Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Smokie rocked at Grand West. Pity about the security guards, though

I haven’t been to a concert since I went to see Sting at the Bellville Velodrome about seven years ago (and he was awesome!). The sad truth is, we just get too old for these things: fighting your way through crowds, standing for several hours, and driving home afterwards in the dark when your eyesight isn’t all it used to be.

But when my friend A called to see if I wanted to go to Grand West to see Smokie with her, I said yes yes YES! I may even have screamed a little.

My taste in music, it is widely agreed by practically everyone who knows me, is execrable – and Smokie is way up there in my all-time greats, along with Abba, Neil Diamond, Bob Seger and the like.

As the big night drew nearer, I became so excited I actually had trouble sleeping. And by the time it arrived – it was last Friday – I was practically sick with excitement.

A and I got to Grand West early and within 10 minutes I was fabulously disoriented. I live in a very small village and hardly ever go to the city, so Grand West’s garishly loud, surreal interior décor was a massive culture shock for me. We had a few bites of sushi and a couple of glasses of red wine (and I almost fainted when they brought the bill), then A dashed off to the casino for a quick flutter, me hot on her heels (I was genuinely afraid of losing her – I had visions of myself forever wandering this giant indoor adult playground, never able to find an exit). A is a good gambler; I am utterly useless and lost a lot of money on the roulette table in a very short time. But no matter! There were better things to come.

Finally, it was time to find our seats, and A (who booked for us) had done us proud – we were on the side, two rows from the front, with a fabulous view of the stage. By now I was speechless with anticipation, so you can imagine my disappointment when the support act came on: Kobus Muller, the 22-year-old winner of SABC2’s ‘Supersterre’ competition.

What were the organisers thinking? I don’t doubt Kobus’s talent for a second, but talk about inappropriate! Smokie’s fan base is largely older (35+) ex-glam-rockers, into loud bass, louder drums and frenzied lead singing. Kobus, bless him, sang some Afrikaans liedjies and for a highlight did a cover of Josh Groban’s ‘You Raise Me Up’.

Anyway, thankfully he didn’t stay too long, and soon enough the moment arrived, and Smokie took the stage. A and I went wild! That we were the only people in our entire block who did didn’t matter – we were into it, body, heart and soul!

I don’t know why the audience took so long to catch on – perhaps it was the venue (which looks more like a huge school hall than a concert arena), or maybe others in the audience were just more mature than us. But we didn’t care. We leapt around in our seats, whistled and yelled, cheered and clapped, and sang our hearts out.

When ‘Don’t Play That Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me’ came on, we couldn’t be contained, and ran to the front, where we joined a small group of similarly-aged (mainly female) hard-core fans, staring up in joy and adoration, dancing our socks off, and screaming adulation when the song was over.

Which is when a line of cross-looking security guards filed in and instructed us, without further ado, to return to our seats.

We were a bit taken aback (um, this was a rock concert, wasn’t it?) but it didn’t seem age-appropriate to get into a slanging match with them, so back we went.

But not for long. By an hour into the concert, Smokie had finally captured their ageing audience’s attention big-time and we hard-core groupies were having real trouble staying in our seats.

Then something fabulous happened. A line of gorgeous young women – they couldn’t have been older than early 20s – came filing past us, sailed past the security guards, and ran up to the stage, where they threw panties at the band members (I’m not making this up!) and grooved and rocked and screamed and tore their hair and their clothes.

We needed no more urging. In a flash we were out of our seats, back down at the front of the stage, and dancing with the hard core. Very fast the front filled up, people streaming out of their seats, dancing and clapping and singing. It was absolutely fantastic.

For us, that is. The security guards were mightily pissed off. And rather than leave well enough alone, they waged an irritable battle to try to get us to ‘behave’. Over and over they told us to get back, to return to our seats. Over and over they were ignored.

By this time, the place really was rocking. It was loud, it was energetic, it was marvellous. Those security guards didn’t stand a prayer of restoring order, but that didn’t stop them trying.

