Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Niagaras - wherein I wax rhapsodic

It's no secret. No, it's pretty much out there. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm f-ing smitten with The Niagaras. I firmly believe everyone should be. I mean EVERYONE. Since Gary asked (in the comments to the previous post below), and I've never really gone into details here about what a show is like, I'll try to explain it. And I promise I'll only do it here this one time. Because honestly it's like trying to describe a religious experience to someone: you really have to go there yourself. But I'm going to try.

I do not believe you can actually condense two and one-half hours of intense joy (sorry, sometimes my name is problematic) into words, but what the hell. Can't hurt to try. Although I know from the outset I can't do them justice; or I would have tried long ago. First let me say I have rarely, if ever, seen anyone at one of these shows who was not completely swept into the sheer fun of it. The few who were not have either been too drunk to walk, too possessive of their girlfriends (who were enchanted), a little bit afraid of the unknown, or just plain devoid of any sense of taste or humor. That said, everyone else has a ball. Last night's show was exceptional.

Naturally the music is a huge component, and there is quite a bit of it on cd - you can listen to some of it here. But let me stress that the recorded versions, while wonderful, do not capture the vibrancy of a live performance. This can be said of a lot of music, but oftentimes bands will perform their recorded pieces precisely as they are on disc - people like familiarity. *yawn* But a good band will give you something different, a slightly different take on the song you know, a switched-up arrangement, and even altered lyrics (just because, you know, it's fun). The willingness to keep the music fresh and alive is paramount - otherwise the audience could simply stay home and listen to the recording. Why bother seeing a band live if you can hear the same exact, note-for-note at home in the comfort of your P.J.s and bunny slippers?

Actually you probably could wear your jammies and bunny slippers to a Niagaras show. Odds are good you would garner a lot of attention - if you don't like that sort of thing best to stick to daywear.

Now I'm at a loss. You can look at this while I think.

Okay. Let's say you start with an energy level scale of 1 to 10. I think it's safe to rate the Niagaras around a 75 on that scale and they maintain it for the duration of the show. And you can actually feel it. The room vibrates with it. There is much silliness, much teasing and hilarity. The "Whaley shenanigans" Gary asked about refer to the lead singer of the Niagaras, Robert Whaley, who Gary actually described really well the first time he saw them play. "I have never seen anyone control a room so completely" He really does. It's kinda awe-inspiring. I'm sure someone who understood the mechanics of charisma, body language and human relations could boil down what it is that makes this possible. I'm not that person. I'm going to just guess that it's sincerity. It's what happens when someone is doing what they love to do, and doing it well, that makes people respond so positively.

I've seen a lot of bands, I've seen some amazing, memorable shows: The Clash - outdoors on a pier - in a lightening storm. Death-defying and wonderful; Prince dropping into a split while wearing 5" heels, hurting himself and then continuing on for another hour without missing a beat; NRBQ at any given show, but seriously nothing compares to the level of fun, energy and endurance of a Niagaras show. Maybe it's because it feels like you're not at a 'show', it's more like a private party. There's a level of genuine warmth and personal interaction that just doesn't happen anywhere else. There's a diversity in the crowd that you don't see anywhere else - I have seen rasta-kids and old-money in evening gowns dancing together at these shows. There is a sense of 'you are welcome here' that doesn't happen anywhere else. And there is a sense of absolute delight just because you're alive that is accentuated and permeates the whole shebang.

What do you see at a Niagaras show? You see a band that has more cardio endurance than any marathon runner - how the HELL does anyone play the drums, guitar or bass for 2 1/2 straight hours? How does anyone dance and sing for 2 1/2 straight hours in a way that would make a hyperactive 8 year old pass out for a week? Practice? Maybe. Sheer delight in the exuberance of the experience? Very likely. Demonic possession? Nah, that's just a joke.

You see the occasional skit. No really. It's true! They will slip into a bit of improvisational floor show - always funny. You hear stories - always funny.

You also see a lot of... interpretive dance. That'd be Robert. The first time I saw him dance I thought, dear lord, is he okay? Within about 2 minutes all I could think was, God I wish I could do that! You know that aphorism that goes around the internet "dance like no one is looking" - that would be Robert. And you know it's intoxicating watching someone so uninhibited. Last night he spotted an older woman in the audience and pulled her up on stage to dance. This is not the first time I've seen this, and it is charming and adorable as all hell. It's lovely and sweet and funny all at the same time. This is the first time I've seen said dance partner really cook (she was movin'!) - and then assist Robert in the removal of his clothing. Yes. I may have mentioned somewhere on this blog that there is a good amount of disrobing at these shows. Admittedly one of my favorite parts, because it never gets tired. And I've seen it A LOT. Oh I know you're thinking 'eiw, sleezy' but not at all. Not even a teeny bit. Sexy sure, but never sleezy. And amusing, always. I have seen this man swing from a chandelier in his drawers and seriously it's something everyone should see.

The other members of the band are also, always, incredible and I will state here that Tony Grimaldi really is a guitar master like I've never seen. Just incredible. The drums and bass switch out from time to time, but Robert and Tony are the essence of The Niagaras and they have a tremendous chemistry.

I'm trying to be objective here, but in the end I have to 'fess up that Robert Whaley will always have a particularly special place in my heart; because it was his story that literally changed my life. I do risk becoming sappy here, but fuck it. The show that made me decide to put off my suicide and try antidepressants and TRY to find a way to live was written by Robert and Tony. Now that show is NOT a Niagaras show per se so I feel like I can exercise some sort objectivity about The Niagaras as opposed to Wrong Way Up (the show), but I know I'm still slightly biased. That's one prejudice I'm completely comfortable with and happy to have.

And like a religious experience, you can either take my word for it and see The Niagaras at your earliest opportunity or you can write me off as a big nut. Either way, I will be there whenever I can, whenever they play because there is nothing else that reminds me so viscerally just how happy I am to be alive every single minute of every single day and how much I owe to someone else's creative inspiration. And I'd love it if everyone could experience that same joy (again, sorry, there's that name again!)



Tam said...

just reading this made me WANT to be there ~ I may never get to see them but at least I can listen, and imagine the energy.....

I've been visiting off and on - great posts, writing.


Gary said...

Boy, ask a simple question...

Wonderful post and so true! Thanks.

whimsicalnbrainpan said...

Great discription!

Makes me wish that I could catch a show.

Anonymous said...

This brought me back. Great post. So accurate. No one is nearly as fun as The Niagaras. So special.