Introverse, chapter 5 - Ted Nugent concert
A short, content-free memoir of a trip to Melbourne.
I went to a Ted Nugent concert last month. My dad is a longtime fan of Uncle Ted in musical if not political form, so, upon hearing about some Motor City Madness en route to a nearby city, he picked up four tickets to the occasion. The original plan was that he, my mom, and their two friends (here anonymized as Arthur Sullivan and Agatha Christie) were to be in attendance. However, as tends to occur when things are scheduled more than 15 minutes in advance, circumstances had shifted by the date in question. Instead of being in Orlando, an urgent change of residence by a family member conspired to place Dad somewhere between Las Vegas and Ted’s hometown on the day of, leaving his seat empty. That domino pushed open the gate for Arthur and Agatha to excuse themselves (fair weather fans they must be), bringing the total vacancies to 3. Machination Log regulars David, Nicole, and Ryan were summoned to fill the void left in the wake of these events.
This concert was the first electrically amplified live music event I’ve attended in over a decade. The only previous encounter that comes to mind is a Weird Al concert timed somewhere between elementary and middle school and my only real memory of that experience was of knocking over someone’s beer and watching their face fade from punchy to sulky when they realized that I was kid—this being an instant buzzkill for ruling out the physical confrontation they surely wanted over this injustice. My use of “they” to describe the afflicted party is not a cop of nouveau social convention: my memory of this event is so hazy I can’t be more specific.
Fast forward to 2016. Ted Nugent is a 68-year-old rock guitarist and singer, notable for his abstinence from drugs and his advocacy of firearms. Most of you probably know all that. In fact if I had to guess there are probably no more than a handful of people listening to this who know less about Ted Nugent than I do. I walked into the Maxwell C King Performing Arts Center aware of exactly one song the man had written (Cat Scratch Fever) and I’m still not sure I know how it goes. Put succinctly, my previous experience with rock shows didn’t prepare me all that much for the event. Thankfully, etiquette for this show was relatively uncomplicated and I managed to conform to the boundaries of discretion sufficiently to leave the facility having neither disgraced myself nor been shot.
We made our way there in two cars. Mom and I took an enamel white 2009 Chevy Cobalt sedan. Between systemic ignition and power steering failures, as well as an unassuming body shape that didn’t match the bulky, angular forms of the rest of Chevrolet’s modern line-up, the Cobalt’s production run was brief before the Cruze succeeded it in 2010. As a deliberately generic entry-level vehicle, there isn’t much to recommend the car besides its price, but the Cobalt does have a mousy look to it that I find attractive and it also more-than-ably fulfills its primary role of shuttling passengers around in air-conditioned seats at speeds up to (and on occasion cheekily exceeding) 70 mph. I don’t remember what Nicole and Ryan drove in, but it presumably had similar capabilities. Their side of this trip will remain untold until further notice.
The King Center is around 50 minutes from my parents house, which meant that mom and I got to spend plenty of low quality time together staring off into space listening to radio ads. It wouldn't matter whether my mom was driving or not: she would gain de facto control of the radio and the station she opted for at least initially was 101.1 WJRR. The reason for this choice is unclear. She commented almost 20 minutes into the ride that she hadn't heard a song she liked yet. Other features of this unfeatureful car trip included an argument about the lack of speed limit signs on I-95. I employ a hard rule of being the second fastest person I can see on any given road that has, to date, not once resulted in me being pulled over. Arguments against formalizing mob rule aside, I advocate this contextual strategy in virtually all cases. My mom prefers a bit more designated structure in her life. On this basis, we argue about essentially nothing for five minutes. During this time an olive drab Ford F-150 flies by on the right with the fully capitalized words “LAW ENFORCEMENT” finger painted on the back window in pink. I assume with no reservations that we were just passed by a fellow concertgoer.
When conversation strikes up again it is to come to a bipartisan consensus on where we’ll eat before the concert starts. The ideal venue, according to Mom, would be Long Dogger: a restaurant bar located across the street from the King modeled after a seaside shack with self-serve seating. This self-service supposes that, should some set of shoppers with a soft spot for surf stop by, the shack supply sufficient spaces to seat said set. Suffice to say such space is unavailable. We back up and eat at an inoffensive Italian restaurant called Fia’s. Counting this excursion and the pretentious outlet I ate at while at the Biggest Little Fur Con, 2016 has probably doubled the number of Italian restaurants I've visited in the past 5 years. Our waiter failed to bring us water, didn't remember our orders, stole my silverware, and was appropriately humble and self-effacing about all three of these things. He looked like the kind of person who has a bad day five out of every seven days. Fia’s is a restaurant with an attached sports bar, and it seems as if they over-ordered on televisions and just decided to hook the rest of them up in the restaurant. I'm willing to believe that I eat out infrequently enough to have just not noticed that restaurants all have a TV for every 10 customers now, but it made sitting at a table in a foreign space more restless than it ought to be. Mom used the lull between ordering and eating to sequester one of my notecards for the purpose of drawing a guinea pig. She does this regularly and, though her style is very basic, it serves her well in the mass production of these images. For the uninitiated, a guinea pig is a rounded rectangle with a rounded 30-60 right triangle for a nose and V's for feet. Other features include a capital C for ears, and a filled-in circle for eyes; colors, patterning, and temperament are at the author’s discretion. I didn't write down what I ate and I don't remember what it was; I think it was okay.
