“Rock and/or Roll, Cleveland!”

Just returned from my first trip to Cleveland and my first Midnight Oil concert.

As many Americans did, I became aware of Midnight Oil in the mid-80s with their hits Beds are Burning and The Dead Heart.  My buddy Gordon bought the album those came from, Diesel & Dust, and played it in his car until the album was etched in my noggin.  I soon bought it myself and got even more into it.  What I didn’t realize was that these guys had been playing together in one form or another since the year of my birth some 13 years before.  I soon purchased Red Sails in the Sunset and loved it as well and eventually found my way to the album I call Countdown, but which is more accurately titled 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  But it was their 1990 album Blue Sky Mining that cemented them as one of my all time favorite bands.  Despite all the problems in the world that riddled me with angst, somehow it seemed like things would all turn out okay as long as Peter Garrett and Midnight Oil were calling out the injustices, the politicians, environmental catastrophe, and government corruption in their lyrics.  Between them and The Church, I was really starting to dig Australian rock.

Whenever I would catch them in TV appearances, such as on Late Night with David Letterman, I would often make the joke that I’d love to see them on tour some day, but early on tour, because I was afraid Garrett’s voice, which is like gravel coated with velvet dust, would surely be shot by the end.  But Midnight Oil never played anywhere close enough to me that I heard about it and I couldn’t afford tickets anyway.  And then, in 2002, Midnight Oil sort of unofficially broke up so that Peter Garrett could go into politics, finally getting to try and make a difference beyond calling attention to the world’s problems through music.  Every couple of years since, I’d look at their website to see if there was any word of a reunion, but none seemed in the offing.  Most recently, I’d read that Garrett had retired from politics and had put out an album with his kids, but it just didn’t sound like Midnight Oil to me.

Then, back in late May, the wife and I were going down a YouTube music video rabbit hole, watching videos for bands she loves such as the Allman Brothers and Stevie Ray Vaughan.  I pulled up my laptop, hoping to add some of my favorites to the mix and decided Midnight Oil would be the first.  What should pop up at a search for them, though, but a new video of the band announcing that not only were they back together but they were embarking on a world tour starting in May.  Of course, by the time I saw this announcement in LATE May most of their U.S. dates had passed, including a fairly close one in Pennsylvania, or were tragically sold out.  Then I saw that after tour legs through Europe and Asia, they had added a few more U.S. dates in August, including one at the House of Blues in Cleveland.  I’ve never been to either that venue nor that city, but at 5 and a half hours driving distance it was doable.

“You want to go?” I said hopefully to the wife.

“Sure.  They’re not my thing, but I’ll go see them.”

I immediately bought us tickets for actual balcony seats, not standing room only floor space.  They were maybe the most expensive tickets I’d ever purchased for a band, and it was certainly the furthest distance I would be driving to see one (even beating out that time we went to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo for our anniversary), but at long last we were headed to see Midnight Oil.

I had no real thoughts about Cleveland before going there, other than knowing it as the butt of many a geographical joke in the 80s and 90s, along the lines of “Well, things may be bad, but at least we’re not in Cleveland.”  I suppose, like Detroit, things were pretty terrible there for a long time.  The Cleveland of today likely still has its problems, but we saw lots of growth and renovation and the repurposing of spaces.  There is vitality there and it’s a gorgeous city with some pretty astounding architecture, particularly in its many Gothic-revival churches.  We stayed in Ohio City in an AirBnB located in what looks to have once been a pretty run down area that has revitalized in recent years.  It was in walking distance of 25th street, which is where a bunch of awesome restaurants are located, as well as the West End Market.  I might be in town for Midnight Oil, but the wife was there for the West End Market–which is deservedly legendary.  Just stall after stall of vendors selling astounding meats and cheeses and veggies and breads and dumplings and fried things and cheese–did I mention the cheese?  (Whiskey cheese is goooooood.)  We were glad we’d thought to bring a cooler with us to take home all our perishable purchases.

Our first night there we dined finely at the Great Lakes Brewing Company, whose house-made tater tots were like five regular tots mashed together in one dense, savory, log.  Despite the fact that they only gave me four of them, it was still too many.  The GLBC’s Nosferatu Imperial Red Ale is a new favorite.  The next day we breakfasted at the West End Market Cafe, where I had Hungarian hash to my wife’s chicken & waffles–both very nummy.

And, being in Cleveland, we had to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Took us two tries to actually get there because we attempted to drive their on our own the first time.  We had hoped to find a parking garage central to both the museum and the House of Blues, but with an Indians game happening that wasn’t possible.  Turned out to be way way cheaper and infinitely less enraging to return our car to the Air BnB and take an Uber back.  (Always remember Uber, kids.  They’re a terrible company, and Midnight Oil probably wouldn’t use them, but, dammit, they conveniently get you where you need to be.)  The museum was definitely a good experience, though it is something of an assault on the senses.  Almost anywhere you inside will leave you buffeted by hundreds of different directional audio sources for the music of the honored artists and commentary about them.  It’s kind of overwhelming, but largely worth it.

