What a bad idea

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Nu Hottness. No, I'm not shutting this place down, but I have to put that degree to work somehow, and I'd rather do that in a more professional-looking environment.

Friday, January 28, 2005

#8: Scrumtrillessence

(yes I hate that little dot too. I couldn't find a better picture.)

There are galaxies of reasons as to why this project seems to have (predictably) tailed off, but a few of them brush shoulders with legitimacy, and chief among that subset is the fact that Pete Doherty's fingerprints are all over it. Most people, of course, wouldn't hesitate to ramble on about arguably their favorite musician (it's either him, James Murphy, or the Strokes as an concept condensed into the person of Julian Casablancas), and usually I am no different. It's just that with Doherty, I've discovered that I'm unable to talk about Pete Doherty without venturing off to the frontiers of Will-Ferrell-as-James-Lipton-dom ("Mr. Doherty, your gift for songcraft truly makes the works of Bach sound like those of a retarded eight-year-old. Would you be so kind as to bestow upon us your opinion of Brian Eno?"). This is, in short, a problem.

Those of you who read all seven posts I made last year will recall my ferocious seizing upon any opportunity to ridicule the institution of emo. To some extent I still believe this is a justifiable crusade - it's hard for me to take any genre of rock seriously which won't even own up to its usefulness in getting girls - but at this point I'm willing to at least accept it as something of which someone could legitimately be a fan. I mean, at least there's a character to emo, right? Emo songs are hardly some work of Aphex Twin-esque icy perfection; those sweater-vested guys on stage at Spaceland make no attempt to hide the stitching on their songs. It just comes down to shared values - if your emotional makeup happens to have a pronounced wussy side and you look for the same in the music you listen to, then odds are you're going to like a bunch of emo. It's just logical. (I suppose you could take my alternative and stockpile albums by Jackson Browne and pre-George-H.W.-Bush-era Billy Joel; unfortunately, this alternative is a GREAT way to meet zero girls.)

The funny thing about all of this is that it took a British crackhead to make me realize it. I know I unfairly give Pete Doherty too much credit (and poor Carl Barat zero credit whatsoever), but fuck it: there are facts you can prove, and then there are facts that you experience, and in my experience Pete Doherty is responsible for all of that loose-as-fuck, loud-as-fuck, abrasive-as-fuck-but-not-really rock music coming out of England right now. Before I got into the Libertines, all I heard from bands like the Others and the Paddingtons were Nice Enough Rock Songs played Very Loosely, but between the tortured yowl that opens the Libertines "Up The Bracket" and the jarring (yet entirely appropriate) conclusion to Babyshambles' "Killamangiro", it dawned on me that this might actually be a legitimate attempt at making music - music specifically For Me, even. (The acid test, incidentally, is to sing along with it in the car, and try to figure out if you're attempting to copy the lead singer's style or if *you* are actually doing the singing. When I sing along with Bowie, f'rinstance, it's practically grand theater, but with the Libertines I can't help but exude terrifying sincerity and hilarious ferocity - both *mine*. As you might imagine, I go to great lengths to avoid driving anyone anywhere.)

At their most compelling, The Libertines make songs which constantly sound like they're on the verge of ceasing to be - either they're going to turn into something new and overwhelming all of a sudden or they're just going to collapse entirely. Finding music which can get across a true sense of urgency, I've found, is rare and to be treasured; most music - ESPECIALLY music made for lots of people, which covers everything the Libertines ever wrote - is by and large passive stuff intended for the audience to enjoy until it's time to hop to the next rock (see Ferdinand comma Franz). But something was always happening with the Libertines' songs: either all of a sudden they were owning up to their inherent Monkees-ness, or they were wailing away on a woodblock, or they were turning a lyrical phrase with an enviable glibness. You had to enjoy it NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW NOW, the premise goes, or you're going to miss being blindsided by something gigantic.

The tragic genius of Pete Doherty is that he's managed to extend this premise beyond just his music into his actual life. Doherty is infamous for missing gigs/showing up in no condition to perform/performing a song or two and then losing interest/etc, and yet if you like what he does, you'll grin like a jackass while you hand over money for a chance at deflation. To reiterate, I fucking LOVE what Pete Doherty does; even when I don't particularly care for one of his songs with Babyshambles or Wolfman, I never feel disappointed by them.

