Saint Motel Motion Picture Show LIVE @ Upstate Concert Hall, 2/15/20
FADE IN: EXTERIOR UPSTATE CONCERT HALL – Saint Motel Motion Picture Show – a chilly Winter Night.
On the outskirts of New York’s Capital city in the town of Clifton Park, a line of concert-goers is queued up under the overhang of a strip mall-turned-concert venue. They are waiting for the doors to open so they can escape the frigid air and find their places as close to the stage as they can get. The parking lot is full of cars, full of ruts, and you can hear the sound of crunching ice chunks as cars drive over them. The green, white, and black sign above the venue door reads UPSTATE CONCERT HALL. A SECURITY GUARD takes a drag from his cigarette, then exhales into the night air, the smoke indistinguishable from the vaporized breath. The concert-goers, some of which are inappropriately dressed for the weather, jump, dance, and shuffle to keep themselves warm. They chatter and laugh among themselves.
ELISSA’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: On a cold night, Upstate Concert Hall braces themselves for the sold-out show for Saint Motel to get underway.
The gate barricade has moved.
SECURITY GUARD (with authority): Alright now, everyone. Stay in line. Don’t push or shove. Will call this door, printed tickets at the next. Have your IDs out. Behave yourselves.
The line moves forward and the sold-out hall begins to fill with audience members of different ages, but mostly late teens and early twenties.
ELISSA, a chunky late-20s photographer, turns off the engine, and emerges from the warmth of her car. She slings her bag of gear over her shoulder. Slipping a Press Photographer lanyard over her head, she looks both ways before crossing the lot to enter the venue. Ice chips and stray asphalt crunch under her sneakers.
SECURITY GUARD (gruffly): Yes. Can you open your bag?
Elissa places her bag carefully on the cement and unzips to reveal a bag comically full of way too much camera equipment. She grins sheepishly as the security guard gestures to close it up. She zips the bag closed again pushes past barely-legal girls and boys getting their hands marked with underage Xs
INTERIOR UPSTATE CONCERT HALL
The hall is full of the din of conversation, low lights, bartenders filling drinks, and the underlying soundtrack of a cinematic score playing from the Muzak. In the back of the room, the stage is set up with large video displays and the red and blue glow of stage lights. There is a slight haze from a fog machine on the stage.
UCH WOMAN: You’re all set. But there’s rules you need to know about.
You can shoot from anywhere in the venue for the first act. Second act is the first three from the pit. After that, anywhere in the venue.
ELISSA: I’m going to venture a guess and say this is gonna be an interesting night.
ELISSA’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE: It WAS interesting.
The house lights dim and the stage lights surge in intensity. At the same time, there is a momentary drop in audience volume before the quiet turns to enthusiastic cheers.
Supporting artist KOLARS takes the stage. KOLARS is a husband-wife duo consisting of ROB KOLAR and LAUREN BROWN. Rob struts out to stage right, lifting his glittering guitar from its stand. Lauren is right on his tail, but instead of following him to stage right, she climbs atop a kick drum turned on its side. She takes her drum mallets in her hands. Her large sequined flapper-style dress swishes about her thighs as she stands still, surveying the audience for an anticipatory beat. Then she raises her arms and strikes the drums, igniting a wildfire of energy from the audience.
KOLARS has enthralled the audience. While Rob may be the voice and melody, it is Lauren who steals the attention with her beauty and stage presence. Lauren keeps the beat on the kick drum platform with the silvery tap shoes she wears. She arches her back and sticks her tongue out, her wild hair flying around her with each strike of the drums. She moves her mouth and is either singing along or just moving her mouth. All of this wild movement is like a seductive rain dance that is summoning not rain, but a god(dess) of music.
Everything in excess is a theme of their show. Both are wearing thick, dramatic eyeliner. Lauren’s sharp cheekbones are accented with bright blotches of highlighter, and the giant sequined mini dress kisses her ripped fishnet stockings. Everything about their getup screams glam. Glitter and sequins and sparkle touch every bit of their set: his guitars, her drums, his sports jacket and pants. Everything about them is radiant and infectious. The audience is wild and hyped and feeding off the energy KOLARS is emitting, and KOLARS is feeding off of them in a generous ebb and flow of symbiotic electricity. When KOLARS finishes their set, the audience is most definitely warmed up and ready for Saint Motel to claim their stage.
SAINT MOTEL ACT ONE
A man wearing a T-Rex suit appears on stage for a minute. This prompts some cheers, but those quiet as he disappears from the stage. Shortly thereafter, bass guitarist DAK LERDAMORNPONG, drummer GREG ERWIN, and guitarist AARON SHARP, and a trumpeter and a saxophonist take their places on stage. The house lights and stage lights fade to black, and in their place the screens on the stage light up with a sizzling static texture. The band members stand silently on their marks. Overhead, an indiscernible narration, describing the actions of a protagonist moving through a story like a readout of a film script, begins through the speakers and the audience cheering rises again.
