I did not grow up attending concerts, and I do not know why, considering how I have always loved listening to music. I just assumed that going to concerts was something that rich people did, or adults who had cars to drive to wherever the bands played. My parents went to concerts; Dad saw the Grateful Dead many times, and my parents went together to see bands of their generation who were still touring, like Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
The University of Jeromeville hosts a large open house festival event called the Spring Picnic every April. In the days leading up to the Spring Picnic freshman year, I heard people talking about a band called Lawsuit that would be playing there. I listened to their show, and I was blown away. I had never heard music like this before. Lawsuit had ten members: in addition to the usual vocals, guitar, bass, and drums, they also had a second drummer who played congas and bongos, and several horn players. Many of the members of Lawsuit grew up in Jeromeville, and they had a bit of a following locally.
After I watched Lawsuit at the following Spring Picnic, sophomore year, I signed up for their mailing list. That was a little over three months ago, and I had been getting postcards and emails about upcoming shows. One of the flyers a few months ago mentioned something called One Thousand Red Roses, a benefit concert to raise money for the Art Center in Jeromeville. I had no strong feelings either way about the Art Center, but I did have strong feelings about seeing Lawsuit, especially since the show was on a Saturday after a week when I had absolutely no plans. I went out and bought a ticket as soon as they were on sale.
As the show approached, it was difficult to hide my excitement and anticipation. Two days before the show, I was at Bible study, and as people were arriving, someone made small talk by asking what everyone was doing for the weekend.
“I’m going to see Lawsuit!” I exclaimed.
“Lawsuit, the band?” Amelia Dye asked.
“Yeah. I’ve seen them at the last two Spring Picnics, and I really like them.”
“I’ve heard them before. Scott has their album.”
“I remember that. We were talking about Lawsuit at that party at your house.”
“They’re good,” Ramon Quintero said. “I saw them at the Spring Picnic once.”
“Who’s Lawsuit?” Tabitha Sasaki asked.
“A local band,” I explained. “Their music is… well, hard to describe. It’s like rock with horns. But not really. Kind of like jazz sometimes too. And reggae.”
“Interesting. Have fun!”
On the corner of Coventry Boulevard and G Street, adjacent to the large park where I had watched fireworks on July 4, stood a small building called the C.J. Davis Art Center. In this building, named for a local philanthropist who was instrumental in its founding, children and adults took classes in various forms of art, music, and dance. Among those heavily involved in the local arts scene in Jeromeville was the Sykes family, and the siblings, siblings-in-law, and cousins of this large family included several members of Lawsuit. The band put on a concert every summer, called One Thousand Red Roses, on a temporary stage in the parking lot of the Art Center, to raise money for it.
Although I knew from reading the CD booklet and the band’s website that some of the members of Lawsuit were related, I learned much more about the Sykes family from a tragic occurrence a few months ago, when a Sykes sibling not in the band died in a car accident. The obituary in the Jeromeville Bulletin local newspaper mentioned much about the family’s philanthropic and artistic endeavors, including Lawsuit.
The show began at eight o’clock; I left my apartment at 7:15, since I did not know what to expect in terms of crowds. I also walked, since I did not know how hard it would be to find a place to park, and the Art Center was only about a mile from my apartment. The weather had been warm, but it was just starting to cool off as the sun sank lower in the sky. I was sweating a little as I arrived at the Art Center, but if this concert was similar to Lawsuit’s performances at the Spring Picnic, I expected to get sweaty as the night went on, with people standing and moving around to the music.
A temporary fence around the parking lot had been installed so that only ticketed guests could see the stage. I handed my ticket to the person at the door and walked inside. About a hundred guests were already mingling about the floor in front of the stage; there were no seats, as I suspected. Roadies were setting up the stage, which was already full of guitars, drums, horns, microphones, amplifiers, lights, and speakers. The back of the stage appeared to be a chain link fence, decorated with banners and road signs. A large fan blew air across the stage, probably to keep the band cool on the warm Jeromeville night surrounded by hot equipment.
Since I still had time before the show started, I walked over to the merchandise table and looked at the band’s t-shirts. Most of them had the band’s name accompanied by some sort of random drawing, which apparently had some significance that I was not aware of. I pointed to one shirt, light gray, with a drawing on the front of a surprised-looking man with his hat falling off. On the back was the name of the band, LAWSUIT, accompanied by a collage of newspaper headlines containing the word “lawsuit.” That was clever. “Do you have that one in an extra large?” I asked.
“Let me check,” the man behind the table replied. He turned around, looking through boxes, for about a minute, then turned back toward me. “We’re out of that one in extra large,” he said. “We have some of the others in extra large. And I know we’re getting a new shipment in soon, so if you want to pay for it now, and leave your name and address, we can mail it to you.”
“That’ll work,” I said, a little disappointed but hopeful that the shirt would arrive soon. He got out a spiral notebook and wrote “Gray Headline Shirt XL” and handed it to me. I wrote my name and address and handed it back to him along with the money.
