Sunday, January 29, 2006

More LA Stories: 2005 (Part IV)

Day Two — Saturday (continued):
Can’t Breathe (8pm): The Anna Nalick Debacle

Before even touching the subject at hand, there’s so much more I could relate here regarding this next sub-plot of my trip to California. It’s a side-story that touches not only on this series, but upon my previous, autobiographical series as well. In fact, I had desperately attempted to somehow make it work as a part of A Long Strange Trip, but it was just too cumbersome to fit in smoothly.

So when that didn’t work, I tried to weave it into this story, but met with the same results — it was too long, too complicated, too convoluted. I just couldn’t get away from the fact that while definitely related, it just was too unwieldy to have any real anecdotal value. So after a few weeks of paralysis by analysis, I’ve decided to step away from the shoehorn. Instead of attempting to force it into the story here, I will instead wait and tag it on as a separate addendum at the conclusion of this series.


Anna•mato•poe•ia: Let’s just say, it sounded like a good idea…
There were two reasons I wanted to take Cindy to see the up-and-coming young singer-songwriter, Anna Nalick that first Saturday night I was in town. I had been impressed with the first single Breathe (2am), from her recently-released debut album, and had hoped at some point previously to see her play here in Nashville. Unfortunately so far she seemed to hit just about every place but Music City on her initial tour. Now this first leg of her first tour was coming to an end, but as luck would have it, she would be finishing up near her home, in Southern California, at the same time I was there.

She was playing the House of Blues in Anaheim that Saturday night, which was the other reason I wanted to go. I had never been to a HOB and was anxious to experience what this now-famous franchise of Rock ‘N Roll clubs was all about. I had obtained tickets for the show before I left Nashville, when I learned that her date at the HOB fortuitously coinciding with my trip.

Cindy was happy to accompany me. Although she wasn’t familiar with the name, she said she had heard Breathe on the radio and liked it. I really liked it — maybe too much. In fact, I had only heard one other cut besides Breathe off of her album. Looking back now, perhaps that should have been my first clue that this evening would end up being such a bad memory. Going on a blind first impression gained from that song, I foolishly assumed that I would like everything about her. There’s actually an explanation for that, which is what I’ll explain later, in a separate post.

But for now, let’s just say that I projected a little too much maturity into this young girl, who reminded me so much of my daughter Amy.

Oh…wait. Maybe THAT was my problem.

You see, along with the aggravations of a viewer-unfriendly venue and a huge crowd, what made this night the disaster it turned out to be was the fact that this young girl simply decided to act her age. She had just turned 20, the same age as my Amy. The difference is, I was expecting a wise, mature-beyond her-years young woman, like my daughter is most of the time. I expected to see the same person I’d heard on the radio, delivering poignant lyrics with that smooth, soulful voice. Instead, what I got was someone who reminded me of Amy alright — like when she was twelve!

It was the last night of the tour, and Anna was giddy and obviously relieved to be back home. I guess the girl just wanted to have fun and figured everyone would play along.

Nearly the entire set was a goof-fest, with Nalick cracking up in the middle of songs and cracking wise with her band members in between them. She made the band all wear assorted, goofy-looking hats, while she donned a black fedora, which she futzed and fiddled with during each and every song. Twice, she broke into laughter in the middle of a song and had to start again from the beginning. Another time she screwed up the lyrics, stopped cold for a few seconds, and then picked it back up from that point. Her playfulness was cute in a way, but the lack of professionalism was just flat annoying. It seemed more like a practice session than a performance before paying customers.

And if Anna’s performance wasn’t enough of a downer, the venue was one of the worst I’d ever experienced from a sightlines perspective. The House of Blues has locations in major cities across the country. It has become synonymous with major act concerts in Rock ‘N Roll, Jazz and all varieties of Pop music. And given the fact that there isn’t a HOB in Nashville, I had always wanted to visit one and was excited for this opportunity. I’ll just say it now, if they’re all based on the same floor plan as the one in Anaheim, I’ll be thinking long and hard before I consider darkening the doors of one again.

From the outset the HOB in Anaheim has two strikes against it if you have the least bit of reticence about dealing with crowds: One, it’s on the grounds of Disneyland — more specifically — Disney’s California Adventure, which is a relatively new (it opened in 2001) ancillary portion of the Disneyland complex. Its primary purpose was to create a part of Disneyland where the adults are the focal point, more so than the kids. The rides are faster and scarier, and there are more shops and restaurants — which not so coincidentally, serve alcohol (a no-no in the main park).

So on any given night, the HOB Anaheim is already surrounded by mobs of people, most of whom are already be there on the grounds having dinner or perusing the shops. Add in the draw of an up-and-coming act such as Anna, who was merely opening for an even more popular young star, Howie Day — on a Saturday night — and you’ve simply got one mess of people.

But I’ve dealt with crowds, believe me. I’m not claustrophobic, and I’m not impatient, but I to want to see more than the backs of people’s heads when I go to a show. And therein lies the kicker to this bummer-of-an-event was the layout of the HOB, which is, I personally think it safe to say, is the most viewer-unfriendly concert venue I’ve ever been to.