I am breaking the paragraph here in order to let the last line sink in. Bands that I love disappoint me all the time; it's most frequently identified albums (as in "I was pretty disappointed that the Franz Ferdinand album didn't prove to had the legs I'd hoped for it"), but it actually happens most commonly with individual songs. Songs are funny things; even the best ones have parts which go somewhere other than where you'd like for them to go. Not Doherty's solo stuff. Even the non-great songs ("Babyshambles", "Back from the Dead") are at least buoyant; I never feel like I'm wasting my time, which is all you can really ask for. And then there are the great songs. Exhibit A, of course, is "Killimangiro", but c'mon, that one's almost too obvious; if you make a song which is upbeat and rocks hard and hits you in the chest with percussion and builds like Pharoah's slaves and where Every. Fucking. Part. of the song goes EXACTLY where you want it to - well, I mean, duh. But then there's "For Lovers", Doherty's collaboration with Wolfman, which is very possibly the most dreamy and beautiful song written last year in spite of being written by the rock-addled Doherty. Frankly, I still don't know how he pulled off such a magnificent prom song, but there it is, seeming for all the world like it's going to stop working at any moment until it actually fades to silence. I waste my life digging around your files on SoulSeek specifically in search of stuff like that.

I'm rambling. My point is this: I can be told over and over again that other people's music is more sophisticated, even better suited to my life, but damned if I wouldn't throw it out the window in favor of something that I like dealing with and which I am forced to deal with Immediately. Put differently, I get urgency out of Pete Doherty's work just like emo kids get sincerity out of Conor Oberst's's's;s, and "more of that" is always on my shopping list. Hence, this album; I originally hauled ass to Amoeba to buy it the day I heard "Killamagiro" (only to discover that Bring Your Own Poison is a collection of live performances, meaning I actually had to go back in to buy Babyshambles' actual single), but ended up discovering a scene in general and a bunch of new bands in particular as a consequence. It warms my heart to hear bands like the Paddingtons and the magnificent Dogs (who aren't actually on this compilation, but whose single "London Bridge" is BY FUCKING FAR the best song from the scene in which Doherty had no hand) make attempts at songs which try to be logical, reasonable, and totally fucking out-of-pocket all at the same time. Which isn't to say that they're Libertines clones; most of these bands are marked by paranoia rather than swaggering rockstar confidence, and it's a damn near fact that none of them could write a radio song half as well as Pete y Carl (note the irony of the most wistfully Monkees-esque love song of recent years - "Time For Heroes" - coming out of the motherfucking LIBERTINES). And yes, there are some weak songs (Art Brut, I fling my poop at thee), and yes, maybe it's cheating since it's a live album, but at the end of the day, when I listen to this album, I hear something going on, something that pays off. If nothing else, they learned the most important lesson that the Libertines had to teach.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

#9: Large

It’s getting to be really difficult to be hardcore these days. More and more, I find myself bitching and moaning about the lack of a soundtrack suitable for my waxing libido (this is why the Strokes exist, kids), and yet I can’t seem to put down Anniemal. It’s just too much damn fun.

“It”, I hasten to add, isn’t so much the songs – I’ve settled nicely into a listening pattern with it where I skip over roughly half the album – but rather the one-two punch of the sweet narcotic rush of unadulterated pop music (one) and the giddy, reckless delight that you only get when you catch yourself enjoying something that you know you shouldn’t (two). And really, if you want to get that even closer to the truth, it’s the second part of that equation that really makes the sale. As long as we’ve had pop music – and I mean pop music in the broad overarching sense of Popular Music, not just in the “Hey, thirteen-year-old girls like music too!” sense – there’s always been that undercurrent of You Should Not Be Here; it just used to be about showing The Man what the back of your middle finger looked like. Now it’s about kicking your friends in the dick when they make fun of you for knowing all the words to “Chewing Gum”.

Well, fuck ‘em. There are few albums this year which offer up as many chances to make a jackass of yourself in front of your friends as Anniemal. It’s not just that it’s an album full of disco whistles and warm synth pads and breathy backing tracks – it’s all that stuff pushed way past the logical conclusion. I still remember being about seven or eight and visiting my cousin who introduced me to Guns ‘n Roses; I think it may have even been the first time I’d ever heard “Sweet Child O’ Mine” when he asked me whether I liked that or the New Kids on the Block with more than a little trepidation. Of course I chose G’n’F’n’R – how could you not? It was just so gigantic that you couldn’t deny it, right? How do you possibly choose thin-ass late 80s pop music over THAT, right?

