I respect the hell out of whoever books the concert series at the Arizona State Fair. Though I'm sure the something-for-everyone policy that steers the decision-making process must be a pain and likely leads to grumbling from nearly everyone, you'd have to be a seriously joyless indie snob not to find something in the lineup to enjoy.
Still, no matter what combination of country acts, alt-rock bands of the '90s, and awkwardly aging former child stars the State Fair rounds up in any given year, the can't-miss night I vote for Most Likely To Suffer a Roof Collapse is the Old School Jam.
While the tides of popular music have left the genre of freestyle behind, for one night, it's like 1984 at the roller rink again. Production values, live musicianship, and the trappings of modern concert-going are put aside for bursts of memories of radio singles gone by, now consigned to the Art Laboe program or the deep cuts on Mega 104.3.
True, you might not recognize the names (Stevie B, Lisa Lisa, Debbie Deb, Shannon, and Trinere) without their signature songs affixed to them. True, the backing music could very well come from a Walkman plugged into the P.A. True, the Fair could replace nearly any of the acts with a relatively skilled impersonator without most people noticing.
But when Debbie Deb kicks into 1986's "Lookout Weekend," hundreds of old-school fans in attendance will lose their minds. You may be the sort to have sent a tweet out a few weeks ago to tell your friends that the Bon Iver concert was the best show you've ever seen, but some sad-sack log cabin beardo with a guitar isn't about to match up to Stevie B, the King of Freestyle.
Stevie's got a sad song, too — it's called "Because I Love You (The Postman Song)". He got your letter from the postman the other day and his heart's an open door because he loves you. It's emotionally moving, but then the song's over and he heads back into a track like "Party Your Body." There's no time to get all weepy over lost love. There's dancing to be done.
These artists have only a few hits apiece (and in my mind, the two hits of Ms. Deb blur together into one song called "When I Hear Music on the Weekend . . . Lookout!"), but they're great songs, perfect dance hits encased in nostalgia's amber.
Last I heard, Debbie Deb was day-jobbing as a hairdresser, so you know she and the night's other performers are going to respect their fans instead of running quickly through (or even ignoring) the songs people paid to hear.
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For the Old School Jammers, they weren't likely screaming at their booking agent when they saw the Arizona State Fair on their tour itinerary. The Fair is a normal way to engage their fans. Debbie Deb sings "I work hard everyday; it's all work and no play / With the boss on my back, he don't give me any slack / I sit down; I daydream of how my weekend's gonna be," and for those who know what she means, hearing those lyrics and one of the hookiest dance beats of the late '80s will take them back to the roller rink, a happier place and time.
The only other thing you could ask for would be fried dessert on a stick. Thankfully, it will be available right outside the arena's doors. Good job, mystery-fair-booker-dude.
Fri., Oct. 30, 8 p.m., 2009