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Vamps at Sonar, 16 June 2009

The Day: …was very long. My husband and I arrived in Baltimore around 1:00 PM and immediately got in line for the autograph signing at 2. It’s not that we wanted a good place in line; we just didn’t have anything else to do for the next hour so we might as well hang out. Fortunately, the three guys in front of us were friendly and funny, so the wait wasn’t too bad. Unfortunately, it was hot and extremely humid, and the signing started nearly an hour late. The process itself was smooth – they let in a few people at a time, and Kaz and Hyde graciously signed everything and shook everyone’s hand – but we didn’t get out of there until after 3:30. Several of the more die-hard fans proceeded to sit right back down in line again for the concert almost five hours hence – and indeed, the first person in line at the signing session had arrived at 7:00 that morning, presumably intent on spending an entire day waiting in line on a scuzzy sidewalk. We, on the other hand, had other things in mind. Feeling the onset of heat exhaustion, we drove down to the Inner Harbor and chilled out at the Barne for quite a while. My husband more or less recovered, but I felt pretty wretched for the rest of the day.

Shortly after 5:00 we wandered down to the Convention Center to pick up my husband’s badge for Otakon. The staff, in a flash of brilliance (or maybe just common sense), designated a separate line for those with tickets to the show. We were then shuttled in first so we all had time to get signed in and still make it to the show in time. I thought that was quite decent of them, since probably 99% of the concert attendees were also registered for Otakon. After grabbing some dinner, we drove back to the club around 7:00, when the doors were supposed to open.

The Music: I admit that Vamps is probably my least favorite of Hyde‘s musical projects, with L’Arc~en~Ciel and his solo album ranking first and second, respectively. But it’s still Hyde, and I still love Hyde’s voice, even if he’s a touch too screamy for my tastes in many Vamps numbers. Their cover of Life on Mars? is especially interesting.

The Venue: Sonar is a converted warehouse located a few blocks north of the Inner Harbor in Baltimore. We were leery at first, as the line was over three blocks long. Where were all these people going to fit? Would we be jammed in like sardines, violating every fire code in the book? Since it was general admission with no chairs, we didn’t bother rushing to get a good spot in line. Instead, we relaxed in our air-conditioned car for quite a while, then on a bench across the street, before finally joining the line near the end. By the time we finally got inside (around 9:15, though our ticket claimed the show started at 8:00), we were absolutely stunned at how much space there was. The room didn’t look especially large, but somehow we all fit with ample room to move around. Multiple fans were running, creating plenty of air circulation and keeping the temperature pleasant. I even got to and from the bathroom with no problem. (The bathroom, by the way, was clean and fully stocked with toilet paper in all eight stalls.) We’d forgotten our ear plugs and were gratified to see they were selling quality disposables for a buck each. For the most part, it was a surprisingly clean and comfortable venue. Though we were near the back, the band was easily visible on two huge monitors, and when the Vamps members weren’t slouching too much, I could see their faces clearly over the tops of the crowd’s waving hands.

The Show: Alas. As soon as they struck the first note around 9:30 PM, I knew I was in for some trouble. The sound, especially the bass, was turned up far too loud. This isn’t just aural sensitivity on my part: warehouses are not built with acoustics in mind, and when things are that loud you create standing waves, drastically distorting the sound. It was so severe that I could hardly recognize the first few songs, and the bass made me feel physically ill. Oddly, this was not the case for the entire show. Several songs sounded fine, then the distortion would be back a little while later, once again rendering the song completely unrecognizable. It was worse in the bathroom, as the ladies’ room is right next to the stage. My teeth were literally rattling against each other. But when I wasn’t being utterly assaulted by the noise, it was a fun concert. Hyde is hilarious, though perhaps unintentionally, with his poofy hair and itty bitty vests. The bass player was totally awesome as The Guy Who Gets The Crowd Excited. (Every band needs one.) And though my image of Kaz was ruined by the observation that he looks like Yoko Ono (OMG he so does!), his guitar playing was excellent.

Epic Parenting Fail: One guy brought a baby. Yes, I’m completely serious. He covered its ears with his hands for the whole show, but come on. A baby? At a rock concert? Really? I guess he’ll be picking up a book on sign language soon.

We had to leave around 10:30, since I had to get up early for work the next morning, but we suspect there wasn’t much show left anyway. We both felt completely wrecked from the heat, humidity, and rapid switches between outside and air-conditioned indoors. It was a decent experience, but I wish we could have seen them in a venue that’s built specifically to handle those kinds of volumes. And, to be perfectly honest, I hope the next time I see Hyde it’s with L’Arc~en~Ciel. I just like their music better.

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