The cheap Bic ballpoint pen, being, as everyone knows, mightier than the sword in an journalist's hand, ended up on the list of banned items for last week's A Perfect Circle concert at Alltel Arena.
What's next? Eyeglasses? Notepads?
My constant pleading to the white-shirted Alltel security people and a smart-alecky North Little Rock policeman to simply summon Alltel Arena GM Michael Marion to identify me the innocence of my pen went unheeded. It may have been my lack of tattoos and braided hair or my overall clean appearance in relation to much of the crowd on hand, but the white-shirted arena security man handling the pat-down refused to believe I was a reviewer or that I would need a pen. He suggested I see the NLR cops nearby so they "could verify" who I was.
"I don't know who you are," NLRPD officer T. Spafford said. When I asked if maybe he read the Arkansas Times, he responded, "I don't read that trash." I offered to send him a subscription, and he said, "Don't bother, I won't read it."
Now, not knowing who I am, that's fine, but when you call the Times trash, that's like insulting mama.
Officer Spafford suggested I didn't need a pen, that I could just write my review from memory. Could he summon Marion? No, he said, he only answered to his lieutenant, who radioed back to stop my pen and its backup from entering. Could he hold my two pens while I went inside and got someone to verify who I was? No, he said he would not assume possession of my personal property nor could he ensure he'd still have the pens when I got back. Could I lay them on the NLRPD's table and retrieve them with an arena official from inside? No, he said, the pens would likely not be there when I returned. (Apparently you couldn't take pens into the arena but there were non-concertgoers hanging around who were still going to scarf them up, I guess.)
This went on and on. Finally, a cool-headed white shirt suggested that I'd be able to get through the VIP entrance on Washington Street. Well, of course; having been treated far from a VIP at the front door, I'm sure I'd get the VIP treatment elsewhere.
Marion did meet me there, escorted me in, and all was well, pen in hand.
Security checks have been in place at concerts long before 9-11, but since then it's become strict to the point of nonsense. Though the arena has its own list of prohibited items that make obvious sense (guns at the top, of course), it's the bands and their security who rule on such items as pens, or the little plastic bracelets young girls wear that were collected by the hundreds before the Linkin Park show a few months back.
One fan in front of me in the pat-down line took out his cellphone. "Does that phone take pictures?" the white shirt asked. He answered, "Yes." "Well, you better not let anyone see you taking a picture inside or they will take it." The photo phone is on nearly every band's list now. I'd still say that, if asked at the door, the answer is "no, it doesn't take pictures" and take your chances.
Unlike airport security, Alltel doesn't use a metal detector - "We thought this market wasn't at a point for that," Marion said - and insides of shoes aren't checked. "We'd be there all day if we had everyone take off their shoes," Marion added.
In more than 16 years of covering sports and concerts in North Little Rock, my experience with the NLRPD has been nothing but great. I was bound to encounter a wise-acre eventually. NLRPD Captain Mike Davis explained the police's role at concerts: "We're there basically to keep someone from killing somebody." The security matters are mostly left to the white shirts, usually off-duty sheriff's department or county jail personnel and who follow orders handed down from the band - to a T. Put coins on the list of dangerous items and they'll collect those. I wish band security would put credit cards on their list and take all of mine.
The arena employees in light blue shirts inside the door answer directly to Marion and are ticket-takers and ushers. All a white shirt last week had to do, Marion said, was get a blue shirt to intervene on this reviewer's behalf. Marion assured me the disconnection has been addressed. And in the future, if a band wants pens confiscated, reviewers will bring theirs through the VIP entrance: In some cases a cheap Bic is a Very Important Pen.
About the show: Considered by many as a "serious, thinking man's" modern rock group along with Tool (which is singer Maynard James Keenan's main project), A Perfect Circle very well could be what an early generation saw in Pink Floyd, Blind Faith and that ilk. I was surprised later to find how few people around here know of the band, and the 3,314 fans who did show attest to the group's lack of exposure in this market.
Keenan's emotional delivery of group founder Billy Howerdel's lyrics is what carries the band, and that was never more evident than on the climatic "Judith" from the group's debut album "Mer de Noms." Keenan seems to have tooled more of his own sound into some of the newer Howerdel songs, however.
Howerdel, whose career and association with most of the other players began with being a guitar technician, is technically proficient out front, never flashy outside of his bald head. The way he balances the slide and his effects with straight lead-playing was solid.
A Perfect Circle is an all-star consortium of top heavy rock players: Along with Keenan from Tool there is Jeordie White (formerly of Marilyn Manson) on bass, James Iha (formerly of Smashing Pumpkins) on guitar, and John Freese (of Devo) on drums. They each had moments to shine, and for a group considered Keenan's side project, they were amazingly tight.
The songs tended to be brooding, and the lengthy jamming could have bored some, but APC finished with a flourish: "3 Libras," new power song "Outsider" and "Judith."
I figured Keenan, who sets up behind the front line next to Freese, to be reserved, but he worked the crowd throughout, urging them to outdo a previous Mississippi crowd in screaming a double expletive (one I wish I could have used at the arena front entrance, in fact).
Between acts, I mingled with the corridor crowd, realizing most were half my age. There were some more gray and more wrinkled than I, but not many. The woman who gave me an alcohol band was glad to see someone her own age, she said. Two rather fetching young women sidled in behind me in the beer line and struck up a conversation about beers, A Perfect Circle, and its former bassist Paz Lechantain. When I was singled at concerts like this, I prayed for conversations like this. Oh well.
Two young fellows hit me up for a few dollars so they could buy a beer. The way this night had gone, I was more than happy to oblige.
"That's the coolest old dude I've ever seen at a concert," I heard Jacob say as I walked off. I could take that as solace, I suppose.