Way over Yonder in the Minor Key

There’s something totally magical about seeing a band see the crowd. When you realize you’re watching the band realize that you (the audience) are completely in love with them.

Thomas Nagel wrote about Sexual Perversion in 1979… here’s how my old professor, Roy Sorenson, describes what Nagel says:

“In addition to being aroused by Juliet, Romeo is aroused by Juliet’s being aroused, and Juliet’s being aroused by Romeo’s being aroused by Juliet’s being aroused, and so on.”

Something like that happens at a really great concert, between the crowd and the performer. It’s why we see live music – for the off chance that we might get to experience that.

Tonight I went to see a friend’s band, areyougone. He and I have talked a lot about music, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I liked the band – they were playing pretty exactly the kind of band I want to like: country-themed shoegaze. Apparently we’re calling it “Spaghetti Western” now.

Afterwards the guy from Highway had a solo acoustic set. I don’t have a lot of vocabulary to describe guys with acoustic guitars without bands, but he reminded me a lot of a Woodie Guthrie song I just heard again, and he was fucking great.

I talked for a bit with Colin, the bass player for The BJM after Highway’s set. Turns out he’s from Portland (I think I knew that) and playing in a Spaghetti Western band called Federale. I asked him about the heckling at BJM shows, and he says it’s died down a bit – that they’ve moved past that. Which is great to hear because as funny as the juxtaposition of super violent heckling and counter-heckling with slow sad love songs was, I’d really prefer to just hear the songs.

Then 1776 played. And the crowd totally adored them. It was amazing to be a part of. It was a tiny venue, and really not that remarkable, except for the moment after the first song where the band all kind of looked up in shock at the volume of applause. And they deserved it – they were great, and they killed it tonight. Kinks-esque rock, totally tight and with great songwriting.

Courtney Taylor*2 from the Dandys was there – Pete plays in Highway when they’re a band, and Courtney knew one of the guys in 1776. And I thought about the fact that seeing them in Amsterdam in 2001, and seeing them realize how apeshit for them the crowd was, made me understand why we see live music. I kind of regret not telling him “Your band taught me why we see live music.”

Performance, Performativity, cont’d…

So it’s 2 AM last night and I can’t sleep, so I decide to take this walk – I work sitting down and I’ve recently come to believe that might not be healthy. Anyway, I think the worst thing for insomnia is to lie awake, and since this is the second night in a row, I figure I’ll do something different.
And it’s a really beautiful, breezy summer night, just muggy enough to make the breeze that much better, and I’m thinking about this conversation Josh Hodges and I had a couple of months ago, about making music and performing music, and about how differently he experiences the two.
Part of it is that there’s a freedom to creation, where you’re working through all these possible versions and choosing the one that’s going to be the final product. Another part, it’s that when he’s writing music there is a sense of discovery that he doesn’t have when he’s performing. But I think the biggest gap is between doing and seeming.
Josh said he was really alienated by what our society & how we treat rock stars. I think he meant the way we deliberately idolize them and treat them as something other than human. But there’s this other sense, where we infantalize them & want to see them indulge their childish whims, where we really feel dissapointed if their desires aren’t outsized & distorted. Making music’s about doing art, for Josh. But he can’t seem to get beyond the sense that performing on stage is just about seeming artistic.

Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To

The three most significant predecessors to the Shoegazing movement were the Cocteau Twins, Spacemen 3 and The Jesus and Mary Chain…”(1)

So Spacemen 3 were active from 1982 through 1991, when the two main poles of the band (Jason Spaceman & Sonic Boom AKA Pete Member) split – Jason took the other musicians in Spacemen 3 & formed Spiritualized. Sonic Boom performs under his own name, Experimental Audio Research, and Spectrum.

“What I’m trying to do,” concludes Kember, “is achieve with more abstract sounds is to touch deeper moods and feelings through the music and sounds. What I always aimed for, what we aimed for in the Spacemen, was honesty and purity. Those were the criteria that were uppermost. Something about music is very spiritual, and it can be very fulfilling. There’s few things better than to make music that can be spiritually fulfilling to people.”

I got to see Spectum play on Tuesday night. I don’t really understand what kind of taxonomic criteria he uses to decide when he’s Sonic Boom, when he’s E.A.R., and when he’s Spectrum.

Spectrum were more song-based than when I saw Sonic Boom perform solo – there ere vocals, and at one point there was a guitar, and the music would rise and fall in rough approximation of songs starting and stopping. Last time, it was just Pete (Sonic Boom), on stage, playing with weird noise manipulation tools.

Portland is also apparently ay more receptive than New York. I don’t know the relative population ratios, but I do think it’s comforting that the Portland gi had roughly five times the turnout that the New York one did.

They headlined a show which was totally perfect. To bands opened (Parenthetical Girls, Benjamin Starshine) and Matt Hollywood (ex Brian Jonestown Massacre) DJed between sets. The entire night could be seen as a measure of how absurdly influential Spacemen 3 were. Or are. More on that later.

The Parenthetical Girls are a kind of dreamy glam act – Zac Pennington has this great petulant Marc Bolan thing going, and the band shift instrumentation between songs – I feel I should mention I’ve been seeing a lot of violins and glockenspiels in bands lately. Not that it’s bad, just surprising. They’re everywhere all of a sudden. I really liked their set, and Zac did a good job in trying to explain how much Pete’s music meant to him.

Musically, they were all over the place – they ended their set with an OMD cover, which was awesome, and which involved at least three, and maybe even all four of them on drums.

Benjamin Starshine were next. While the Parenthetical Girls were all mod-dressed glam-influenced dream-pop, Starshine were, as their name might suggest, unabashed revivalists playing totally right-on psychedelia. What I’d heard of them before sounded like a Dandy Warhols / BJM cover project (and I don’t mean that to sound derogatory in the least), but the stuff they played live had a really great late Beatles it-is-not-dying vibe to it.

