Sunday, August 05, 2012

Johnny Clegg Rocked Oregon Zoo

I failed in my goal. Back in April, I bought two tickets to see Johnny Clegg at the Oregon Zoo and I thought for sure that I would be able to find a lady by August 4th. In July, when I responded to a personal ad on Craigslist and actually received a response, I was amazed when I learned that she likes Johnny Clegg and wanted to go see his concert. I offered her the other ticket. But that was before our disappointed meeting on Bastille Day when neither of us were attracted to the other. The disappointment meant that I would likely not find a replacement before the date arrived. So, I asked a friend of mine, who is a lesbian, and she seemed excited about going.

Three days later, she sent me an email saying that she had to cancel, giving me only 1 day to find a replacement. Her excuse? The temperature was expected to reach 100 degrees on Saturday. I thought it was a lame excuse. When I asked her on Tuesday, we already knew that the forecast for Saturday was going to be hot. So, for three days when I could have been asking around if anyone wanted to go, she led me to believe that the other ticket would be hers. I was actually not surprised that she flaked out on me, because she had done it twice before. Now that she has flaked three times, I will never ask her if she wants to do anything again. I'm not a fan of flaky people. This is probably why conservative people like me, even though I'm a liberal in my political and spiritual views. Conservative people tend not to like flaky people. Of all people, conservatives like knowing where people stand and being able to rely on someone. That's me. Mr. Reliable. I don't flake on people. If someone asks me if I want to do something, I will either say yes or no. Once I say "yes", I won't back out. It would have to be a serious emergency for me to back out after saying yes, which is why I don't say yes automatically or easily.

I was quite upset about the flake. There were others I could've asked, but it was very difficult to find someone a day before the concert. All of my male friends are married or in relationships, so it was difficult to ask if they wanted to go, leaving their wives or girlfriends home alone. The reason why I asked this lesbian friend if she wanted to go is because she has similar spiritual views as me and we haven't talked in awhile, so it would've been fun to catch up. Also, if I happened to see an interesting lady at the concert, I wouldn't feel like a cad by going up and talking to the lady, leaving behind a date (this actually happened in 2007 when I took a lady to see Taylor Hicks in concert and started talking to some other lady at the concert who was more interesting).

So, I went to the Oregon Zoo by myself, dressed in a dashiki (an African print shirt, similar to the Aloha shirts worn in Hawaii) and my South African flag baseball cap. I gave my extra ticket to a couple that went to the booth to buy tickets. I saved them $28.

I never attended a concert at a Zoo before. It seems kind of strange. Doesn't the loud music bother the animals? The Oregon Zoo has a summer concert series and I've been meaning to go for years. Usually, they book classic acts, such as the B-52s, Chicago, Chris Isaak, and many others who do the summer outdoor amphitheater concerts in cities all over America. This was the first I've seen of Johnny Clegg doing this. In fact, this is my 6th Johnny Clegg concert and the first one where he performed outside.

First up was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which is a good singing group from South Africa, specializing in traditional African songs and acapella singing style. I like some of their stuff, but I don't buy their albums. They did a good job, but I was getting anxious for Johnny Clegg to start. I stood in the back, near the dancing elephant. Yup, that's right. There's an elephant at Oregon Zoo that likes to dance by itself. I'm not sure if its a neurosis due to living in captivity or if its just an elephant that loves to sway to the music in its head, but it is fun to watch. Ladysmith did their set and it was good. They closed with one of my favourite South African songs: "Shosoloza" (which is about the train, and the actual title is meant to convey the sound of the train. It does, actually). Then there was a break while the stage was set up for the next act: Johnny Clegg!

