Friday, May 30, 2014

Rock & Roll & Growing Up

Last night at Wire in Berwyn IL, Paul Collins was in fine form. I only wish I could say the same about the crowd, which numbered less than fifty and was predominantly of the sit-on-their-butts variety. Too bad: Collins has written so many great rock and roll songs that are meant to move you, literally. "What can I do to make this a experience for you?" he asked glumly into the darkness in front of the stage a third of the way through the show. "I've asked people before to move their tables and chairs, but I'm not gonna do that again." Collins's voice is raspy now—he's pushing 60, and he's a long veteran of touring—and the gleam in his eye belied his frustrations. He didn't change out of what he was wearing while the opening bands played, whom he half-watched respectfully: relaxed dark blue jeans with wide cuffs, a black button-shirt open over a Muck And The Mires t-shirt. At one point, faced with utter silence after a song, he announced hopefully: "Hey, I quit smoking!" A smattering of applause. Well, that was something.

But he rocked, and so did his band. Given the older, mostly-sedentary crowd, it was moving to me to see young kids up onstage with Collins: front line of a skinny-jean, Descendents-t-shirt-wearing, loose-limbed guitarist and bass player, and an energetic drummer. They not only know Collins's songs well, they loved them, and it was heartening to see them jumping around to Collins's great melodies, hooks, and eighth-note choruses as grinning fans as well as white-hot support musicians. They played all the great ones: "Rock N Roll Girl," "I Don't Fit In," "Don't Wait Up for Me," "Walking Out On Love," "Hanging On The Telephone," "Let Me into Your Life," "Working Too Hard," the Flamin' Groovies' "You Tore Me Down," "That's What Life Is All About," a clutch of strong songs from the latest album, King Of Power Pop!. For an encore, after announcing that the band is about to drive 10,000 miles in the next month, Collins and the band launched into a rousing "U.S.A." The beautiful, anthemic "The Kids Are The Same" was placed oddly mid-set. "If this won't get you movin', nothing will!" Collins smilingly challenged the crowd. It didn't. Funny moment: after the song, Collins said, "You know, it's weird. I have a nineteen year-old son now. I tell him to do something..." He mimed his son flipping him off. Rock and roll grows up.

I know: people have lives, and those who showed up came from jobs, needful families, their own complex arrangements of things, most of which they hadn't planned on. Rock and roll is charged by the promises and the lies of being young, and it's difficult to both play and believe in those songs as one hits middle-age. And it's tough to stand for so long, and tomorrow is a work day. They drank and politely cheered. But there was only a handful of folks on the dance floor in front of the stage. Judging by his face, Collins seemed, finally, bemused by it all. It's a work-a-day world. Next stop: Milwaukee.

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