Okay, try to visualize two things: First, that most of the music on Anniemal is just as gigantic as Appetite – it just gravitates around the precise opposite musical pole. And second, if the New Kids had had music as active and animated as Anniemal does – well, my family might be even more suspicious of me. But god, who am I to argue with Those Drums on “Heartbeat” or all those hilarious disco sirens on “Come Together” or all that ice-cold synth punctuation all over the title track Or Or Or. There’s just stuff going on here; lots of stuff, good stuff, and stuff being put forward within the rubric of pop music (and now I am limiting myself to the thirteen-year-old-girl mode of pop music). This stuff sounds light and unthreatening because dammit, it’s built to sound light and unthreatening.

I suppose it’s worth making the point that it’s totally reasonable to look at Anniemal as an album of substance as well. Death, to take the most obvious example, has a way of showing up on this album, specifically the death of Annie’s deceased friend DJ Erot, who plays the dual roles of guest vocalist on “The Greatest Hit” and subject of “My Best Friend”, the album’s curious closing song. It’s actually a pretty clever trick if you think about it, and more to the point it’s certainly not the kind of trick you’d expect to find attempted on a bid for Britneydom. And yet that almost seems to miss the point. What makes Anniemal a great pop album isn’t that it deals with big things like death; it’s that it’s a monster of a record made compelling by the fact that it’s precisely the kind of thing that you’ve been brought up to write off. Put it this way: I have total confidence that Lester Bangs would have loved it.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog. I figure why not.

Yet Another Goddamn Project

So. End of the year. Time to do lists. As, at the moment, I am staying nearly sober (in preparation for OMG I WON'T TELL), I figured I would fill my time by attempting to write something about each of my ten favorite albums of the year, counting down to #1. As usual with my projects, I would afford this about the survival rate of a poor family on the Titanic, but sobriety can make a man do funny things. Plus you all get to watch as I make futile attempts to wrangle pictures into my blog. I predict comedy. ALLEZ CUISINE.

#10: O SHI

“Ah fuck”, I say to myself; “I may have painted myself into a corner already. The truth of the matter is that I like Let’s Bottle Bohemia simply because it’s full of great songs, and the deeper truth of the matter is that I can’t use the term ‘great’ here without using it exactly like my little sister does when she talks about how the new Weezer album is full of ‘great’ songs. You don’t really want to admit to that level of cerebral lameness on the Intarnets – hell, you REALLY don’t want to do it first thing off the bat, do you?”

Answer: Yes. I really do like this album, and I really do think the songs are great, and I mean that in the most cloyingly moderately-ahead-of-the-curve-cocky-thirteen-year-old-girl sense possible. The songs are just so damned catchy, and the layers of instruments just play so well against each other, and the lyrics are just the right balance of relevant and singalongable, and I keep putting stuff from this album on the endless series of mix CDs that I pass out to my friends with less time and energy to focus on looking for great music, and goddammit this is just a great album. If I kick this off by declaring myself to be a creature of taste, then so be it.

“Taste”, I think, is the operative word here, because if you go off the basis of So Much For The City, the Thrills are absolutely nothing of consequence. The City, or what I managed to endure of it, wasn’t bad, just bland; as a consequence of both living in Southern California and devotedly reading Stylus, I haven’t exactly had much difficulty finding music where bands deal with their problems by way of sunny pop music. Worse yet, right around the time when everybody started asking me if I’d heard The City, I picked up Belle & Sebastian’s world-killing Dear Catastrophe Waitress on a whim (those who want my thoughts on that album can basically multiply the enthusiasm in this piece by nine billion). In addition to monopolizing my car’s CD player for roughly the first half of the year, it also set me down the path of becoming One Of Those Goddamn Belle And Sebastian Fans – buying giant wads of their back catalogue, searching out the singles, you know the drill. The Thrills never really had a chance against that kind of onslaught – YOU go listen to “Big Sur” right after “There’s Too Much Love” and tell me who wins – but seriously, in all honesty, nobody really could have had one.

