I write concert reviews. And I have done so for nearly twelve years now. All 129 (and counting) have been archived here and newer ones have been cross-posted to a music blog that I share with a friend of mine (look for the "posts by James" tag). They're full of inside jokes, personal references, and lengthy digressions. I'm usually more interested in chronicling the shenanigans going on before, during, and after the shows, because I really don't know much about music or how to describe it. But hey, this board needs more music talk so I'm going to start posting the reviews here now too.
I consider myself a pacifist. By this, I mean that I like to threaten violence all the time (mostly involving stabs to the face or punches to hilarious body parts), and I like to watch televised violence whether fake wrestling or real MMA, but I don't really like to actually be involved in violence. The closest I've come to any sort of physical altercation in the past ten years was last fall, when I kicked some dude right in his car when he tried to drive on me.
Point being, I don't like getting beaten up. And so I really had no choice but to go see Henry Rollins, because I feared what Aaron would do to me if I skipped out. Aaron, who lives 2,652 kilometers away. Aaron, who has probably kicked even fewer guys in the car than I have. He likes Henry Rollins a LOT.
I liked what I knew of Henry Rollins, which wasn't much. I read one of his books years ago, and found it to be really interesting. I've heard a few of his songs and found that they're great driving or workout music. I'm on his mailing list, so I've kept up with some of his crazy adventures. I read the attempted interview with the local free paper and greatly enjoyed it (Henry told off the reporter for sending an email that asked whether the respondent was, in fact, the real Henry Rollins. That was the end of the interview, and it was fantastic). And the off-road tattoo from Jackass: The Movie? Awesome.
My fear of the wrath of Aaron may have motivated me to rush into things. I bought two tickets for the Saskatoon show, one for me and one for Mika, who I think was interested but not dying to see the show. Had I waited a bit, I would have learned that Rollins was coming to Regina too, and I wouldn't have had to shift my work schedule around to accommodate the show. Furthermore, after I got the tickets, Mika started her accounting class, which runs on Monday nights, which meant that she couldn't go to the show anyway. Oh well, I enjoy time off work and spending extra time in Saskatoon, and Dave made use of the extra ticket - and even bought us pre-show subs - so everything worked out well in the end.
"What's he going to talk about?" asked Dave.
I had no idea. Rollins has recorded about two million spoken word albums, but I haven't heard them. I did hear one story Henry told about getting a call from Ben Folds, which resulted in recording a song with William Shatner and Adrian Belew, ultimately culminating in a Monday Night Football party at Shatner's house with Ben Stiller and his wife. This story was fantastic, but given the characters involved, it would be almost impossible for the story to not be fantastic. I hoped that on this night, Rollins would live up to the one example I knew.
We arrived a bit after 7:00 and it looked like they were just opening the place up. The line stretched down the street, but everything went as smoothly as one can ask for. Inside, they were selling books and CDs and DVDs and shirts, the usual stuff. I didn't get anything.
We headed upstairs to claim some seats with a nice view of the whole place. The crowd filtered in, and I looked for people I knew (one guy from high school, plus I recognized one girl who works at some record store - and they seemed to be friends) and hilarious bald spots (sadly, nothing on the level of the local weatherdork's bald spot from Junofest).
Rollins took the stage at about 8:15, and we were off. No introduction, he just wandered out with a mic. No opening act either, but what would you have for an opener at a spoken word show? Someone you don't know will talk for 30 minutes to prepare you for the hardcore listening you'll be doing later on?
For the most part, the spoken word routine was like an expanded - very, very expanded - version of his email newsletter. For nearly three hours, Rollins shared stories of his recent trips around the world. The guy likes going wherever people tell him not to, so he's recently been to Syria, Beirut, and Pakistan, as well as riding the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok. He met a lot of good, decent people along the way, which is lucky (and maybe a bit surprising) considering the volatile situations he found himself in. Among other notable incidents, he was in Islamabad, Pakistan when Benazir Bhutto was assassinated.
It must be hard to perpetually tour with a spoken word presentation, because it would always have to change. A band can do an entire concert of their previous hits, but once a crowd has heard a story, that's it. If they come back next time, they're going to want something new. To that end, we didn't get a rehash of the Ben Folds/William Shatner/Monday Night Football adventure, but there was one that was just as good starring Ted Nugent, David Lee Roth, and Van Halen, and a poignant recounting of his chance to play frontman for The Ruts for a day.
I got a surprising amount of feedback after I wrote my review of the White Stripes concert last year. I had a great time at the show (and was thrilled just to be there) and I was told that excitement seemed to come through in the review. Having heard how Henry Rollins spoke about The Ruts, I now have a better idea of what people were getting at. I'd never heard their music - or even heard of them - but his passion and near-reverence said more than the actual words did. I can't be the only person who left there that night with a mental note to check them out.
So yeah, Henry Rollins really likes to talk. Good thing he's good at it. Passionate and energetic, but surprisingly self-deprecating and as Dave put it, "nerdier than I expected him to be." Being able to talk in front of a group is a skill, but I'd always thought of it in terms of mental preparation. I'd never really thought about the physical skill required. It was about two and a half hours before Rollins stopped long enough to crack open his water bottle. My throat hurt just thinking about it.
The show ran until 11:00 and I could have done with a little earlier start time. I'm old, we've established that. But for pure value for your show-going dollar, Rollins overdelivers. I'd go see him again the next time around, even without the non-existent threat of violence.
I saw Henry about 2-3 years ago in Dartmouth, MA. He was utterly hilarious. This was during the time period when he was telling the Shatner story, and the one about Mike the Burglar Chaser. For those of you unfamiliar with Rollins' spoken word stuff, you've gotta check it out. He's one of the funniest, most self-deprecating, insightful, and intelligent people on the planet. I recommend you go to 21361.com and pick up any of the following:
iTunes Top Downloads -- February 07, 2010 This is a moment in time snapshot of the current top downloads from iTunes. We take a snapshot each week at the same time and post it here. To preview the songs, click on a link.