The fifth time some big surly man with an orange vest on and a walkie-talkie at his belt told me to return to my seat, I shouted to him, ‘For god’s sake, man, look at us! We’re all in our 40s! Do you really think we’re going to start a riot? Chill!’

‘Get back,’ he said.

My friend A danced around in front of him. ‘What you going to do? Arrest me?’ she shouted, laughing maniacally. (She’s one of the most badly behaved people I know, including my teenagers.)

[I thought afterwards what the scene would have been like if we oldsters had actually tried to storm the barricades – how much groaning and inelegance there would have been if we’d even tried to climb up onto the stage. Perhaps we should have. It would have been good for a laugh.]

It was then that one of the band members – an original one, with grandpa-white hair and swollen knees in tight jeans, and a glass of wine constantly to hand (I ask you, when last did you see a rocker drink wine as an in-concert libation?) – shouted through his microphone, ‘Ignore these guys in the orange vests! Don’t let them stop you! This is a concert, man! Come on up!’

‘See?’ I shouted to the security guard who was still trying to shoo me away. ‘We’ve been personally invited! Leave us alone!’

Perhaps realising that I was well above his fighting weight, he did. But he quickly moved on to softer targets – the line of young women who’d started the party. They were summarily dismissed (they hadn’t bought the expensive, near-stage tickets, and had got in up at the front by devious means; and I bless them for it). As they were ejected from the front, they were loudly congratulated by all those they passed on their way out.

But the security guards’ bizarre vigilance didn’t stop there. Three rows back from the front was a young girl, maybe 12, whose father had helped her stand up on her seat, the better to see. Within seconds, not one, not two, but three security guards had pushed their way through the heaving throng, loudly yelling at her to get down. Shocked and embarrassed, she did.

My good deed for the night was to push back through myself, take the girl by the hand, and lead her to the front. ‘I’ll look after her!’ I shouted to her dad, and he smiled and gave me the thumbs-up. I stationed her in front of me and said to a security guard who immediately rounded on us, ‘Go away! All she wants to do is to be able to see the band! Leave us alone!’

He muttered something into his walkie-talkie (perhaps he thought I’d be frightened into thinking he was calling backup) and then hovered, looking mean.

By now, nobody was taking any notice of the security guards anyway. And when the band said, ‘Thanks and goodnight,’ a 40-something woman standing next to me clutched my sleeve in distress. ‘They haven’t done Alice yet!’ she shouted.

‘Don’t worry, they will,’ I assured her. And very quickly the call was taken up throughout the arena: ‘We want Alice! We want Alice! We want Alice!’

So Smokie came back on again and, well, what can I say? The crowd went wild. For their encore they played ‘Have You Ever Seen the Rain?’ followed quickly by – at last – ‘Living Next Door to Alice’, and by the time they exited the stage, we were in a state of near-delirium, dripping sweat, grinning widely, pumped to the hilt.

Smokie was, simply, astonishing. The two leads (guitar and vocals) are well into their 60s, and they look every day of it – but boy did they give it stick. And there was something so endlessly appealing in their joy at playing to over a thousand people who clearly just loved them. It made their bald spots, their spectacles, their stick-insect limbs, their utter lack of youthful beauty, mean nothing at all.

* In June this year, Juno posted a piece about the poor crowd control at Carnival City. I’m struck by how the security detachments just get it so wrong. They don’t let us enjoy ourselves when there’s clearly no danger of riot; but they also don’t do anything when it’s obvious there’s a crush situation arising.

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Craig said...

Yup, have to agree Smokie put on an absolutely awesome show, though like you said, it took the crowd some time to warm up to them for some or other reason!

But jislaaik, what a kak opening act from Mr Kobus Muller - you can see RSG and Die Rapport organised this one! :)

{0912} Smokie

tonypark said...

Alice, alice, who the f*ck is Alice?

What an awesome night and well done for being so badly behaved. I wouldn't have expected anything less.

Did you have some spook and diesel in a coke can with you?