The irony, however, is that without the B&Splosion earlier in the year, I probably would have just ambled right on past Let’s Bottle Bohemia – I can nearly guarantee you of that. Two things were happening in September when this came out. First, I was right in the midst of a motherfucker of a run of tripping and falling into great/fun/worthwhile CDs seemingly every week. (I seem to remember buying Chain Gang of Love, Hotter than July, Surf’s Up, Absolution, the This Modern Age EP, an ELO Greatest Hits compilation, about four of the albums on this list, and a whole shitload of other stuff in the span of about two and a half weeks, although again, I do smoke a lot of pot.) More importantly for this narrative, however, is the fact that with the purchase of Belle & Sebastian’s Books EP (whichrulesgogetit), my Belle & Sebastian phase came to a graceful close, or at least the part of the addiction fueled by the thrill of discovering new stuff. As anybody who’s ever obsessed over a band to any degree knows – which I presume covers all four of you who read this thing – this is the moment where you find out if things stick around for the long haul (hello Blondie) or if you should just cut and run (hello Hum). It’s just that at that moment, I didn’t feel like I was done with Belle & Sebastian; lord knows I’m enough of a mopey dorky pop music addict that I need all that shit that I can get.

You know where this is going. Someone basically hogtied me into giving Let’s Bottle Bohemia a chance. I listened to like three or four songs and decided not to listen to it again until I had bought it. I bought it and couldn’t shake it from the rotation of CDs that I’d take to my car whenever I’d drive anywhere. It soundtracked some bullshit in my life. I discovered promise and utility in a few other songs on the album. Now, in light of some more recent re/discoveries (Nilsson Schmilsson! Permission to Land! Up the Bracket!), it’s back on the shelf, but hell, I’ve dusted it off recently and it still works just fine thankyouverymuch. Simply because other music offers deeper, less exhaustible, more mature (or, hell, immature) pleasures doesn’t mean that it makes sense to ask for more than what I got from Let’s Bottle Bohemia.

I think there’s always going to be room for albums like this with me – or at least I hope so. Albums like this keep you honest; it’s very very easy to wrap yourself in a shroud of DFA cowbells and MF Doom lyrics and bitch and moan about how nobody else gets it, and I say that with the full authority of experience. In all seriousness, I’m not trying to pull a Hornby here; I have no a priori objection to esoterica, to the point where I’d call Music For Airports one of the better and more interesting and more useful albums that I’ve ever heard. It’s just that there’s a time and a place for it, and if there’s a time and a place for stuff like that, then surely there has to be a time and a place for the bouncy fun stuff like Let’s Bottle Bohemia. And if that time and place is underscored so aptly by a work of music like Let’s Bottle Bohemia, then slotting it out in favor of Max Richter or Oh Montreal in an attempt to curry favor with the cognoscenti just isn’t worth it. Sez me, that’s who.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Things I Learned About Rock from the Cool People (or: Since We Last Spoke)

1. LCD Soundsystem @ the Echo, 10/28

So there I was. We (David & I) had shown up ass-early and started in on the Jack & Cokes with little hesitation or reprieve; following a truly shitty opening “band” (Los Angeles seems to be overflowing with shitty electroclash outfits stuffed to the gills with atonal screaming about boypussy, so I forget exactly which one we had to endure), we’d found ourselves in the company of a charming/cute/cool as fuck chick named Vivian. So we spent the second band out in the Smoker’s Pen out back, slam-commentating on the Killers and Mogwai and the looming, then-undecided election. We made it back inside right as some band was laying down a very familiar beat, and before I knew it, I was coming face to face with the delicious irony of the lyrics “Nobody’s coming undone/Everybody here’s afraid of fun”. We made our way up to the front of the stage, where David broke off and ran straight up for the pit while Vivian and I stayed right up by the drummer. And although I don’t quite have a rock-solid timeline or set list, I can definitely say that it was sometime in between “Give It Up” and “Daft Punk Is Playing At My House” that I had to lean over to Vivian and say “Sweet Jesus, I am *exactly* where I’m supposed to be.”

How good were LCD Soundsystem live? I can’t really give you an explanation. I have give you three.

