Wednesday, February 11, 2015

TMFW 75 - The Shortest Show

Last Thursday night, I went with two friends (and early TMFW "subscribers") to see Evan Dando from The Lemonheads play an acoustic show at a small venue in downtown Chicago.  I have loved The Lemonheads since my youth; their excellent record It's a Shame About Ray is probably in my top-10 all-time albums.  I was very excited for the show, but then very bummed out when Mr. Dando played a grumpy, half-hearted set that lasted only 35 minutes.

Dando's performance got me thinking about other shows that I've seen that were short, and that reminded me of a fun story about the (one-time) official record-holder for Shortest Rock Concert: The White Stripes.

In support of their sixth record Icky Thump, Meg and Jack White embarked on their first ever tour of Canada.  For fun, they decided to tour ALL of Canada.  When announcing tour dates, Jack White explained: "having never done a tour of Canada, Meg and I thought it was high time to go whole hog. We want to take this tour to the far reaches of the Canadian landscape. From the ocean to the permafrost. The best way for us to do that is ensure that we perform in every province and territory in the country, from the Yukon to Prince Edward Island."
And indeed, over three weeks in the summer of 2007, The White Stripes played 19 official shows across Canada's 13 provinces and territories.  According to the tour writeup on Wikipedia, they also played a number of "secret" shows announced through a fan internet bulletin board, including "performances at a bowling alley in Saskatoon, a youth center in Edmonton, a Winnipeg Transit bus and The Forks park in Winnipeg, a park in Whitehorse, the YMCA in downtown Toronto, the Arva Flour Mill in Arva, Ontario, [and] Locas on Salter (a pool hall) in Halifax, Nova Scotia."

The most famous "secret show" was the final one of the tour.  On July 16, 2007, the band was in St. John's, Newfoundland to finish their tour and complete their checklist of Canadian territories and provinces.  They had a gig later that night at the Mile One Centre - a hockey arena - but first they set up an outdoor street concert along George Street in the city centre of St. John's.  Their setlist for the gig is short; after setting up all their stuff, the band took the stage and played only one note (a C#, allegedly).  They then bowed triumphantly, announced the completion of their Canadian quest, and walked off.  You can watch the whole show here (the music is about 40 seconds in); for his part, White chose a fine note for her performance and played with gusto.  And the crowd's encore chant of "one more note" was a nice touch, too.
Jack White believed that their one note show should earn his band a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for "Shortest Concert," and made that fact known.  And in 2009, the band did appear in the book.  But they were removed in subsequent editions, which in 2012 caused Jack White to lash out at the "elitist" organization, complaining in an interview to Buzz Aldrin (???) that "[t]here’s nothing scientific about what they do. They just have an office full of people who decide what is a record and what isn’t."  Guinness responded in turn, explaining that after the record appeared in 2009, they were deluged by people claiming to have broken it simply by appearing on stage, or even by not appearing at all.  They sensibly noted that "[t]he nature of competing to make something the 'shortest' by its very nature trivializes the activity being carried out, and Guinness World Records has been forced to reject many claims of this kind. As such, we have been forced to cease listing records for the shortest song, shortest poem, and indeed the shortest concert." Guinness then challenged White to "attempt any of the 40,000 records that are currently active on our database" if he wanted a proper spot in the book. 
Perhaps Mr. White could try to break the record for The Hardest Button to Button.


BONUS FACT:  The Lemonheads have for a long time had a reputation for being, um, a bit erratic.  In one famous story - confirmed by Evan Dando last year to the Chicago Tribune - the band fired their drummer, who then responded to a "drummer wanted" advertisement and found himself auditioning for...The Lemonheads.

BONUS FACT 2:  For a taste of Evan Dando at his best, you can watch him play a short but beautiful acoustic version of It's a "Shame About Ray" on Regis and Kathy Lee, or an excellent full-band version of the same song on Letterman (note Letterman holding up a TMFW 74 subject CD Longbox!).

BIBLIOGRAPHY: today's fact was taught to me by Dan Lewis's excellent, free daily newsletter Now I Know.  If you like TMFW, I recommend it highly. 

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