Thursday, January 4, 2007

A Tale of Two Concerts

Two concerts in a week is a rare treat for me. Living in L.A., I have no excuse for how infequently I make it out, other than a general lack of funds and greater lack of motivation. Maybe if I get a less comfortable couch...

First up was Cowboy Mouth at The Windjammer, on the lovely IOP, SC. This was scheduled to be the highlight of my vacation, but other events would surpass it. This was no fault of Cowboy Mouth's. This band is consistently one of the best live bands in America, which may explain how they still play to about 300,000 people every year. No one- not Springsteen, not Bono, not anyone- incites a riot from his crowd better than Fred LeBlanc. Comparing a Mouth show to a religious experience is getting pretty tired, but Fred plays the role of rock n' roll evangelist better than anyone. His God is the music, and he will show you the light.

It definitely helped that he had a roomful of devoted believers. For a band that hasn't had a genuine hit since 1996, the club was packed with people who sang along to every obscure album track and gave everything they had to the band. If you're not the kind of person who gets lost in the moment at rock shows, who worries more about how you look and where everyone is meeting for drinks later, this band may not be for you. Then again, with Fred leading the way, they may be just what you need.

In stark contrast to Cowboy Mouth's contaminating energy, My Morning Jacket's show at The Wiltern the following weekend was a study in how to alienate your audience. Of the two shows, I had been looking forward to this one a little more. Z is one of the best albums of the last couple years and I couldn't wait to see a young, ambitious band navigating all of those delicate intricacies on stage. What I got was noise. Lots of noise. Imagine the climactic swirl of a drawn-out Crazy Horse jam. Now imagine it lasts two hours, blurring songs and solos, hooks and riffs into one giant mash of open chords and distortion. It was a decent show, but this seems like a case of a band that captured magic in the studio but isn't quite capable of reproducing that magic live.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Counting Votes in Beijing...

...and that can mean only one thing: Chinese Democracy has arrived.

Well, not exactly, but they have tentatively scheduled elections. While its obvious the taste-makers over at Pitchfork could care less, I can't help but be excited. I am in the strange 2-3 year age range where my early concept of what is cool was first molded by Axl, only to be later remixed by Eddie Vedder. So while I know all the reasons Gn'R are lame and irrelevant there is a basic emotional response to all things Guns. Its like once you realize the girls in porn aren't necessarily enjoying themselves: as much as your brain says turn it off, a much more primal part of you just wants more.

But Guns n' Roses doesn't really hurt anyone, unless you happen to be in the front row in St Louis, and my iron-clad cred can take a few hits from the "lame" bands I love (1). There is, however, a little question of quality. Will this thing be any good? I can't remember the last time an album was so heavily anticipated with the majority of anticipators completely unsure of what they are anticipating. We're getting ready to pull back the curtain, and its either going to be Fat Axl lazily pulling levers on a State Fair circuit novelty act, or its going to be the fucking wizard.

No one who is able to shit without substantial pain can deny the brilliance of Appetite for Destruction. Everyone loves to credit Nirvana for ending hair-metal, but it was actually this album. The reason is that Poison and Nirvana could peacefully coexist because they never really inhabited the same sphere. But after Appetite, bands like Poison, Warrant, Slaughter, etc. were exposed. They could no longer get by with being dangerous in the Arthur Fonzarelli, lock-up-your-daughters kinda way, because Guns was dangerous in a Charlie Manson, lock-up-your-knives kinda way.

Whether that will translate to a new generation who have no history with Axl remains to be seen. Rock n' Roll is a young man's game, after all, and a 16-year hiatus presents a big problem when your target audience are 16 year olds. Or maybe that was Axl's plan: why reinvent yourself when you can just reinvent your audience? The people that ate up twenty million copies of Appetite are in their thirties now. They may buy the new record, and if their company has a corporate box at the local arena they may even catch the show, but Chinese Democracy is not for them. Its for the new crop of sixteen-year-olds who can't identify with anything on the radio today. They'll be the ones who decide if Axl is relevant again, not the people who wrote him off a decade ago.

1. Expect a future rife with posts on the quality of Geddy Lee's vocal style.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Is it Art?

In a recent discussion of retro-rockers Wolfmother, the eternal balancing act between consumption and art was raised. All music is, to some extent, both, though to what degree varies. There is probably very little art to be found in your candy-pop (ie. Baby, One More Time). On the other hand, there are examples of music which are almost purely art (ie. Metal Machine Music). These exact examples have probably been used a thousand times to bookend this debate, but that is somewhat pointless, because these are songs that set out to be exactly what they are. Britney never expected to be compared to Radiohead, and Lou Reed wasn't thinking about a single. Depending on what kind of music fan you are, one of these is clearly much better than the other, and the other is probably total garbage.

But what about bands that fall in the massive expanse of grey area? Once you get past bands that are clearly one or the other, there is no concrete way to separate and label. Take Wolfmother. This is a band that writes incredibly dated riff-rock with accompanying lyrics about unicorns and "the joker and the thief in the night". If the songs were penned by Christopher Guest they would be high comedy. If they were written by Page and Plant thirty years ago they would be classic rock staples. The only difference, from what I can tell, is the intention of the artist.

The fact that knowing what the artist was thinking when they wrote the song is the only way to know if it is serious artistic statement or goof makes this whole column sorta pointless, but pointless is where I excel, so lets examine further. The importance of intent is what makes most concept art so frustrating. Jackson Pollock broke new ground when he first developed his signature style. Now, any hack can come along and pump out splatter paintings like there's no tomorrow, and they may even be indistinguishable from the original, but without the context they are worthless. The deconstruction becomes a new construction, an original idea becomes a chapter in the book and can never be original again.

So what value can be placed on something that is so obviously derivative? As far as artistic value is concerned, very little. If you're not saying or doing something original, you're not an artist. The best you can hope for is being a performer, and there are varying degrees of respect levelled for performers. (I find it interesting that I just now mention the word "respect" when that's really what this entire post is about.) You can earn points for execution, style, choice of influences, which in my book gives Wolfmother pretty high marks, perhaps an 8 on the old 1-10. Contemporaries the Darkness and the Scissor Sisters score lower for choosing to model themselves after acts that were shit to begin with. Of course, this last statement introduces opinion into the mix, which is far to slick for me to try and grasp here. Lets just say some people have horrible taste for reasons we will never be able to fully understand.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Another hat in the ring...

So, this will be my music/movies/tv/books/random pop-culture blog. I'm still working out how I will post mp3s, if at all. My main goal is to be equal parts entertaining and informative, though I suspect I will fare better with the former. Thanks and please check out my linked sites over there. ------>