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If Michael Jackson dies during an acoustic punk concert, does anyone notice?



On Thursday afternoon, I was at Reax Space, a music-themed gallery/boutique in Ybor City run by Reax music magazine, for an acoustic in-store performance by Joey Cape, the singer of seminal California punk band Lagwagon.

Fewer than 20 fans showed up. Cape took a stool and mic in front of the cash register, and Reax editor Scott Harrell took another for a Q&A session with Cape.

Harrell asked if Cape often wrote music on an acoustic guitar. "I've written every song I've ever written on an acoustic guitar," Cape said. Especially demos, he added.

Harrell asked: Ever plan to do anything with those demos? Maybe, Cape said. Not sure if anyone would want to hear them.

They were discussing a split 7" Cape recorded with No Use For a Name's Tony Sly when, at 5:57 p.m., a cell phone rang. It belonged to Frank Mansis, 31, of Tampa, who silenced the phone and hid behind a friend. Everyone did that thing where they laugh and point and hoot at the careless guy who dared interrupt such an intimate performance.

Mansis laughed sheepishly and flipped open his phone to read the text. It read:

michael jackson died

"Michael Jackson died," Mansis said, flipping his phone back shut.

Some nervous tittering at first, then a collective, disbelieving: Wait, what?

A guy standing next to me nodded. "I've gotten three messages," he said.

Everyone, Cape included, turned to the guy behind the register, who was sitting at a computer.

Google it, they urged.

Confirmed, the guy said. Michael Jackson, dead at 50.

The room buzzed with that that antsy, incredulous laughter that bubbles up whenever you hear stunning news that doesn't affect anyone you've ever met personally.

"What's your first reaction to the death of the King of Pop?" someone asked.

"It's all part of my plan," Cape joked nervously. "Now there's room for me to take over." He paused. "I don't know how I feel. This whole thing just got a little bit weirder."

The crowd chuckled anxiously, still buzzing. People thumbed out texts and murmured to one another.

"No f---ing way!"

"That's crazy. Wonder how he died?"

"Are children safe now?"

"Can we have a moment of silence for the King of Pop?"

"I only have one question," Cape asked, half-seriously. "What's going to happen to the Beatles catalog?" A few people nodded in agreement: Yeah, what's up with that whole deal?

Harrell regained control of the room by continuing the Q&A, pushing forward with questions about the evolution of Cape's acoustic style. And then it was time for Cape to play a few songs.

"Play Thriller!" someone said.

Later: "Do Billie Jean!"

Cape wisely declined both requests. He did play four songs, including Wind In Your Sail and Making Friends. He messed up once, forgetting the chords on Twenty-Seven.

Lagwagon is a hard-edged band, but acoustically, on this afternoon, Cape's delicate songs had a more somber, emotive tinge than I'm sure he intended. Context, as always, is everything.

"Michael Jackson," he muttered toward the end. "That just threw me for a loop."

The crowd at Reax Space on Thursday would no doubt agree.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Thursday, June 25, 2009 8:06pm]


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