Wednesday, June 17, 2009

On NIN/JA, the Uptown Amphitheatre and over-priced beer

Posted By on Wed, Jun 17, 2009 at 2:44 PM

Two significant shows heading to town and what does our beloved music editor decide to do? He skips out on us to go and cover Bonnaroo. But rest assured, we managed to get things covered.

First up — Jane’s Addiction and Nine Inch Nails (aka NIN|JA 2009 Tour) at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. Its significance — the influential-yet-short-lived Jane’s Addiction have regrouped (original line-up, in fact) and are hinting at the possibilities of a new record while Trent Reznor (aka Nine Inch Nails) says farewell to music fans indefinitely.

Opening the show was Street Sweeper Social Club, the latest project from guitarist Tom Morello (ex-Rage Against the Machine). In a radio interview prior to the concert, Morello declared this latest offering to be the closest thing to Rage he’s been involved with since that band split. ‘Nuff said for this Rage fan. And after watching an explosive 30-minute set that was indeed heavy on the Rage funk-metal vibe, I think I would agree. Many thanks goes to singer Boots Riley too for softly stepping on his soapbox – meaning he says just enough to get the point across but is quick to get back to the music.

Next to take the stage was NIN, despite the fact that it was still early evening and light outside (about 7:45ish). Sorry, but NIN just isn’t a band that should play when it’s light out. It’s not only odd considering Reznor’s mostly dark and angst-ridden themes, but it’s friggin’ June and we’re in the south, dammit. Add in 100-something strobe and spotlights that are part of the band’s production set-up and it felt like we were inside an oven set at 450 degrees!

I’ve got to confess, this show was nowhere near as dramatic as the last time I saw them at Verizon when a wicked lightning storm caused an impromptu evacuation of the lawn and the music was paused for a good 15 minutes or so. Regardless, it was still awfully powerful stuff culminating with an unforgettable encore that featured "Hurt," "The Hand That Feeds" and "Head Like a Hole."

Finally, a good two plus hours into this thing, it was time for headliners Jane’s Addiction. I dunno if it was just me, but honestly, I don’t think the Jane’s gang had a whole lot of chemistry going on. To be the last show of such a highly anticipated tour, I gotta say I was left slightly disappointed with their performance (and please note I did use the word slightly people, don’t go and freak out on me!). Of all people, I can certainly appreciate a good jam when I hear it but there were moments during their set that just kinda fell flat. Once again, I found myself thinking back to the last time I saw them at Verizon in 2001. That tour had sort of a CarnEvil feel to it (lots of mischief and fun). There were side stages featuring Go-Go Dancers, the songs seem to resonate with more relevance and the band actually seemed to be having a good time.

I do appreciate the fact that lead singer Perry Farrell knew exactly what city he was in (don’t laugh, a lot of these guys don’t even bother with it). He even jokingly referenced “Carolina in the Morning” (as in “nothing could be finer…”) when he presumably caught a whiff of pot smoke.

Overall, the show proved to be a great triple bill of music that provided more bang for your buck than most others I’ve seen.

One show down, another one to go and this one proved mighty significant as well — opening night at the Uptown Amphitheatre at the Music Factory. Another triple-bill too, this one featuring Richard Swift, Jack’s Mannequin and The Fray. I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know a heckuva lot about any of these bands, but I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to check out the first show at this new venue.

You see, I’ve been going to shows in this town since I was 6-years old and I’ve done a few big openings as well – AC/DC playing the first rock show at the Charlotte Coliseum on Tyvola Road in 1988 and the Rolling Stones playing the first show at Time Warner Cable Arena in 2005 definitely come to mind. Not to mention, I’ve got a stack of news articles I’ve collected over the past couple of years documenting the progress of the Music Factory (I’m thinking some of the first noted an opening date of “Spring 2007,” but I could be wrong). Anyway, I wasn’t about to miss this show, even if it meant sitting through nearly four hours of watching sensitive piano-playing dudes play sensitive pop songs. I’ll give them each a lot of credit for being good at what they do, including keeping the crowd heavily engaged — typically a sign of a good performance.

It was truly a great atmosphere with lots of folks genuinely excited to be one of the first to experience the new amphitheatre. I don’t think it was nearly as intense as the buzz in the air the night the Stones opened the arena, but it’s a little hard to compare the two nights. No offense kids, but let’s regroup in 40 years and we’ll see how far your guys went in the music biz.

