With the election two days away, it’s difficult to focus on anything other than that. I feel utterly inundated with breaking Wikileaks stories, poll results, political ads, and unwelcome political opinions plastering my Facebook feed. Having already mailed off my absentee ballot before we left, I spend as little time as possible reading the news so I can stick my head in the sand and pretend that my country isn’t being consumed in this dumpster fire of an election.
Weekends in Vienna certainly offer a smorgasbord of activities to keep one occupied but being on a strict graduate student budget, E and I have to be selective. Another Fulbrighter suggested that we join them and some friends for a free rock concert (free being the operative word here) on Friday night. We jumped at the chance to enjoy some live music and agreed to meet at the Alte Rathaus (old City Hall) at 7pm. E and I arrived just in time for the doors to open. We looked around at the conspicuously older crowd and wondered if we were in the right place.
The venue, the old City Hall of Vienna, was appropriately decorated with high backed, wooden seats reminiscent of a Parliament building. There were beautiful and ornate sculptures throughout the room with golden accents and half naked women depicting justice, agriculture, and business. Hardly similar to any rock concert I’ve been to in the past. In the middle of the half moon of parliament benches was a small stage already set up with guitars, microphones, a drum set, monitors, and backlighting that clashed with the traditional decor. Hanging high above the drum set, a large painting of Karl Lueger, the most famous Viennese mayor, albeit a highly polarizing figure.
E’s Historical Note: Lueger helped bring electricity to Vienna, introduced the Strassenbahn (trams and public transit system), extended the public water supply, founded social welfare programs, built hospitals, gardens, and schools. He was very popular among women at the time for his support of women’s and children’s issues. On the other hand, he was a well-known anti-Semite so take from that what you will.
We found our friends and their Viennese hostmother whose boyfriend is the lead singer of the band, The Phantoms (a perfect name in my opinion for an older band trying to be hip with an English name). We settled into our seats, the most comfortable I’ve ever had at any rock concert ever, with our bottles of Steigl and waited.
Under Lueger’s gaze, the Phantoms took the stage and played a collection of covers by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and other 1950’s tunes (translated into thick Viennese German) which were clearly geared towards the AARP-aged crowd and not to the five millennials in the back. The most striking thing about the whole concert was the audience’s sedated behavior. The end of each song was greeted with polite applause more fitting for a sunken putt in golf than a rock concert. No one hooted or yelled “FREEBIRD!”, they all demurely bobbled their heads in agreement and only
sung mouthed silently along to the English version of The Stones’ Satisfaction. On the whole, the band was very talented and passionate about Viennese rock scene that their youth had inspired.
By the end of the night, three daring, gray-haired women were swaying and clapping in the aisles and a few old men got up to go home as it was approaching 10pm. The encore ended with the German version of Bob Dylan’s Forever Young (Immer Junge). It was simultaneously weird and endearing.