While waiting, a young black man came up to me and asked where in South Africa I was from. He had a South African accent, which was cool. I hated disappointing him, but I said that I wasn't from South Africa, but I had my best vacation there. He said that he thought I was South African because of my hat. I told him that I had bought that hat at the Olympics in Atlanta. I love the South African flag. We talked for a bit and I didn't even notice that Johnny Clegg and come out on stage and started singing "Love in the Time of Gaza." We shortened our conversation and I decided to head down to the area in front of the stage where people were already dancing away. I've never gotten out of my seat at a Johnny Clegg concert, even though my body wanted me to. Most places, the area in front of the stage is not big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to dance or be closer to the stage, so I don't mind the seat. Since this venue didn't offer many seats (I think the higher ticket prices got you a seat, whereas General Admission got you a space on the grass or wherever you can stand), I decided I wanted to be right up front near the stage.

At first, Johnny did his usual explanation of certain songs (the funniest being the story behind his awesome song "Bullets for Bafazana"), but when he was informed that the Zoo had a strict curfew of 10 p.m., he had to cut out the talking and just sing the songs. This was just as well, because I heard too many people talking behind me that I really couldn't hear what he was saying. It was annoying that people were talking. But, this was the largest crowd I'd ever seen for a Johnny Clegg concert. I think most of the venues I've seen him in were 1,000 seats and they weren't sold out concerts. I'm not sure how many people were at this performance, but it was certainly a few thousand people...easily double / triple / quadruple the amount of people I've ever seen at a Johnny Clegg concert.

During his performance, I did see him look directly at me a few times. I was the only one wearing a baseball cap with the South African flag (the entire hat is made up of the South African flag), so that probably caught his eye. I've met him 4 times, so there's good karma in our singer - fan bond. But I knew that there was little chance that he would meet people after the show and I didn't mind. I was there to enjoy his music. He's probably the only singer where I want to see every tour. I was surprised that he was touring North America this year, after last year's tour, but I'm definitely not complaining.

He sang a mix of songs from his many albums. Unfortunately, he has so many to choose from and not enough time to perform most of them, so he selects the ones he does. I wonder what his criteria is for choosing which songs to sing. I know that there are a few that he will always perform: "Scatterlings of Africa" (his signature song) and "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" (which is his last song before encores since it has "bye bye" in the lyrics and he plays it up by waving at the audience). He'll play a song or two that features the concertina (an accordian like instrument), which he did for "Journey's End" and "I Call Your Name."

Though I did not dance like most other people did, I did get into the rhythm of his music and it was fun being up in the front. I even saw a young lady that attracted me (an African American young lady) but she was with a friend and probably way too young for me, so I didn't bother. There was quite a diverse bunch, but Johnny Clegg's fans seem to run more white, college educated than a true diversity as one might expect. He has way more black fans in his native South Africa. Not sure why his music has never caught on with African Americans, but it's probably because he's not a rap or hip-hop or jazz musician.

Johnny mentioned that "Scatterlings of Africa" made his career, when it hit the English charts in 1983. He had been performing as Juluka since the late 1970s, but it wasn't until "Scatterlings of Africa" that he gained international attention. Of course, I was too young then and was not exposed to his music until 1988 when he was big in France that year (my dad had taken me to Paris in the summer of 1988 as a father-son bonding trip. He had taken my brother somewhere else on another trip). At one point in the concert, Johnny asked the audience how many saw his concerts back in the early 1980s. A few people roared their approval. My Johnny Clegg craze began in 1990 when I bought Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World with my graduation money.

He sang three songs from his last album, Human: "Love in the Time of Gaza" (which opened the show), "All I Got Is You", and "Give Me the Wonder." "The World Is Calling" or "Hidden Away Down"? At last year's concert, his story behind "Hidden Away Down" was so funny and it would have been great to see him do that again.

Due to the time constraints, he couldn't do the formal disappearance from the stage after the last song while the audience applauds enthusiastically for him to return for an encore. He merely disappeared to the side of the stage for a brief minute and then returned for his two-set encore ("Asimbonanga" and "Dela"). He said at one point in the concert that there was something about the kickdrum that affected the elephants and that there was a whole host of complications to deal with when you perform at the zoo. When he said that, I wondered about the dancing elephant. A part of me wanted to stay nearby to see how he liked Johnny Clegg's music, but I did not like being so far from the stage, so I wisely moved to be among the dancing crowd, close enough to be seen by Johnny and enjoy some of the schtick.

