On Saturday night I attended A Beatles Celebration at the Hollywood Bowl, and while this isn't a review of the performance but rather of the attendees, I would be remiss not to say a word or two about the show itself.
Todd Rundgren was the big name associated with these three nights at the Bowl, but by far the night belonged to Betty LaVette and Rob Laufer. Not to belittle he who was once referred to as "Todd is God," but even God would have to rehearse a significant amount were he to spend three nights at the Bowl with the LA Philharmonic for close to 70,000 people. Todd was very enthusiastic and when he sang softly that sweet old voice was still there, but overall his performance was sloppy. He can shred on the guitar with the best of them, and he did, I just wish he'd taken more time to work out some licks.
On the other extreme, Rob Laufer's vocals and masterful guitar work was the first time in the show that the Beatles' presence was truly felt on stage. In his loving performances of "Something" and "Across the Universe," it was as if he were channeling all four lads at the same time. Todd brought Rob back during his set and the two guitar virtuosos laid "Let it Be" out for the brilliance that it is. There wasn't a dry seat in the house.
The amazing blues singer Betty LaVette gave us awe-inspiring interpretations of "Blackbird" and "Here, There, & Everywhere" to the point where, except for the lyrics, the songs were literally unrecognizable as Beatles tunes. LaVette was the only performer without a strong Beatles influence in her life and career (in her intro to "Here, There, & Everywhere" she said the first time she'd heard the song, Frank Sinatra was singing it!) Even so, on her lips "Come Together" should become a blues standard. There's no doubt that her astonishingly visceral rendition of that enigmatic song could have brought John and Paul to tears.
The entire show was backed wonderfully by the LA Phil and conductor Thomas Wilkins who was also an appropriate emcee. So it would have been a perfect evening of music and memories had it not been for the unbelievably rude and unconscious people in my immediate area.
I've attended over one hundred concerts at the Hollywood Bowl in all musical genres, and I've come to understand that there are generally three types of shows and three types of audiences at this one-of-a kind Los Angeles landmark.
The first concert/audience type is the classical. The music is Mozart, Vivaldi, Chopin, etc. and the patrons bring their wine and bread and cheese and sip and munch before the concert starts. Once the conductor strides out onto the stage, they put their picnics at their feet and, if they continue to partake, they do so quietly out of respect for both the music and their fellow concert-goers. I love these people.
Second are the rock/pop shows. Just like any concert at any venue, this audience drinks too much, makes incessant noise, sings with all the songs, and generally are out to have a good time. The music is usually very loud so you barely notice them. Everyone behaves as they're expected to. I love the freedom of these shows so unless someone is literally throwing up in the row behind me, it's anything goes.
Third are the in-betweens. "In-between" both in the nature of the concert and the people who attend them. The concerts are always "special" shows like A Beatles Celebration, where you get quiet ballads and heartfelt jazz in addition to loud rock, while in the audience you get the classical and the rock/pop audiences who know how to behave based on the particular song being performed. But there's a third element. This third element is the people who probably have never been to the Bowl before and, maybe because of the bench seats or the beer, behave as if they're at Dodger Stadium.
So during the first half of the show Saturday night, which was mostly quiet jazz and heartfelt ballads by Patti Austin, Rob Laufer, and Brian Stokes Mitchell, I had the couple to my immediate left across the aisle who just had to finish off an entire large bag of Tostitos before intermission and did so during every song, crunching and rustling the bag with every note.
Then I had the two young women behind me who couldn't shut themselves up long enough to listen to one song all the way through. I always wonder about these sorts. What they could possibly have to say to each other that's so important that they miss the reason they're there in the first place?
But those who took the cake that night were the drunken family who not only talked and took pictures of each other during every song, but insisted on loudly mis-singing the lyrics completely off-key when no one else was. They were across the aisle and two rows up from me, and that's what really got me about this particular group. They were surrounded by people who weren't with them and as far as I could tell, not one person in close proximity to these idiots told them to STFU, behave themselves, and watch the show. An usher spoke to the group at one point, but it did no good. As soon as she went back to her post they started up again. What's necessary in these situations is for the people sitting with the disturbers to teach them how to behave. But that never seems to happen. Not in LA, anyway.
The Hollywood Bowl is a fantastic venue. I have wonderfully fond memories there and will treasure them forever, but from now on it's loud rock or strictly classical. No more in-betweens for me.