- A: They were so good that I sang. Loudly. And badly. But mostly loudly.
- B: They were so good that I danced. A lot. (Also, they were so good that I didn’t have to sit there figuring out what to do with my hands.)
- C: They were so good that, after the show, upon seeing James Murphy taking down the set, I had to torch my castle of I Am Not A Starfucker which has sheltered me well these last twenty-three years. And I mean motherfucking torched it, in true Dean Rasmussen at Wrestleforce America fashion. Naturally I don’t have an exact transcript, but it pretty much went like this:

Poor James Murphy: Uh, cool, thanks.
Poor James Murphy: Cool. What’s your name?
Poor James Murphy: Hey, cool, me too.
Poor James Murphy: Yeah, that was pretty fun
Poor James Murphy. Uh, what?
Poor James Murphy: Cool, thanks man.

Sure, sure, laugh at the drunken idjit – this is why I write about stuff in the first place. But, and I accept full consequences for saying this, I was there. I saw a room full of scraggly betruckerhatted hipsters who looked seriously allergic to a good time just Lose. Their. Shit. I heard the sounds of record store cash registers ringing in the morning to the tune of newly-sold copies of Nilsson Schmilsson due to LCD’s jaw-dropping cover of “Jump into the Fire”. I all of a sudden got what the big deal was with “Yeah”. I saw that at one point in time, Can had t-shirts printed up (due to Mr. Murphy’s possession of one. To cop a Peel, if hero worship were sex, James Murphy would be pregnant with like ten thousand of my babies). I saw through time back to what it must have been like when people first heard – no, saw – the Stooges live, and yes, that’s the comparison with which I plan on saddling LCD Soundsystem through to the bitter end. OF MY LIFE.

I saw the rockingest show that I’ve ever seen, and that actually kinda covers some ground. It was just the motherfucking best.

2. Les Savy Fav @ the Knitting Factory, 11/13

So I’ve been intermittently blasting Inches, or as I like to call it, Son of Singles Going Steady, for months now, and having seen them live, I can safely say it: They’re kinda overhyped. Yeah, the guy’s a big fat belligerent bearded guy (and yeah he came back out for the encore in a unitard and a dress), and yeah they rock like motherfuckers, and yeah the great songs are reeeeeeeeeeeeeeally great live…but, I mean, that’s it? Didn’t these guys get kicked out of Vegas for fucking shit up? (note: yes they did.) Well then where the hell was that energy – or, I mean, did the band just decide that they weren’t going to pass it on to the audience? Lord knows they were jumping around and, again, the unitard, but it all felt so very arranged, like we were all just waiting around for when shit was REALLY going to go off the format sheet. I couldn’t turn my head from left to right all the way without seeing guys (all guys) standing there looking for all the world what I must have looked like at Franz Ferdinand in June – nodding with INTENSE APPRECIATION and a faraway look in your eyes that only says “I am already at home writing the review of this show on my computer.”

I feel shitty about the above paragraph, because Les Savy Fav really is a kickass band – markedly better, for instance, at exactly whatever it is that Franz Ferdiand and the Futureheads do – and when they were On, evurrbody woke the fuck up and had six great minutes all at once. Please don’t be fooled into thinking that I had a non-great time; it was in fact a rockin’-ass show. Really, though, it’s just that the night was defined less by the music itself than by all the shitty stuff which the music wasn’t able to overcome. Allow me to make sense of this.

The key incident for the night was, to put it broadly, the unaccountable shittiness of the opening band, Smoke And Smoke. (I swear to God I’ve seen some good opening bands. Hell, I paid way too much money to see the Rapture do just that for the expletive deleted CURE back in August.) Basically, imagine the shittiest noise-rock band possible, flea-dip their lead singer in Emo Whinery, and turn the volume up way, way, way too loud, as in to the point where the floor was shaking, and you’re in the neighborhood of shittiness where this band lives. Bands like this are the bane of my existence; I harbor an unshakeable conviction that everybody I know in real life thinks I listen to dull, shitty, unappealing music on purpose simply because that way I can Be Doing Something That Nobody Else Is Doing *Ferocious Indie Snob Glare*. This is of course patently untrue. I like songs with hooks. I like catchy songs. I like songs that are fun. I like songs that make you go crazy. I like songs that require a passion for music that extends beyond the force used to actually make music come out of an instrument. Therefore, when I hear droning bullshit like this, my immediate impulse is to sneak up behind the one Indie Rock Ack-Torrrr trying conspicuously hard to rock out, clock him in the back of the head, and slink away to smoke a cigarette and complain about music. One-third of this actually happened.

