Friday, May 07, 2004

Bioengineered Corporate Rock Rules

Elton John / Matchbox 20 / Mary J. Blige
Genentech Avastin Approval Celebration
Genentech Parking Lot, South San Francisco, CA
May 7, 2004

What does a leading biotech company do when the FDA approves its new Colorectal Cancer drug? They kick out the jams motherf*cker! I've been to a lot of corporate parties, but this one was "off the hook" (as the kidz say). Around 15,000 employees and guests gathered in a South San Francisco parking lot surrounded by huge food tents, plenty of alcohol / beverage bars, a Ferris Wheel, ice cream and pop corn carts, a huge kid's slide shaped like the sinking Titanic, and plenty of Porta-Potties. Corporate Rock Rules.

None of the musical acts were announced in advance, so there was a palpable buzz in the air as Genentech's CEO came onstage to announce the first performer. Unfortunately, he didn't say "You wanted the best and you got the best! The hottest band in the world..." What followed was rather surreal. Mainstream MTV icons performing in a South San Francisco parking lot. It was almost Punk Rock. Almost. Okay, maybe not at all.

Mary J. Blige: I've probably had her Behind The Music episode on the t.v. while doing something 'round the house? I've caught glimpses of her videos on MTV and VH1. I still don't have a clue about her. However, the bartenders were impressed. One shouted "Mary J. Blige?!! NO WAY!!!" Dude! Way! I grabbed a beer and walked off looking for some shade to sit under to kick it on the down low (or whatever it is the kidz say). I still can't see the value in having back-up dancers onstage. In fact, onstage dance choreography kinda makes me angry.

Matchbox 20: This crap could be played anywhere and not offend anyone. Lock 'N Loll so neutered that it's completely non-threatening. When they played their big MTV hit from several years back it was met with screams of recognition. I imagine that more than a few of the younger folks in the crowd lost their virginity in college with that song playing. Bummer. The singer kept patting his heart with his hand while he sang his "meaningful" lyrics. He should have been patting his wallet since it was swollen with corporate cash. I can't think of a more appropriate band to celebrate a new Colorectal Cancer drug with than Matchbox 20.

Sir Elton: I'll give him credit, he came out Old School and kept it that way for most of his 90 minutes. The set opening shot of 'The Bitch Is Back' > 'Bennie And The Jets' > 'Levon' was actually rather good. It would have been a nice touch if he'd changed the words to 'Rocket Man' to 'Avastin Man' in honor of the new drug.. but he didn't and the moment was lost. Evidently Sir Elton woke up in London that morning, flew to San Francisco for the gig, and was flying back across the pond immediately afterwards. He made more money in 90 minutes than you and I will make in our entire lifetimes combined.

I was hoping he'd play one song in particular. So when he announced "This one's for all the tiny dancers in the world.." I almost screamed like a little schoolgirl. Almost. Blame 'Almost Famous'.. Then Sir Elton had to harsh my good vibe by playing one of his crappy 80's songs whose title I can't remember.

I think I speak for everyone who was there when I say that as Elton sang 'Candle In The Wind' it really brought the spirit of Princess Diana to the wind swept South San Francisco parking lot. I know as I gazed around the asphalt at the empty beer cups, water bottles, and the line outside of the Porta-Potties that stood in the shadow of the 5-level parking garage, I had the image of Dodie and Diana in my mind.. Together 4-ever. Man, so sad. Makes you think, ya know? *Sigh*

For his encore, Sir Elton bounded back onstage wearing an almost too casual jogging suit.. The reason for the jogging suit soon became obvious. After running through a perfunctory version of 'Your Song' he did the total "Elvis-Has-Left-The-Building" rock star dash to a waiting SUV that sped him off the Genentech site towards his waiting plane faster than you can say "Colorectal Cancer".

On the way back to the car some pimply faced teenagers called me a fag. Misfits shirts seen = 1. Beer count = 3. Thanks to the DNA Kidz for the invite. Sir Elton's hair is a wonder of modern science.