Our family vacation to London turned into a bit of a KC reunion. As the Fates decreed, our friend Jake Blanton was on tour with the Killers and Krystle Warren was singing with Rufus Wainwright on back-to-back shows that weekend.
Saturday night, we took a boat from Tower Bridge Pier to the O2 (which in and of itself was pretty damn cool), a gigantic white sea anemone of a venue on the banks of the Thames. Flipping through Time Out, we found both shows listed, with Kyrstle’s name in solid red caps!! Neat-o!
Jake hooked us up with all access passes and we finally managed to find our way backstage, flashing our passes (never done that before….could get used to it) to meet up and drink up and hang in the secret Fab Room for their A-list (“A” for all access, maybe?) guests, a neat little hide-away space tucked behind a non-descript door in a long line of doors in your typical gray cinderblock stadium hallway.
As we took our seats in the arena, they were finishing the sound check, and the rumble caused some confetti to waft down into the crowd. While waiting, we realized that seated in our row were Tim Burton and Helena Bonham Carter. Yeah, they’re friends of the band, too.
The show was astounding. I don’t go to many rock shows, and rarely on this epic scale, so I was blown away by the lasers and volume and fist pumping and energy and confetti and the anthems and unashamed singing and the heat from the pyrotechnics. Fire balls, ya’ll. Fire balls.
(The confetti was custom – red “Ks” and their current lightning bolt logo in silver. The floor was littered with it at the end, perfect for an after-show frolic. )
They started the show with the lights up, which conversely made the 20,000 capacity arena seem more intimate, a very welcoming beginning. Later in the show they turned down the house almost completely and had everyone get their phones out, so that the stadium turned into an inverted, beery Milky Way.
I can’t imagine the energy it takes to put on that show three nights in a row. I was exhausted and all I had to do was dance awkwardly and sing along.
I was pleased to see Helena rocking out, too.
After the show, Jake told us to wait for someone to take us to the after party. Well, someone did come and led our row down to the floor. But apparently that was just the handler for the Burton crew and when we got to the back stage gate he looked at us as though to say “just a minute, you laggard gate-crashers” and Sam flashed him our badges “…we have these passes” and he just shrugged and waved us in. We ended up missing the real after party entirely, since we were led back to the Fab Room again and just hung out there. And got to act all nonplussed by the secret room, ‘cause we’re big time ballers. (Did I use that in the right context? Hmmm.)
One of the guys in the Burton party came up to me once we were all organized and introduced himself. He was cheerful and had a Father Christmas beard, but he was BIG and didn’t seem like someone to trifle with. “Hi, I’m Glen, I’m friends with Tim.” “Oh, hi, I’m Libby, I’m friends with Jake.” “Yeah, I met Jake in Blackpool. He’s a nice chap.” Um….yep? (Turns out Glen was very nice and charming, and later that week gave us a tour of AIR Studios.)
We relaxed and drank and chatted with some of our new-found friends, even though the room’s weird bank of wall lighting made it difficult to focus. I didn’t have a chance to talk with Helena (what am I going to say, “um, I really like the way you delivered those two words in Twelfth Night, but Mark Rylance does it better?”) but I was pleased to see Tim, flanked by attractive, 20-something girlies, making eyes at his wife from across the room … and later amble around, awkwardly looking for someone to talk to…
After the After-After Party we were loaded into a van back to the band’s hotel to continue our conversations and imbibing. We sat around for a while, waiting, and then Brandon Flowers, the group’s charismatic front man, was shepherded in. As we pulled out of the loading dock, he noticed some fans still waiting outside. Now here’s the mark of a real rock-n-roll gentleman: he had the driver stop (this was at least two, maybe even three hours after the show ended) and got out to greet these die-hards, even gave them a photo op. Priceless and so sweet. We spent the rest of the car ride through London talking about our kids and trading videos of them back and forth.
He also told us a story about when his grandmother, who was a housekeeper in a hotel in Vegas in the ‘60’s, couldn’t help but snoop through Dean Martin’s wardrobe. The man had only packed tuxedos and pajamas. Talk ‘bout being a baller…
The next night couldn’t have been much different, though still tracking on the rock-star spectrum.
Wainwright + his Family Band performed at the Hammersmith Apollo, a 3,000ish seat theater. Instead of flame balls there were candles and muted lighting, instead of unison anthems, there were intricate harmonies and winding melodies.
We were admittedly disappointed that Krystle didn’t start the show, though the other guy was fine, some sort of folk-rock legacy child. The actual opening act was Adam Cohen, son of Leonard Cohen, and he was fine, too, and had great back-up musicians, very enjoyable…until he dedicated a song to his son, who happened to be sitting in front of us, and had been clapping along throughout the set – a slight, pale boy, with an adorable bowl cut. Cohen sang “Beautiful,” which caused completely unhinged, instant, ugly sobbing. I rarely react so viscerally, but it hit some sort of momma-nerve and I was washed out in the love for my sweet boy. These are not just words.
Rufus puts on a stellar show, no question, but seeing Krystle sing in front of such a great crowd – especially when she performed a solo – was just the most breathtaking thing. I’ve written about her before, and her intimacy, her insight, is what always gets me. I wrote the experience up for The Kansas City Star’s 2012 cultural highlight recap, too – on a personal level and musical level, it was one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time, not just this year.
Her solo that night was recorded by a fellow audience member and I was pleased to hear that the squeaky door hinge at the beginning was captured, the last extraneous noise before Krystle transformed the theater. He did not, however, catch Sam yelling “KRYSTLE!” as she walked out on stage and her cool, subdued, “hey, Sam” into the mike as she nodded to the pianist to start the tune.
[Bonus: Helena showed up for this show, too (and brought her mum) and when we started to go a little crazy with the whooping and hollering after Krystle’s solo she turned around and said, “do you know her?” and all I could think to say was “she’s from Kansas City,” then Sam questioned, “are you following us?” and that’s why Helena now thinks everyone from Kansas City is insane….]
But insanity was somewhat in the air. The finale of the show was a study in absurdism, or perhaps a practice in what would happen if a certain ambitious solo artist got tipsy and said to his band “hey this would be funny” and no one talked him out of it.
After a bit of a pause, three of the band came back on stage acting totally normal with their totally bad acting. And then Cupid arrived? And said the band had been transformed into mythic beings? And we needed to do something special, something loud, something bacchanalian to get “Rufus Apollo – the god of music and all things sexy” to come back? Something that this reserved English audience had to be prodded and cajoled into … they brought some people up on stage and at least one woman tried to scurry back to her seat….Rufus Apollo finally appeared, in a short tunic, blond Marilyn wig, silver winged headband, and covered in body glitter, and skipped giddily through the crowd and up on stage.
It was bizarre, but at least for me it hit right smack in my ludicrious nerve and I loved it. Especially when, after all these shenanigans (you could just tell Krystle was loving the entire process…), a six foot long foam hoagie sandwich with lips on one end made an appearance and Rufus, kneeling, lifted it above his head and started singing “Gay Messiah,” with the aside into the microphone: “This is supposed to be the sandwich singing.” Because, of course, yeah.
But our musical adventures weren’t over. (They never are, are they?) We were able to connect with Glen through another new-found friend and he gave us a tour of AIR Studios in Hampstead. This was George Martin’s studio after he left Abbey Road and, besides being housed in a beautiful red brick Victorian church, it was amazing to think of the recordings that have happened there, the musicians that have come through the doors. We were fortunate to be there between projects and Sam got to doodle around on a Bösendorfer that someone had left just lying around, light slanting through the Mackintosh-esque rose stained glass windows.