I looked back toward the stage, where instruments were being tuned and amplifiers were being connected. I was not sure if the people on stage were band members or crew, since I did not recognize all of the band members by face. I would have recognized Paul Sykes, the lead singer, from the two other times I saw them play live, but he was not currently on stage.
By the time eight o’clock approached, the crowd had grown in size considerably, as several hundred people and their alcoholic beverages packed into that fenced-off parking lot. I was starting to feel a little bit crowded by the people around me on all sides. Eventually, about fifteen minutes after the show was scheduled to start, a master of ceremonies walked on stage and gave a short speech about the C.J. Davis Art Center, its importance in the community, and the generosity of the Sykes family. He finished his speech by announcing, “The name of this band is Lawsuit!”
The crowd began cheering wildly; I joined in, clapping. The ten members ran up the stairs on the side of the stage, one by one, and took their positions, getting their instruments ready. They began the show the same way they did when I saw them in April at the Spring Picnic, by playing the music from the song “Jungle Boogie” by Kool and the Gang, with Paul rapping, his lyrics fast enough to be barely intelligible to me. After Paul rapped about Lawsuit not being a rap band, the hand drummer began playing a faster rhythm, and the rest of the band segued into a song of their own called “Thank God You’re Doing Fine.” This had been the first Lawsuit song I ever heard when I saw them at the Spring Picnic freshman year, and to this day it is still my favorite song of theirs. Toward the end of the song, I started mouthing some of the words: “When it comes to the end of the world, you’ve got only one thing left to do, and that’s thank God, thank God you’re doing fine.” I had heard the song dozens, if not hundreds, of times by then, and it just occurred to me in that moment that Lawsuit may have been making an intentional allusion to R.E.M., who famously sang nine years earlier that “it’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.”
About half an hour into the show, I realized that I only knew about half the songs they were playing. Lawsuit had five albums, and I only had the two most recent ones. I did not know if the unfamiliar songs they played were from older albums, or originally by other artists, or new songs they had written but not recorded yet. Some of the unfamiliar songs sounded delightfully catchy, whereas others were just strange. One of the songs was about a couch, told from the first-person perspective of the couch. The crowd’s enthusiastically positive reaction to hearing that song made me feel somewhat like the song was a big inside joke, and I was the only person there who was not in on it.
Midway through the show, as one song entered, Paul and another band member began bantering about the daytime TV drama Days Of Our Lives, and a few of the instrumentalists played the beginning of the show’s theme song. Yet another inside joke I was not part of, I supposed; I associated Days Of Our Lives with old women and housewives, not the kind of people who were in one of the coolest bands ever. After that, they transitioned into an uptempo song about a girl who had an ugly butt. I laughed out loud when I heard them say that the first time. This band was amazing. They had everything… they had songs that sounded like regular pop-rock, songs that sounded more like punk with horns, songs that had more of a jazz-swing beat… and songs about an ugly butt. Why did this band not get more attention in the mainstream? Sometimes, their monthly postcards with information about upcoming shows said at the bottom, “Don’t forget to bug your radio stations!” This band was better than a lot of stuff on the radio.
After the song about the ugly butt, one of the horn players apologized to anyone who actually had an ugly butt who might have been offended by that song. Then another of the horn players, I think she was Paul’s sister, or maybe sister-in-law, sang the first verse of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” as a segue into “Useless Flowers,” a song of theirs that I knew well with Paul back on vocals. The last line of Useless Flowers was “All the money I failed to make can’t buy me love,” with those last four words sung and played on the exact same notes, in the exact same rhythm, as the classic Beatles song of that title. I always thought that was a clever reference.
The concert continued for what seemed like a blissful eternity. The other two times I had seen Lawsuit in person were at the Spring Picnic, where bands only played for around 40 minutes before clearing the stage to prepare for the next band playing. But this show was all Lawsuit, and it lasted for over two hours. As much as I enjoyed the two hours of music, though, this long concert carried a downside: the people around me became progressively more drunk, raucous, and clumsy as the night went on. I was just standing there, trying to enjoy the music, and I got bumped by the people around me numerous times. I had moved progressively farther from the stage as the night went on, as I got jostled and crowded out of my spot, and someone’s spilled beer had splashed on my shirt. And although the weather cooled somewhat after the sun went down, the stage area still radiated with the body heat of hundreds of concertgoers, and I still felt a little sticky and sweaty.
Toward the end of the night, Paul sang and the band performed a song where the character in the song was trying to convince a girl of his desirability, punctuated by the more direct phrase “let’s go to bed.” This prompted cheers from the drunks around me. After that song ended, Paul gestured for everyone to get quiet. After about ten seconds of silence, he looked upward, as if toward heaven, and shouted into the microphone, “Hey, Dave! This one’s for you!” That was nice, I thought, a fitting tribute to his brother who had died in the accident. Then, as the band began playing “Picture Book Pretty,” a song I knew from one of their albums I had, I wondered how such a loud shout was legal, considering that Jeromeville had strict laws about loud parties. Maybe the law didn’t apply to events put on by those who were well-connected locally, like the Sykeses. The title of this annual benefit concert came from a line from this song: “One thousand red roses would not be quite enough, ‘cause she’s picture book pretty.” The album version of the song said “one dozen red roses,” but they always changed it to “one thousand” in live performances.
