By Mike Faloon
“Feeling loose on opening night / Steady nerves on opening night”
--The Figgs, "Opening Night"
So it’s Friday morning. My son’s first day of summer vacation. He’s in the next room, lying on the couch while I work.
“All I can do is lie here with my head over the garbage can,” he groans.
He gave up asking to watch TV and now his stomach hurts. Or so he says. He knows that being sick—actually being ill—is usually offset with some tube time. I’ve got “teach him how to fish” on the mind. I tell him The Boy Who Cried Wolf story. Figure there’s a reason the thing’s been around for so long. Not a moment that will make my parenting highlight reel.
In between his contrived coughs and “I’d feel better if I could watch Clone Wars” pleas,I’m trying to recall a highlight from last night’s show, a bit to serve as an intro, but the music was too mellow for that kind of thinking. It’s like looking back on an afternoon of watching a stream flow by and trying to recall a single moment, a specific drop of water.
Two days ago I came upon a near disaster when driving home, just after picking up the kids. I was about to cross the train tracks near our house when the car approaching me began to screech. It was a cherry red Celica and it sounded like the driver was slamming on the brakes. The front tires were smoking, but the car kept moving forward. The front wheel was almost at a right angle to the body of the car, a weird, unnatural angle, an automotive compound fracture.
When the car finally stopped two dudes, twenty-five-ish, stepped out. They were bewildered. I pulled up and explained what I’d seen. That’s when I noticed Celica’s broken axle resting on the ground. It must have snapped as he was driving along and the car ground to a halt.
A jeep pulled up behind the broken Celica. The driver was older, salt and pepper beard. He was frantic and rightfully so. The Celica had stopped on the train tracks, the back bumper directly above the closest rail.
Jeep dialed 911. “There’s a 4:50 out of Patterson that’ll be coming right over these tracks,” he announced. My car’s clock read 4:46.
Last night was opening night for a new weekly series at Quinn’s. “Extreme Thursdays.” Any other time and place I’d dismiss such a thing as a wannabe marking exec’s stab at a metal or punk night. Probably sponsored by a hybrid sports drink/hot sauce start up.
But it’s Quinn’s. I’ve seen so many remarkable shows there in the past months. My hopes for the series are high. Maybe these Thursday shows will be jazz, maybe not. When I teach or parent or write I’m trying to keep things compelling but structured, under control, ordered. That’s why I go to shows like these—the chance to see and hear something out there, less structured, disordered.
I missed the first six months of the Monday night jazz series. I still hear about the shows that I missed. But this time I’m here on day one, opening night.
Chris Gethard, comedian – These aren't opening nights per se, but every single time I perform stand up for the first time at a new venue I get so nervous that I poop pretty much until the exact moment the host calls my name.
I pulled ahead and parked on the side of the road. “No, daddy, you’ll get hit by the train,” my daughter said. She’s prone to panicking, unnecessary worrying and fretting, but this time she had a point. Her way of saying be careful.
By the time I returned to the scene two other guys had arrived. They’d formed a quartet with the Celica dudes and managed to push the car ahead a couple of feet. The car was almost clear but wouldn’t roll any further given the angle of the wheel. Jeep kept talking to 911. “The train will certainly hit the car. We can’t move it. You must stop the train!” he pleaded.
The car wouldn’t move and the train couldn’t stop. The situation was saturated with chaos, but there was order, too. Each individual exerted a small bit of control in a situation that had the potential to tidal wave us, toss us aside like corks.
Charlie Rauh opens the show. Solo guitar, all instrumentals. Very quiet. Very earnest. Very much the antithesis of extreme. And that’s fine. I’m at a table with friends. Before and between songs we trade movie recommendations, talk about Gary Oldman’s turn at playing celebrity nut job. Rauh’s delicate tunes take me back through the day, walking west on Main Street, squinting in the setting sun as I cross Fishkill Avenue. All those months of battling the cold and ice and snow, and now this, easing through days of seventy something perfection. It feels gluttonous.
