Main | Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Little Queen That Could

San Francisco, 2002

We parked in the Mission Street garage. Pet Shop Boys hadn't played San Francisco in three years and we'd had our tickets for months. It was my first return visit to The City since my move to NYC the previous year and I was almost giddy just to be with my friends again. Just to ratchet up our excitement a little bit more, we sat in the car for one more playing of Home And Dry, then bounded out of the car and headed towards Market Street and the historic Warfield Theatre.

I adore the Warfield, even over the more storied Fillmore. The spectacular Warfield wears her faded grandeur with quiet dignity, a dowager octogenarian matriarch still wearing her tatty heirloom jewelry. Showtime always comes too soon for me at the Warfield, as I'm usually caught in the lobby lingering over her musical history, rendered non-chronologically along the walls, a haphazard photo record of her callers. Dylan. Hendrix. Grateful Dead. Even the rascally Sex Pistols get mantle space, bastard relations who showed once and puked in the parlor.

As we approached the door of the Warfield, I noticed the usual phalanx of security thugs working the door. The Warfield always hired big menacing black men to work the lines. Stoic, imposing men who barked gruffly if you dared pause to greet friends. "No standing! Clear the entrance! Get in line or move along!" You disobeyed at your peril.

On that night, the "line" out on the sidewalk was a swirling, festive, chattering mob of gay men. Muscle men straining the limits of their ribbed tank tops, shivering in the frigid San Francisco summer air, too proud of their traps, their delts, their guns, to shield them from Market Street wind with the coats which they'd stowed under their dashboard before the goose-bumpy dash to the venue. Mixed among the gym boys were drag queens and club kids, all with gigantic electric-hued hairdo's whose height was amplified by ten-inch platform shoes, upon which their owners labored to remain upright, all the while shrieking to announce their arrival.

It was a motherfucking circus on that sidewalk. It was perfect, for a few minutes. The security guards made no attempt to hide their disgust with the night's audience, sharing repulsed looks with each new addition to the growing line, but we were too busy being happy in each other's company to take much notice. But when the line began to be admitted through the doors, as we approached the ticket takers, we came across a group of a half-dozen girls, perched the left of the entrance. They wore matching puffy jackets, the tough-girl fashion of the moment. As each flamboyant patron passed, the girls clutched each other in laughter, pointing at and mocking the queens. It was ugly, it was cruel. I hated them.

As we passed, my friend Robert said acidly, "Are you ladies enjoying the show?" Immediately, one the security guards whirled around. "What the fuck did you say?" Ah. The girls were with the security guards, invited guests for the sidewalk spectacle. I pulled Robert into the crowd at the door and we escaped inside without looking back.

We had balcony tickets. We tried to console each other. Balcony tickets were fine. There was assigned seating in the balcony. We could see the entire stage from the balcony. Nobody blocked your view in the balcony. The balcony was perfect, actually. Down on the floor, it was standing room only. Down on the floor, your legs would be aching before the opening losers finally left the stage, their exit generating the only applause they'd earned. Down on the floor, you couldn't see so well. Down on the could dance. Down on the floor, you could fight your way to the front and make eye contact with your heroes. Down on the floor, you could bounce up and down with your arms around your best friends while singing and cruising and making "accidental" body contact with the muscular hottie you'd been eyeing at the gym all week. The balcony fucking sucked. We tried to console each other.

The show, of course, was wonderful. Pet Shop Boys were trying out an acoustic sound, with Neil Tennant perched on a stool with a guitar for much of the show. Even the classics were given a stripped-down treatment. While not the full-on disco extravaganza of the usual Pet Shop Boys concert, there were enough big productions tossed out to satisfy. When the house lights came up, we eagerly headed towards the stairs to go the lobby for our prize, the unique luxury poster card that the Warfield created for every event.

Often produced on heavy stock paper, the posters always showed up the next day in the bins of Haight Street's Amoeba Records, priced $10 and up, depending on the band's popularity and how rare the visit to San Francisco may have been. To thwart the commercial vending of the posters, the Warfield only dispensed them in the lobby, one per patron. Once outside, those bearing posters were often accosted by enterprising young men making lowball cash offers, knowing they could triple their money at the record shops the next day. Warfield staffers took great pains to make sure that no concertgoer got more than one poster each.

But we were not allowed back down into the lobby. A security guard, flanked by the balcony's concession staff, stood at the top of the stairs, which were roped off. "You must exit to your left," he bellowed, as staffers directed everyone towards the Warfield's exterior fire stairs, which led to the alley behind the theatre. I looked at my friends. "Hey, what about our posters?" Next to me, a little queen wearing red harlequin pants spoke up, "Yeah, this totally SUCKS! I want my poster! When we get down on the street I'm going back around to the front and make them let me back in to get it."

My friends and I decided to follow Little Queen back to the front doors of the Warfield Theatre. It was a decision that nearly got us killed.

To Be Continued......

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