After Picture Book Pretty ended, Paul said, “Thank you so much! Don’t forget to support local arts and music! We have a mailing list and merchandise at that table in the back.” As he pointed toward the merchandise table, he continued, “Thank you, and good night!” The band began filing off the stage as the crowd cheered loudly. I started to step backward away from the stage to head home when I noticed that no one else was leaving; everyone just kept cheering loudly. I wondered if they knew that something more would happen after the last song. This felt like another of those moments where the band and most of the others here were in on some inside joke that I was not aware of.
Of course, this was not some Lawsuit inside joke; the crowd wanted an encore. It was standard practice at the end of a concert like this to cheer loudly until the band came back out to play another song or two. But I had never been to an actual concert, so I knew none of this. The band did come back out after about two minutes; the drums, bass, and horns began playing a low, quick, repetitive melody. Paul began rapping atonally about Albert Einstein, combining historical facts about Einstein’s life with whimsical comments about his hair and silly statements about Einstein playing football and baseball. This was a strange song. They followed this with one more song that I did not recognize and ended the show for real this time.
The people around me mingled and talked, and some headed toward the merchandise table. I noticed some of the band members walking around talking to fans. That would be fun, to meet the band. I looked around to see if Paul was anywhere nearby, and I saw him talking to a few other people in front of the stage. I worked my way over to where Paul was standing and politely waited my turn. After a few minutes, the people in front of me left, and Paul turned to me. “Hi, there!” Paul said.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out a flyer about upcoming shows that I had taken from the merchandise table before the show started, along with a black ballpoint pen that I carried around in my pocket sometimes. “May I have your autograph?” I asked.
“Sure!” Paul replied, smiling. He took the flyer and pen, turned the flyer to the blank side, and asked, “What’s your name?”
“Greg,” I said.
Paul began writing. “G-R-E-G?” he asked.
Paul scribbled a few things on the paper and handed it back to me. “Here you go.”
“Thanks so much,” I said. “It was a great show. I had fun.”
“Thanks! I hope to see you at another one soon.”
I stepped away as Paul turned to talk to other people waiting for him. I looked at the back of my flyer to see what he wrote:
The name on the bottom was barely legible, like most celebrity signatures. But I know who it was and where I got it. Later that night, when I got home, I retired the pen Paul touched and never used it again, keeping the pen and autographed flyer in a box so that I could remember the time I saw Lawsuit live and met Paul Sykes.
I looked around and noticed that some people had begun trickling out of the gated stage area, headed home as well, while others were still standing around with their friends. I had met Paul, I had no other accomplishments to complete that night, so I began walking toward the gate.
In keeping with the One Thousand Red Roses theme, someone stood at the gate and handed a long-stemmed red rose to everyone leaving the show. I took mine and walked back down Coventry Boulevard toward my apartment, on an excited high from the amazing live music I saw that night. The walk home took about fifteen minutes, and it was mostly quiet and peaceful, since the people leaving the concert were dispersing in multiple directions. It was around eleven at night, and a cool breeze had picked up, cool enough that I would not normally be outside wearing shorts in this temperature. I was not uncomfortable, though, because at the concert I was surrounded by other sweaty people, and now I was moving, expending energy to walk back to my apartment.
I unlocked the door and took off my shirt, which smelled of sweat and other people’s beer, and put on a new shirt. Then I walked to the kitchen. I was not sure what to do with a cut rose. I had seen people put flowers in vases of water. I was not classy enough to have a vase, particularly since I pronounced vase to rhyme with “base,” not like “vozz.” I found an empty 2-liter bottle of Coca-Cola in the box I used to hold recyclables, rinsed it out, filled it water to make a makeshift vase, and put the rose inside. I then sat down at the computer, because it was not particularly late and I was used to staying awake much later than this. I typed an email to a girl in New Zealand whom I had met on the Internet recently, replying to her email about classes and telling her about the concert.
Paul had told me that he hoped to see me at a show again soon. I hoped to go to a show again soon. Lawsuit played all up and down the state, but they played in this area fairly often. They also played in Bay City frequently, still within a day trip distance. I would definitely be watching the monthly flyers I got in the mail for shows I might be able to go to. And I would tell people about this band. Once that t-shirt I bought tonight came back in stock, I would wear it around campus and to class and to the grocery store, so I could tell people about Lawsuit, and be identified as a Lawsuit fan to any other Lawsuit fans I might meet. That plan did not get off the ground as I had hoped, for reasons including the t-shirt taking two months to finally arrive. But I tried. I had already told one person on the other side of the globe about this band, so that counts for something, and Lawsuit is still in my music collection and playlists today.
Author’s note: Sorry this was a day late!