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Talent on stage, miasma down below

Illustration by Cody Angel

By Daniel Cucher
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday Feb. 21, 2002

Last Sunday night, I was sitting around doing nothing useful when my roommate offered me his ticket to the O.A.R. concert. I had never listened to the band before, but I have a policy of always choosing a free concert over complete inactivity. So I met up with a couple of friends and went to the Rialto Theatre to see the show.

I've seen several bands play at the Rialto, and generally, I think it's a pretty good venue. It's intimate, but not tiny. And one can usually tell what kind of band is playing based solely on the people hanging out in front. In my experience, the better bands attract the highest proportion of dreadlocks and hemp jewelry, while the lesser bands stand out front begging passersby for change. O.A.R. drew in a veritable cross-section of the UA mall. And while this isn't necessarily a bad omen, it means one might expect a show of ... popular music.

Now, let's cool the musical snobbery (for only a moment) and accept that a band with mass appeal can also be good. Disliking a band only because it's trendy and commercial is the hypocritical reversal of what people who only like popular music do, but probably worse as a contrived effort to be counter-culture. With that said, most mainstream music fails to impress me. (I didn't attend the Sugar Ray show this week, but I wasn't there protesting, either).

So, with relatively low expectations, I strolled into the concert hall to find my friends as O.A.R. took the stage. The sheer quantity of bodies quickly discouraged my search, and I made my way to the front-left corner of the auditorium to find my own groove, music permitting. The band opened with a song every one seemed to know, and the crowd closed in on the stage. Pretty standard.

By the third song, a date-dash's worth of sorority sisters decided I was standing on the ideal spot and moved in to displace me.

The attack came from behind. First there was one - aromatic, soft, bright-eyed, long-haired. She pressed past me, claiming the spot directly to my right, and stabbed her elbow like a flag into my kidney. Then two followed, hands intertwined, pressing forward with combined momentum. The pair stood rigidly in front of me, and one of them commenced an assault on my face with her frizzy puff of a ponytail. Another four came from my left, made eye contact with their friends and closed in, surrounding me. Just as the final legion advanced, armed with glow sticks and high-heels, I sneezed. They scrambled away like startled kittens, ears bent, tails erect.

And so, determined to stand my ground, I focused in on the band and took my mind off the group of girls clutching each other and chatting amongst themselves. At first, I wasn't absorbed by the music. It was catchy, melodic and uppity, but it didn't do it for me. Then, the band broke away from a song and started jamming. This was more to my taste, so I started getting into it, not quite dancing, but very pleasantly bopping my head. When the keyboardist plunged into his solo I started dancing. And while the band should have let him solo for the next three hours, they picked up, managing to maintain the momentum.

Between songs, a tall, brawny lad edged his way through the crowd and reached the sorority sisters, who now appeared bored by even each other. He outstretched his arm and, just as the next song began, reversed direction, leading them away holding hands, like beans on a string.

This is when the crowd surfing, which was minimal and intermittent at first, became full-blown and incessant. No sooner did I observe one crowd surfer crash to the ground than another was being lifted above the crowd. At first, I felt it was my moral obligation to keep the surfer aloft, lest he fall and break something on my account. But as the surfing got violently out of hand, my moral obligation shifted to keeping myself from getting kicked in the face.

The bad vibe climaxed when a crowd surfer collided with an ill-tempered fan and a fight erupted. Oh, say what you will about people who start fights at rock concerts - they were dancing harder than anyone there.

Which brings me to my final point. The audiences at my favorite bands' shows don't generally annoy me. And although the audience at the O.A.R. show had plenty of good-natured fans, there were also a disproportionate number of obnoxious ones. But the music was great.

This must be the compromise we make for good albeit mainstream music.


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