But as we were standing outside, in walked The Mystery Girl looking for all the world exactly like Audrey Hepburn dressed up to audition for In The Mood For Love. The rest of the night was basically spent wandering around trying to figure out where exactly she’d gone so that pathetic game could be run upon her, an involved process which took our attention off the second opening band (who were pretty decent – imagine the Stills without that hideous veneer of pride that you only see when an acceptable pop band takes dead aim at rock idols through a Clear Channel night-vision scope) and dictated our positioning within the crowd when Les Savy Fav came up. Nothing, as you might imagine, happened; after the show, someone pulled the fire alarm, and David and I got hung up when he had to pay his tab, and so that happened.

Again, it’s not like Les Savy Fav were anything close to bad, but you’d think that rock should be able to overcome that kind of thing. I mean, if real rock music isn’t what you run to when the other music sucks and you can’t get the girl, then the terrorists really have won, right?

3. Various drunks @ a Silver Lake house party, 11/14

Which brings me to this. Kim, as is the custom, had a birthday (either recently or coming up soon), and to celebrate not dying, threw a party centered around people making art. Which basically broke down to some people sitting around and painting or drawing or whatever, and some other people sitting around somewhere else noodling around on various instruments, inhaling boxed wine all the while.

You might think that I’d be a bit out of place at a function like this. You would of course be right. I did basically exactly what I would have expected myself to do – smoke approximately eight thousand Parliaments, rotate amongst the six people who I actually knew, and contentedly retreat into my monstrous head and soak up the atmosphere. But JOKE’S ON YOU, FUCKER, as I actually ended up having a pretty good time in a post-college party kind of way. I met other people from Durham, ran into people who I’d previously seen dressed up as Christmas trees for Halloween, yammered briefly about music with people actually in the music industry for a change (without even slipping into James Cobo Lecturing People on the Unchallenged Genius of Richard X mode, a rare feat in recent weeks), saw people I haven’t seen since graduation - you know the deal. Good times. Living life. Rocknfucknroll.

I bring this up not because the music complemented the scene or anything, but rather because it was just there. I mean, it wasn’t particularly good or anything, but then again it’s hardly like anyone was trying to pull another “Virginia Plain” out of the ether or anything; everybody was just kind of playing some songs they liked. I heard some Weezer, and I heard “Yellow Ledbetter”, and I heard what can only be described as a valiant series of attempts at “Sweet Home Alabama” by a bunch of Californians who’d been drinking wine all day. And every time I’d recognize a song, I’d think “Hey, this song” and keep right on having a perfectly fine time.

I am starting to wonder if I’m going about rock criticism all wrong. It just seems like at this point, I’ve been there for some real rockin’ shit, and I’m not just talking about concerts, since I’ve watched rockin’ movies and seen rockin’ pro wrestling shows and even read some rock-ass books. It always did seem like the best rockcrits talk more about how to have a good time than the actual text being critiqued (viz. Nate’s long-lost mini-writeup of the Rapture live, which IIRC was the thing which pushed me over the edge into buying Echoes) – maybe the secret is to have a good time first and worry about good music second. Maybe (maybe?) Lester Bangs was right after all. Maybe that explains Brent DiCrescenzo.

I ramble. My point is this: The older I get, the less essential the music itself gets, even as I paradoxically find myself ahead of the curve in terms of my friends (admittedly, this is because I’m the only one lame enough to go looking for what’s out there). I’ve kind of had a hard time finding the motivation to just up and start writing about stuff lately (believe it or not), if only because I just catch myself writing this awful authoritative twaddle about technical perfection and lofty ideals and transcendence and etc. It just ain’t happening. This isn’t to say that that stuff never happens – go listen to Funeral by the Arcade Fire RIGHT THE HELL NOW for ample proof to the contrary – but rather that that shouldn’t be the goal of rock journalism. Hell, we have pop music for totally satisfying, totally self-contained musical experiences – shouldn’t rock music be doing something else? I mean, isn’t that why we have it?

Friday, July 30, 2004

A Night Out

I give up: having seen the Scissor Sisters live, I can't imagine that there's anything I can tell you about the band that you don't already know. Their pop songs sound catchy as all fuck in a live mix (less tight, mind you, so "Laura" isn't the slice of Max Martinesque perfect pop that it is on the album, but I freaked the hell out when they started playing it so let's not split hairs), their disco songs sound motherfucking reTARtedly great live, and if you think you're going to see them live without confronting the fact that the bulk of their appeal is to Gay Homosexuals, you should probably stay home and stick to your Korn records. And yet this is all stuff which I can't imagine being a secret to anyone who's ever heard them play music before, or read pretty much anything ever written on them by anyone ever.

