categories: Cocktail Hour
Months ago Juliet bought tickets for Elvis Costello at the recently renovated State Theater down in Portland (our Portland, the one in Maine), and last night was the show. We drove a couple of hours behind logging trucks, got a fine dinner (I added a gin and tonic and club soda or two to the mix), and then to the State. It’s a pretty relaxed place, and we walked around a while looking at the renovation. It’s a pretty clever approach, if a lot of cement, and clearly done on a slim budget, but the theater was preserved and now offers a steady stream of concerts. It seats about 15oo people, nice. Very nice, actually, since the place shut down in 2006, slated for demolition, rescued by saints, just reopened last fall. The seats in the orchestra are all movable. So depending on the act, they can set up a dance club or a concert hall. Which means they can make money. Last night was a concert hall. You can stand if you want, though, in a pleasing bar area under the balcony, watch the show from there. Or you can sit in your seat. Ours were in the balcony. Nothing’s far from the stage. Conversations all around us, happy people.
Okay, the show. Before there’s any music, there’s the set, a go-go cage to the left, a huge wheel-of-fortune to the right, with forty or fifty song titles on it. And a carnival type ring-the-bell with a sledgehammer dealie. (Okay, cowboy wordsmiths, what’s this thing called?) Just a little late, the band burst onto the stage to cheers and band started playing, an explosion. I can’t recall what they played–I’m not a set-list guy–and anyway, I was distracted by the terrible, terrible sound quality. I don’t know if it’s a house P.A. and they were overpowering it or if it was theirs and just inadequate, or if the sound man wasn’t up to the job or if the house just sounds like that, so much cement. It was a big, booming, ringing cacophony that swallowed Elvis’s beloved voice whole and distorted everything else, not a chance of nuance. The bass drum was the loudest thing, that’s all I know.
A dancer in spangles and tights entered the go-go cage and gyrated in a seeming good mood. At first she seemed in jail, kind of exploit-y, but then, gradually, the irony takes over properly and you see that the whole spectacle is fun.
After a few songs they got it sounding somewhat better, but the awful sound was a problem all night.
Meanwhile, Elvis was terrific. He’s funny, he’s quirky. He’s playing a kind of carnival barker and not just himself. A young woman of great height in big striped bell-bottoms roamed out into the crowd and grabbed a middle-aged woman. (These were not in short supply. In fact, I’ve seldom seen a more homogenous demographic at any show, everyone exactly 48 years old. Except Elvis and I, who are 56 and 57 respectively, both Leos with birthdays coming up.)
Anyway, they had this lovely woman with her long, gray, Breck-girl hair spin the wheel. And then they played the song that came up while she took a seat at the piano bar and was served a drink. By the end of the song, she was in the go-go cage, dancing with the pro. Then the next 48-year-old, then the next. I was heartened to see that if Elvis didn’t like the song spun, he’d click the wheel to a song he liked, dishonest as any carnie.
Shortly, the bell-bottom woman found a young couple to bring up. Elvis asked if they were married. No. The bell-bottom woman produced a huge ring. “Get down on your knee!” Elvis commanded the young man. He did as he was told, proposed, and was accepted, though both he and the young woman seemed to be kidding–soon they were snogging in the go-go cage and dancing up a storm.
He played just one solo song. The crowd wasn’t used to drinking so much at their age, and everyone was talking, talking. You couldn’t hear our man. So, get this, he stepped away from the mike. He stepped away from the mike with his acoustic Gibson and you could not hear a thing for all the talking and cocktail-party laughter. But his mouth was moving and his hands were playing that guitar. Shhhh! Shhhh! gradually, people noticed what was going on, remembered what we were all doing out so late at our age, began to listen. And the miracle was, you could hear him. You could hear him perfectly. This was very moving.
Juliet and I hit the bar, not for more drinks, but just to get closer to the scene. We were so close that when Elvis ran up looking for the next victims to spin the wheel and dance, taking five 48-year-old women back down to the stage with him, Juliet could have gone. But she did not. Because she had to pee. And you don’t want to be having to pee while Elvis is dancing you up and giving you squeezes in front of 1495 people.
After a bathroom break, we we took a walk right up to the stage. No one seemed to mind, so long as we kept moving. And so we kept moving, very slowly.
A great night.
Late, the bell-bottom woman found two very attractive young women, seventeen or eighteen at a guess, off-demographic by 30 years, very fashionable in Elvis eye-wear and long dresses cut up to here. They were escorted to the drummer’s side. He gave them sticks. And on cue, the taller of the young women hit a perfect drum roll along with the drummer, then did it again, adding a cymbal. I mean, not kidding around. She knew the song very well, and knew her way around the drum kit, great authority.
Later, Jules and I made it to seats in front of the stage (people off dancing everywhere), realized we were behind the young women. Jules tapped the drummer girl on the shoulder. She turned, accepted our compliments. “Are you a plant?” Juliet asked her. The kid grinned. “Yes, ya, the drummer, he’s my Da!”
Maybe it was bring-your-daughter-to-work day.