Photos by Laura Dart.
“Nashville doesn’t mess around!”
Dave 1, half of the Montreal, Quebec electro-funk duo Chromeo, sounds excited, shocked, maybe even a little bewildered as the capacity crowd at Nashville’s Cannery Ballroom responds with roaring approval. It’s a steamy night in the South and the crowd – full of club kids, yuppies, hippies and hipsters, representing nearly every tribe modern Music City has to offer – is soaked and seeping booze-sweat and joy from every pore, grateful for the first momentary reprieve from the non-stop dancing and singing that defined the first six songs of the band’s very first appearance in the country music capital of the world.
What Dave 1 (real name David Macklovitch) and his synth-slinging partner P-Thugg (real name Patrick Gemayel) don’t realize is that Nashville constantly messes around and the ecstatic reaction has everything to do with them and nothing to do with the city they are in. Nashville is a company town where the majority of music fans are also in the music industry (on both the business and creative sides) and an audience of arms-crossed, bored-looking business-types is the rule, rather than the exception. Dancing, singing along, and doing the things that most people do when listening to music is not the way that Nashville rolls – polite applause and a half-empty room is the norm.
But again this show, in its sold-out, sweaty, enthusiastic glory, isn’t typical, especially during one of the worst touring seasons of the post-war era. Lilith Fair couldn’t hack it here, the Jonas Brothers canceled, and countless smaller bands have reorganized, rerouted or just stayed off the road all together. From clubs to arenas, audiences all over the country have been smaller, spending less at the bar, spending less at the merch table. The practice of papering the crowd – providing discounted or free tickets to make sure the act isn’t playing to an empty room – once an anomaly, has become standard practice for many concert promoters. In short, it’s been a bad summer for touring bands.
Contributing to the out-of-the-ordinary vibe is the utter lack of industry folks in the audience. Cannery Ballroom manager Drew Mischke has been on the phone non-stop, turning down the city’s power-players – the managers, agents and producers for some of the biggest names in entertainment – as they beg and plead for non-existent guest list spots. E-mails and voice-mails looking for some sort of hook up, a desperate favor for people that are used to getting into any and every show they could ever want to see, were getting a quick and merciless “no.” The message was clear – there will be no half-bored, chin-scratching wallflowers sucking up the place tonight.
As the band launches into their next song and the wall of strobe lights behind them explode with enough foot-candles to burn every retina from here to Memphis, none of that matters. The bass thumps and the synths squeal and the reality of an industry in flux and a nation in financial peril fade into the deep recesses of the hive mind. As our society becomes more splintered, as culture becomes more niche-oriented than ever, this crowd at this show in this town is evidence that we can still find common ground in a strong beat and a good hook. Chromeo, it ends up, are the ones who don’t mess around.
“I don’t think it’s working. Did it work for you like the first try did?”
Rewind eight hours and Dave 1 is standing in his stocking feet, shoes in hand, in the vintage photo booth at Jack White’s Third Man Records compound. While walking around the back alleys of Nashville’s SoBro district that afternoon, the topic of The White Stripes came up and a couple of phone calls later we’re getting a private, after-hours tour of White’s record store-cum-record label-cum-performance space from Julian, a dapper gentleman wearing the Third Man employee uniform – bright yellow button-up, skinny tie and black jeans. There’s a picture of Julian on the outside of the photo booth, standing tall across the photo-strips’ four panels that Dave 1 is trying to imitate.