Like a lot of bigger metropolitan areas, Richmond has, for as long as I’ve been here, run (at least) one of those mid-week summer beerfest/concert series in a large suburban office park/mixed use retail “community”. Wednesday evenings from June to October feature a parade of fading nostalgia acts, mid-level live staples, and developing country artists performing on a semi-permanent pavillion stage on a lawn ringed with food and beverage vendors and port-o-pot villages. Gates open around happy hour, and the crowd disperses by around 10pm – exactly the kind of hump day diversion a middle-aged professional needs to break up the workaday monotony and still manage to get to work on Thursday morning without too many lingering aftereffects.
This week boasted an interesting bill – the “80s Invasion” package, featuring hair metal staples LA Guns, FireHouse, and Warrant, each boasting at least 50 percent original membership! So, on a bit of a lark, I picked up some tickets, and drove over after work with my teenage daughter in tow, who was actually rather into it, as she enjoys raiding my aging CD collection more than listening to the music supposedly marketed to her generation.
General admission lawn tickets were cheap, and it provided a bit of a break from the currently rattling house (current status – about 60% showpiece, 40% janky cardboard) from the siding guys doing their thing.
The bands sounded surprisingly good, even if they all looked a little old and paunchy (or in Phil Lewis from LA Guns’ case, rather like a strutting old woman), particularly FireHouse, who may have lost most of the hair, but can still hit the high notes. Warrant, even with a replacement singer after the original one died a few years back, sounded mostly like themselves. Setlists were obviously tilted toward nostalgia, heavy on the early material, with only token nods to “modern” output. They played the hits, and pretty much only the hits, and that’s what the crowd responded to.
Like any good show, crowd watching provided just as much sport as the main event. The assembled throng was an interesting mix; most folks a bit older than me, made up of the usual semi-intoxicated leathery tattooed women who tend to spring, fully formed from these things, as well as the aging metalheads who follow them. Mixed in were the usual dudebros, soccer moms in soccer mom bob haircuts reliving their youth, and a handful of high school girls wearing their mom’s old 1989 club gear. Also, a surprising number of prosthetic limbs.
Then there was the man who would become known as Stripper Thor. A younger, ripped guy with long flowing blond locks way prettier than one might expect, along with his leather miniskirt clad girlfriend, both wearing (in somehwat of a concert faux pas) Warrant t-shirts*. Of course, Thor didn’t leave his shirt on for long, at which point, he was mobbed by the previously mentioned leathery women (and a couple of the guys, too) to pose for pictures often taken by the girlfriend, who took it with good humor, but seemed a little annoyed.
All in all, it was a fun time; I’d never managed to catch any of these bands before (and I’ve seen my share of 80s hair bands over the years), and they all still put on a good show. In spite of occasional internal turmoil and personnel changes, these guys still look like they’re having a blast playing for a crowd, even if they’re playing the same crap they’ve been playing for 20 years. And they can all still really play – there are many complaints about this era/genre of music – shallowness, macho posturing, misogyny, etc;but no one can accuse these guys of not being talented instrumentalists. There was lots of shreddy noodling, but it was really impressive shreddy noodling; the guitar solo may be largely defunct in current popular music, but it was alive and well last night amongst immaculately manicured lawns and interchangeable corporate office blocks of suburbia.
* – Really, has nobody told these people that it’s bad form to wear the shirt of the band you’re seeing to the actual concert? Some people….