#ThrowbackThursday – My First Concert: Keller Williams @ The 9:30 Club in DC

horns and hails y'all

I’m what you’d call a late bloomer. Started walking later than most kids, didn’t ride my first two-wheel bike until I was near on 7, and I didn’t realize the buzz cut hairstyle wasn’t cool until well into eighth grade. On the flipside, I definitely started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches earlier than most.

That said, it’s not too surprising that the first concert I ever saw was Keller Williams at the 9:30 Club in DC during the fall of my junior year of high school. While I do recollect some early childhood memories of seeing some iteration of Sesame Street Live as well as a small show featuring a local Raffi-esque songwriter known as Billy B., my honest to goodness first taste of real rock and/or roll lifestyle was supplied by this south Virginian one-man wonder of multi-instrumentalism.

I honestly don’t know why it took me so gosh darn long to see a show (though perhaps it comes from the same place that makes me think the phrase “gosh darn” is an appropriate, not-in-the-least-bit-silly exclamation to use in daily speech). I’d been musically inclined since I was old enough to recognize I was humming along with my cereal-chomping jowls, and I’d spent much of my formative time in middle and high school perusing the aisles of the local Tower Records and Borders Booksellers establishments (RIP, my dearly departed friends), sampling the fineries therein. I guess it just comes down to plain ol’ dumb luck. Or just the lack of understanding of just how much good, affordable live entertainment lay just a dozen Metro stops away.

If only I’d just looked with some interest and intent at the concert listings section of the Style section of the Post. I may have saved myself the unenviable fate of being a 16 year-old neophyte.

But alas, such was the state of things. And thus, one balmy evening in mid November on the invitation of my friend M., I went down to U Street with my good friend Andrew to see a show. M. was cool as a cucumber. We generally moved in different circles at school, but we were both in poetry club together and had a mutual respect and admiration for the other’s writing chops. All the same I was honored (read: giddy) when she invited us to come with her and her friends to the concert.

She listened to a lot of music that I had some understanding of (e.g. Deathcab For Cutie, Less Than Jake, The Smiths, Bright Eyes), but mostly stuff of which I knew nothing about. No doubt I was in for an adventure. That I liked the girl quite a bit certainly didn’t hurt either.

Nothing ever did materialize between said girl and said boy, but on the plus side the show was fantastic. We stood seven or eight people back from the stage on the ground floor of the simple, two-floor rock club. In the center of the stage was a large oriental rug and strewn around it in what looked like a meticulously coordinated mess of cables and wires was a host of various instruments, machines, switchboards and levers. The lights dimmed and the crowd let out their first of many cheers and chants of gratitude. The lights came up again as he walked in, revealing a slight, plainly dressed, impish looking man with a rosy, cherubim face that positively beamed as he crossed to center stage.

And this simple mortal– with his anyman orange crew neck t-shirt, baggy blue jeans, plethora of stringed instruments, and electric, space-age accoutrements– dazzled and delighted for 90 whole minutes. It was a veritable jungle gym of sonic joy, his angelic face eternally alight and his long, brown locks bobbing back and forth as sang in his deep, rich baritone while he switched between guitar licks, intricate slap-bass patterns, synth loops, and the expert use of percussive beatbox tricks– often all at the same time.

And the crowd loved every moment of it. A sea of faceless silhouettes on two levels swaying, shaking, and grooving in time. Sure the people on the balcony level had more space to move around, but we were having more fun among the hip shaking, body bouncing hordes below.

My friends and I certainly were having a heck of a time dancing and bopping about, with M. right up there with the best of them. It was during the show that it started to sink in that she probably wasn’t as interested in me as I was in her, and that tempered things a bit. But honestly, for the most part my attention was almost wholly set upon the man on stage and the carefree, leave-it-all-on-the-dance-floor spell he’d put us all under.

Suffice it to say my first concert experience was incredible, and from it came other similarly excellent adventures. There’ve definitely been a few duds in the bunch, and I’ve gotten a sense for what makes a good concert and a not-so-good concert (more on that later, no doubt), but one thing’s for certain: it’s a heckuva way to spend an evening, especially when it’s a good show.

A good show– a great show– treats you to something different. Even if you know a band’s entire repertoire from garage EPs to final platinum sixth or seventh albums and every B-side in between, going to the show gives you the chance to be an active part of the music. You’re a part of the tracks now. You’re living every line of the story, every wail and whine of guitar, every pounding fill of snare and bass drum. It gives you new perspective, renewed appreciation, and fills you with a heightened sense of gratitude for the guys and gals up there doing their thing.

I could go on (and likely I will in the near future), but for now, let me know. What was your first concert? What was your favorite concert-going experience? Any less-than-thrilling (even awful) experiences? Let me know.

And get out there and see a show!

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