The modern concert-going experience sucks.
It is true I am older (49); that I have some health issues that preclude a perfect time every time (diabetes, a right foot wracked by mending nerves); and that I have a low threshold for drunkenness or rudeness.
The anticipation to see live music still exists, as does the financial sacrifice to pay for tickets. But even after the pre-show outfit changes and the pre-gaming of iTunes playlists of the group we’re soon to see, we make a heroic effort to get to the neighborhood venue nearly two hours away in Columbus, find a parking spot on a house-crowded side street and schlep around to the club.
I have taken two Aleve just before the road trip to quell the inflamed and pulsating nerves in my foot, opting away from the prescribed Lyrica because I do not want to end up laid out on the floor talking aimlessly about 1970s soul music, my dead mother’s prowess at playing gospel piano or why the pretty colors in the room are spinning and blurring together like an Expressionist painting.
It is a college sports bar/nightclub with a rowdy patio out front filled with early summer college-aged drinkers who look, as a New York magazine writer once wrote of a similar geography, like “zombie frat boys and spaghetti-strapped vomitters.”
A small performance space is in a separate room for those who want to sit in the bar and watch the NBA playoffs, drink and eat bar food and listen to the jukebox, which was blaring a Prince song by the time I’d had enough three hours later but only one-third of the way through the show.
Show starts at 8?
Especially not for groups even slightly associated with Hip Hop, and we were there to see The Foreign Exchange, a group that started off as traceable to and from Hip Hop from its earliest incarnations and introduction on OkayPlayer.com but which has magically morphed into a very soulful group whose latest album has underpinnings of House and Dance music. This, to the chagrin of many of the barrel-chested black men around us in the crowd — their strangely misshapen white girlfriends beside them — who appeared bewildered that Phonte, the lead (now) singer/rapper on hiatus from his first group, Little Brother, was not rapping at all.
When “Connected,” Foreign Exchange’s first album — created solely by Phonte and Nicolay, the Netherlands-born multi-instrumentalist/producer trading tracks, lyrics and beats via OkayPlayer — dropped in 2004 it was a treasure and heard around here only by thirsty heads who were up on such underground monumental events.
Here was a black Southern rapper rapping about subjects like being a man, rocking shows, paying his rent and falling in love all to music that sounded like mid-’70s Stevie on Bubblegum weed from the Global Chillage head shop in Amsterdam.
That 2004 show they played at the old Rhythm and Blues Cafe on Main Street was also slated for 8 p.m. but didn’t start until close to midnight.
I had much younger feet then.
Their subsequent albums have held to a strung-along narrative of what it’s like being a black man trying to make a living off something Phonte loves and who also happens to love the melodies of James Taylor and the pulsating backbeat of the late great house producer Frankie Knuckles.
For what other reasons are we attracted to the art we are drawn to but that we see some of ourselves reflected back? Phonte is a chubby, funny, profane, tattooed nerd who can turn a phrase so poetically he should hold a clinic for some of his rap brethren.
So I can relate.
But the overriding reason we were in Columbus on a school night shoulder-to-shoulder with more than 300 other people in a room less than half the size of the floor space of Bogart’s is that this is the music my partner and I first danced to as strangers at a barren Selecta’s Choice session when they were at Main Event.
That March night three years ago, everyone was gone except DJ Pillo, me and her, and I didn’t know her and she did not know me. But I asked and she said yes, and it was all innocent and goofy as we two-stepped through a suite of Foreign Exchange music Pillo played, and with each cut I heard my self shouting with glee because I wasn’t in the privacy of my apartment having a moment; I was having a heady, sweaty moment in a dive bar in downtown Cincinnati at 3 a.m. with a woman I knew I’d never see again.
Until precisely one year later when I walked into yet another Selecta’s Choice party, this time at Northside Tavern.
There sat this beautiful woman at a table with awkward-looking white people. I finagled an introduction from Julie Bassett.
The woman who’s now in the bathroom dealing with the ramifications of her cheese addiction reminded me we’d met a year before.
Immediately “Don’t Wait” played in my head. (“When someone loves you back/don’t get in the way/don’t hold it back/don’t wait.”)
This is why we stood for two hours in Columbus, my dashiki soaked through with sweat, my right foot numb but on fire with lightening strikes of frayed nerves, cell phone flashes irritatingly popping off around us until — finally — they took the stage.
I couldn’t get it up like I used to.
I couldn’t yelp, scream, whoop, jump up and down with anticipation they’d play “our song.”
I couldn’t do my little crowd dance.
I hadn’t eaten properly before we set out. The heat, the sweating, the dehydration; I began to swoon. They were a handful of songs into the set when I turned to my partner and said I needed to get to the outside bar.
We sat there, ate pizza.
I apologized for my age.
But on the sidewalk we heard “Don’t Wait.” We turned to one another and danced a little.
CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]