by Dan Bolles
When you were a kid, did your parents ever force you to go to bed in the summer before it was actually dark out? Though I'm sure it must have happened more frequently, I have one such memory that has always stood out clearly. My family was living in Machiasport, Maine, and my brother and I were sent to bed while the sun still shone upon the southernmost end of the Bay of Fundy. As we lay fuming in our bunk beds, we could hear the sounds of children playing outside below our second story window. In our side yard. To an eight year old, that's nothing short of cruel and unusual punishment — I have no idea if we were actually being punished. And if we were, I have no doubt we deserved it.
Anyway, looking back at last night's Steve Earle and Aimee Mann concert at Memorial Auditorium, that's the closest I can come to describing the frustration of being confined to the cockles of Memorial Auditorium, while outside, the Queen City basked in some long overdue late day sun.
It's hard to cast blame in any particular direction — other than maybe God, or Tom Messner (anyone ever see those two in the same place at the same time? Think about it.). Quad organizers, trigger fingers perhaps itchy after the Dan Zanes debacle — that show was initially rained out and then rescheduled for 3 p.m. the following day at MA … sorry, kiddies. — made the decision early to move the party indoors, alerting the press around 9 a.m. yesterday. But given the recent, seemingly unending string of inclement weather and the fact that even a threat of thunderstorms requires them to seek shelter, you can't really fault them. It was the right call, even if it ultimately wasn't. Perhaps if Memorial Auditorium weren't so consumately inadequate as a concert venue, the blow would have been less crippling. (Note to Bob Kiss: doesn't such a highly regarded "arts town" deserve better? Let's implode that fucker.)
As for the show itself, it was great. I arrived roughly midway through Aimee Mann's set and found myself surprisingly engrossed. I'll admit I've never been a huge fan. But I do appreciate great song craft, and she is an elite talent. There is something innately soothing about her easy presence and casual demeanor that was throroughly captivating. I tend cringe when music crit-types invoke the word "honest" to describe a songwriter. But if I were ever to employ the term, it would be for Aimee Mann. And I think I might have fallen in love during her encore performance of "Red Vine." Simply stunning.
Steve Earle was fascinating, playing a smart mix of originals and tunes from his latest album, "Townes," his heart-felt and tender tribute to his late idol and friend, Townes Van Zandt. He is equally commanding a presence on stage as Mann, though in vastly different way. Earle possesses a sort of scattered, frenetic intensity, both on stage and, as I found out last week, in conversation. He bends the listener to his will. Or sometimes, brutishly clobbers them. One of my favorite moments in a week rapidly filling with them: Earle instructing a loud-mouth near front who insisted on calling out requests during one of the singer's many storytelling interludes to "shut the fuck up." Took the words right out of my mouth.
Earle is master storyteller. Despite preturbed pleas from the gentleman behind me to "shut up and sing," I found the songwriter's tales between tunes singularly entertaining. I even found myself getting a little riled up when he sermonized about his lefter-than-thou politics. Take it to the streets, man.
After close to three hours of standing on a concrete floor, gimpy ankle howling, I left just before the show ended. Though I did feel a little guilty for ducking out early, I left thoroughly (OK, mostly … stupid Memorial Auditorium) satisfied. And not to jinx anything, but the forecast is looking good through next week. Maybe I'll finally have a chance to check out that waterfront tent.