But you'd think that would kind of be the point. If there is one thing I hate hate hate about seeing bands play live, it is the self-conscious Giving of Self by the artists, and I know you know what I mean: the eyes-closed arms-outstretched this-is-my-soul fart stench that wafts through so many bands shows (although I may just be hypersensitive to this having spent my teenage years in proximity to the Emo Capital of the 90s), or the other side of the coin, the self-conscious tarting up of a song with stage trickery. When I go to see Franz Ferdinand, I go specifically to hear them play "Darts of Pleasure", not to see them all retreat into a spotlight during the build just to explode into the air with the seeming intent of setting the population of the room's crotches ablaze, and yet that's what I get. I like Franz Ferdinand a whole lot and I love "Darts of Pleasure" a whoooooooooooole lot, but Rip Fucking Off.

Rock is not performance, unless of course you happen to believe that rock is best personified by Paul Stanley dressing up like a star-cat or whatever the hell his get-up is. Rock, rather, is the act of giving translated into music, which is close to performance in a lot of ways but completely different in most of the important ones. It's the difference between someone who wants Very Very Badly to read you their poetry and someone who organically says poetic things in the course of regular life, and if you can't tell the difference between those two categories then you probably fall into the first one. And yet the discourse of rock music has been overtaken by the poetry readers and the performers, by the Dashboards and the Darknesses and the Creeds and the Tools and the Vines and such, and consequently it gets harder and harder to separate the Cray-Zee Antix from the legitimate acts of Anarchic Rock Generosity that gave shape to the few genuine kickass Rock And Or Roll shows that I've been to.

I think the key word there is "generosity", because the truly great rock stars give and give to you, and not because they've already got your money and want to send you home with a good show - they give to you because you're there, and they just want to react to the music just like you. I always found it kind of quaint that people were so shocked by Iggy Pop slashing himself open on stage back in the day because violence is a perfectly legitimate response to the music for Iggy was fronting; those horrified people got nothing out of Iggy's blood that they couldn't have just as easily gotten from a copy of Raw Power. It's that consistency that makes a rockstar. Nobody wants to hear the Strokes just play their songs; they want to see the Strokes for themselves, to see if their rep in the press and the attitude they push in their music for being recalcitrant, snarky little jackasses who have an iron grip on the nutsack of your attention is real or just a put-on, and when it turns out to be legit, when the band gets in an argument on-stage and Julian starts cracking jokes about sandwiches and 90210, the crowd goes berzerk for it. Nobody wants to believe that the music they love comes off the rack; they want something real, and stage blood is a goddamn insult.


I have to admit that my confidence level regarding the Scissor Sisters was not high going into the Troubador. The day before, I had been going through the same exact conversation with Michelle about the oncoming show that I'd been having with everyone else; I would express my apprehension, and the other person would ask why, and I would make all sorts of tasteless grinning jokes about The Gay Homosexuals ("The Scissor Sisters! In fucking WEST HOLLYWOOD! At the fucking TROUBADOR under the shade of that 'Mr. Gay' billboard!" etc) because anyone who knows me even a little bit is well aware of the depths of my inability to give a fuck about who or what anyone else does with their equipment. Michelle, to her immense credit and my immense discomfort, was having none of it, and kept refusing to let me off the hook of perceived homophobia before brilliantly coming to the conclusion that I was probably just nervous because it was a new crowd, and that I'm not really ever eager to dive into any new crowd period. She was right, of course - I was just as uncomfortable seeing the Like at the Troubador, and that show was populated almost entirely by loathesomely showy Silverlake scenesters - but for some reason that conversation stayed with me, basically up until the moment the Scissor Sisters actually took the stage.

I will cop to being afraid that this would be another in an ever-growing list of concerts where I'd gone and seen a fine show and then gone to another one, largely because I was so convinced that my straightness was going to be totally incompatible with the vibe of the place and that I'd just stand there appreciating like a jackass. It's just that there are few things I hate at concerts more than those people flagrantly trying to stake a claim to the responsibility for the good time, like the giant landcow who started bellowing "ORR YOO READY TO DANCE?!??!" at everyone at the Franz Ferdinand show. I wanted to see the Scissor Sisters because I love that fucking album (right now I'm going around calling it my favorite album of the year, although since both LCD Soundsystem and Gabriel & Dresden are supposed to be releasing albums I don't expect that to stick), and I had adamantine confidence that it'd be a lot of fun to hear it live, but at the same time I deeply didn't want to turn the concert into a field trip or ignore a crucial part of their music - namely their enthusiasm for the cock - in the interest of having some of a good time.

