The 14,000 pinkskins who flirted with heatstroke for 6½ sizzling hours on Saturday will have something to look back and smile about come February. Schons Great Northern Picnic was both the most professionally conducted outdoor concert I've ever attended, and a deliriously enjoyable day in the sun.
The weather proved exquisite for people-watching and picnicking; hot but not beastly, with regular cool breezes mopping damp brows. Skin damage notwithstanding, sitting on the Parade Stadium lawn or bleachers seemed a healthier summer pastime than being pressure-cooked at home, work, or Metrodome.
The Picnic served as a test case for similar outdoor events and Schon Productions deserves high marks. Demonstrating a patient willingness to lend an ear to uptight Parade neighborhood whiners (who hate noisy rock concerts but dont seem to mind noisy football games or Aquaternnial drum and bugle corps). the promoter bent over backwards barricading the stadium and devising a perplexing parking system as complicated as the Normandy invasion plans (since my friends lacked a dash board compass, we opted for a cab ride over and the driver still had to slalom some roadblocks just to drop us at the side of the highway).
All the battlements proved unnecessary since the crowd was universally well-behaved. We arrived around 12:30, as Sussman Lawrence waved good bye to early arrivals, and immediately took to the high bleachers to get as far away from Duran Duran as possible. Their glitzy masquerade as dance rockers only holds up occasionally on record (and hardly ever on their new Rio LP) and isn't tailored for coliseums. Despite singer Simon Le Bon's royal commandment “you have youth . ..you have strength. dance!" few complied.
The Greg Kihn Band was the dark horse on the roster with only slight name recognition, gained from the fluke pop hit, “The Break Up Song." Kihn won audience approval with a pleasing set of journeyman rock - unoriginal but delivered with rare muscle and sincerity. With a crack band behind him, Kihn offered recent career highlights (“The Break Up Song," “Happy May," "Nobody Hurts Me Like I Do,") as well as Laudable covers of "Around and Around," “Beast of Burden," and “Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher" While a few lamented the routine, near-boogie Kihn construction, most gave it a thumbs up.
The breakthrough of the day was Elvis. Mr. Costello outdoors initial ly seemed a proposition fraught with pitfalls. Even his admirers don't boast of his live shows since past performances (excepting a reportedly fiery Longhorn gig) at the State Theater and Civic Center Theater were sloppy and made worse by Costello's almost bitterly aloof attitude. At Northrop, a bloated, overweight Costello employed many soft cocktail motifs more suited for a lounge than a football stadium. Now he's being compared to Cole Porter or Nelson Riddle since his amazing Imperial Bedroom (certainly not the convoluted hodgepodge some suggest) is fueled by meticulous orchestrations. But if Costello has matured like fine wine, the Paraders were sipping Jack Daniels and demanding something extreme.
Would the great outdoors diffuse Costello's dense concoctions to stumbling tangents? Would his refusaL to humor the groundlings with tiresome, are-you-having-a good-time platitudes raise tail feathers? As a rail-thin, sickly pale Costello strode across the boards (wearing a fixed stare and wardrobe of black, daring the sun's rays to bake him) there were more than a few crossed fingers and bobbing Adam's apples.
What followed was an adroit translation of Costello's most intricate compositions from Bedroom, with a funky edge proving to be the bridge.. "Pidgin English," "Shabby Doll," and even "And In Every Home," with its crusty, "oh heaven preserve us," refrain made the grade; Steve Nieve masterfully simulated a string section on his keyboards for the latter.
While Nieve is Elvis' most gifted cohort, bassist Bruce Thomas and drummer Pete Thomas were on the money. What's missing is competent backup harmonies; either the Attractions can't sing or Elvis won't let them. His own constricted, nasal delivery was almost enough though, almost all of the time; a wheezing "Watch Your Step." from Trust had Costello nearly choking.
The band's revved-up, passionate delivery betrayed Costello's delight at commanding so large a crowd. He obviously wanted to upstage Blondie and he wrote them off with a snide, accurate understatement: "We might not be as
pretty as Blondie but we can compensate."
The tune-crammed 70-minute set included crowd pleasers like "Alison," and "Watching the Detectives" as well as killer covers of Smokey Robinson's "Head to Toe." and the O Jays "Backstabbers." which, after some hairpin keyboard turns, segued into "King Horse," and "Temptation," both from Get Happy!
Because the dementedly prolific Costello has written more songs than most people can hum, it was amusing to hear him sarcastically ask for requests. Yet his six-song encore covered all bases. It included Hank Williams' "Why Don't You Love Me Like You Used to Do?" (one of the two sterling tracks from his stillborn country salute Almost Blue), "What's So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding?" "Shipbuilding," a new number not yet recorded, and two classics from This Years Model: "Radio Radio" (ironic since KQ hacks emceed the concert) and "Pump It Up." Stunned adoration might describe the response. Fourteen thousand Elvis fans can't be wrong.
Post-spectacle weariness numbed the wrung-out audience before Blondie even appeared. In a sense, they never had a chance but they certainly didn't deserve one. Not a touring band by choice, Blondie's slick, polyunsaturated approach is better served by lip-synching sessions on Solid Gold or American Bandstand.
Live, Blondie gave horrendous evidence that the cynics sometimes know best: hardly eclectics, the band simply indulges in wanton bandwagon jumping while always keeping a vulture's eye on upcoming trends. While many bands integrate influences, Blondie has a perverse midas touch for transforming disco, reggae. power pop (whatever) into gold while tarnishing themselves at the same time. A deep seated phoniness permeated their set, from the perfunctory horn section that methodically tooted on cue to the garish, sweeping finales that would have made Liberace blush.
Debbie Harry has always been a fetching, peroxide femme fatale if photographed from the neck up and gagged; let her open her mouth and the vacuous pseudo-hip truth seeps out. The stuttering rap crap in “Rapture," and the dim comments (“my mascara's melting") were sorry examples. Dressed in an unflattering leopard-skin bodysuit, Harry danced laughably while Jimmy Destri and Chris Stein looked up and down sheepishly Clem Burke's pulverizing drumming, once an asset, now appears showy and pointless alongside Blondie's newer material (which smells slightly like the Black music it emulates but still comes off as thickly-perfumed vampiric piracy).
An arsenal of hits couldn't salvage things since "Heart of Glass." "Island of lost Souls," “Tide Is Highs" and “Dreaming, resembled sing-songy pablum. Two Cuts from the marvelous Parallel Lines album, "Hanging On the Telephone." and “One Way or Another were so slothful that each tune died on arrival Their encore cover of the Stones’ "Start Me Up," chugged along aimlessly.
During "Call Me", a bona-fide dancefloor trophy winner. The band finally caught fire but many spectators were leaving or snoozing by then While often compared to store window mannequins, blandly naked unless draped in the fleeting fashions of the moment. Blondie was bald and grotesquely underdressed Saturday.
Schon deserves kudos for getting a long list of unusually up-to-date talent on and off stage quickly and without foul-ups. The performers selected were a major departure from the customary cowpoke corral of Charlie Daniels or the
Allman half Brothers, and though the company may have lost some money on the affair. they've definitely gained some prestige.