After circling the Vanderbilt campus for 20 minutes while we searched for a decent parking spot, we walked into Memorial Gym Friday night with a bustling crowd of baby-faced frat boys, Vandy girls sporting shiny gold mini-purses, layered fluorescent tees, candy necklaces and other nausea-inducing '80s fashions. The smell of waxed floors and day-old hot dogs, combined with event staff herding kids to their seats, was enough to make the scene more high school assembly than indie rock concert. (and here we use the term "indie" loosely)
With half the gym blocked off and the stage pushed up against the bench seating, the gym made for a sort-of intimate setting. It wasn't as ideal as some local clubs, but it allowed for listeners to connect with the band and the musicat least for the people on the first floor.
Opener Gavin DeGraw was already mid-song when we found our seats. His good looks and piano playing were enough to inspire a lot of the crowdmale and femaleto dance with their eyes closed, lip-synch and scream uncontrollably. As far as we were concerned, if we'd wanted to hear WB soundtrack music, we could've stayed home and watched TV. His formulaic pop-rock was objectionable enough, but his overemoting and hip swiveling were utterly revolting. And his forced Southern accent didn't exactly charm away the predictable rhymes and bland melodies.
Then it got worse.
Just as we thought we might be able to stomach the "American Idol" prefab pop, DeGraw proudly launched into an overzealous combo of Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" and "Let's Get It On." The crowd went wild, while DeGraw spread his arms and soaked in the response, winking at girls (we think) and swooning theatrically. Nickelback would've been cooler, and we might've stood a better chance of keeping our dinner down.
An excruciating 45 minutes later, Modest Mouse took the stage, but the night of a thousand frustrations was not over. There was a major seating conundrum brewing. Apparently, half the people thought the show was general admission and so they sat anywhere, regardless of their tickets. The other half came in late and asked the event staff to kick the squatters out, and it continued well into Modest Mouse's set. It was ridiculous. Not until the last few songs did the event workers give up and allow people to stand in the aisle.
It's not like everyone there was hopelessly obnoxiousbut pretty damn close. Here's a little survey of the people we had the pleasure of sharing our evening with: there was the rum-oozing couple who sat behind us talking loudly the whole time (we could hear them just fine over the music); the attention-starved girl who hopped from seat to seat gabbing with her friends; and let's not forget all the people whose cell phone usage increased during the songs they'd never heard before (which was most of them). When it comes to entitled Vandy kids, we can feel pretty secure in saying that, yes, some stereotypes are true.
Amidst the text messaging and the hissy fits over seating, Modest Mouse started off their set with "Paper Thin Walls" from The Moon and Antarctica and then plowed through the majority of their latest record, Good News for People Who Love Bad News. With three extra musicians filling out the lineup, including a second drummer, another guitarist and a multi-instrumentalist backup singer, the stage was full. The roller-coaster ride through old somber songs to new upbeat ones created a drastic, slightly frightening juxtaposition of moods. The people who were actually paying attention (all 20 of them) loved it, as they went from bouncing up and down to solemnly swaying with the music. Clad in a disheveled sweatshirt, Isaac Brock angrily spat out lyrics with vigor, twisting his face and flailing his arms. Aside from some loud feedback and Brock's unintelligible between-song commentsgood luck understanding a mumbler who talks fast and with a lispthe sound was clear and uninterrupted. Each instrument's nuances came through, including the dual drummers' pounding, polyrhythmic beatseasily the most astounding aspect of the performance.
It was enough to make dealing with the bratty college kids worth it. Still, next time we go to a concert at Vandy, we'll remember to bring our cell phones and a fifth of rum.