Well, good thing for me I'm an idiot, because the motherfucking Scissor Sisters came to play some motherfucking music for a bunch of people who wanted to hear it and have a great motherfucking time doing it. Within five seconds of their first song - they opened with "Take Your Mama", which at least locally is the equivalent of the Rapture opening with "House of Jealous Lovers" - two things became patently obvious: one it was really easy to tell who was jus there to Make Their Presence Known At This Scene, and two, the Scissor Sisters are really fucking great at being rockstars.

When I say that rockstars are supposed to be generous, I mean it; you can't hold anything back from the audience if they want it. What this particular audience really wanted was some good old-fashioned hamming about, resulting in costumes a-plenty (notably Jake Shears' full-on Wild West getup and Ana Matronic's boob-retention/highlighting thing which never seemed more than a lunge away from catastrophe) and self-indulgent yet witty interludes about New York and trannies and such. What all audiences, however, want from their rockstars is to hear them play the shit out of the songs they love like they mean it, and that is precisely what the Sisters went out there to do. You fucking wouldn't believe the setlist these guys threw together; I've seen world-class DJs pale in comparison. Opening with their hit song, then launching straight off into the most similar song on the album ("Better Luck"), for instance, was pretty much good enough for me to begin with, even if I was nitpicking at the time, but then they decided that the crowd wanted to go insane and launched into the disco stretch.

Think about that for a minute. Imagine being in that club, in that crowd, with that band telling everyone to pretend that "it's 1979, and the floor has the most amazing lights, and you've got on your brand new just-bought-for-cash leisure suit", and they start playing their disco songs. Imagine, those of you who've heard the album, the explosive release as everyone just started cutting loose to "Filthy/Gorgeous"; imagine hearing murderously effective non-album disco shit which was actually better than %90 of the album proper; imagine - oh god oh god oh god -Shears slowing it down with "Mary" only, during the break for applause, launching into COMFORTABLY FUCKING NUMB, the reason I'd ever heard of the Scissor Sisters in the first place, and you have no fucking idea how much better it sounds with live drums. Seriously. Two years ago, I went to Koreatown with a bunch of people to watch Korea play Spain during the World Cup, and when they won, I saw the streets run riot with the most enviably joyful people I've ever come across until last Tuesday night.

THAT, ladies and gentlemen, is what Rock Stars should do, and that is why we have Rock Stars in the first place. Rock music is fundamentally about honesty, but what rarely gets mentioned is that real rock music calls on the honesty of the audience by posing the question "Do you like this? []Yes [] No" as plainly as possible. You answer honestly, you get something of your own worth keeping and that you don't mind sharing with anyone else answering honestly. The genius of the Scissor Sisters, I think, is that they know how to make the music do that by ornamenting their songs with sounds and structures that have absolutely nothing to do with the hilarious straightwhiteyoungmale demographic pushed on The MTV and The ClearChannel, so that in theory, by the time you get to the concert you know what the deal is and you're ready for it all. And then they fucking give it to you, and they don't give a fuck what you are - straight, gay, trisexual, whatever; if you think that seeing a guy leap around a small stage while wailing on a cowbell like he had something to prove sounds like something worth seeing, then you're about to have a motherfucking Time, because they give you all of that you have. They're not giving you themselves, they're not putting on a show, they're doing something for you, something which wouldn't be totally complete without your presence, because otherwise who'd be there to remember it and tell everyone else? That is rock and fucking roll, guys. I don't care if they play disco songs about man-fucking with hilarious laser noises and nut-shattering falsettos, that's way more rock and motherfucking roll than anything Mudvayne will ever put out.

You should probably go see them if you get the chance. I think.

Monday, July 26, 2004

Just so y'all are in sync with me: thanks to my job, I have now seen a disquietingly close-up picture of a man without a penis right as "Mighty Real" by Sylvester peaks on my headphones.

Needless to say, I hate my job so very very much.

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