Sunday, April 23, 2006

Shoot the Piano Player(s)

This past Friday night I made a bad decision and agreed to go to the Powerplant Live!, a place I loathe, to meet some friends from work. One of my co-workers had won a City Paper "Happy Hour Party" at a place he had never heard of, Howl at the Moon, and invited a bunch of his friends to join up there. I hadn't heard of Howl at the Moon, but I knew from experience that Powerplant Live! was nothing more than a cultural ghetto housing the aesthetically-challenged College Kids of today, an MTV- and WHFS-weaned consumer class armed with all the tools of American Excess - Credit Cards, Cell Phones, SUVs and Upscale Mall Clothing - yet seriously lacking a Clue to anything remotely individualistic, original or creative. I should have known that there is no such thing as a Free Lunch, and the same applies to Happy Hour Parties. If they're giving it away, there must be a reason. The reason is: it sucks.

Its Web site describes Howl at the Moon as "a place where you'll find 'friends you have not met yet,' with everyone drawn together by the camaraderie and nostalgia to form one large, synergistic party, swaying to the music, bellowing out familiar lyrics...Anyone who delights in good music will have a wonderful experience."

Well, I delight in good music, but I did not encounter any, nor did I have a wonderful time or enjoy the new friends I had "not met yet" (pictured left, in wild-and-crazy and aggressively-happy Happy Hour mode). Like all the indistinguishable cookie-cutter bars that make up the Powerplant Live! metropolis, Howl at the Moon was nondescript in terms of layout, bar stock, menu, atmosphere and service. Indeed, like the customers it attracted, it was the very definition of unimaginative and standard-issue. Yet it clearly stood out sonically, thanks to its annoying Dueling Piano Bar hosts, who banged out a steady stream of cacaphonous singalongs, including the entire Billy Joel and Elton John songbooks. If I were a detainee at Guantanamo Bay and had to endure these guys playing their medley of "Piano Man" and "Crocodile Rock," I would end up braining myself to death with my Koran.

To make matters worse, the audience - almost exclusively jarhead jocks (how can anyone not enlisted in the U.S. Army willingly do that to their heads???) and sleazoid coeds (whose numbers unfortunately included more than a few Muffin Tops spilling out of their low-rise jeans - as pictured below left) - were prompted to sing along with the piano men in between doing shots and drinking their Bud Lights. Yes, being loud and obnoxious isn't just tolerated in piano bars - it's encouraged!

As a Baby Boomer slouching towards the Big 5-0 (the Half-Century Mark, not the police department), I'm not up on the latest drinking games and singalong fads, but I did notice a series of call-and-response moments in which lyrics were peppered with shouts of "You whore!" and "You slut!" from the lively (or should I say "Powerplant Lively!") audience. (This is probably what they meant on their web site when they said "Howl at the Moon takes the term piano bar to new heights, with the piano players offering up witty discourse while encouraging the audience to sing-along to songs almost everyone knows by heart.") In such a setting, attempting to hold a conversation without getting laryngitis is impossible, so it's a definite sensory experience, one in which it's best to just get hammered and shout along like you're at an Oasis concert (only you're not, you're at a much crappier piano bar!) But then, that's the whole aesthetic of college bars whose denizens - lacking the life experiences to hold any meaningful exchanges beyond "What's your major?" or "Where'd you go on Spring Break?" or "What's your cell phone plan? or "Nice wheels!" or "Ever kissed a girl?" or "You're totally hot! Do you work out?" - must have a steady barrage of audio-visual stimuli to bridge the awkward silences of life that full-fledged adults typically fill with conversation and thoughts. Thus this demographic cannot go anywhere or do anything without playing with their ubiquitous cell phones and iPODs, without bellowing familiar chants, hoots or hollers like robotically programmed jocks and cheerleaders, and listening to obnoxiously loud music they've been formatted to like by formatted radio stations.

Irony was in the house too, as the pianists asked, "Anybody here like music from the 80s?" Gee, I thought, of course they do. Even though most of the crowd here were barely just conceived in the 80s, they no doubt have learned to "Love the 80s" thanks to the popular retro-kitsch show on VH1. Of course, the 80s is to laugh out to these sophisticated musicologists, who have grown up on 90s Modern Indie Rock Format. After all, today's music is beyond reproach to a generation that thinks U2 invented rock and roll and Bob Dylan is merely Jacob's dad. It's all so original and different! Like Buckcherry and Nickleback and all those Emo Bands with the melodramatic vocalists (I feel their pain) that get played on The O.C.

Anyway, I left with a hoarse voice and the stench of cigarrette smoke after not enjoying a domestic beer Yeungling that cost $4.75 (of course the waitron didn't tell us that only certain brands were Happy Hour priced for the 2-for- deal!) and headed to the parking garage. There, I was gouged for a $9 parking bill, but I was glad to escape after the horrendous experience of getting in touch with my Inner Harbor.
Author's Note: The last laugh was had by the Howling Moon crowd, who ended up getting blotto, hooking up with strangers and having wild sex - with multiple partners - all night long until the condoms and booze ran out (as shown below). So much for my cantankerous party-pooper attitude! What do I know?


Related Links:
PowerPlant Live! (Official Web Site)
Howl at the Moon's Dueling Pianos Mission Statement

4 Comments:

Anonymous ssaturnine said...

Tom, beautiful critque. I wanted to keep reading, but there was nothing left to read.

ray

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

T Dubya,

You introduced me to a term I somehow didn't know - muffin tops(!)
Thanks for memorializing that Happy Hour forever in your blog post; I'll go back and read it whenever I'm feeling nostalgic for the good times we had.
-Your fellow reveler, Amy

10:50 AM  
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Shoot the bet basketball Piano Player (French: Tirez sur le pianiste, aka Shoot the Pianist) is a 1960 French film directed by François Truffaut, starring Charles Aznavour.
Truffaut's stylized and self-reflexive melodrama employs the hallmarks of French New Wave cinema: sportsbook extended voice-overs, out-of-sequence shots and sudden jump cuts. The film is loosely based on the novel Down There by David Goodis. It shares the novel's bleak plot about a man hiding from his shattered life by doing the only march madness thing he knows how to do, while remaining unable to escape the past. However, Truffaut's work resolves itself into both a tribute to the American genre of literary and cinematic noir and a meditation on the relationship between art and commercialism.
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5:17 PM  

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