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Politics & Beer 

It's the most wonderful time of the year

The band Yo La Tengo was in town Friday at the Visulite Theatre as part of its "Swing States Tour." You know about swing states: states that could conceivably vote either way in the Presidential election, they're the key focus for both John Kerry and George W. Bush. The key to winning those swing states? Those enigmatic "undecideds" -- ostensibly, folks who are unsure of which lever to pull when the time comes. (To these people: what else are you undecided about? Black and white? Night and day? Charmin and White Cloud? Has a more clear-cut choice ever been offered to the American voter?)

Before the big show, the club put the Presidential debate up on their large projection screen. Judging by the response, the Yo La crowd was largely pro-Kerry, proving again my theory that most good art is usually made and consumed by non-conservatives (try and prove me wrong!).

Even on a night with comedians in attendance set to perform mid-show, these zingers got the biggest responses:

1. Bush's remark that "Saddam was going to give arms to terrorists." Heckler remark: "So do we -- remember Afghanistan?"

2. Bush's Luddite "I've heard there are rumors on the Internets."

3. Bush's opining that we must finish the job, or "Iraq could be a haven for terrorists." Sample response: uncontrollable, PBR-spewing laughter.

4. That medicines could be entering our country via "a third world." Like, say, Saturn?

As the candidates shook hands, the screen went up, revealing Yo La Tengo. However, the debate projector kept running for 15 seconds or so, revealing a neatly disembodied Bush head slightly above and to the left of the drum riser. Soon, the band was off and running, augmented by guest singer/guitarist David Kilgour. After maybe 10 minutes, it hit me that I was seeing one of the best shows I'd ever seen in Charlotte, and undoubtedly my favorite so far this year (so much so, in fact, that I went and saw the band again in Chapel Hill two days later). Granted, it's neat seeing an ex-rock & roll scribe like Kaplan attack a guitar with such precision, a specter that no doubt influenced the famous Onion headline of a few years back, "37 Record-Store Clerks Feared Dead in Yo La Tengo Concert Disaster."

Not long after an epic show-closer, the Sun Ra cover "Nuclear War," (the song's refrain, "your ass got to go," took on extra meaning with more than a few listeners) most everyone filed towards the exits, though a few late-nighters mingled around the bar, talking politics.

Saturday afternoon, my debate hangover sated, I headed to NoDa to check out their big Oktoberfest celebration. Most of the galleries were open, bands played, food was sold, and art was exhibited, all on a wonderfully sunny Autumn day.Did I mention The Beer? Hundreds of brewers signed on to this year's Oktoberfest Beer Festival, and many hundreds of people thought nothing of dropping $25 to get a taster glass good for all the beer samples they could guzzle. As I walked in, a festival volunteer turned to a law enforcement officer and smiled. "Charlotte must have a lot of alcoholics," she said.

Of course, not everyone who likes beer is an alcoholic, just like not everyone who likes sex is a nymphomaniac. However, if you did want to suss out the alkies, this was the place to do it. For fun, I semi-sorta followed a pair of guys around, curious at their take on all the brew. At one table, my control opined it "tasted like Guinness. I like it." At the next table: "I like it." Next table: "It's good."

Finally, my favorite of the day: "Tastes good. Like beer should, you know?"

The only people happier than the sun 'n' suds crowd? Probably the local police. Okquotafest, anybody?

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