“Pop” Sadler, president of the Greenville Neighborhood Homeowners Association (the area adjacent to the Music Factory complex) was in attendance and so was Carolina Panthers Head Coach, John Fox. I didn’t get the chance to talk to Coach Fox, but Sadler was positively beaming with excitement. So much in fact he said he couldn’t sit still long enough to watch the show with his family, instead he held court for most of the night over near the concession area greeting everyone and making sure things were going smoothly. And for the most part, it looked as if things did just that.

A few tips if you plan on checking the place out for yourself sometime soon — I’m not so sure I would recommend buying a lawn ticket for a potential sell out show. The area supposedly accommodates 3,000 people and for this show it was a capacity crowd and it just seemed to be bursting with people... and honestly, I think the track at Lowe’s Motor Speedway might have more banking than the amphitheatre’s lawn. It also didn’t help that a constant flow of people seemed to be walking to and from the concessions on the concourse directly in the front of the lawn for the entire show.

If you do opt for lawn tickets however, I’d suggest getting there early to stake out a spot behind the railing to the left of the stage (to the left if you are facing the stage). You’ll be standing for the entire show but most people did anyway and it looked like you’d have a good view; plus, it puts you pretty darn close to the stage, too.

The reserved seating area definitely rocks and will most likely prove to be worth the extra bucks if you really want a great view of the stage. The seats even come equipped with cup holders, a feature that should be mandatory at any new facility in my opinion! I can’t imagine any one of the 2,000 seats in this area not providing a decent view (granted you aren’t stuck standing behind someone taller and wider than you). But be warned, there is no covered seating offered (not even the reserved seats or the VIP boxes) so you may want to check the weather radar before you leave your house.

I’ve gathered from other news reports that there was a bit of confusion about the location of the facility and driving directions made available by GPS. Quite honestly, I have a hard time relating. For starters, I lived in Charlotte my entire life and it just so happens that I take Graham Street into town every day (the main entrance is off of Graham). I’ve also been tracking the progress of the Music Factory for years now (I think I mentioned that already) so I knew exactly where I was headed. Plus, I find it hard to believe that with ALL the media coverage leading up to this event that a large amount of people still didn’t have a clue as to where this place was. I will cut the out-of-towners some slack, however.

I also wasn’t stunned by the price of concessions either. Maybe it’s because I attend a lot of shows so I don’t experience the same sticker shock most people seem to suffer from but $8-$11 for a beer just wasn’t that surprising. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly wouldn’t complain if Live Nation did decide to drop prices but the price of a drink, no matter how outrageous it is, will never (and I repeat NEVER) be the determining factor as to whether or not I go to see a band that I like. It’s just not how I’m wired. I go to see the artist, it’s that simple. What I pay for a Bud Light just doesn’t factor into it. And if a beer is going to cost me $11 then my drive home will likely be much safer.

I work hard for my money just like everyone else and I also like to have a good time, no doubt about it. But I’ll also live if I have to go a few hours without a drink or two. I agree 110% that it does seem absolutely ridiculous to have to shell out $4 for a bottle of lukewarm water or $11 for a beer, but have you ever spent time in an airport, flown on a plane or grabbed a bite to eat at a food court at the mall? I once paid $8 for a bottle of apple juice and a plain bagel at New York’s LaGuardia. And last time I checked, I’m pretty sure a 12 oz. Budweiser would cost you $8 if you wanted to toss back a cold one during a flight.

My main point being — it is what it is. Every single day you wake up, there’s a really good chance you might get screwed over in some way, shape or form. That other line in bank drive thru moved twice as fast as the one you were in. Someone had way more than 10 items in the express line at Target or our friggin’ government decides to hand over more tax money to corporate America for another bail out. Shit happens and sucks when it happens to you. The world is also full of greedy bastards and sometimes they win and that really sucks, too! But one of my favorite releases that helps keep me sane is being able to spend a few hours at a show listening to music. I’m a music fan and the music is really all that matters to me. This may also be the reason I decided to decompress from two straight nights of amphitheatre adventures with a late night at Snug Harbor, where an empty barstool provided the perfect opportunity to prop up my weary soles and local band Mego unleashed some good, heavy vibes. The beer was cheap and oh, did I mention they had Go-Go Dancers?

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