For the second time in my life, I bought an album by the opening band. To be more specific, I downloaded Mike Doughty's CD from iTunes after I got home from the Barenaked Ladies show last night. It was an impulse buy with the purest possible motives.
I've always had a soft spot for the opening act. They get to plug into the headliner's PA, but the mix is always just a little rough. There are always a group of well-wishers in the very front row cheering them on while the auditorium fills with people looking for their seats - or the nearest restroom, or both. They make the most out of the space they are given on the stage apron and the wild applause generated by the friends of the band. They've got thirty minutes to play their set while the roadies for the main attraction work out the kinks in the fog machines and lasers backstage.
If they're lucky, the crowd isn't openly hostile to them. For many opening acts, this is a fact of life on the road. The are the obstacle between the fans and the object of their adoration. "If I wanted to see Mike Doughty, I would have paid to see Mike Doughty." Much derisive applause erupts at the suggestion that they're "going to play just one more." I imagine that the self esteem of these burgeoning rock stars must be very durable indeed.
I remember seeing Ellen Foley open for The Electric Light Orchestra back in the early eighties. She was full of punk attitude, and she wasn't connecting with the ELO crowd at all. She was finally booed off the stage after just four songs. Jeff Lynne and company took the stage forty-five minutes later and played to a series of pre-recorded tracks and special effects that included a poor imitation of R2-D2. I was left wondering what the rest of Ellen's set was like.
Back to that impulse buy. I went to see Warren Zevon, God Rest His Soul, in 1991. Opening for him, and eventually joining him on stage, was a Canadian group called The Odds. They seemed to understand their place on the show business food chain better than most, and they played their set with confidence and their tongues firmly in cheek at all times. They knew that the guy in the twenty-second row hadn't paid to hear their new single, he was getting drunk in anticipation of singing "Werewolves of London" at the top of his tone-impaired voice. When they were through, I wanted to hear more, so the next day I went out and bought "Neopolitan." Their amusing power pop from north of the border was probably the reason I sought out Barenaked Ladies. Fifteen years later, I had a very enjoyable evening of music and comedy provided by this group of Canucks. And the bonus? I discovered Mike Doughty. Nice deal, eh?