Tuesday, June 20, 2006

From The Department of Are You Shitting Me?:
North Beach Festival 2006

Just about every weekend during the sumer in SF, a different neighborhood hosts a street or neighborhood festival. There's the Union St. Fair, the Fillmore St. Jazz Festival, the Haight St. Festival, this weekend's upcoming Gay Pride Festival down in the Castro, etc., etc.

Last weekend was the North Beach Festival, which is held in its namesake neighborhood, which is SF's Little Italy. So Saturday I walked over to North Beach to watch the Italy-USA match and soak in the atmosphere and spectacle of it all, and also meet up with the legendary Chris Smith and enjoy the North Beach festival, the people watching, the music, the beautiful sunny day, and later what turned out to be one hell of a weird double date.

After watching the match at two different packed bars, I met up with Chris Smith and his half of the double date, whom I already know (my half arrived later and was blind, figuratively speaking). So we walked around, took in the scene, and grabbed some lunch at a great Italian cafe. The entire North Beach area was packed and straight-up hoppin'. After lunch it was time to drink, so we tried to dip into 3 different bars to start things off but they were all so busy that we literally could not get served. Then we went to the park, where they had live music, food, beverage, and vendor tents. Same problem. So I had the bright idea of crossing street, getting a sixer in the package store, and brown bagging it in the park, as many others seemed to be doing. Took awhile but we finally acquired some beer.

Washington Square: scene of the crime.

As we are crossing the street from the packy back over to the park, a new band's music is blasting through the air, and the song is a really familar old cheese-rock tune from the 80s. Giddy and giggly, we try to remember who it is. Foreigner? Nope. Heart? Nope. Then Chris Smith nails it: Starship. "Wow", we all comment, "I can't believe a band is covering this lame-ass Starship tune", which turns out to be Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now.

We get back to the park, place our beer bottles in our respective brown bags, and it's on. We comment on how bad this song is, and I think I even mentioned my concept of the International Bad Line. No big deal. The song ends, and the next song played is Sarah. Holy shit - why are they playing another Starship song? We are flabbergasted. I say with genuine amazement to Chris Smith and his ladyfriend:

"Dude, this band is covering Starship."

Chris Smith looks me in the eye, serious as hell, and without hesitating, retorts with:

"Dude, this is Starship!"

No fucking way. I don't live in a universe where the possibility exists that Starship are still being paid to play their music in public, be it by individual concert-goers or public festival organizers. A raging debate ensues. I take several long chugs of my brown bag Amstel Light. Sarah ends, the debate continues, and more beer is consumed. The next song is Tomorrow Doesn't Matter Tonight. I am starting to seriously consider Chris Smith's argument. I walk 10 paces to my right, to get a clear look at the stage unobstructed by some trees and a statue (why there is a statue of Ben Franklin in the middle of Washington Square I'll never know). After watching for about 7.2 seconds, reality hits me like that old video of the cannonball smashing the shirtless fat guy in the stomach: HOLY FUCKING SHIT THIS IS STARSHIP.

At this point it is still funny, and we all come down with a severe case of the sillies. After chugging another beer, the buzz starts to hit me, and I turn to Chris Smith and state aloud the amazing reality that has suddenly beset me:

"Dude, we are standing in the middle of Washington Square, drinking bottles of beer covered in brown paper bags, listening to Starship."

We laugh and realize that this is simultaneously the greatest place to be in the universe at this very moment, as well as the worst.

Then things take a turn for the worse. With the end of each song, the novelty of this funny cheese turns a bit older and passe, and we are now ready and eager to hear the beginning of their sure-to-be finale song "We Built This City" beause we know that the end will then only be 5 minutes away. Timid hope turns to bitter desperation as three more songs are played. It is ironic and funny that we actually want them to play the song voted by Blender magazine as "the worst song of all time", not because we want to hear it, but because this stopped being funny or amusing 15 minutes and 3 songs ago and we couldn't be more ready for this horrible audio experience to come to an end as soon as possible. What the fuck? Were Kenny Loggins and Dan Folelberg not available? What retard thought it would be a good idea to have Starship play even one song, let alone the now six that we have suffered through? People literally start heading for the exits of the park.

"Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now":
Isn't there anything we can do to make you stop now?

The one part that is trying so desperately to hold onto being funny is this: although most of his bandmates have the resigned look of way past it gravy trainers who know in their hearts that they are making minstrels of themselves for an easy buck, the guitar player is just the opposite. Dude is so into it that you can just see in his body languange that he really thinks that they, Starship, are still a badass band that is rocking the faces off of the drunken revelers below. It is amusing and pitifully sad all at once. We either need way more beer, a substantial amount of hard liquor, or to leave altogether.

We hang on for one more song and then it is just too much to take. At this point we are envious of deaf people, and finally we give up and bolt. Just as we are crossing the street and walking away from the park, we hear "We Built This City" echoing through the air and know that the end will soon be near for the poor bastards who stayed and rode it out.

Then it dawns on me as I look at my watch: It's 5.50 p.m., and the official part of the festival in the park runs until 6. Suddenly I realize the genius of the event organizers: they purposely booked Starship and rolled them out last, knowing that it would send many of the drunken festival revelers home, leaving the North Beach residents a little less bothered by the sum total of drunken disruptiveness caused in their local neighborhood. Genius, that.

So there it is. I have now seen Starship. In concert. The worst song ever. Live.

Aren't you jealous?


Unknown said...

"Dude, this is Starship!"

There are sentences that you don't expect to see. Then, there's that.


Kanu said...


It was surreal, wonderful, and horrendous all at the same time. Wouldn't have been nearly the same experience if we had, say ,read the paper or a flyer and were not blindsided by it.

Welcome by the way, been a fan of your site for many a moon - keep on doing what you're doing man.

Unknown said...

in 2001 or 2002, I had a similar..."Are you shitting me?" experience.

I was at NYU's graduation in a park in NYC. It was cool enough. Best grad ceremony I've been to...which isn't really saying much but this was watchable.

The president of the university was retiring.

So he finishes up by announcing..."I have one more gift to you the students. Today, I've brought back one of our honorary PhD's. He'll be performing a special song for you all called N-Y-U....LADIES AND GENTLEMEN MR. NEIL DIAMOND!

The only thing I said was...HOLY SHIT. THIS. IS. AWESOME.

N-Y-U was to the tune of Coming to America. Ridiculously funny.

And thanks for the kind words on the blog.


Kanu said...

That is pretty epic PWD.

That is certainly International Bad Line stuff there.

Mouthbreather - as always, you leave me feeling like Ted Knight aka Judge Smailes in Caddyshack:

"Top notch, son. Top notch!"

Anonymous said...

The cool thing is they were once Jefferson Airplane, the baddest band on the west coast. Then they morphed into a Candy shell of what they once were. They went from Grace Slick being a baddass mysterious chic to highly medicated and bairly standing.