Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Singing in the rain

I went to a concert last night for the first time in over five years. Boy had asked me if I wanted to see Ben Folds, Rufus Wainwright and Guster at Central Park SummerStage. I never would have thought about it on my own -- I like Guster a lot, but haven't purchased an album since their second one; I like what I've heard of Ben Folds, but only own a couple of downloaded tracks; and you know how I feel about Rufus -- but I'm always up for events in the Park and it sounded like fun.

The lineup seemed like a natural fit to me -- all sort of arty and pretentious but easily accessible pop-rock-folk, all artists with a sense of humor, and all with a young, culty fan base -- but the crowd was very easy to break up just by looking around. There was a lot of overlap to be sure, but you could easily tell the cleaned-up ex-frat-boy Ben Folds fan from the scruffier, stoned, sk8er boi Guster fan from the Abercrombie gay Rufus fan (a lot of high school girls seemed to be there for Rufus too, including a pair who went crazy when he started "Gay Messiah.") Despite the first-glance homogeneity (I don't recall seeing a single non-white face), it was kind of a fascinating mix of people.

It was a fascinatingly low-key as well, as if no one really cared about any of it, and not in a bad way. Ben Folds had the feel of a headliner, though he said during his banter that the three acts have been rotating the order throughout the tour, so I think it was just because he went last and was the only one to perform after dark. But even through his set the vibe was more "let's hang out and listen to some tunes" than "wow, kick-ass show." There was lots of wandering around, people everywhere (including us) were talking, and no one (including us) seemed to mind. I guess these aren't exactly artists who put on a big visual show and require anyone's full attention.

Guster was excellent, though not terribly memorable. They didn't do many songs I knew, nor any fun covers like I was hoping for. They played really well though, and you've gotta love a rock band with congas. Well, I do anyway.

I found Rufus' set curiously enjoyable. He may be growing on me. But lord, is he pretentious! Boy referred to him as "gayer than thou." Best banter of the night: "I want to thank God for not raining on us.... And now we're going to do a song by my dad... my dad, God." Ooooookay. Rufus doesn't have a ton of up-tempo songs in his catalog, so to pep things up he covered...Jeff Buckley's "Hallelujah," front-runner for the title of Most Depressing Song Ever Written. Good call, Rufus! Interestingly, as grating as I find his voice, it blends with others' sort of beautifully. He brought out some guy I'd never heard of (though he made a point of telling us that he wasn't his boyfriend) for "Complainte de la Butte" (and of course anything from Moulin Rouge makes me happy), and did several numbers with his mother and sister, and it all sounded really pretty. Of course, this also led to the gayest moment of the evening: Rufus singing "Over the Rainbow" with his mother. This was the one time when some of the frat boys seemed to get uncomfortable.

Thank god Ben Folds was relatively ballad-free. I'm not super-familiar with Ben either, but I liked everything he did and promptly downloaded a bunch of songs today. More than anything, he really knows how to work a crowd. He was by far the best at engaging us, getting even those of us being lazy in the back who didn't know the songs to sing along, voice missing instrumental parts, and sing in three-part harmony. He and Rufus did an amazingly heart-felt rendition of "Careless Whisper," and nicely filled the ironic-yet-actually-better-than-the-original cover song quota. After a rainy, mellow night, it was nice to end with some energy and humor. And the crowd singing in three-part harmony was just wicked cool.

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