We Ubered from the museum to the House of Blues.  Our car even took us through the back alley, nearly the loading dock where a bunch of roadie-looking dudes were hanging around.  After the drop off, we started looking for a place to eat and were walking along a blocked off street between the HOB building and a row of restaurants and shops.  We were just passing an alley that led to the HOB loading dock area when Midnight Oil themselves exited that alley and walked right past us.  I turned, wide-eyed, and beamed back at my wife who mouthed “Was that them?”  I nodded like a madman.  I wrote my friend Chris Hudspeth from college, who is an even bigger Midnight Oil fan than me, and told him what had just happened as he was one of the only people I knew who would appreciate it as much as me.

We wound up returning to dine at the House of Blues itself–which I had suggested earlier as a joke.  I know, I know.  Never dine at the venue, but dammit they were offering an early seating pass to anyone who dropped $40 there, and they had perfectly cooked fried chicken.  And as a bonus, while waiting for our food a couple of non-Peter-Garrett members of Midnight Oil came out of the HOB and chatted and smoked on the sidewalk next to us while hungry autograph hounds lurked nearby. The band seemed quite gracious about it all.

I can report that the concert was amazing.  I was especially impressed with their opening band, The Living End, who I was unfamiliar with but will become more familiar with after that show.  They can play the shit out of a guitar, drums and standup bass–the later instrument being stood upon multiple times during the course of the show.  They reminded me of a better Green Day.  As for Midnight Oil itself, they were everything I wanted them to be and played almost all of my favorite songs and a couple of latter day hits I’d forgotten about.   And it would have been a perfect show but for the efforts of the two people in front of us who tried their level best to ruin the show for the row behind them.  I call them Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt.

Meet the Dipschidts

Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt (of the Ohio Dipschidts), were two people we met before the concert began, as they sat down in the seats directly in front of us.  And as far as people go, they were very nice, commenting to us on how awesome they thought the venue was.  As we were to learn when the concert began, however, they were also the very sort of people who utterly cannot enjoy a moment for the moment, but must document that moment eight ways from Sunday throughout the entirety of that moment or it is somehow worthless to them to be there.  These two would-be documentarians, therefore, kept holding their phones up in our sightline, blocking our view of the stage, to take photos and video throughout the concert.  Now, they were not alone, as there were plenty of people snapping photos during the show, myself included.  I got no problem with a photo or two.  Even a photo or two per song I’d be okay with.  But the Dipschidts needed such hard core photographic and video coverage that if interventions had not been made they would likely have continued blocking our view for the whole show.  We weren’t alone.  The Dipschidts moved their phones around so much that they also managed to block the view of the two people seated deeper in our row on the other side of me.

After it became clear that this behavior was something they intended to engage in for the duration, I leaned forward and tapped Mr. Dipschidt on the shoulder.  I intended to keep things polite and let him know that the two of them were blocking the view of the four people behind them.  I wasn’t even going to ask him to stop, but to just keep their phones lowered to their own face level, where we could still see over them.  As I touched his shoulder, though, Mr. Dipschidt immediately lowered his phone from my view and wouldn’t turn around to see who was tapping him and why.  Maybe he didn’t want my comments picked up on his audio, but I suspect he well knew what the issue would be and that it was probably not the first time a hand had tapped him at a concert.  The lady of the couple seated next to me thanked me for my effort, but it only helped for a couple of songs.  Meanwhile, Mrs. Dipschidt, seated in front of my wife, was not trying to video the whole concert, but till needed multiple pictures throughout every song. (I kept imagining her showing them to her friends later.  “Okay, and this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Redneck Wonderland.’  And this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Feeding Frenzy.’  And this is what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Truganini.’  Oh, and this is another picture of what Peter Garrett looked like during ‘Truganini.’  And here’s what he looked like after he took off his button up shirt, then wiped the sweat off his bald head with it before chucking it to the guitar tech off stage, then revealed that he was wearing a politically-minded t-shirt beneath it the whole time, and then sang ‘My Country.’  Oh, and here’s what he looked like during ‘Arctic World.'” )  She kept raising her camera into the wife’s sightline, holding it there as she focused and zoomed in and zoomed back out and got her composition right and made sure it had time to properly refocus, and then took a picture before doing it all again for the next one.  So, again, I leaned forward and tapped her on the shoulder.  And, just as before, as soon as my hand touched her shoulder the camera dropped from view and Mrs. Dipschidt remained face-forward.  I believe I even detected a coldness to her shoulder.  And, naturally, another song or two later, both phones went right back up in the way again.

