the sinners that surround you

my usual idea of a night out to take in some music involves a cramped bar, or maybe a small theatre if the band can actually draw eight hundred or a thousand people to the performance. the concert attire ranges from ripped jeans and ratty t-shirts at the most casual to motorcycle boots, studded gauntlets, and heavy black makeup at the most formal. the music invariably features guitars, drums, and lyrics about the most disappointing moments life has to offer. the dancing includes little other than headbanging, moshing, and jumping around.

in other words, i don't club.

sure, i have been to clubs a few times. i went out clubbing most weekends during the ill-fated summer of 2002 when i lived in DC. however, i didn't go because the club was where i really wanted to be. i went because i didn't want to be in my room with my obnoxious seventeen-year-old roommate and her squeaking seventeen-year-old friends. i wanted to get out of the building, and this club was one of the few places with late-night entertainment for people under twenty-one. the music was terrible. the people stayed in their little cliques. every week was the same: i went, paid the cover charge, tried to dance, tried to meet people, failed, felt dejected, and caught the last train back to tenleytown.

if i had been older, the entire city would have been my oyster, and i could have gone anywhere i wanted. at age nineteen, i had an unsavory buffet of post-9pm entertainment choices: the 18+ club, an even worse 18+ club, or a late-night run to the 7-11. usually the 18+ club won out...although once i did opt for a cool, refreshing slurpee.

since that summer, i can count on one hand the number of times i have been to a club. the few times i have been, i have felt out of place. i'm not crazy about dance music. i'm a terrible dancer. i look terrible in shiny club clothes, and i have far too much self-respect to pretend otherwise. add to that the obnoxious crowds that clubs often draw, the exorbitant cover charges and drink prices, and the wider range of late-night entertainment options available to me at the age of twenty-five...i lack any real reason to go clubbing.

setting the stage

last sunday, i had reason to enter a club again. they had just built a new addition to the Ameristar Casino out in St. Charles: Home Nightclub. the club was having a five night grand opening extravaganza. four of the five nights involved slates of DJs who may have been well-known in club circles, but i had never heard of them. each of those four nights also featured a celebrity host. that's a phenomenon that i find to be completely absurd: i would be less likely to want to go to a club if the best thing they could offer me was the chance to party in the same room as Fez from That Seventies Show. then again, as became painfully clear the longer i was in that club, my brain does not work the same way as that of your average clubgoer.

the other of those five nights of grand openings involved a DJ whose music i had heard: Tiësto. he is most familiar, at least in circles i hang around, for doing one of the remixes of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme, although he also played the opening ceremony of the 2004 Olympics in Athens. he is widely regarded as one of the best trance DJs in the world--a claim i am well-prepared to agree with, since people who do not normally listen to dance music (myself, my friend Megan who told me about him, Megan's mother, Megan's aunt...) all enjoy listening to his music. Tiësto's album Elements of Life has been a regular soundtrack to mine and Megan's myriad car rides over the last few months. his song "In the Dark" has rivalled "Calling You" by Blue October as my Quintessential Sappy Song of the Semester.

as neither Megan nor i are regular clubgoers, getting ready for this performance involved jumping through a lot more hoops than i normally bother with. we went out shopping the Friday before the show to get new shirts and to get makeup, and met an hour before we left to finish getting ready and make sure that our outfits worked. our outfits may have been a lot more goth-like than club-like...but getting ready for the show was a lot of fun.

my concert attire:

Megan's concert attire:

getting in

the wait to get into the show began to remind me all over again of the absurdity of the clubgoing experience. large signs were posted outside the entry area: DRESS CODE ENFORCED. these seemed particularly absurd given that the nightclub was in a casino, and the entryway was mere feet from all those shabbily-dressed suburbanites thronging to spend the evening with their favourite one-armed bandits. it also became obvious that the accepted dress was completely different for men than it was for girls. i didn't see anyone denied admission for what they wore, but whereas skimpy dresses, clingy tops, and stiletto heels were de rigeur for the girls...the boys around them all showed up in wrinkled button-down shirts and jeans.

