I haven’t gotten around to actually writing anything about ConCertino, but I did get my photos online.
May write more later.
Following up to the concert, some musing on a specific song. On Twitter, sfeley writes:
One concert annoyance: why do people laugh and shout out during “Shop Vac?” That song is TRAGIC. It’s a tearjerker. Does nobody else get it?
Which got me to thinking about the song, and the nature of comedy…or, more specifically in this case, satire.
“Shop Vac” is a very bouncy pop tune, with a catchy sort of Fountains of Wayne vibe to it. It tells the story of a couple who has moved into their little suburban castle, with their two kids and the yard and the basement workshop and the convenient shopping nearby. But if you listen closely, its obvious that they are utterly miserable. As Steve notes, it’s a tragedy set in a pop song.
I’ve complained in the past about songs where the emotional centre of the song and the tenor of the tune felt at odds to me. Most famously, the Beatles “Ticket to Ride“, which I’ve always thought was a terribly jaunty tune for a song about losing love. (I much prefer The Carpenters’ melancholy cover.) But sometimes, the dichotomy is part of the point — it creates a dissonance between what we’re feeling and what we’re being told.
“Shop Vac” is satire, and it’s target is the American DreamTM — or at least the ideal of it presented by our current culture. The couple in the song has everything that we’re all told we’re supposed to want, but everything we’ve been told we’re supposed to want turns out in many cases to be empty and unsatisfying. Somewhere on the way to “success”, they’ve found that along the way they’ve lost their dreams. Lois McMaster Bujold expressed it best: “The one thing you cannot trade for your heart’s desire is your heart.”
So….why is this funny? For some, it may be a measure of shadenfruede, because the person laughing may think “Ah-hah, but I didn’t fall into that trap! I reject that lifestyle and all it represents!” (This is a very geek attitude, and geeks are Coulton’s primary audience.). For others, it’s the hollow laughter of recognition. Coulton is certainly not the first to mine this notion for humour. Erma Bombeck wrote a dozen best sellers by extracting comedy from the soul-crushing ennui of suburban life. In the 1960s, The Monkees had a huge hit with Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s “Pleasant Valley Sunday“, which had a slightly more detached air, but lampooning the very same ideals.
This is why it’s one of my favourite Coulton songs, and why I requested it. Because it’s complex, and thought provoking, and more than meets the ear on first hearing. I don’t think that it’s funny because I don’t get it. It is funny (and tragic) because it is revealing a truth in a way that only the court jester can. Dry black humour, indeed, but humour none the less.
The last time Jonathan Coulton swung through Atlanta, I bought four tickets, expecting we could find someone to go with us. I figured if we failed to find someone free to go, I would just gift the tickets to a couple of random people standing in line (probably based on my perception of their cuteness, but that’s another show…) Unfortunately, the night the show came up, I came down with the flu and ended up unable to attend. I forwarded my tickets to thatcrazycajun, who had planned to attend, and told him to give the tickets away to anyone who wanted them, either that he knew or just to people on line.
So, as you can imagine, I was excited to learn that he was doing another show at the Variety Playhouse. sfeley asked if we wanted to join up with a big group of folks attending, so of course we said yes.
Saturday arrived, and we headed down to meet up with our party at Front Page News, a nearby restaurant. We were the first to arrive, so we set about getting a table arranged for 12, and sat down to enjoy some appetisers. It was right about then that I had a sudden horror-struck realisation. I had forgotten to print the tickets!
I did what I usually do in such situations, which is quietly panic and then look for solutions. I could drive home and get the tickets, and with no complications from traffic get back in time for the show, but that would meant missing dinner and the company that went with it, which I didn’t really want to do. A call to the theatre suggested they might be able to work something out with me, but not until we actually arrived there, which would be too late to enact a plan B should one become necessary.
So I asked our waiter, who was a rather nice young fellow, if they by any chance had an Internet capable computer and printer on the premises. He told me he would check, and came back to inform me that while his manager had one in her office, customers were not allowed into that area. However, if I were willing to give them the necessary login information, they would print my tickets for me. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so I wrote down the necessary details on a piece of paper and handed them over. He returned 10 minutes later with the printouts that would get us in the door, and we gave him a 50% tip when it was time to go. The food was also excellent, and outside of heroic measures above and beyond the call of duty, the service was outstanding. I highly recommend it if you find yourself in the Little Five Points area.
Once the crisis was resolved, we were able to settle in and enjoy dinner. Present were myself and kitanzi, sfeley and afeley, rslatkin and vatavian, joyeuse13 and abovenyquist, and some folks who may be on LJ but I don’t know their handles. (Cross connecting the members of these couples to their respective poly OSOs (where appropriate) is left entirely as an exercise to the reader.)
We finished dinner, and set out to move our car to the venue’s parking lot, since we were sure the restaurant really wanted their parking back, and headed inside, where we ran into other friends and enjoyed a great deal of conversation while waiting for the show to begin. Finally, the lights went down, and Paul and Storm took the stage.
Now, I’m not unfamiliar with Paul and Storm, and had even seen them before, way back when DaVinci’s Notebook was still touring. But this is the first time I’d managed to catch their live show, and let me tell you, I laughed my ass off. “Opening Band” is *still* in my head (and I’m re-listening to it on YouTube. Thank you, YouTube), and the rest of their short set was just as entertaining. The faux-Gregorian “NunFight” song was hilarious, and the banter with the audience was rapid and witty. If you get a chance to catch these guys, don’t pass it up.
Jonathan Coulton then took the stage and was pretty much spot on all night. He played his hits, he did requests that he had solicited on Twitter (including two of mine, though I don’t know if it was *my* requests that got them onto the set list, but it made me happy anyway). One of the things I like about Coulton, both here and in every interview I’ve ever seen with him, is how utterly down to earth he is. He seems pleasantly bemused that he took a huge risk with his career and it’s actually paid off for him, and genuinely appears to love everything about what he does. It’s also a reminder that while you can do a lot of gimmicks with lighting and special effects to spice up a live show, you can still go a long way with just one guy, a guitar, and some fiendishly catchy and intelligent songs.
The show was led off with “Ikea”, my two requests were back to back (“The Future Soon” and “Shop Vac”), and of course he did all the big hits like “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Re: Your Brains”, and “First of May”. My favourite moment of the concert may well have been his cover of Billy Joel’s “Pressure”, which was a very interesting and different interpretation and I completely want a recording of it right now. Paul and Storm joined him for a few songs, and everything was pretty much spot-on through the entire set.
At the end of the night, we staggered out into the warm night air, found our car, and drove home to fall into bed. I had an awesome time, and I don’t doubt that I will be first in line to buy tickets the next time either act comes to town.