Many things began to flow through my head, not the least of which is the knowledge that this scene would be playing out very differently had my friends Glen or Joe been present.  More than anyone I know, Glen and Joe have no tolerance for cell phones in settings where cell phones are a detriment to the viewing pleasure of others.  I’ve both witnessed and heard them call people out by loudly shouting “PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY!!” across movie theaters.  And I’ve seen the people with their phones out quickly put them away as all eyes turn to them.  I could continue to tap them on the shoulder every time their camera crossed my field of view, or maybe there was another avenue.

It occurred to me in that moment that it would be fun to lean over between the two Dipschidts and offer to demonstrate for them the new HD Rectal Filter feature of the Galaxy S8.  I mean, as we all know, the S7 was known for taking pretty decent pictures of the interior of the sigmoid and descending colons (while the Galaxy Note 7 was known for burning them).  But boy howdy can the S8 really get crystal clear 2960 x 1440 pixel images of the transverse colon, provided someone is really diligent in cramming it up there for you.

Before I could get myself in trouble, the couple beside us got up to go report the Dipschidts to the ushers.  Presently an usher came down, stepped into our row and leaned over to speak sternly to Mr. Dipschidt.  I couldn’t hear exactly what she said, but the wife later reported that the usher had told Mr. Dipschidt that he was allowed to take still photos but was not allowed to record video.  He nodded emphatically, yet continued to roll video through the whole dressing down, his strobe of a flash beaming into the heads of the people in front of him.  However, when the song concluded, he and Mrs. Dipschidt put away their phones for a blessed while.  It was not to last.

Mrs. Dipschidt simply could not remain in the moment and enjoy the concert they were at while they were at it any longer.  She again took her phone out.  Seeing this as a signal, Mr. Dipschidt whipped his out too and they whiled away the latter half of the concert taking photos and video mostly from face-height.  (The picture included  is from that period when they were “behaving” themselves.)  In fact, in order to try and get better shots from the new lower angle, Mr. Dipschidt was often forced to violate Mrs. Dipschidt’s sightline of the stage, causing her to crane her neck to see around the phone.  That never got old for me.  And for her part, Mrs. Dipschidt was unafraid of trying a few shots back in our sightline, but she kept them limited to only a handful of pictures per song.  (“And this is what Peter Garrett looked like when he faked the whole audience out by saying it was their last song of the night, but then it turned out it was not their last song.  And here’s what he looked like coming back on stage with a different politically-minded t-shirt.”)

As soon as the encores hit and the Dipschidts were within spitting distance of the end, they must have figured it wouldn’t matter if they got kicked out, so up went the phones again and Mr. Dipschidt resumed his videography.  To retaliate, the couple beside us began loudly screaming the chorus to “Now or Never Land,” off key, at Mr. Dipschidt’s phone to screw up his audio.  This he was unable to ignore, and glared back at them, but he kept his trap shut.  I’m pretty sure even Peter Garrett himself got in on the protest.  As he was singing the next song from the stage, he pointed up into the balcony directly at Dipschidt’s camera flood light and gave him the flat palm-out/eye-shielding universal sign language meaning “that’s super bright, please turn it off.”  If he noticed, Mr. Dipschidt did no honoring of the request.

The concert ended and we left the House of Blues without acknowledging the Dipschidts.

Our final morning was spent breaking fast at Jack Flaps, who served me what are now pretty high on my top 10 list of favorite pancakes eaten and which are currently arm-wrestling for top spot with Austin’s The Original Pancake House.  After that, we headed back to 25th street to check out a book store, the cheese stall at the West End Market once again, the Great Lakes Brewing Company for some more Nosferatu, and eventually wound up at Penzy’s Spice Store, located in part of the ground floor of what had once been a massive and ornate bank building, now subdivided into retail spaces.

After checking in with the wife at Penzy’s, I stepped outside to our car to get my Nosferatu out of the sunlight.  On my way back, who should I see standing on the corner waiting for the light to change but Mr. and Mrs. Dipschidt.  Mr. Dipschidt was even wearing his Midnight Oil t-shirt.  It was a real moment of decision for me.  I mean, do I say something to them?  Do I run up behind them and tap them both on the shoulder to see if they notice?  Do I let them know that the only reason the two of them hadn’t ruined the entire concert for us was because Midnight Oil rocks too hard to allow that?  Do I just push them into traffic?  As I watched them, though, the WALK signal illuminated and the Dipschidts crossed the road and were gone to enjoy their day.

Remember your concert etiquette kids: Take a few photos, try not to ruin the experience for your fellow audience members, and put your phone away. Don’t be a Dipschidt.

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