Then Spectrum played. Like I said before, he was playing songs this time, rather than just playing with noise, and while I couldn’t find a quote to support this, I described Spacemen 3 recently as the band that really ran with the idea of repetitive minimalist sounds inducing spiritual experiences. And it was great. Some people showed up looking to dance (I imagine because the show was at Rotture, which hosts really fun and sweaty dance parties on the weekends), and seemed disconcerted to find a nightclub full of people sitting down on the floor.

I was thinking about that – because there’s another kind of Ecstasy that comes from dancing, a loss of self that you can get through repetitive beats and overwhelming rhythms, where you’re lost in recurring motions and your world collapses to movement and breath and sensation. But seeing Spectrum was almost a polar opposite – same loss of self but in a totally inverted way; this music needs to be approached, you have to make an effort to engage with it. It’s comparatively easy to get lost in the surge of a crowd, while letting washes of noise and modulating frequencies induce the same kind of transport takes a certain level of commitment to the endeavor.

If rapture-through-dance music offers a Sufi-like sense of communion with the Transcendent, then sitting for a set of Spectrum’s experimentation is the kind of transport that Buddhist chanting gets – it doesn’t have the breathless exhilaration, but it also doesn’t threaten to overwhelm sense of Self. Self may be transported, quieted, transformed and expended, but it is not overwhelmed or subsumed. I want to go off on a Nietzschean Apollo/Dionysus tangent here, but I think I’ll save that for later.

…People’s Faces…

So I just saw the BJM again on Friday night, years later. It’s weird – DIG! seems to be haunting them far more than it seems to have affected the Dandys. Well, maybe because the movie ended up being about Anton. Anyway, the last couple of times I’ve seen them, they have attracted a peculiar breed of heckler who seem to be there just to incite Anton to break down. They are there to see the spectacle of Anton ranting and hopefully fighting. And it’s incredibly lame, because the rest of us are there just to see a really nice, slow, psych-rock show. In other news, Matt Hollywood (Formerly of the BJM, played a large role in DIG!) performed with them for one song. Anyway. Their shows are becoming stranger and stranger, as they have several reputations among disparate populations – most of the crowd seemed to be there because they’re heard the band’s name and didn’t know what to expect. They left early when Anton didn’t explode. Then there were the hecklers who, by screaming shrill obscenities over and over, eventually won out and got Anton to stop playing for a while. Then there are the people who are there to see the BJM play – judging from my experience, this population expect interruptions in the set and are resigned to wait patiently until the band get their shit together and start playing again. But the tension at their concerts is getting more and more interesting – you’ve got these hyper-agressive guys yelling at Anton who (I am sterotyping here) look like they ought to be copping feels on drunk girls at a Dave Matthews concert. And then you’ve got Anton, fill of fire and anger, responding to them, and there’s this immanent promise of violence throughout the whole performance. But then hen they play their music is incredibly gentle, and the lyrics are all about Anton’s enduring belief in real, true love. So I’m starting to think that part of the joy in watching Jonestown perform is in seeing Anton manage to avoid descending to the level of the shrill meatheads, and watching him choose, over and over, to meet their agressions with his faith in love. If that’s true, then the frustration in seeing them is all about the times when Anton doesn’t pull that trick off, and instead decides he’s done playing for the night if the crowd isn’t going to shut up.

At your best you’re just the bullet, at your worst you are the gun

Black Metal with KT last night ended up being mostly about spotting celebrity lookalikes on stage.

Lineup was: Somebody, then Saviors, then Black Cobra.

It was a bit of a weird situation; I went with KT, who was there to hang out with a girl who had decided to pass on dating him. She was there with friends, but the way things worked out, it was just me, KT & his Metal Mama hanging out, talking very loud to try and shout over the ringing in our ears.

I learned that metal guys all make funny faces when they sing; it seems to be necessary to get that metal voice right. And so I had a hard time taking it seriously. However, once again, the amount of Rock put out by a band went up as the membership in that band went down.

The first band, whose name I don’t know, was two downtuned guitars and a drummer. They were nice and sludgey, but they kept breaking out of the droney repetitive parts that I liked, and getting all technical change-up-the-time-signature metal.

Celebrity lookalikes: Will Farrell and Some guy from Three O’Clock High

Next up: Saviors. hair metal enough to verge on glam, and were hookier than either of the two other bands, but the metal voice kind of ruined it for me. Lots of tattoos, lots of hair, but also a lot of high pitched solos played on the neck of the guitar. So they were probably the most straight up metal of the three bands, and the crowd seemed to like them best, but I got the least out of it. Since, you know, I don’t listen to metal at all.

Celebrity lookalikes: That guy from Three O’Clock High (Again!), Sean Penn from Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Last up was Black Cobra. Least Metal Looking. Two Piece Guitar and Drums. Stage totally dominated by speakers, projecting Clash of the Titans on the wall behind them. So I was pretty much sold on them from the get go. Sure enough, they had a really incredible wall of noise going on, but because they’re a metal band, the guy was singing in that weird aggro-falsetto register which requires that strange petulant pout-and-shout face. But as long as they weren’t singing, they were churning out this really great sludgey, hook-driven guitar wall.

Celebrity Lookalikes: None. This probably helped me take them seriously.

Verdict: I like Metal without vocals.

In other news, I applied for a job with Jive Software, got to spend all day with Eve, and read a bunch more of Homage to Catalonia. Which is, strangely, making me more receptive to Communism-as-philosoph, and more hostile to Communism-as-extension-of-USSR-foreign-policy.