like being in politics and bitchin' about having to kiss babies it comes with the gig! Yeah, I know, the ticket clearly read "NO PHOTOGRAPHY." But the ticket also indicated a specific seat assignment, and many turned a blind eye to that one too. Simply put, it's a rock concert, Nat lighten up!

Given the current rap and pop domination of today's music scene, a little ol' singin' / songwritin' gal from New England should be filled with joy even to still be attracting a (paying) audience  especially one as large and devoted as Ms. Merchant's.

But in the grand scheme of life, I guess that this really isn't that big of a deal and I'm certainly not going to pawn my Natalie Merchant cassettes. I simply thought that she momentarily displayed bad form.

As a side note, I just heard that McDonald's is hiring for the nightshift and those folks rarely endure having their picture taken while serving up fries!

-Christopher Long
(March 2002)


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1 comment:

  1. HA! I was just listening to some NM and recalled this very same event - and decided to google "Natalie Merchant King Center camera." This blog entry was my first result.