Thursday, August 04, 2005

Opening Acts

The Wife and I recently caught a concert by a band that was big in the 1980’s, mostly for its visual appeal to its female fans. (The crowd could be described as soccer moms, with some hapless husbands dragged along.) The band did what it does, but the opening act was memorable.

Nobody there had ever heard of it. It was a five-piece, with a female singer and an all-guy band. The singer looked to be in her mid 30’s, and she tried to affect a world-weary, success-is-so-shallow vibe that just doesn’t work when you’re unknown. She was attractive enough, but so very annoying that the appeal didn’t work. Their sound, such as it was, could be described as the stuff that Laura Branigan left off her records for not being good enough. Flat keyboards, banal lyrics, embarrassing attempts to rock out, and unconvincing glam.

It was compelling, in the same way that a train wreck is compelling. It was like watching a distaff Spinal Tap, in real time. There was the sense of an elaborate prank, maybe a poorly conceived reality show. I was embarrassed for them. The only applause they received, other than some very, very late courtesy clapping that started several seconds after each song ended, was when the singer announced “this will be our last song.”

I’m glad I saw them, because a band that awful helps you appreciate good bands more.

As a matter of principle, I try to be kind to opening acts. An opening act is pretty much in a no-win situation, by definition. Nobody came to see them. They’re sort of the first-base-coach of music; nobody really knows why they’re there, nobody sets out to be one, but they’re just part of the overall package. And there have been some good opening acts over the years; just last year, we saw R.E.M. open for Springsteen at a Vote for Change show. That didn’t suck. Back in the ‘90’s, I saw Bettie Serveert open for Juliana Hatfield, and came away thinking the order was backwards.

But hoo-boy, did this one suck. The sheer gravitational force of its suckitude threatened to rend the fabric of space-time. The more discreet members of the audience simply looked away.

Why would a known band hook up with such a lousy opener? Is it to benefit by the contrast? Do they work especially cheap? Does somebody have a sick sense of humor? Did somebody lose a bet?