The second song is even mellower, slower. The fake Christmas tree on stage, the one with the undulating lights, needs to be recalibrated. It’s way ahead of the tempo implied by Rauh’s ever so fragile sound.
My sense of ambient music is that it’s about reigning in the disorder, pulling all elements under control, clear the way for the calm. Ambient music doesn’t speak to me but still I wonder what Rauh hears, what are his intentions? His music reminds me of driving home, late on a summer night, windows down, music off, totally spaced out and totally tuned in. It’s peaceful but solitary. I don’t know how I could bring people into such an experience.
Hallie Bulleit, dancer – I don’t think I have any rituals for opening nights. I normally find my rituals later into the run of a show. Then I get increasingly superstitious and habit-driven as time goes by.
John Ross Bowie, actor – “I have had very few opening nights. My ritual when I do Big Bang (Theory) is I have a Diet Coke and listen to Devo so as to get into my ‘angry nerd’ head. That helps.”
My idea was to jack up the car and push it forward another inch or three. Then repeat the process until the Celica cleared the tracks. The others agreed. Then a pick up pulled up, window already down. “What the hell’s the problem?” the driver yelled, “You’ve got to move that car!” We explained our plan. Pick Up ignored it. He turned over his shoulder and yelled at the car behind him. “Move it! Back up! Back up!” The window to his cab was closed. Pick Up yelled louder. The car moved.
Meanwhile Jeep was still talking to 911, the Celica’s driver and his buddy were mumbling to themselves in disbelief, my kids were waiting up the road, and somewhere a train was rolling our way. Yet the pieces fit together, formed a functional whole, didn’t feel out of control. I’m not sure how much of that perception is hindsight and how much is denial.
Pick Up backed up, lurched forward, and forced the Celica off the tracks. I expected him to roll down his window, verify that all was right, at least accept some gratitude. Not in his skill set. He gunned it and took off.
That’s when I saw the train coming around the bend. The gates dropped. We all stood back. The train rolled past and the Celica sat unscathed. Disaster averted. I felt like I was on set for a Buster Keaton movie.
Jasmine Dreame Wagner is up next. Solo keyboard and vocal. Very quiet. Very earnest. Very much in the vein of Charlie Rauh, but her music strikes me differently. With quiet instrumentals my thinking is fluid, my mind can drift. Once lyrics step into the spotlight, once there’s language to consider, my field of view narrows, becomes binary. I’m more likely to think there’s something to get, to comprehend. Wagner’s talent and tone match Rauh’s but there’s something I can’t peg, something that anchors my thinking, prevents it from floating. Maybe it’s the keyboard sound, which reminds me of Supertramp’s Breakfast in America, which I find inexplicably depressing.
Chris Gethard – Mostly at these clubs it's like, "I hope I bring it, this could turn into a relationship where I get consistent work." Being a comedian is odd because if a club likes me, they might put me up for like 6-10 paying gigs a month. So every time you get that first shot at one, you're basically auditioning for a part time job. And then there's also that dialogue of like "I wonder how drunk the crowds get here, I'm new to this place." I also tend to have some anxiety because I don't have a background as a club comedian, I come from the alt world. So I guess for me going into comedy clubs sometimes feels like I'm an emo guy going up at a hard rock club. Like they're not used to me. Club comedians are a little harder hitting and aggressive than I like to be. So I guess the analogy would be that I sometimes feel like Elliott Smith playing at the Viper Room, and I'm just shitting and praying that it goes well and I can get them on my side.
I wonder to what extent Rauh and Wagner are feeling that Smith/Viper Room analogy? They must see the irony in bringing their soothing sounds to the opening night of Extreme Thursdays, such a different take on the restraint/release divide, what to keep in and what to let out.
My son flies into the room with some Lego construction. His stomachache is gone and he’s frantically telling me the backstory for his latest construction, something about Batman flying a surfboard into Gryffindor. His unbridled enthusiasm seems streaked with mayhem, juvenile madness, but that narrative coursing through his mind provides reassurance and propels him through the day.
 Bowie portrays Barry Kripke on Big Bang Theory.