Over the years I’ve seen hundreds of shows – The Roots on the “Phrenology” tour at the Fillmore (2003), Daft Punk in the dance tent at Coachella (2006), the Beastie Boys secret show at Stubb’s at SXSW (2006), Vampire Weekend at Amoeba Records the day their first album came out (2008), Macklemore climbing the rafters at Antone’s (2013), Sarah McLachlan and the Dixie Chicks at the Lilith Fair at Pine Knob (1999) (these are not meant as brags*, but more attempts to justify my hearing loss).
Through all these, there is one show in particular that’s stuck with me.
It was 1996 and my best friend Erica convinced her mom to let us go by ourselves to our, or at least my, first real concert.
Up to this point (and probably past this point), whenever someone asked me what kind of music I was into, I would try to change the subject. Kids at our middle school listened to one of two radio stations – the “alternative” station that primarily played Metallica and Red Hot Chili Peppers (and which, if you turn to it right now, I swear will be playing Metallica or Red Hot Chili Peppers) or the hip-hop station, which primarily played Freak Nasty’s “Da’ Dip.”
I didn’t feel comfortable pledging allegiance to either of these, but Erica was all about the hip-hop station. We’d listen late at night and call and make dedications to boyfriends we didn’t have and people who didn’t exist. We’d listen in the morning and try to win tickets to shows though we weren’t old enough to claim them. When the station announced their first “Power Jam” concert, Erica decided we had to go.
Her older brother drove us to the ballpark, Cohen Stadium, a venue whose aroma and signage reminded you that Tuesdays were 25-cent hot dog nights. The stage was set up on the baseball field, and throngs of people surrounded it, all packed in to see the headliners – Keith Sweat and Ginuwine.
When Ginuwine took the stage, he was dressed head to toe in a shiny lime green suit. He was about to release “Ginuwine…the Bachelor” and as he sang women let out shrieks. The smooth voice, the more than suggestive dance moves. The women in the crowd pulled him off the stage, into their muddled mass, and took his lime green top off, so that he re-emerged shirtless and had to fight to pull his jacket back from the groping ladies. They did not want to let go.
I thought to myself, these are grown women. And, Is this what goes on at concerts? As a 12-year-old seeing her first show, the scene was rather disconcerting, both the engineering of this sexualized performance and the reactions of these crazed women. (It’s led to some confusing feelings whenever I hear the song “Pony” – on one hand I’m transported back to this weird childhood baseball stadium experience, but on the other hand, it’s a pretty undeniably hot song.)
When it was announced that Ginuwine would be part of this year’s Fun Fun Fun Fest lineup, some perversely nostalgic part of me thought, well, I have to see that.
Dressed in all white, with a belt seemingly designed to draw attention to his crotch, Ginuwine’s set essentially functioned like a DJ’d dance party. There were curated drops of other people’s songs (DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win,” House Of Pain’s “Jump Around”), continuous blares of an air horn sound, and after thanking God, the crowd, and Michael Jackson (in that order), there was the requisite MJ tribute. There wasn’t much of an emphasis on Ginuwine’s own music – save for some reminders of his signature lyrics ("Is there any more room for me / in those jeans").
While 18 years ago, he’d had to pry his jacket back from ladies, shedding his shirt’s now a solid part of the act – he teases the crowd that it’s going to happen, it’s mentioned that he’s been working out, and one of his backing singers eventually rips Ginuwine’s white t-shirt and tosses it away. (I wonder how many rip-able shirts he takes on tour with him?)
It took many years after middle school to realize that my little indie heart beat hardest for bands that would have never been played by the “alternative” station or the hip-hop station. But, that first show definitely opened up an odd new world.
On Friday, when Ginuwine went into some suggestive one-legged push ups I did take a look around the crowd – to verify that this was happening, and to guess if it was anybody’s first concert.