As I sat down to catch Ethel, sure enough in came the noisy drunk latecomers. One dizzy babe spilled her whatever-and-Coke all over the back of my carefully preserved 'Nearly Human' tour t-shirt; at least she was profusely apologetic and quiet for the entire show.
Anyway, the music did shine. Ethel was innovative, energetic, passionate, and wholly captivating. It's too bad that the people who kept going back to the bar for more drinks either didn't stay there, or at least keep quiet so the rest of us could enjoy what we forked out the big bucks for. But OK, you get my point about the crowd.
Joe was as good as all us JJ fans had hoped for. His singing was strong, his wit and stage grace were intact, and his unique piano stylings were a joy to behold. But a lot of the subltle comments he shared with the crowd were drowned out by the people (I can only assume they were drunk; they sure acted that way) who obviously felt that their lack of decorum was more important to witness than what we paid to see on the stage. Shame on you people. You embarass me as a Todd and Joe fan. I like a drink at least as much as the next guy, but I was taught the importance of manners in public; if you don't have them, stay home next time and buy the recordings.
Todd wasn't as good as I'd seen of him in the past. He was having voice and equipment problems, and the pauses he took between songs to fiddle with his gear were apparently cause for the drunks to let loose. And the comments Todd gave back to them, sharp, clever, and hilarious, weren't enough to get them to pipe down. But control over the noisemakers was never completely lost; as Todd went into ballads such as 'I Don't Want to Tie You Down' the hushed crowd's respect for Todd's intimate delivery was a welcome respite.
Some of what Todd did solo worked, and some didn't. His rendition of 'Afterlife' on 'Liars' is a synth-fan's wet dream, especially the middle climax section which he ends with the line 'You and I have unfinished business'. But unfortunately it doesn't work on acoustic guitar; the rich textures that support the emotional undercurrent of the song don't materialize, and it falls flat. But Todd's fans know that he never does the same thing twice, and we still marvel at his courage to present himself in a variety of stage formats. Todd also knows that we'll still love him in whatever guise (or hair) he comes to our town with, and eagerly await the next tour.
I was aware that there was going to be some type of collaboration in the latter part of this concert amongst the performers, but it was still a VERY pleasant surprise to have JJ come out to do a gorgeous rendition of 'Real Men' with Ethel. Joe kept his piano playing in the song to a minimum, and allowed the strings to shine in a gloriously arranged and executed number. Then as Joe stayed on stage with his legs crossed and head reverently bowed down, Todd and the quartet did as well with a stunning rendition of 'Pretending To Care' from the A Cappella release. Needless to say, the crowd was united in its wild appreciation of those two numbers. At that point, all was forgiven between performers and audience members alike.
Not content with just sheer beauty, the real fire was reserved for the final two numbers, absolutely blow-your-ass-away readings of George Harrison's 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps,' where TR and JJ traded vocals, plus Todd's own 'Black Maria,' in which Joe, Todd, and Ethel unleashed an energy and passion that the room could not even begin to contain. Stunning, stunning musicianship.
As the audience filtered out to the street, the look of amazement and awe was prevalent on everyone's face. All the tensions generated by the drunks early in the show was overcome by a display of technique, power, and passion that lingers well into today (the day after), and will linger forever. A special Thank You to Joe, Todd, and Ethel for a night that will live in my memory through eternity.