Sunday, June 7, 2015

10,000 Maniacs @ Irvine Auditorium - Philadelphia, PA 04/24/88

Some things have escaped my memory as I have gotten older.  I have no idea of the date of my parent's wedding anniversary.  I could not tell you the last time I got an oil change.  I can, however, remember every detail of this show.

I don't know where my friend had originally heard this band (they weren't getting radio play and the videos had yet to hit MTV—my assumption would be his older brother and sister who were both attending the University of Pennsylvania) but they somehow ended up in the tape deck of his Toyota Corolla.  I was enjoying the melodies.  Especially the voice of Natalie Merchant.  Her odd pronunciations made me curious.  He had been playing it for a few days when his brother gave him two tickets to see them in concert as a birthday present. He asked if I wanted to go.  Hell yes!!!

Shortly after his brother had pulled me aside.  His intentions for the tickets as a gift was that his brother would actually take a date to the concert.  Not his idiot friend.  His goal was to get him a date for the show and if he did I was out of luck.  Fortunately for me, luck was on my side and no date was found.  Thank you, fate.  I was going to see the 10,000 Maniacs. 

He had gotten the tip that the band would be signing autographs at Tower Records on South Street in Philly.  We waited in line outside to get in.  I felt really out of the loop with so many people there to meet the band and I had only just learned of them a week or two before.  It was cold and I couldn't wait for the line to move inside.  I quickly realized I didn't have anything for the band to sign.  I had enough change on me to buy their single for 'Like The Weather'.

The band was loud and having a good time.  They were asking for cheese steaks and making jokes.  As a contrast Natalie was sitting very quietly and sheepishly.  It was not the same Natalie that ruled the radio in the 90's with solo records and unplugged performances.  She was in a shell.  Her interaction was at a bare minimum.  If this was her I could not imagine what her stage presence would be.  I got my autograph and moved along.  Next was the show.

The concert was at the Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania.  It was the first time that I had been there and I have not been back since.  It dates back to the 1920s and, at the time, the octagonal room held roughly 1,900 people.  We were seated in the balcony to the left of the stage.  The view was great and I couldn't wait for it to start.

The opening act was a young, African American woman.  She approached the stage by herself with only her acoustic guitar.  I had never seen or heard her music before.  She started her set nervously and it continued that way.  The crowd was moving towards the lobby and those that weren't definitely were not paying attention.  She must have felt this, as soon after she messed up a song and proceeded to start it over.  At that moment the crowd smelled blood and started to boo.  And that was the end of her set.  Three weeks later I saw the video for 'Fast Car' by Tracy Chapman and I realized that this was the same women I had seen booed off of the stage just weeks earlier.  You always hear about shaky early performances by up-and-coming artists but I never thought I would see one.

The lights dimmed, the crowd came back, and the Maniacs took the stage.  Natalie came out and was not the sheepish girl I had witnessed in Tower Record.  She had come out of her shell and was a Whirling Dervish.  The band played a tight set of mainly songs from In My Tribe with a few tracks from The Wishing Chair.  It was a great set including "Peace Train" (which is no longer included on "In My Tribe" because of their disgust in the actions of the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens), "Like the Weather" and "Hey Jack Kerouac".  My only disappointment was I wanted to hear "Verdi Cries", which was the standout track on the album in my opinion.  The band left and the lights dimmed.  When they came back on Natalie was sitting at a piano in the center of the stage and she finished the night with an incredible version of "Verdi Cries".  My night was now complete.

Shortly after that night my friend stopped talking to me all because of a girl.  He was mad because I was talking to her.  Not because he liked her, but because he hated her.  We never spoke again.  I am ok with that.  We still have 10,000 Maniacs.

See you at the next show!


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