A brief addendum on this week’s column: I did know a number of people at the show in question, but they were sitting down, already busy talking to their friends and certainly didn’t need to be bothered by me (I’m not a butt-in-er.) The 49’r is a notorious party bar if you’re a regular. I’m not. I rarely go there. I do go to Sokol and O’Leaver’s all the time, and as a result, I know people at those bars and feel comfortable going to them by myself. But it didn’t start out that way.
Column 66: Being Alone Together
The art of flying solo.I was trying to put my finger on why I don’t like going to shows at The 49’r and finally figured it out last weekend.I swung by at around 11 p.m. Saturday night to catch Past Punchy and the Present — the band I wrote about here last week — but they started early and I was too late and I only caught the last couple songs of their set (which I dug, by the way. Seek out this band whenever it pops its head out of its rabbit hole). A few minutes after they finished their set, I turned around and left. Total time at the Niner (after paying $5 cover and $5 for beer (with tip)) — 15 minutes. No, there’s nothing wrong with The Niner per se — in fact, I’m quite fond of the bar. The staff is first-rate, their PA has never sounded better, the vibe is laidback and fun. No, it’s something else, something ridiculous.Look, I knew when I started listening to indie music 20 years ago that going to shows was going to be a problem. The genre is underground by its very nature. Friends who I grew up with listening to Zeppelin and Floyd aren’t interested in seeing bands they’ve never heard on the radio. And though my girlfriend likes indie music (almost) as much as I do, she’s physically incapable of staying awake past 11 o’clock (especially on school nights), effectively taking her out of the equation since most indie rock shows don’t start until 10. Add it all together and it meant that I had to get used to going to shows alone. It wasn’t easy.There are three activities (not including those defined in the bible as “sins”) that just seem strange doing by yourself: Attending movies, eating at fine restaurants, and going to rock shows. Call it the “Loser Syndrome,” most people have deep-seated insecurities about being seen at social events without companionship. No one wants to be thought of as being friendless. But chances are, if you love indie music, indie films or adventurous dining, you’re gonna have to get over it or suffer a future of cheesy cover bands, knife-kill horror flicks and flavorless chain-restaurant dining.Let’s start with the movies. You want to see “Transamerica” or “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada” or Film Streams’ indie movie of the week at The Joslyn. Your friends want to see “Date Movie” or “Saw VII” or whatever piece of shit Julia Roberts is starring in this week. It’s a dilemma; because you’re never going to talk them into seeing “your movie.” You either go alone or wait for it to come out on NetFlix. You’re better off just showing up at the theater about five minutes after the start time and taking a seat in the back. If you’ve never gone to the movies by yourself, it’s pretty weird the first time. But once the film starts, you quickly realize that it doesn’t matter if you’re with someone or not — you’re inside the film’s world now. And when the lights come up afterward, you’ll wonder why you ever cared about going alone in the first place.Movies are easy. Dining alone, well, that’s another story. The Food Channel is creating a culture of “foodies” who want something more than the usual prefabricated pound o’ flesh served at the neighborhood Chili’s or Appleby’s or The Outback (where, for whatever reason, everything must be smothered in cheese). Good luck, however, getting your crew to eat at, say, an Indian restaurant or — god forbid — Thai. Everyone remembers the “Table for One” scene from Steve Martin’s “The Lonely Guy” where, once seated alone, the restaurant falls silent and a spotlight blares on Martin as a team of waiters clears the other three settings off the four-topper. His solution: Pretend to be a food critic on assignment. My solution: Forget about dinner and go to your restaurant-of-choice at lunchtime, when you’ll be surrounded by a sea of one-toppers. An added bonus: Entrées will cost about a third less.OK, so what about rock shows.Is there a comfortable way to go see a band by yourself without feeling like a dork? The task is daunting, but it can be done. Sokol Underground is so dark that once you get in and get your beer no one will see you. Most people at O’Leaver’s are so drunk that they can’t see anything at all. And just like at the movies, no one notices anything after the band starts. There’s really nothing to be afraid of.It’s between sets that can be weird. At Sokol you can hang out in the back; at O’Leaver’s, just turn your attention to whatever game’s on the television sets. But the Niner, well, there’s simply no place to hide. Just like the guy at the party who doesn’t know anyone, no matter what you do you’re gonna feel like a freak as you stand in everyone’s way waiting for the next band to start.That leaves you with two options: You can do what I did and just turn around and leave like a wuss, or you can just stand there and wait uncomfortably until the next band starts.Actually, there’s a third choice. You could — god forbid — actually talk to someone — preferably someone else who looks as uncomfortable as you. Suddenly, you know someone else at the show. And then another, and another. And before you know it, you’re a full-fledged scenester!On second thought, maybe you should just go home.
By contrast, the six-piece Voxtrot was a tight, slightly retro pop-rock explosion. The guy next to me said they sounded like a straight-up Elephant 6 band. I can see that. They reminded me more of fellow Austin band Spoon, what with their handclaps and keyboard, though you could argue that Voxtrot’s music is even poppier. The key to their success is the rhythm section — a ridiculously tight drummer who cracked the whip as well as anyone I’ve heard at O’Leaver’s (and that includes the guy from The Silos). The set was slow out of the gate, with flaccid, overcomplicated songs, but as the night wore on, their music got simpler, and better, creating a tight core between the vocalist, keyboards and rhythm section (by the way, the bassist played a bass that looked exactly like the one Paul McCartney played and everyone seemed to notice — he also had McCartney’s hair circa 1964). Before long, there were about a half-dozen hipsters dancing in front of the band (sizable, when you consider only about 40 were there to begin with). By the end of the night, Voxtrot won over the tiny crowd, and I can see why they’ve been selling out shows on this tour.
Kite Pilot consistenly puts on a great show, and tonight should be no different. $5, 9:30 p.m.
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