Roger Clyne Delivers Solid Show At Frustrating Light Rail Debut

Categories: Concert Review

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Valley Metro pulled out all the stops for yesterday's debut of the 20-mile light rail system we've been writing about all month. They had parties scheduled at pretty much every stop on the line -- though, honestly, I'm not sure there was anything beyond an unmanned purple tent full of fliers at the ghetto fabulous 24th Street/Washington Stop, where I foolishly disembarked at one point -- the biggest in Tempe, where native son Roger Clyne managed to deliver a satisfying set in broad daylight.

So, like I said, Clyne and his band, The Peacemakers, were good. The festivities as a whole? Pretty awful. Seeing Roger for free is always cool, but it required braving Valley Metro's giant clusterfuck-of-an-opening-day, and it's hard for me to separate the two. While most media out there seems quick to dwell on the positive, I can't help but dream up a couple dozen ways this whole thing could have been handled better.

So there are already plenty of doubters about this whole light rail project, mostly oweing to the fact that in a car-and-booze-loving and DUI-dreading town like Phoenix the train is (beyond being an attempt to appear sophisticated to folks back east) and a billion dollar party bus.... albeit a billion dollar party bus that stops running at midnight, making it borderline useless.

Ostensibly, Valley Metro is well-aware of this criticism and is gearing up to win the hearts and minds of Valley residents, slowly convincing them that light rail is not a novelty, but, rather a legitimate transportation option. Their opening day dug them a pretty huge hole, as looky loos waited hours to get on the train, where they were crammed together like sardines in a trash compactor then rode until they either made it to the other end of the line or got tired of the hassle and boarded one of the busses tracing the route. I long ago vowed to be on that train the first day I could, so of course I braved the crowds and rode down to the swap meet for a few beers.

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Why Valley Metro steadfastly refused to do a soft opening, or a weekday opening followed by the same weekend festivities we got yesterday mystifies me. True, there was tons of excitement, but the dog and pony show cost them a chance to make a good first impression on people like me. On some level, I'll always associate light rail with a cop on a segway telling me where to park, and that's not good.

"Everyone's talking about how much fun this is and how exciting it is. But we all know that this is not a Disneyland ride," Harry Mitchell told the Republic. "This is the first phase of a light-rail system that will help us reach a shared vision of an . . . economically vibrant urban corridor."

We'll see, Harry. Right now, my only vision of the light rail is of the elderly woman who puked next to my shoes after we crossed Tempe Town Lake, a particularly thrilling, and motion-sickness-inducing, stretch of track.

Oh, yes, and the concert. Roger Clyne is the consummate professional, and while it's always preferable to see him in his element, as I did for my column on his Circus Mexicus concert in Rocky Point, he played a great show.  Taking stage in a jean jacket, Clyne belted out "I Know You Know" from the latest Peacemaker's album, Turbo Ocho, before getting the crowd excited with "Wanted," the last single released by his former band, The Refreshments. In a condensed set, he played "Down together" a few songs later, then gave a little speech about his excitement over the light rail before playing my favorite offering of the evening, "Contraband," delivered with a few family-friendly phrases to lighten the tone for the many children in the crowd, including Clyne's own. "Banditos," was, as expected, another highlight, prompting a sea of hands to reach out toward the stage during the refrain.

It was a nice moment. Almost nice enough to make me forget the hassles of a long day riding the rails.

Critic's Notebook:

Last Night: Roger Clyne at the Tempe Transportation Center across from Sun Devil Stadium

Better Than: Grand Funk Railroad at the Mesa stop... just guessing, here.

Personal Bias: The last time I saw Roger Clyne it was also in a dusty parking lot -- in Mexico -- so this was a little bit of a letdown by comparison.

Random Detail: Apparently when people move to California they start wearing crazy ass hoodies, which I found out when my friend Albert Ching, music editor at OC Weekly, dropped by the show. Check this thing out.

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Further Listening: Forget listening, you have been reading Night Train, our light rail bar crawl, right?

By the Way: I'm glad I went through all the hassle to ride the train the first day. It's a story I plan to tell for a long time. I just wish Valley Metro had made things easier on us by deflating some of the hype with a soft opening.

Top photo by Benjamin Leatherman, others by Martin Cizmar


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