I've been waiting impatiently for the Arena show at Nola's in Rochester ever since the tour schedule was announced. I was born in New Orleans, and the name of the venue alone had me excited beyond words. I arrived, after 7 hours of driving and about 3 hours before show time, to find a wonderful place with a large patio full of tables and chairs facing a portable outdoor stage about 24 feet wide by 16 feet deep, and about 3 feet above the patio, all ready to go with tent overhead, and stage lights, and . . . emptiness. No backline, no guitars on stands, no microphones. . . it was a bewildering moment, because there were equipment vans in the parking lot.
Just as I was wrapping my head around this, I heard someone call my name and looked around. . . there at a table up front were Lois and George, and Amy Lynn, fellow Toddstalkers, uh, Toddstockers, with whom I had just last month shared what may end up being the most intensely joyful week of my life. I learned that veggiegurl was busy inside delivering a vegan meal to OH, and that other friends would be arriving shortly. Grateful to hear friendly voices, I joined them at their table, and learned that the show had been moved indoors because of the threat of thunderstorms later in the evening. THIS ended up being a GOOD THING!
Nola's indoor venue is a classily appointed space, nicely decorated, but on the small side. Looking around, I'd bet that its fire-code max occupancy is only 800-or-so. The stage was extremely tight for Todd and the band, forcing Prairie and what must have been the house drum kit to be off to the right side of the stage, rather than in the center, rear. Jesse, Todd and Rachel were spread out left-to-right up front, and Matt was in a little cul-de-sac behind Todd in an area with a ceiling so low that a basketball player would have been forced to stoop. Todd even made reference to this when he asked the audience to remind him not to be jumping back there.
As our Heroes took the stage, before the first notes were played, Todd looked at the head on the bass drum and said, "Stringer? What's that?" referring to the name painted thereupon. And that dry remark set the tone for the entire night. I've not seen Todd so relaxed in his own skin in years and years. The faithful and the newbies were crowded cheek-by-jowl into a space only barely large enough to hold them all legally, and the sound was impeccable. Not only were the lyrics clearly understandable, but Todd's between-song patter was up-front and fully intelligible. Put a crushing crowd in front of Todd and give him a sound system that's working well, and being worked well, by the sound engineer and the man literally levitates before our eyes!
The set list was as before, with the addition of Black Maria in the pre-Arena mini-set. Tight, bright, and outa-sight, this show was simply awe-inspiring. I was close enough to see Rachel and her fret board clearly, and I have to say that her attention to detail and the intensity with which she is approaching Todd's songs is great to see. Nobody on this stage is taking anything for granted. Every night is "The Only Night", and they take no prisoners; they leave it all on the stage when they're done.
It was great having a cadre of old friends and old fans clustered near the stage, because all of the audience participation stuff happened the way it should. First verse, a dozen people near the stage get it exactly right, second verse the whole freekin' room is into it! This room was filled with people who wanted to rock, and rock them Todd did! No one left the room 'til it was over. From conversations before the show, I figure more than a quarter of the attendees were newbies with no pre-conceived notions, and they were totally absorbed in the show. On the other hand, I was standing next to a 30-year fan named Bob who loved the presentation on the familiar material, and yet fully embraced the Arena set. To paraphrase his comments, 'Of course, some of them are better than others, but there's not a single dud in the bunch! I know that I need to listen more than once before deciding which ones are my favorites, after all, I hated "No World Order" when it first came out, and now it's among my favorite Todd albums!' This guy also told me that his bladder was bursting at the end of the show, because he didn't want leave during any of the legacy material, but the new stuff was so good he didn't want to miss any of it either! When I told him that one of the new songs is named "Pissin' ", he completely lost it!
The reviews of the earlier shows on this leg of the Arena tour are accurate. This thing is getting better every night, and soon it'll be ready for the Arenas.
And I don't give a damn how silly I look bouncing around, being controlled by the music. There's an ecstasy in allowing full release. . . I become something else for while, floating above the room in a dance with Todd's ethereal chromatic structures and lyrics, while simultaneously being slammed against the wall by the Prairie Prince-led rhythm section. . . and when it's over and I'm back inside my body, there's an afterglow that lasts for days.
I'm glowing NOW!