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"It's All a Bunch of Hipsters": The Stray Cats, the Pretenders, and Don Henley @ the Arena

by Matt Neff Photographs by Luke Holwerda

The Stray Cats, The Pretenders, and Don Henley Arena August 8, 2007 Better than: 12,000 years of human thought, art, technology and history

It's All a Bunch of Hipsters A Review in Three Parts In Which the Reviewer Considers the Artistic Merits of Those Three Groups Involved In Addition to the Chutzpah They Put Forth in Displaying It

I. Setzer

Retro-rock is a hackneyed tactic and I generally have better things to do than catatonically ingest the wild gesticulations of aging MTV superstars but then again I figured that old dog Setzer knew how to mangle a Gretsch so I thought, “Hey, why not head down to the Jobing dot-com coliseum and catch a few good-time rockabilly tunes from my main man Brian” and wouldn’t you know it gee golly gosh wow gee, I was right. The man can sling an axe like it’s 1957 all over again. I technically haven’t experienced 1957 because I was but a twinkle in my old pappy’s nutsack at the time but I’ve read it was a very important year because Elvis got drafted (although he hadn’t yet been forced to kiss ass by singing with Sinatra) and Jerry Lee set an innocent piano on fire but skies were still sunny because the Big Bopper was in his prime putting the fear of god into every Mr. and Mrs. Smith who cared for their little Sally’s virginal sanctity and Eisenhower could go golfing whenever he felt it and wait wasn’t that the year Fonzie went water-skiing??? In any case the point is that the Stray Cats rocked the house LAME-ASS RETRO-SHTICK OR NOT and they should be COMMENDED FOR IT.


Slim Jim Phantom was on drums and he took off his clothes as the night wore on but before I could swoon from the sight of bare well-aged MTV superstar flesh my gaze was arrested by bass kingpin “Lee Rocker,” who slapped and whumped away at his upright like he was hallucinating forest fires on his fingertips. Unlike “Lee Rocker” however Brian Setzer seemed of sane and sound mind which gave him unparalleled presence both mentally and cosmo-spiritually in singing such wahoo-yes-yes-yes humdinger-rave-ups as Something Else, Summertime Blues, Be-Bop-A-Lula, Stray Cat Strut and Rock This Town, some of which he actually wrote and ALL of which had the punkettes and greasers in the front row going nuts. Frankly I think it’s dangerous to put that much axle grease into the hair right above your eyes but these kids were either so dumb or coked out so as not to notice, which also kind of made me wonder if they had noticed that Don Henley was on the bill when they bought the expensive tickets that allowed them access to the venue. But like I always say, dumb coked out scene kids aren’t worth worrying oneself over anymore than a poor parakeet’s skinned knee.


II. Hynde

My moderate enjoyment soon turned to bitter gall as I did a double take and realized that the Stray Cats were not the headliners but rather some guy named Don Henley. Oh right, HIM. But first, other aging eighties MTV superstars, this time it was the Pretenders, who certainly impressed me beyond my initial expectations, simply by dint of their wise decision to amplify good and loud. That is to say that my every memory of hearing a Pretenders song involves poppy weak-sauce borderline-adult-contempo played at a middling speed and sometimes with a girl singer rabbiting on about being back on the gangbang or something, and said songs were almost always cruelly spun during five o’clock rush hour traffic, which means you’re in a confined space hungry for your supper with the inescapable Arizona sunlight slanting in through the moon roof and frying your brains when you’d give anything to hear some Black Sabbath or Einsturzende Neubauten or maybe some GG Allin to express your black discontent with humanity in general. But these human golf divots are giving you the Pretenders!!!


But I digress; THESE Pretenders had Telecasters and they was turned right up to ten which made them rock harder than I’d imagined possible, yet they were still lacking something in the rhythm department. They had a shithot guitar player named Adam Seymour (straight outta England) who knew how to curl a twang and a ho-hum drummer who old Chrissy engaged in some real cloying banter (“Is that the best you can play? Come on! How long have we been playing together?”…you old rascal! AWWW THEY LOVE EACH OTHER, and in front of a front whole crowd too!) and darn was I confused when Chrissy said they were happy to be here spreading their message of love—I mean, message? What message? But the Pretenders fan I had brought with me slapped me hard and told me it was a song title. Fair enough. I managed to conduct a short interview with her in order to make good:

Q: What’s it like being a Pretenders fan? Is it like being an insect? A: …it’s exactly like that. Q: Are you shunned? When people find out, do they ostracize you and throw rocks at you? A: …all the time.

She has this funny dry way of talking that I just can’t wrap my mind around, but you know how these Pretenders fans can be. In any case, Chrissy ditched the guitar so she could shake her bod somewhat suggestively, dedicating a song to Akron, Ohio, another to Joe Strummer, and then a third to all the vegetarians in the audience, but not to "the rest of you who condone the senseless slaughter of 61 billion farm animals per year!” Whoa, back off, bitch! You done gone too far. After this comment destroyed the fledgling respect I had for the band, they sang a bunch of really awesome songs that were neat and fun to hear, but which were nothing compared to what awaited us next.


III. Henley

Having hated Don Henley for as long as I can remember, and burning with a firm conviction that his music is lame, boring, and reeking of soulless corporate 80s studio excess, I nevertheless wanted to at least give the guy a chance, because a) maybe I was being too arrogant and b) I thought maybe he'd pull something out of his sleeve live that would challenge me to reconsider. Well, don’t rule out item number one, but abandon all hope ye who enter B. By the first song, Henley & Co. displayed their basic formula of unimaginative mid-tempo drums, vanilla synth layering, and their tendency to trade wildly unnecessary solos in a self-congratulatory manner. With that husky sensitive voice rooted in the center of their miasmal synth hell, the band mostly stood still and played the songs exactly as they sound on the records. The crowd went positively bonkers, of course.


This raised a few pertinent questions in my mind, namely: what exactly is the POINT of seeing music live if the performer does nothing to give his best semblance of IN-PERSON ENERGY and CHARISMA that can’t be had from the records? If the players never work themselves up into any kind of sweat, never create a real interplay or jam, if they take turns trading solos under the same plodding pace of the rhythm section, it creates no friction, which means no sparks, and no tension, which means no release. It reduces the live music experience into novelty, nostalgia, rote STAR-WORSHIP, and glassy-eyed passivity as highway robbers solemnly charge you fifty to five hundred dollars for what amounts to a spectacle set to your favorite music—laserbeams and smoke rings will look good to anyone at $6.95 a minute. I know I’m a huge grouch, and I’m more than a little prejudiced against poor old Don, but when I see a band live I generally want to see some violence, both in the music and in the spectacle of them playing it, and I don’t mean a mosh pit. Shows like Henley's bring to mind the phrase EASILY AMUSED.

…....So I guess what I’m really trying to say is that I’m just mad I didn’t win the raffle for the Pontiac parked so prominently on the arena floor. I know it’s unprofessional to cry but..…to what end, life?

Personal Bias: None whatsoever!!!

Random Detail: A friend returning from the restroom reported that a grumpy old man was heard to remark during the Stray Cats that “It’s all a bunch of hipsters!” In a heartbeat I leapt up to hack and gouge my way through the frothing mass of suburbanites, secretaries and businessmen that make up Don Henley’s fanbase to reach this mysterious stranger’s general vicinity, where I planned to vigorously shake his hand. However, as I emerged gasping from the bloody fray the only thing to greet me was an empty hallway and a solitary ace of diamonds wedged carefully in the wainscoting. A calling card? Godspeed you magnificient crank, whoever you are.

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Matthew Neff