Friday, May 14, 2004

Customers: Part 25 - Final In-Store / The Toadies

   Over the years, Camp Bowie hosted dozens of in-store events. Meet 'n greets, live shows, lip syncing jams. George Jones moseyed into a raucous crowd of faithful believers. That No-Show Jones nickname hadn't deterred them, and the Country legend patiently, generously chatted with every soul. Joe McBride gave a free lunchtime performance, just him and his electric keyboard. One early evening, I opened up the backdoor to let the Dixie Chicks in. They played a quiet set for fifty fans. New songs from soon to be released Wide Open Spaces. Within months, the local girls would be hot as the sun.
   Van Cliburn shopped our store for years. Residents were a bit intimidated by the Classical pianist, so we never approached him for an impromptu recital. Danny Wright was also a Regular. Danny was friendly, approachable, and he gave a wonderful performance in our store one afternoon.
   Late in our history, the RYKO label arranged an autograph signing with Jerry Jeff Walker. Beforehand, my east coast contact commented that Mister Walker begrudged publicity appearances, that his behavior was often "challenging." Day of the signing session, a hundred admirers milled about. An hour past the scheduled time, the singer storyteller arrived. After thirty minutes, he decided he would rather play golf. Fans remained. Didn't matter, they were disposable. Out the door, towards the fairways.
   Others might have been steamed. Those folks shrugged it off with, "Yeah, he's like that somedays. We're used to it."
   Alright, Pilgrim.
   Wild events versus ugly misfires. Polite fans versus wolf packs. These shindigs were never alike.
   The next event, which proved to be the final one, was wall to wall, bodies pressed dense, barely controlled pandemonium.
   The Toadies.

   The wait between Rubberneck and Hell Below Stars Above had been seven frustrating years, for group members, for their fans. Feeler, the followup to Rubberneck, had been rejected by a dysfunctional label as the music industry slid deeper into quicksand. Seattle grunge had receded into memory, while Nu Metal and Rap Metal enjoyed their fifteen minutes. The band was never silent, however. New songs, appearing on soundtracks and samplers, included Unattractive, Cut Me Out, Paper Dress. The Toadies still blasted out hard core, demon fueled, unadulterated rock. And they toured their asses off, rolling with Samiam, Bush, Green Day, White Zombie, Reverend Horton Heat, and as headliners.
   For months, the band incorporated new tracks from Hell Below into their shows. Now that CD was finished and scheduled for release. The release party was at Camp Bowie.
   Todd and Lisa's old store. Homecoming. Stronghold to legions of fans who followed the group since the late 80's.
   Even better, The Toadies would perform in the store. Free concert. News blazed like prairie brush fire.
   I lobbied, and I lobbied hard, for a rooftop concert. Build a stage on the roof facing the front parking lot. How fucking cool would that be, Sunshine? I wanted the full throttle, devil whip the horses, loud show.
   I lost the argument. City ordinance about noise. Logistics of mounting amps, equipment and stage to the roof. The possibility of thunderstorms. Money. Would an outdoor concert weaken CD sales? Could band members even climb a ladder to the roof? Could they climb back down? When I bounced my notion off Pepe (who dated a band member for an insane moment), she howled with glee and said she'd pay five bucks to watch him try to climb.
   OK, maybe not my finest idea. And yet ... when carried off ... rooftop concerts often become the stuff of legend.

   Todd, Lisa, Mark and Clark set up in the front of the store, where Three 6 Mafia had encamped months earlier. Usually for these events, the DC threw a couple hundred CDs our way. Hell Below Stars Above was a new release, and the pent up demand after seven years was furious. The Boss ordered over a thousand. It was barely enough. Store sales were phenomenal, wildly beyond expectations of the label which had lost interest in that brand of music. Other store managers in attendance went out of their minds, pleading for a Toadies party at their own location.
   The show, part electric, part acoustic, was one of a kind. Laid back, yet claustrophobic. The band was in the middle of a fevered snake pit. Ten songs, from I Burn to Doll Skin to I Come From The Water. Several video camcorders captured the event from around the jammed Floor. (NOTE: I'm still searching for the other copies, from different vantage points.)
   The crowd was huge. Fratboys and drovers, Goth girls and cheerleaders, stoners and drunks. Ex coworkers Curtis and Jesse were part of the police crowd control. No arrests that night. The few characters who passed out, from sheer excitement - not alcohol, never alcohol - we relocated to stools at the Listening Center. Before and after the show, we sold hundreds and hundreds of albums. Best of all, after the set, The Toadies signed autographs and chatted.
   That was arguably the greatest in-store we ever did, for those combination of reasons cited above.
   That was also the last major in-store event we did.
   After that period, the systemic rot that plagued Wherehouse became more and more prevalent.
   For both store and our most famous musical offspring, rough waters seemed far, far away.
   Tonight, Camp Bowie rocked on, and The Toadies ruled the world.


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