Every time I try to convince myself that I think and feel like everyone else, I realize I don't. That's not necessarily a bad thing because I'd rather lead the way than be a follower. (It shocked me the first time I realized how many people prefer to be led; I just couldn't fathom the concept.)
Last night my husband and I saw Kenny Chesney, Sugarland and Pat Green at the Garden. I find it amusing how some country acts have this desperate neediness when playing NYC—even when they have a sold-out crowd. I understand it because NYers haven't exactly been known for our love of country music. It is, however, an ever-evolving category since many listeners are finding themselves unable to relate to a lot of the other music that labels are delivering. Hip-hop is okay but after you count the amount of cuss words in a song and follow the general beat, you're done. If I hear that Umbrella song by Rihanna one more time, I think I will lose my lunch. Subsequently, I have begrudgingly accepted the genre, mostly to mollify my man (who denies me nothing). Still, I can't help believing that there is something fundamentally wrong about listening to country music in Madison Square Garden.
I'm not really a music snob; most country is pleasant enough. Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson have been long-time favorites of mine. We "discovered" Brad Paisley as a virtual unknown when he opened for Loretta Lynn at NYC's Town Hall in '99; he grabbed us from the first song. Chris Young—who won Nashville Star's third season—blew me away; Drinkin' Me Lonely is such a hauntingly powerful song. And yes, I thought the music business would eat American Idol's Carrie Underwood alive and now I confess/admit in black on white that she is really good.
So my problem is not with the music as much as the venue. You see, the first concert I ever attended was Led Zeppelin. At the Garden. In 1969, when I was 13. I barely knew who they were at the time but they have since been an extremely tough act for any other artist to surpass. I am—first, last and always—a Led Zeppelin fan; in my opinion, no other act has ever been able to imitate their button-tingling blend of blues and rock. I have never been disappointed whenever I've seen Plant and Page; they never phone it in. The last time I saw them (at the Garden in 1998), I drank two liters of water immediately afterward because I was dehydrated from the excitement. I'm not really digressing here; the point is that there is a symbiosis between the Garden and Zep; the group themselves have said many times they consider it a second home and it feels so good to play there. For me then, the correlation is clear: MSG is for r-o-c-k.
As I tapped my foot in time with the music last night--for the most part preferring to remain in my seat while 95% of the Garden stood, swayed, and sang along, beer in hand--I finally figured it out: I haven't sipped more than ½ a beer total in my entire lifetime. I've been too busy and poor to luxuriate in exotic locations and think about nothing but a cool breeze and a brew. I'm glad "she thinks [his] tractor's sexy" … How neat for him that he had fried chicken at Momma's on Sunday. But none of it has a darned thing to do with me. I was not moved. I felt no passion. I could not identify. Chesney is a good performer, a fine showman, and had the audience in the palm of his hand. I just wasn't one of them.
Sugarland struck home for me--more so than Chesney. Even though Jennifer Nettles is twangier than I prefer, she is passionate. Every time I see her she seems to have lost another ten pounds (she's been on TV a lot to promote the tour); clearly she's working that road to fame and doesn't expect it to be handed to her. (With that I can identify!) She also added an air of unpredictability to their set by singing a country version of Beyonce's Irreplaceable.
Pat Green was good but he definitely showed neediness, constantly pleading for the audience to remember--and repeat--his name. (Although he did break into a particularly good version of U2's With or Without You while singing his hit Wave on Wave.) Let's face it, the best way to keep a peaking crowd psyched is to walk off-stage while you have them in the palm of your hand. Walk away, let 'em scream, let 'em refuse to leave until you show your face again. Not Green. He stood there, waving in the admiration like "adore me, adore me; ain't I grand?" He stayed out just a bit too long and overstayed his welcome.
Other than my fancy for some of today's most passionate performers like Kid Rock, Pink, Daughtry, and Eminem, this is where I show my age. I am hard-pressed to find music today that resonates with emotion/passion like Bell Bottom Blues (Clapton), You Shook Me (Led Zeppelin) and practically anything by my Italian Stallion Zucchero. In the meantime, if I want to groove, I'll stick to R&B; I guess I'm just not a sway gal ... and I don't need a beer to feel like I belong.