the club staff was a confusing institution. the manager must have been under the impression that the more hoops people had to jump through to enter the club, the more prestigious it felt to be there. there were two club staff in black suits at the entry, checking tickets, ID cards, and dress. fifteen minutes later, three more club staffers [two more men in black suits and a woman in a gaudy gold dress and stilettos] checked everyone in line. they checked IDs again, scanned the tickets, and stamped everyone's hands. when they finally opened the club, ten to fifteen minutes after the advertised 9pm door time, two more besuited men were checking hand stamps. around the corner and ten feet down, yet another club staffer in a suit was checking hand stamps again. around another corner, there were more staffers standing guard at the entry of the anteroom...but, strangely enough, not checking any more entry credentials. we were finally in.

that entry procedure didn't make me feel prestigious. i just felt like they were jerking me around.

the opening act

Tiësto didn't take the stage until sometime after 11pm. there was a DJ, Michael Fuller, who spun before him:

he wasn't bad. he had some fun songs in his mix...it was music i would have been perfectly happy to listen to at a dance party, at the rare times that i feel like going to a dance party. to be fair, i really don't know what is supposed to be the difference between "good," "bad," and "middling" dance music. either it makes me dance, or it doesn't. either i'm interested enough in it to care about listening to it outside of a dance bar or a house party, or i'm not that interested in it. Michael Fuller's music was definitely danceable, but nothing that i'm dying to buy or even download.


the fun part of his set was looking around at what everyone was wearing. the club wasn't very full until 10:30 or so, and the dance floor was so empty until then that people could walk across it easily, without fighting through the crowds. megan and i were on the dance floor the whole time, up near the DJ booth. we wanted to be up front for Tiësto, and we didn't actually have a place we could sit down and drink. some of the tables were cordoned off with velvet ropes, and all of them were guarded fiercely by club staff. every so often a group would swagger into the club like they owned the place and say a few words to whoever was guarding a table. the rope would magically open, and women in tiny skirts would start bringing sickeningly overpriced bottles of alcohol to the table. the people at the tables almost never deigned to look at the peanut gallery strewn across the floor, those poor souls who had to belly up to the bar to get drinks, those poor souls who didn't have pompous club staff to provide every little thing they whined for.

but Megan and i in the peanut gallery? we were looking at them. i'm still not sure what was worse: the attitudes of the people with table reservations and bottle service or some of the outfits the women were wearing. the stiletto heels that almost every woman there was wearing were bad enough: they were impractical for walking, and downright dangerous once Tiësto took the booth--and these women in stilettos deigned to get on the floor, push through the crowd, jump to the music, and land mercilessly upon the toes of anyone near them. but, the outfits? they left me scratching my head. many of the people there had garden-variety Bad Clubwear: too-tight dresses, too-shiny tops, and the like. a few, however, were so bad that they deserved dishonourable mention.

there was a woman wearing a short purple dress made out of shiny spandex--the kind used in biker. there were two women wearing the exact same baggy baby-doll dress. despite the fact that both of these women were very skinny, they both had breasts--so, of course, the baby-doll dress made them look fifty pounds heavier than they actually were. there was another girl who looked like Snow White Gone Wrong. her white blouse and Snow White Blue skirt hung on her frame like pillowcases; apparently no one had told her that tent-like clothing does not make a big girl look better. another girl wore a fedora, a pinstriped shirt, and pinstriped pants--which wouldn't have been so heinous if it weren't so obvious that she was trying to ape a late-model Britney Spears.

one woman who kept passing back and forth was wearing the biggest fashion mistake of the night: a gold lamé giraffe-print dress that was so short and tight that whenever she took a step, she was showing off her girlie bits. that was more of her than anyone there wanted to see, except for possibly whichever snotty boy at her table she may have happened to be sleeping with. yuck.

