Friday, May 21, 2010
Better Than: Paying for stuff.
The Friday night kick-off to Heineken's weekend-long Inspire events series was one hell of a party. It was a party-crasher's dream of corporate marketing largesse, despite the fact that people don't generally seem to need a lot of convincing to like Heineken, do they? Never mind trying to divine the reason behind the bonanza.
There was, of course, endless free Heineken for a crowd whose size was capped well within comfort limits, and the requisite screen-printing and video-game playing stations. But the hungry were especially blessed: Along one side of the Moore Building's second floor was a crazy spread of burgers, tacos, macaroni and cheese, french fries, meatballs, and even paella.
Oh yeah, there were supposed to be bands playing too, right? If the usual local corporate event-going freeloader circuit didn't look too preoccupied about that part, the music setup seemed a bit incidental, as well.
The Moore Building is a great space for certain kinds of events, with its balcony-like series of ascending floors. So the most logical place to put a band would at one end of the first floor, the only one with a solid floor all the way across, and good vantage points, right?
Logical, yes, but this escaped the event organizers, who crammed the live stage onto one end of the second floor. The only vantage points close to the band were in a small corner at the end of the french fry table, or on the crammed, hallway-style strip of floor on the opposite side. Actually, it turned out the best visibility was down on the first floor, looking up at the bands through the second floor's glass safety barrier.
The Neptunes' Chad Hugo didn't exactly provide the most appropriate warm-up DJ set for the bands of the evening, either. One particularly incongruous stretch somewhere in the 10 p.m. hour included a block of early-'00s Hot 97-style hip-hop, although finally at one point he threw on a Joy Division track.
All this fell away, though, when the Hold Steady took the small stage around 11:30 p.m., looking ebullient and, surprisingly, relatively sober for an event full of free booze. This is, after all, a band that often sings of drunken regret, but perhaps they decided to be consummate pros when collecting corporate bucks. It was a strange setting, for sure -- the band's ragged-edge narratives beg a more intimate, possibly darker setting, and here they were, playing for event rats amid flashing LED Heineken logos.
No matter, though, as frontman Craig Finn looked ebullient, leading a spoken introduction-free charge into "The Sweet Part of the City," from the band's latest album, Heaven is Whenever. For all the layout challenges of the event, though, the sound was top-notch; engineers manned a spaceship-worthy glowing all-digital board. Through all that, the band's power chords sounded nice and meaty, a buoyant counterpoint to Finn's drink-soggy, bittersweet lyrics. Through songs like "Magazines," "Sequestered in Memphis," and "Hurricane J," Finn proved he's got the Springsteen-ian troubadour thing down pat.
But what of Cold War Kids, originally set to play as a warm-up for the Hold Steady? Well, turns out one of the band's guitarists suffered a mishap during an ad hoc photo shoot before their set, somehow mistaking a lily pad-covered pond in back of the venue for a concrete ledge, and gashing his hand in the process. As he went off to the hospital for treatment, though, the other three guys soldiered on without him.
It was too bad, though, that the whole set was a bit anticlimactic. Most of the crowd, it seemed, assumed they weren't going to play at all, and the venue started to clear almost immediately after Finn and company exited the stage. Still, the California trio soldiered on, getting to a mellow start with "I've Seen Enough." While the set was, technically, fine, its relatively relaxed roll-out would have worked far better before the evening's more-anticipated act.
Personal Bias: I'm somewhat predisposed against most bands bordering on dad-rock, but the Hold Steady rubs me the right way.
Random Detail: This likely marked the first and last time the usual circuit of South Beach celeb/nightlife photogs would ever shoot Craig Finn's sweaty mug.