Friday, February 14, 2003
"Do not try to 'discuss everything,' provide a label for everything, or feel you need to 'describe the ordinary'; instead, illuminate innovation, explain essential features, and help your reader understand what is most important or intriguing about the music."

Some suggestions to keep in mind when preparing a review of music.

But when the ordinary or the accepted social paradigm swamps the environment, the people, and the music, the real music disappears -- hopefully it goes elsewhere, but I think it likely that it just disappears.

Because of the stultifying atmosphere of music industry corporations these days, a job in entertainment now sounds about as exciting as taking over your dad's insurance business. In looking forward only to a career comparing actuarial tables, the social/business networks made by such personalities all express a similar ambience, which in turn ripples out and attracts only like kind.

Where I once lived, no one came to expect a decent show from foreign music acts because of the nature of the people holding the keys to the magic kingdom. The radio stations, the press, and all the venues were screwed down and under the hammy thumb of the people who owned the radio stations, the press, and all the venues. They booked in acts who played along with complete overcorporated control.

I remember in particular a one night stand in the 80's that was an expression of what was to become the constant paradigm. It was more like an ordeal, just the kind of sleepy toss-off gig residents grew to expect from visitors. We were accustomed to substandard shows from the slightly famous names. They’d stop over using the concert as a pretext, as a way to help pay their jet fare to the more lucrative weekends in Japan.

Predictably, their concerts were always the epitome of perfunction, a going-through-the-motion tour stop-off midweek. It's true that as the night wore on, the only thing of note were only a series of small proofs that booze takes its toll. The performances by all band members not just lackluster, but genuinely lazy and boozy-boy sloppy as the glitzy cast of over-rehearsed band players struggled to remember what over-rehearsed chords came next. Some might claim that only adds to the nostalgic charm as a bunch of money was
made, everyone partied like it was 1984, and (my best guess is) a tradition was born.

Despite the sheen, texture can be easily overdone. The music was so dense as to be armor-plated. Stuffy and stiff like an overembroidered curtain, the musical backdrop had descended. If there was any note or rhythm or squiggle that could possibly be stuck in, have no doubt it was there filling what the concertmaster had perceived as a hole. As a result, there was nothing to engage the listener. This was the first time I had seen a concert that looked and sounded as if it were shaped with MTV in mind, just washing out over what obviously was regarded by the concertmeister as the shut-up-and-just-buy-the-record audience.

Man, it was like the audience had been sprayed with stupid-gas. They were not exactly lapping it up, but certainly going along with the program with the idea of being invited back.

The audience was made up of people the likes of which I had never before in such plentitude in the area. The promoters must have culled the hallways of all the private prep academies and handed out free tickets. Hoardes of young overdressed folks decked out for their idea of a night at an upscale disco. The girls all dressed up in the latest Korean knock-off faux designer dresses and gowns while the boys all dressed exactly like the performer onstage in look-a-like jackets and nightclub costumes. After all, the radio buzz had encouraged everyone to dress in their finest evening wear, as if personal success depended on it.

The VIP/celebrity table was draped in a long white table cloth, and arranged as all the tables were to squeeze in more people by maximizing the number of tables in the room. Meaning if you wanted to watch the concert going on onstage, you had to keep your head cranked uncomfortably the whole while.

The people important enough to be streamed and directed to this privileged seating area included such luminaries as a DJ’s girlfriend who had just opened a Brazilian thong shop or a tanning parlor (I forget which, but that enterprise soon floundered despite the grand opening mobile broadcasts her boyfriend wrangled from the station). She, bedecked as she was in a strapless ripply-front bright white shift, was gifted with a CD in a longbox and a couple of different colored laminated squares which meant she got to go backstage both before and after the show.

Also present, the overstuffed and overcoiffed bloatboy who had just transferred in as the food and beverage manager of a prestige hotel, and who was influential. As a frustrated musician himself, he always arranged to make the the local performers wait for their money, presumably to help pad the cash flow for high-ticket tour bands like this, even though he knew how to obtain this room at a decent price. He, like all the other boys in the room, was dressed pretty much exactly the same as the guy on stage, but as bloatboy concierge had to dress splendiferously in his everyday job at the yuppie trap, during this his time away from work his chubby thighs were encased like sausages in designer denim to denote a more casual air while his puffy torso was wrapped in the top half of his Armani work uniform.

Papered as it was, with the free tickets (the expense of this show was at least partially underwritten by the malliable pawns who had actually paid their hard earned dollars to gain entrance to this private party disguised as a public event) going to persons of potential social usefulness or influence like bloat-boy, Brazilian thong-girl, and other mini-mighties among the mediocre corps of helpful corporate minions and drones, the room had all the charm of a yuppie clone factory.

Well, that was a boring blah blah asleep at the switch show performed at the absolute pinnacle of this artist’s national popularity. They were goin’ down the 20-song set list, just exactly as they had on every other stop.

I left the table, relieved to spend time in a long line for the bathroom just to be farther away from the what was going on onstage. And I returned just as the “new material” started rolling out in the second half of the set, which was so staged, stiff, insincere and souless as to be a genuine discomfort.

I left the premises altogether because I figured I needed some air or a pack of smokes. I then padded some time with a cup of coffee to regain any semblance of alertness after such a prolonged exposure to a mind-numbing display, and had my return almost perfectly timed to coincide with the remaining quarter which promised the end of the show.

When the MTV hits rolled out as part of the show’s finale preceding the staged encore, the audience was predictably on their feet swaying if not exactly prancing by their chairs at the long tables. They had at last recognized their tv tunes and responded in the only way they knew how, by acting exactly as was expected of them.

More than a few tears for real music of yesterday were shed, at least where I was sitting, but onstage the group tore through an abbreviated throwback set of MTV tunes as their encore, the assembled remembering their first 30-second exposure to the tv playing this song and now that one. The performance begged the question "Are you guys kidding?" or "When's your next gig?"

This was back twenty years ago, remember, and it's been going on like that pretty much every single day in every single city in the U.S. ever since.


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