So last night, Mr. Royale and I got our aging butts out of suburbia and headed into San Francisco to the new San Francisco Jazz Center. Marc Ribot was performing there for four nights, with each night highlighting one of his different styles; we chose to see him in his Los Cubanos Postizos incarnation. The band did not disappoint: Marc and the other three original members were in amazing form, and it was a pleasure to watch their interactions, their nods, their signals to each other. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen or heard such fluid intra-band communication.
But there was something really wrong about the night: the venue. The show started at 7:30 (not the doors, the music), and we got there late (early? at 6:30) and hadn’t eaten dinner, so decided to grab a quick bite in the Jazz Center’s restaurant, “South.” Inside the white and glass interior, we were able to eat healthier, more expensive versions of classic Southern cuisine. I love me some biscuits and collard greens, but Ouch! the price tag was a bit rich. After rapidly making our way through our meal, we dashed inside just in time to catch the start. We sat in amphitheater-style seating (noting the plastic armrests and drink holders that could hold $12 plastic cups of wine), in an air-conditioned, large, battle-ship grey room. Our fellow music appreciators were seated around the small stage, but when the tempo sped up, folks got up and politely went to the back of the room to dance. The one act of debauchery I saw during the two-and-a-half-hour show was a woman skipping up to sit in a vacant seat in the front row. She lasted about 25 seconds before a clean-cut middle-aged man escorted her out. We were done, walking out the door, by 10 pm. All in all, it felt like a Disney Theme Park, an IMAX theater, a cleaned up, safe-for-aging-beatnik fans experience. I have seen the future and it is me?
I don’t know what I was expecting. I was happy that I wasn’t surrounded by jerks holding their phones up to take pictures or video, and this was certainly the first show in recent memory that I didn’t want to yell at some nearby couple, “Get a room!” But something was really missing. Fast-tempo latin music seems to need more than such a slick, comfortable venue. Where was the funk?
I could continue ranting about these weird juxtapositions of band and venue. I’ve seen plenty of bands in crappy music halls, beer-stinking bars, high school gyms, and hangar-like arenas. Sometimes the space was too small for the loudness of the band (I’m talking to you, Moon Duo). Sometimes a horrible show was redeemed when I heard the same set in a different space (Hello, My Bloody Valentine). Sometimes the smell of weed heightened the experience (Tame Impala!) and sometimes I thought, WTF (Arcade Fire?).
Please join me in my further understanding of how a band’s venue heightens or detracts from the musical experience.