A tall, lanky man with dirty blond hair and thick clear-rimmed glasses, revealed as frontman AJ JACKSON JR., emerges from the shadows. As dictated by the script, carrying a lantern and dressed in a parka he follows the story of the narrator, holding the lantern above his head. He wanders past Elissa and the other photographers in the side stage and into the pit, climbing onto the pit barricades and carefully placed AV boxes. He is “searching” for something in the distance, far beyond the furthest audience member. Jackson, when instructed by the overhead narrator, climbs onto the stage and takes his place behind the keyboard center stage. He sheds his winter coat, and begins playing the intro to “Cold Cold Man.”
PAN TO ELISSA’S FACE. CLOSE UP. ALL AMBIENT NOISE FADES.
ELISSA’S INTERNAL MONOLOGUE
(serious, but excited)
This is going to be a FUN show.
Okay, okay, I’ll cool it with the screenplay. The format was getting a little too repetitive. And writing and repetitive are not two things that should intermingle much. That said, the show was anything but repetitive.
Much like the end of act one and the end of the acts to come, the musicians departed the stage in darkness. When Act Two began, the other photographers and I hustled into the pit, anxiously awaiting our short window to snap photos from the best seat in the house.
Up came red stage lights and the narration resumed. The band members, sans Jackson, returned to their places on stage. Jackson reemerged, this time looking rather dapper (not that he wasn’t before, but my screenplay format didn’t allow for my personal opinions). He was sporting a “fiery” torch and baton, military jacket with adornments, and a peaked soviet-style budenovka cap on his head.
They opened the act with their song “Dear Dictator.” Throughout act two, Jackon was once again turning the stage and pit area into his jungle gym, jumping onto boxes and barricades, running through the pit, and interacting with the audience, a smile on his face with every movement. You can tell that Jackson loves every second of performing. He almost has a head-on collision with me at one point during act two as he ran from one end of the pit to the other.
As act three began, in comes a crew member dressed in a full body alien outfit and a plainly dressed man. Together they carry a gray dingy festooned with blinking light strips and rocket attachments. In essence, it is a spaceship ready to set sail in the stars. But where is its fearless captain? Our commanding frontman hops on stage as an astronaut, surveying the crowd for a new adventure. Grinning ear to ear, he climbed into the dingy, with the the levitation powers of the hands of his caring audience, he floats over their heads singing “Save Me” as starfields and nebula clouds sailed by on the video screens.
Once back on solid ground after the song had ended, an audience member shouts “Cool Socks!” I couldn’t see the socks, but I did see Jackson’s reaction. Jackson turned his back to the audience, and looked over his shoulder, lifting a socked foot into the air. He was smiling in this coy, shy, seductive manner as he shimmy-stripped out of his spacesuit. This interaction brought a smile to my lips and was an absolute delight to behold.
The end of act three brought the thank yous and farewells, but as any seasoned concert goers knows, the farewells are not the end. As Saint Motel left the stage, we all knew there was one more act to come.
The final act began with the unmistakable and unforgettable ascending tones of the THX sonic logo. As the resounding notes from the logo fade, the narration begins and the video screens illuminate with imagery of a school. The stage is set for us, with images of math equations & formulas and the blots of composition notebooks dancing by on the screens.
The band returned for the final time to the shrieks of a delighted audience. No costumes this time, save for a cactus-embroidered jacket sported by Jackson in their music video for their song “Van Horn.” Their encore consisted of three songs, but nothing compared to their final, and most well known, song of the show. Opening with a lively saxophone & trumpet riff, “My Type” is a tune that you can’t help but dance to. Jackson leaped over the barricade and darted to the back of the room, where he stood on the bar top and sang to the thrilled crowd, who jumped and sang along with every word.
There was an energy unmatched in this show–an energy so friendly and lively and caring that I think is a rarity. I’ve seen some shows with energy that’s enthusiastic, but is contained only to the popular songs or the headliners. I’ve seen shows with an energy that’s hostile and angry. And I’ve seen shows that have been sad. But the love that flowed through every note and every song in this concert was…well, the show passed the proverbial vibe check. Even after the majority of the audience had cleared out, I got to witness how respectful the audience was. A couple stragglers had managed to snag pictures with drummer Greg Erwin, and the girl asked, genuinely I might add, if it was alright if she could take a picture. She didn’t assume. And I’m sure that’s refreshing for the musicians.
I had the opportunity to speak to Greg myself, while we were chatting a bit about my malfunctioning furnace, the true gem of the conversation was in my experience of the show. I had told him I only knew the song “My Type” but I was thrilled that I got to experience the aforementioned energy and creativity of the show from an ignorant perspective. Why was ignorance good in this instance? Because it allowed me to truly see the show without the distractions of singing or dancing along with the music. It allowed me to see it for what it was: A work of art. A motion picture show.
I think Saint Motel has a new fan in me. So if you need new tunes to listen to and don’t know where to start with their music, well their set list from this show is a damn good place to.
ACT ONE: Cold Cold Man, Diane Mozart, For Elise, Sweet Talk, Sisters
ACT TWO: Dear Dictator, Destroyer, Puzzle Pieces, Right Back Where We Started (by Maxine Nightingale, Move
ACT THREE: Save Me, Old Soul, Chicago (by Sufjan Stevens), Born Again
ACT FOUR/ENCORE: Butch, Van Horn, My Type