We drive to the venue, where the main parking lot has already completely filled up an hour and a half shy of start time. As befits any spirited congregation, we did spy one protester holding up a Sharpied sign on the way in the front entrance. Whether this maverick was actually privy to information regarding Ted Nugent's criminal past as yet uncovered by the law remains an open question, but the charges included pedophilia and rape. They bothered to write “xenophobic” on the sign as if anyone passing them by would be bothered by that. We walked by example prime for this on the way in the building in the form of a T-shirt bearing a silhouette of the geographic United States and the inlaid words “Fuck Off, We’re Full”, worn by a man who, not to judge too prematurely or harshly, looks like the kind of person who’s primary contribution to the world is to take up space. A dozen or so articles of clothing of this caliber and attitude were visible amongst the congregation in and around the facility.
It would be silly of me to suggest that this signage wasn't indicative of the community around Ted Nugent to at least some degree (Nugent himself certainly does nothing to discourage it) but the clientele of the venue, while pretty stereotypically conservative, did at least appear to be dressed to listen to music rather than participate in a rally. I get the feeling most of the people who weren't wearing T-shirts own both firearms and golf clubs and, across all the attendees, I might have had the fullest head of hair of any male present.
I study the inflow of patrons casually as they walk in, standing in a parade rest stance next to two police officers doing the same thing. Putting on this air of stoic observer also reminds me of something I occasionally forget: I am very tall. The average American male is 5 foot 9, but in the circles I traverse that is an academic fact rather than a reality. As attendees stream through the front door, a few of them give me a multi-stage look that suggests a rapid internal cycle of curiosity, fear, challenge, then a self-confident detente, ending in a smile. If they complete this neurotic ritual through to the end, I give them a nod with closed eyes to indicate some amorphous kind of acceptance. People who play through this infinitesimal social exchange invariably straighten their posture when they finally look away, as if the 7 inches I have on them is the result of them slouching.
Mom refers to the audience as a “good mix”. I believe I know what she means and don't bother to ask further questions.
One 60 to 70-year-old man—who, from his do rag, gloves, jacket, beard, sunglasses, boots, and six other identical-looking compatriots I’m going to guess is a biker—looks to his right, sees one of these officers and in what looks like natural reflex steps toward him, and offers his hand with an overtly sincere “thank you for your service” as tribute. This behavior is not specific to the venue: it happened almost verbatim at the grocery store last week. For those listening to this in the far-flung future, we are at what I really hope is the height of the #livesmatter battle. Presently, teams black, all, and blue are in play, the war became fully retaliatory less than a month ago in Dallas, and the livelier rhetoric has shifted off demilitarization of the police in favor of disbanding them. Given the climate, an aesthetic outlaw paying face-to-face homage to the cops only strikes me as noteworthy by seeming so appropriate.
The concert begins at nine with a warm-up band at eight. We can hear the warm-up band through the speakers in the lobby and opt to remain in the lobby. I get mildly concerned that what I'm hearing is indicative of the main event, however all of my compatriots emphatically assure me otherwise.
At around 845, we file into the balcony of the King Center. After successive experiences where inconsiderate concertgoers have stood up in front of him, my dad insists on sitting in the front row of either the balcony or the main hall when he goes to events like this. I can't fault his logic, though it hardly seems necessary to justify these seats: from an acoustic perspective the first row of the balcony in most theaters is usually a price-to-performance winner. Roadies are assembling a tightknit two line formation of amps branded with Blackstar and some other cursive signage. An American flag the size of the stage hangs as a backdrop behind the drummer and his two flanks of loudspeakers. I count the stars on the flag six times to make sure there're actually 50, partly for the purpose of pedantry but also because something about the dimensions of it strike me as odd, and upon comparison after the event, I discover that a standard American flag is much wider than the one Nugent uses on stage. Moreover, the staggered pattern of the stars on the US flag makes them entertaining to count: you can count them horizontally, vertically, diagonally, in wide rows of eleven, in wide stripes of nine, as a nested set of rectangles, and many other more esoteric ways besides.
But now the lights go down, and we’re ready for the man himself.
As an introverted suburb dweller, I'm not a huge fan of loud noises. As such, even potentially at the expense of the full experience, I brought some high-power earplugs with me. Mom and Nicole both did as well. Ryan is a mad man and seems generally unconcerned with his longitudinal well-being. The earplugs advertise 33 dB dampening and, given how underwater muted the sound coming from all those amps becomes when I push the plugs into my ears, that number sounds accurate. I spend a tremendous amount of time finagling the plugs to get just the right mix. I occasionally take them out so I can tell how much they are suppressing the real volume. The sheer grating overbearance of the sound wall surprises me every time I do this. About halfway into the concert, I finally hit a happy compromise of stuffing the plugs into the bowl of my outer ear without actually forming a seal. This provides baffling for the harshest sounds without completely distorting the metallic timbre that makes big speakers fun to listen to. It was still slightly unpleasant, but tolerable.
As for the concert itself, I am enough of an amateur in live performance as to make my opinion of it useless to everyone, So at this point I'm going to enlist the assistance of the movie crew (all of whom were in attendance, despite some rather pointed political schisms between performer and listener) to provide a guided discussion of the main event.