Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Warm-Up Act

On a warm May evening in 2014, two blondes with bobs from the ‘500s walked onto the stage, wearing dresses out of the ‘60s, stood under a spotlight and in front what looked like a radio microphone from the ‘40s.

“Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?” were the first words that came from their mouths, in harmony and synchrony. They sounded like they had been time-warped into modern times just for that song.

Introducing yourself to a young Chattanooga audience by singing the staple Chattanooga song is no sure thing. Even the mega-charismatic JFK spoke a few minutes in English before daring to claim himself “ein Berliner” to the German people.

Hello, Lucius. Nice to meet you.

Only a handful of the hundreds in the audience had ever seen or heard of this band, or these two women. Frankly, I don’t much care for the song, but I loved the statement they made when they walked up to that mike and tore into it in a way that might well have impressed the Andrews Sisters.

We know where we are.
We know who you came to see.
We are going to make the extra effort to prove ourselves to you.
You do not know us right now, but you will want to by the time we’re done with you.
We will earn your interest by working for it.
We believe in our music.

That’s the mission statement of every successful opening act I’ve ever seen.

The mission of successful headlining acts are somewhat different. Tegan & Sara, the headliners for Lucius, could rely on the crowd knowing their lyrics, singing along. Headliners are tasked with taking built-in enthusiasm of the crowd and either maintaining or elevating it. Headliners build the audience based on a past relationship. Opening acts build from scratch. It’s flash dating.

Lucius presented themselves impeccably. The whole group was packed in tight. The three men in a semicircle, all wearing what I think were deep blue retro suit jackets. The two women took center and faced one another with platinum blonde hair, matching red dresses, matching lavender hose. Every member had at least one percussion instrument within reach, usually two or three.

Their sound, to me, is a mix of the retro-rock of The Royalty with less crunch and more of the alternative tinge of fun. Every minute they spent on stage was focused on simple goals. Impress strangers. Play tight. Have fun. Believe the music.

When Metric, a band I really like, recently opened for Paramore, another band I really like, they failed as an opening act. I’m certain that as a headliner, Metric ups their game. But opening, they didn’t connect enough of the mentality of the Paramore crowd. Sure, I enjoyed their show, because I knew the songs. But the crowd seemed confused and lost. It’s unlikely Metric blew up their fan base.

Lucius, on the other hand, had people lined up to buy their merch after their concert, and the line re-formed for them after Tegan & Sara’s set ended. They were friendly. They posed for pics. They signed records and CDs. They did everything an opening act has to do.

The group returns to Chattanooga on July 18 for a free concert at Nightfall. Those wise enough to show up at Miller Plaza and lend them an ear will be able to talk, years from now, about how they knew Lucius back when they were still up and coming through the ranks.

Below is their NPR Tiny Desk concert. It offers a stripped-down version of their sound but shows their style, their charm, their sound, and their strength as a unit.

1 comment:

Robert Berman said...

Blondes with bobs from the 50s. Bobs. The word was bobs. Oh. I misread that at first.