Last night I had the pleasure to witness a performance of drummer Terry Bozzio at Nighttown in Cleveland Heights. Before I get to the performance I would like to vent a little.
I arrived at the Nighttown location a full half hour prior to the first performance. This is the first time I have ever attended a show here. I then spent nearly twenty minutes driving around looking for a place to park. Apparently, Cleveland Heights was built as a city long ago before cars were invented and nothing in the ensuing hundred years has been done to solve the parking problem.
Quite by accident (and probably the result of an illegal turn), I discovered the Municipal Parking Lot located behind the restaurant and after trying to decipher the parking instruction signs (which are as easy to understand as Chinese Algebra) I was able to finally get information from a kindly passing gentleman. Apparently, the lot is watched 24/7 and the meters have to be fed in order to avoid a ticket. The up side was it is only twenty five cents an hour and you can plug in at least four hours worth of quarters (and possibly more). For the parking in Cleveland Heights I give two demerits.
Having safely parked my car, I arrived inside the restaurant with about ten minutes to spare and was told that there was no record of my promised ticket but I could sit in the bar for the first show since it was sold out. In normal circumstances, when a critic is waylaid in such a manner he is given a free drink or food to make-up for the inconvenience. Not at Nighttown. I had to fork out five bucks for a non-alcohol beer (two demerits for that).
The one saving grace of the bar (that is located off the main room) was that it had a large screen TV that had a direct video feed of the show. Just as the show was about to begin, Mr. Bozzio’s manager complained about the TV being on and although there was no videotaping going on the set was turned off. Three demerits are awarded for that bonehead move. I ended up squashed in a corner at the bar entrance trying to crane my neck to see the show. Apparently, Nighttown had oversold the show by about twenty people and they all showed up (for those playing at home, give that move four demerits).
While the show was going on, there were five drunks in the bar loudly debating something or other with none of the staff doing anything to quiet them down, and what Cleveland live show would not be complete without the over-imbibed imbecile shouting, “Ahhyaaahaa!” and “Wooooooooo!” during the entire performance. Let’s call that a four on the demerit scale.
One other beef that I had is that Terry and his drums were ground level. There needs to be a stage that elevates the performer above the audience (call it theater tradition). Also, it allows the people in the back a better view of the performance instead of the top of his head.
Luckily, the show only lasted just over an hour and I was guided to the area between the bar and the wall at the front entrance with assurance that I would have a seat for the 9 p.m. performance. The waiters quickly had the room cleaned and ready for the next show and I stood there for twenty minutes as ticket holder after ticket holder was paraded past me and into the main room. Finally, when they had run out of customers I was graciously allowed to enter (that deserves five big Ds, don’t you think?).
Luckily, the audience member that I was sitting next to pointed out an open seat that was ring side and I was able to sit up close and personal. One bothersome thing about Nighttown is that it considers itsself a bar and restaurant first and a performing venue second. Thus during the entire set you had waitresses and waiters delivering food and drink to the audience. I am not talking a bowl of pretzels, I mean full five course meals so a number of audience members are sitting there looking like cows chewing their cud. I would suggest removing the tables for the show, setting up rowed seating and once the performance begins no serving of drink or food. If you want music with food and drink you can camp in one of the other “five beautiful dining rooms”. This warrants eight big ones.
As for the show, being able to sit that close I was able to enjoy every subtle nuance of Terry Bozzio’s performance. In case you do not recognize the name, Mr. Bozzio took his first drum lesson fifty years ago and made his first recording with a group forty years ago. In his career he has played with such notables as Frank Zappa, Missing Persons, Herbie Hancock, Robbie Robertson, Deborah Harry, Jeff Beck and The Knack to name a few. In total he has been included on over 120 albums as well as a slew of instructional CDs. This solo tour is near its halfway point with a total of forty one stops clear across the United States with a couple of stops in Canada.
He is a youthful 63 and man can he play. He is encased in his drum set that consists of 26 toms, 2 snare drums, 8 bass drums, 52 cymbals (plus a large gong), two electric drums, a glockenspiel plus every kind of percussion instrument that you could think of. He also has over twenty foot pedals arranged side by side in a semi-cirlce controlling high hats of various sorts, bass drums and whatnot. There is also a little piped in music that he plays with but the real star of the show is him.
Last night he played a variety of drum “songs” ranging from titles such as “Africa”, “Five Flute Loops”, “Debussy”, “Frank” (in memory of Frank Zappa) and “Past Changes” to name a few. Terry literally becomes an orchestra in the air while playing his meticulously tuned drums. You hear voices singing from the drum heads and various styles and flavors such as Latin, Jamaican, Jazz to Rock and Roll. The total effect is mesmerizing.
The second show’s audience was much better behaved thus the listening experience quite improved (except for those digging into their banquet). Most of the pieces he played showed his delicate nuance and control. It was not until the final unnamed number that he cut loose with an incredible barrage where his hands and arms became a blur between the cymbals over his head and the drums at his waist. He is incredibly fast and accurate. The audience for the second show politely waited until the end to hoot and holler and give a standing O. Very cool indeed! Now, if Nighttown could just do something to make the experience a little more enjoyable for the audience members and the members of the media. I give five stars for the performance and twenty-eight demerits to Nighttown and Cleveland Heights (this puts them on double secret probation for the semester).
Shooting From the Lip (In My Opinion): While the show was well worth the inconvenience it in no way excuses the shabby way that I as a member of the press was treated or the over stuffing of the audience members into too small a room that was grossly oversold. While I understand that the venue needs to turn a profit it should not be at the comfort of the paying public.