Not to be one of those people who talks about the weather, but one of the prevailing narratives about this summer’s concert-going season has involved not the artists on the shows’ stages, but water falling from the skies. Earlier this month, the inaugural installment of the Catalpa NYC Music Festival showcased headlining sets by the Black Keys and Snoop Dogg, but many of its promised attractions—fire demonstrations, shotgun weddings in a bounce castle—were truncated or washed away completely by a late-Saturday thunderstorm. Over the weekend, Lollapalooza evacuated tens of thousands of people from Chicago’s Grant Park because of pounding rain and lightning (the festival-goers were eventually allowed back in for sets by the likes of tUnE-yArDs, Frank Ocean, and fun.); last month, the start of the Pitchfork Music Festival in that same city had its kickoff delayed by uncooperative weather.
Non-festivals have had their share of showers this summer as well. Shows at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, which is right on the South Shore of Long Island and surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, are rain or shine; concerts by Brad Paisley and Dave Matthews Band went on despite the inclement weather earlier this year. And on Sunday, the System of a Down/Deftones twin bill played right through a drenching storm that turned part of the venue’s plaza into a pond and made plastic ponchos a hot commodity. Deftones, who went on first, gave a master class in keeping a soaked crowd as happy as they would be on a starry 75-degree night. Any band that’s thinking of playing an outdoor show in the coming months or years would do well to learn them.
Match your music with the stormy mood. The first line of “Rocket Skates,” the set opener: “You’re red, soaking wet.” At this point, the rain hadn’t started, and the late-evening sky seemed relatively calm—one of the security guards had covered his shoes with Totes galoshes just before the band took the stage, and during the first few songs, his co-workers passed around official-looking rain jackets in anticipation. (Or was it fear?) As it turns out, Sunday’s Deftones set was a truncated yet mostly identical version of the one they’d played at the PNC Bank Arts Center the night before—unsurprising, since they’re openers for System of a Down and as a result only have 45 minutes to state their case. Yet its swirling guitars and abyss-ready yelps and meaty low ends seemed well-paced with the storm’s encroachment. The opening drum crack of the gloomily propulsive “Digital Bath” (water reference!), which started as the sky went from dusky to ominously dark, sounded like it could have been a particularly piercing thunderbolt. (It should be noted that this song marked the point when people around me were taking photos of the crazy cloud patterns circling the venue as much as they were snapping shots of the band.)
Enjoy the elements. The deluge was preceded by some pretty impressive gusts—one of the security guards told me that things would be shut down if and only if the winds hit the 60-mph mark, which looked like a possibility at times. Before launching into “You’ve Seen the Butcher,” lead singer Chino Moreno gleefully told the crowd that he was enjoying how there was “some Michael Jackson shit happening—without fans!” He then added a “Black or White”–worthy “WHOOOO!” for good measure.
Let the fans know that you’re in it with them. The merciless wind meant that Moreno and his bandmates were only slightly protected from the elements by the stage’s overhang, but he was still a master frontman, and fully appreciative of all the people who were letting themselves get soaked sans ponchos.
Make coming back out in the deluge worth it. I cried uncle and ran for shelter about two-thirds of the way through the set because I was pretty drenched and my note-taking was rendered useless (why do I keep forgetting to buy waterproof paper?), but after a bit of time hanging out in the breezeway, taking notes on popular T-shirt slogans (Frank Zappa, Daniel Johnston, various Major League Baseball teams, a to-do list that had only “your mom” scrawled on it), I wanted to go back out—the positive vibe was that strong, with even those people who were coming in for a bit of shelter sporting huge grins.
Maybe it’s something about Jones Beach being surrounded by water, but every time I go to a show there and it rains, the weather seems more like a chance for redemption than it does a reason for griping. This is true for both artist and audience: Moreno’s enthusiasm reminded me of when I saw blink-182 last year at a ridiculously fun show marked by a downpour that seemed in retrospect to be a little less cold and pelting but was no less wet. (At one point, lead singer Mark Hoppus poured a bottle of water on himself in solidarity, declaring that he tasted “hairspray and disappointment” as a result of his dousing. It was a sweet gesture, if slightly mitigated by the fact that he probably had towels backstage.) And on Sunday, while lots of people were lining up for $5 ponchos, few of the people forking over their Lincolns seemed annoyed about doing so. (The $40 T-shirts, however, were another story.) I marched back out to my seat for “Change” and even though the raindrops and the wind combined to chill me to the bone, the shock was electric. It helped that the song being played had a monstrously slow burn and sounded almost like it was made to conjure such a strong response from the elements.
Unfortunately, my joy over getting absolutely drenched was cut short by me getting socked in the eye by a particularly insistent and acidic raindrop that sent my contact lens off-kilter and made me unable to open my eye beyond a squint until I’d arrived home and taken it out. Who knew that one could land on the rock critic disabled list in such a fashion?