In the photo above, Johnny is dancing with Mandisa, who is a popular member of his band. When she does her dance, the audience roared its approval. She basically moves her hips hula style. There's a certain seductive quality to it and she and Johnny flirt with one another on stage. Basically, Johnny will dance behind her as they do their step-hop style dance, moving into what looks like a Zombie walk, before high leg kicks. Mandisa will make facial expressions that are easy to read: "What are you doing, Johnny?" kind of playful riff (the kind of facial expression people make when they think someone is being weird).

Before leaving the stage, Johnny thanked us and said "See you sometime next year!" I wondered, is that true? He's planning another tour of America in 2013? Wow, I hope so! I definitely want to see his show again. In fact, if money were no issue, I'd see more than one show on his tour. He was heading to Seattle next, to perform tonight (at a Zoo!).

Last year, when Johnny Clegg performed at the Aladdin theater, I did not bring enough cash on me to buy both a ballcap and a t-shirt. I had to choose one or the other, so I decided to buy the ballcap (black with "Johnny Clegg" and the interesting looking "Human" figure on it). At the zoo, there was a booth where a variety of t-shirts were sold. I took some time trying to decide which design I liked the best. It's hard to choose just one!

So I bought this one that you see above. I like the logo and I wanted a tan one instead of a black t-shirt.

Which reminds me...what is it with Johnny's style these days? Back in the 1980s, he wore the coolest looking clothes. African print pants and shirts. In fact, I've bought some that were similar style as what he was known to wear. He influenced my fashion choices in the 1990s! (Including the wearing of bolo ties with shirts other than button down collar). Now, he seems to wear only black. Black pants and black t-shirt. Not to criticize his choices, but how boring! If I was a rock star, you can bet that I would wear the most unique looking shirts and pants. I'm that way now (I've gotten attention by some of the clothes I've worn over the years), so if I was able to have money to design my own clothes and have them made, I certainly would. I have Aloha shirts, a dashiki, some shirts from India, an Austrian jacket, a Cameroon soccer team shirt, a Tibetan pullover that keeps me warm in winter). Would love to see Johnny dress like his 80s self again!

Perhaps in shirts like this, worn by Ladysmith Black Mambazo!

Anyhow, after the concert was over (just a few minutes after 10 p.m.), I walked back through the zoo to the MAX station. I overheard one guy in front of me (who was wearing a cool-looking South African sports team shirt) tell his friend that he had a few friends he wanted to invite to the concert but figured that his friend would appreciate Johnny Clegg the most. Wow, I was envious. If best friend Nathan was in the country, I would've asked him to go (though we'd probably go to the one in Seattle). Instead, I was alone and had no one to share this great experience with. Story of my life, it seems. It sucks to still be single at 40! But, despite that fact, I did have fun at the concert. Amazing, though, that while the temperature was 100 degrees, once the sun went down and Johnny came out on stage, it was a nice, cool evening. That's what I love about the Northwest. The heat only applies to the daytime. Once the sun goes down, you really do need a jacket.

In my walk through the zoo, you could hear some animals howling. I overheard someone say that the animals were howling for an encore. Even they did not want the show to end. I'm not sure what animal was howling, but I was thinking monkeys, perhaps?

Below is a special treat...a tour of Johnny Clegg's touring bus for last year's Human Tour. I found it on YouTube when I was looking for Johnny Clegg videos. What I found most interesting is that they have made the sleeping quarters on this luxury bus similar to the sleeping quarters on a U.S. Navy ship. Three racks high, with enough for 12 people to sleep on this bus. They could've probably had even more racks, but that wouldn't leave much room for two lounge areas and a bathroom. It would be fun to own a bus like this for the purposes of living...if only an alternative fuel source could be used to make travel by bus affordable and environmentally friendly. I could certainly live on a luxury bus and just travel the USA and Canada that way for a few years.

1 comment:

Trish and Rob MacGregor said...

Flakes are found among liberals and conservatives alike. I've got a long list of names on both sides.