unsportsmanlike conduct

Tiësto finally took the stage close to 11:30. by then, the dance floor had gotten extremely crowded: it was no longer possible to cross it, and people were trying to push their way as far forward as they possibly could. i'm used to this pushing around and jockeying for position from all the rock shows i go to...although, usually, it has started by the time the opener is on stage.

another difference between the rock crowd and the club crowd is that the rock crowd is far nicer about getting as close to the front as possible. most rock fans will push people forward to get close, but they will not shove their way in front of others in order to get closer. the people at rock shows get packed more and more tightly as the show goes on. however, if you start in the second row, you're in the second row for the rest of the show.

clubgoers are different. specifically, many of them are douchebags with no respect for the hours that people on the floor had spent waiting so they could be near the booth when Tiësto began to spin. they sauntered up from their little tables after he took the stage and started shoving their way through the crowd. they shoved people left, they shoved people right, they didn't care who was standing where--as long as they could force their way as far forward as they could.

Megan and i dealt with this two completely different ways. i'm afraid to cause any sort of physical altercation--i was repeatedly beaten up as a kid, and never acquired fighting skills. i was afraid that if i elbowed the wrong person, they'd try socking me in the face, and i'd be hopeless in defending myself. therefore, i lost a lot of ground. Megan, on the other hand...she was perfectly content with her "don't mess with me" attitude. if one of those disrespectful crowd members tried to elbow her, she'd elbow them right back until they realised that they were not getting through the crowd, at least not there. it didn't matter who was trying to mess with her...be it the schmoozer who claimed he was in with every musician from Tiësto to Marilyn Manson, the photographer who thought that his big shiny camera and his business card were reason enough to be entitled to a good spot, or the random little drunk guy who acted as if he was going to beat Megan up. she wasn't moving. she wasn't ceding her position. i wish i had the moxie to have stood my ground like that...but i was just so bamboozled by the discourteous clubgoers, and so conscious of my inability to fight if it did actually come to that.

the music

those people's disrespect for all of us who were on the floor first...for all of us who were treating this as a live music event as opposed to an excuse for posturing and acting better that everyone else detracted significantly from my ability to enjoy the show. i was spending a lot more time worrying about getting shoved, elbowed, jumped on, and tugged at than i was actually dancing to and appreciating the music. Tiësto plays trance, and that's a good description of what i wanted to do during his set. i wanted to listen to the music, dance to it, and just let my mind wander wherever the music guided it.

Tiësto was definitely doing his part to make the show a lot of fun.

although he didn't do "In The Dark" [his set focused a lot more on the music on his latest album, In Search of Sunrise 6], the music never once faltered in the three hours he was up there. it was always fun, danceable, interesting, and seamless. the tempi changed, the volume changed...but it's got to be part of the skill of a master DJ, being adept enough at changing the music that you're never quite sure if it's a song change or a layering of beats within one piece until it has completely run its course. it felt less like a set of songs as it did one three-hour soundscape that was really good for dancing and daydreaming.

the end

after Tiësto finished spinning, they let Michael Fuller on for another song or two. it was very weird...Megan and i hung around to see if there was going to be another few sets; we hoped against hope that Fuller would spin for a while, and then Tiësto would return. that hope was dashed after just a couple songs, when they started dismantling the equipment in the DJ booth and playing absolutely awful music over the speakers. i didn't recognize what it was, but i think it was from the eighties. it wasn't good dance music, it wasn't good background music...it was someone's cruel, unpolished idea of "everyone get out of the club, now!" music. that surprised me...after all of Home Nightclub's attempts to seem so polished and cooler-than-thou, this just shattered the image they were trying to create. no amount of bouncers in suits could lead me to ignore such cheesy exit music.

so, in short...getting ready for the concert was a blast. Tiësto's music was superb. Michael Fuller wasn't bad. but, the venue was a farce, and the crowd was obnoxious. there's a reason i stick to rock shows and not clubs to provide me with my musical entertainment, and this show did nothing to make me any more of a clubber than i was before coming in. give me my smoky little bars and my black-clad headbangers any day.

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