The room is square, with two levels, and the stage at one end. The ground level is recessed in the center (about 6-8 feet), offering some slight concession to those on the perimeter, enabling them to see over everyone on the main floor, which is standing room only. And on this night the entire place was packed, shoulder-to-shoulder with kids, most of whom were at least twenty years my junior.

When we arrived, we wedged our way into a corner, gaining a foothold on the inner edge of the perimeter. We had just enough headroom to see over (most) everyone and get a clear view of the stage, some 40-50 feet away. It was Sardine City, itellya. And it certainly wasn’t the place to be if you were vertically challenged, as Cindy and I both are.

While I had never been to the HOB before, I had seen a concert or three televised from one on MTV or VH1 on a few occasions. So I did have an idea of what we’d be in for. Besides that, I’ve been to a lot of standing-room clubs anyway, so for me, it wasn’t that big a deal.

However that wasn’t the case for my friend, Cindy, who doubtless at this point was feeling more like my hostage than my guest.

She had no idea the circumstances were destined to be quite so uncomfortable. It was hot, it was incredibly crowded, and she was miserable. Nonetheless she didn’t say anything until after Anna’s set was finished, so we made our way back out into the lobby where thankfully we spotted a couple of empty chairs. I went to the bar to get us a coke and we cooled our heels for the twenty minutes or so we had to wait until Howie Day was scheduled to come on.

I felt terrible on a number of fronts. Most notably I was frustrated with what was a mediocre-at-best performance by Anna. But I felt almost as bad for dragging Cindy into this mess. I was torn between hoping that Howie Day (who I’d never seen live, but had it on excellent authority that puts on a top-notch show) would redeem my evening, and just deciding to pack it in and get the heck out of there. I knew I wouldn’t get any argument from Cindy on the latter option.

Then again there was another reason I felt pressured to stay. I had purchased the tickets in advance of my trip but I didn’t get them through TicketMaster or the HOB box office. The show was already sold out when I found out about it a couple of weeks after it was originally announced.

So I went onto Anna’s official fan Web site and made a blind request on her message board asking for two tickets if anyone had extras to sell for that particular show. To my surprise, the next morning I had an e-mail from Anna’s older sister who actually lives in Anaheim and would also be attending the show that night.

Anna’s sister and I exchanged e-mails. She even offered to make arrangements to meet me after the show and see to it that I had the opportunity to have my CD signed. At that point I was thinking this was just too cool to be true. However by the time Anna’s performance was finished, needless to say I was considerably less enthused, and none of those extracurricular activities ever materialized.

So I asked Cindy to hang with me for at least a few songs into Howie’s set, since I really did have an interest in hearing him too, to which my friend willingly agreed. Unfortunately, hearing him was all we would be able to do.

If you thought my night couldn’t get any more frustrating, well, as Detective Goren would say, “think again.” During the time Cindy and I had stepped out to get a drink and some air, even more people had streamed into the building to see the main act, filling the ground level to even greater proportions than before. You couldn’t have slid a piece of notebook paper in between that mass of adolescent humanity. There was no way we were gonna try and get back in there now.

So we decided we’d try and watch the show from the balcony level. This is where the architectural genius of the numbnutz who designed this room really shined through.

Without supplying a schematic drawing, the best way to describe the balcony area was that it itself was two levels. The lower (inner) balcony looked directly onto the floor and stage below. This was also the VIP section, in which you basically had to "be with the band" to be allowed to sit. These were obviously the best seats in the house because they were in fact, seats, they were reserved, and the stage was right before your eyes below. Entrance to this section was from the upper (outer) balcony, some five feet higher and to the extreme outer edge of the entire loft area.

But here is where the ridiculousness of the sightlines in this loft area became pronounced. Simply put, if you didn't havea seat in the VIP section — OR — weren’t the height of an NBA Basketball player, sorry pal, you were just shit-out-‘o-luck. You simply weren’t going to see the stage. The balcony level was so high above the floor and stage that the sight lines necessary to obtain a reasonable view were nearly impossible to acquire unless you were right on the rail or tall enough to see over someone who was.

Needless to say, I was incensed. But I tried. I listened. I watched the video screens instead of the live performance.

We stayed for four songs. Howie Day was great, but he wasn’t worth dealing with the frustration of not being able to see. Cindy was obviously more ready to go than I was, so we did.

If you’ve been wondering what it was that I found so enrapturing about Anna Nalick in the first place, well it’s a long story. As I said at the beginning, it’s a story that I’ve already tried to tell in each of these last two series. But tell it I will, immediately following LA Stories 2005.

Being the great sport that she is, Cindy never uttered a discouraging word about my dragging her through such a horrendously unfulfilling evening. But I certainly had plenty to gripe about. I was kickin’ my own can non-stop all the way back to her place.

When we got home, we chilled, watched the news, talked for awhile and then retired for the night. It had been a busy, fun, and frustrating day.

But tomorrow was destined to be fabulous.

Next: Day Three — Sunday: Getting to the Meet of the Matter
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