!naidrauG ,aY tA kcaB thgiR

The eight-lane road that wends its way to the Oakland McAfee Coliseum is, this rainy Wednesday evening, crowded with studded leather jackets and extensive makeup. Tonight sees the concertizing of KISS, and the seats of the California venue is flooded with drunks, their voices ringing clear and crisp across the stadium. I stand there in my slacks and sports jacket, flapping my broken umbrella, and gulp.

For years now, the nation's various rock venues have been making strenuous efforts to attract a more diverse audience - with specialty foods, cheap to expensive tickets, outdoorshows, cinematic screenings, "simulcasts," club nights, cult artists, a presence on Facebook and YouTube, and even ticket offers in the Chronicle. It does seem to be working: KISS concert attendance figures are up 80,000 on last year; 48% of patrons are newcomers; more than 22,000 students are registered for the company's stand-by ticket scheme; and 385,000 people download the podcast each month.

But can they make me want to come back? I am, surely, exactly the sort of person they are trying to tempt. I spend much of my time listening to music and attending gigs. I will happily spend vast sums on merchandise. Yet stadium rock has always seemed a raucus and smelly land, set far away across a sea of elitism. I have had little desire to visit it and I have always bridled at the notion that rock is considered a more accessible art form than classical. Sod your anthems, I thought, I'll stick with Fischer-Dieskau singing: "Im wunder schönen Monat Mai."

Accordingly, I have attended the one of these concerts just once, over a decade ago. It did little to encourage me. Yet some things have intrigued me: the bursts of pyrotechnics during the encores; the fact that when I interviewed the great Gene Simmons, he raved about new stage setups. So tonight, sitting in the puke-covered seats of the Coliseum, listening to the banal riffs heave and huff, I try to keep an open mind.

Although it is performed in English, there are no surtitles for when the singing grows incomprehensible, and there is an extravagant set, full of amplifiers and intricate lighting, which will hopefully prove compelling should one's mind begin to stray. Which it does. Repeatedly. The problems are various: I don't really care for the singing, all the fah-diddly-dahing smothers the musicality. I find it extremely annoying that they keep repeating everything; a singer will reiterate precisely what he has already said in the most tedious fashion. On top of it all, it's rather warm. I reach the first set change feeling decidedly drowsy.

Everyone rushes to the concession stand where they serve cheap beer and I am suddenly surrounded by umpteen leather-clad, middle-aged men shoving their way in front of me. I can't recall the last time I encountered such rudeness. Not even in the city's most dog-eared classical venues do you find such uncouth behavior. For a small fortune, I eventually procure a “Bud” and some nachos, and stand in the corner contemplating how objectionable everyone is. I think of my friends, somewhere across town watching a new staging of The Rake’s Progress and feel tearful.

My heart lifts when I discover that the second set is generally shorter than the first. Back in my seat, feeling more buoyant, I wonder what I make of Poison (the first band), and conclude that, while it looks spectacular, it is actually very dreary while, musically speaking, I like it slightly less than Toby Kieth. After the requisite “I Want to Rock and Roll All Night,” I am off across town to meet my friends at the usual little bar where there is better beer and plenty of quiet air to speak.

The next evening I return for the Rolling Stones, this time with a friend. "It's the worst place in the world!" I tell him. He, however, is enthusiastic, because he wants to hear the famous "Satisfaction." I tell him he has three long, pitchless hours before him and his zeal evaporates. Again, it looks gorgeous and the music is quite raucous. It is undoubtedly more engaging than the Kiss, but my mind still wanders. "Why do they need to repeat everything?" my friend whispers. "Exactly." I reply. "They could get the whole thing done a lot faster if they just said it once." We quell the boredom by surreptitiously eating an orange. At the intermission, we head to the concession stand. "Weren't you here last night?" the barman says. "Yes," I sigh. "Dear God," says a woman. "I don't think I could do two nights in a row."

So, just why do people go to these mega-rock stadium concerts? As far as I can see, it's too long, the music, singing and pyrotechnics never work together, and it is staggeringly self-indulgent, like sitting through the most noodly Carlos Santana guitar solo, only for Chris Rea to appear and go through it all again, with Mark Knopfler joining in for good measure. I think people must attend these things in the same way they introduce roughage to their diet - because they ought to, rather than because they want to.

Later that month, I catch a train to Santa Barbara for the rock festival, to see what’s left of Metallica, and the remnants of a once punk Red Hot Chili Peppers. Santa Barbara is a gorgeous place and the crowd far less annoying. I have been listening to Kill ‘Em All repeatedly, to accustom myself to the style of singing. It seems to be paying off: I enjoy Metallica far more than I expect. The Chili Peppers, though, is a struggle. It's the watered-down aspect, but rendered more politically with nods to terrorism and latter-day dictators.

When they’re on stage, it's lovely, but whenever Flea starts lamenting about everything, I just want him to stop moaning. It doesn't help that Anthony Kiedis, in the style of his hair and the way he dips his head when he sings, puts me in mind of Princess Diana being interviewed by Martin Bashir. Still, as the production feels considerably more am-dram than anything at the Coliseum, it makes me like it more.

Next is a trip back up to Golden Gate Park, a little jewel of the rock world. It is raining the day my friend and I visit in jeans and T-shirts. Fine gray mist is sweeping across the lawn where the picnickers are dressed in all their rock-wear. The rain rather puts a dampener on what is meant to be a splendid day out to the park, with a bit of rock’n’roll on the side. We are here to see a Beatles cover band. The Beatles are one of my favorite groups, so I'm actually excited.

Anything but well-played, it is sung in English, Latin, Spanish and Yoruba. I want to like this, really I do, but everything I love about the Beatles - their ripeness, their deliciousness - has been stripped away. It makes me very sad.

At the first intermission, we spill out into the grounds to drink champagne. The sense of occasion here at Golden Gate Park, the casualness, the tofu burgers and the strolls through the luscious grounds, make it feel like a county fair. My feelings towards the audience here are more benign. There is one exception: the woman who glares at us as the photographer takes my picture on the lawn. "That's so not San Francisco!" she hisses. I have a profound desire to spit in her hair.

It is not just incidents like this that will keep me from returning to rock’n’roll. It is the fact that I just cannot find a friend in this music. I can see it is fun. I can tell they are infectious, but it stirs nothing in my belly, conjures nothing in my heart. It carries for me none of the fire, the spine-tingling, stomach-flipping, bone-chilling lifeblood of classical music.

Back at Golden Gate Park, the rain is falling hard. With the applause still ringing, we dash to the taxi. "Get us out of here!" I tell the driver as he takes us to the BART station. "As fast as you can!" On the train home, we secretly swig cheap rosé straight from the bottle and eat dry-roasted peanuts, letting the rock ballads fade into the distance...


Screw that. Send me to a fucking rock concert and see what I write!


Sator Arepo said...

Much better title, and hilarious post.