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Sunday Night, Poplar Creek

The Bears, the Bunnymen, and the Corridor of Mud

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A sea of black flowed from the lowlands to the Poplar Creek hill. Black dresses, black pants, black T-shirts, black leather, black jewelry, black hair, black fingernails, and black lips; black on black on black.

Gene Loves Jezebel, Echo and the Bunnymen, and New Order had been rained out on Friday and now--despite predictions of more rain--they were playing on Sunday, at the same time as the Bears' first preseason game. We brought a Walkman.

Settling into position on the lawn, we listened in dismay as the Bears' first drive ended in an interception. Gene Loves Jezebel began their performance to an indifferent audience, many of whom were still struggling up the hill while balancing overpriced beers and nachos and hot dogs. I got bored during the first song and returned to the game. Another drive ended in an interception. The sky was getting dark. Things looked bleak.

Gene Loves Jezebel is fronted by a couple of pretty boys with multicolored hair. The music is sort of new-wave Bon Jovi, pretentious and limp. Finally they finished and left and nobody cared. Out of the whole crowd, only two pimply-faced guys had felt compelled to waste $16 on Gene Loves Jezebel T-shirts. They were clapping.

The night was hot and humid with an occasional warm breeze. Powerful black clouds gathered overhead as Miami drove into Bears territory and drew first blood with a field goal. This was very bad.

The stage lights went out and a Gregorian chant emanated from the heavens. It was Echo and the Bunnymen's introduction, making explicit their shrouded religiosity. Until their most recent album, I hadn't thought of them as being particularly religious, despite earlier songs like "Heaven Up Here," "Thorn of Crowns," and "Gods Will Be Gods." But the new album seems quite obviously Christian.

I had seen the Bunnymen on their last tour--seven years ago--at the old Tut's (now the Avalon). They were sloppy and wild and explosive. Lead singer Ian McCulloch was possessed. At the time they spearheaded a new psychedelia.

Tonight they were subdued and professional, with lovely synchronized lighting effects. The music was tight and low-key with only an occasional outburst of rave-up musical madness. But the tension of the approaching storm complemented and dramatized the performance. The sky filled with continuous lightning strobes behind and above the stage. The wind kicked in ferociously as the Bunnymen burst into a great version of the Doors' "Light My Fire." Suddenly the rain started and thunder exploded as they were playing a new song, "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo": "That's the way the thunder rumbles, that's the way the thunder rumbles. Rumbles . . ."

People were yelling, more in exhilaration than fear. A black garbage bag blew into Laura's hands. She tore arm holes in it and wore it like a tunic. I had brought an umbrella but the wind was blowing too hard to use it. We stood up and I held the blanket over us. We watched the show until the wet blanket got too heavy, and then we just listened from under our wet tepee. Thunder cracked and people screamed and the Bunnymen sang "Seven Seas."

The people in the pavilion seats were dry and comfortable, but the real fun was on the lawn. Some people huddled in groups under huge sheets of plastic, watching the show from within a protective bubble; many others simply ignored the storm and danced maniacally in the downpour.

One woman was upset. She'd come dressed to the teeth, and when the rains came, she stumbled pathetically through the mud in high heels, her elaborate hairdo completely corrupted. "It's worse than a nightmare," she screamed.

We left for a little shelter in the bathroom and returned for the Bunnymen's encore--a strange, off-kilter version of "Twist and Shout." We stood behind the pavilion seats under the roof. The guards kept shoving us back, protecting the aisles. The crowd, if organized, could have easily surged past these guards and gotten shelter from the storm as well as an excellent view of the stage. But there was no organization, just docile acceptance of authority.

Echo and the Bunnymen left and so did the rain. We got out our Walkman. The Bears led 10-3, with only four minutes left. They ran out the final seconds for their first 1987 victory. Things were looking up.

A couple of crazy guys began sliding down the hill, creating a corridor of mud. The idea caught on, and more and more guys and gals attempted to outdo each other. The crowd at the bottom of the hill cheered the most imaginative and daring slides. One guy came speeding down head-first, his arms at his sides and his head thrust out like the prow of a sailing ship. As he reached the bottom, he frantically struggled to brake his descent before hitting the cement. The crowd fortunately cushioned the blow.

This was great rock 'n' roll entertainment; even better than SPK at Metro last week, when the guy ran a buzz saw over an oil can, spewing blinding sparks into the eyes of an enthralled audience.

Anyway, after the Bunnymen, the deluge, and the human bobsleds, New Order was somewhat anticlimactic. I like New Order and their depressing dance music, but their live show is pretty dull. It was mostly impossible to see them, from where we were standing. My occasional glimpses revealed nothing as they stood in the virtual darkness of purple light. I couldn't distinguish who was playing what, if anything. The music was carried off with mathematical precision. I have a hard time associating particular New Order songs with their names, though I think I recognized computer-perfect versions of "Shellshock," "Blue Monday," and "Perfect Kiss."

I had seen New Order a while back at Metro. It was one of my worst concert experiences. I remember an extremely long wait in a crowded, deathly hot room. They finally appeared, but never got technical problems fixed. They couldn't play without their drum machine and they were frustrated and then irritated at the crowd's impatience. They finally left in a huff without completing their set.

Tonight the show was technically smooth and perfect and cold. The singer was occasionally impassioned, but mostly depressed. They were detached from the crowd, not saying anything between songs. Still, the audience danced and yelled for more.

We left before the final encore, romantically soaked to the bone. The Bears had survived two interceptions and won; and, with the rock 'n' roll grace of Echo and the Bunnymen, we had survived a vicious storm as well as Gene Loves Jezebel. Things weren't so bad after all.

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