Glen Hansard @ Housingworks 6.12.2012

Let’s come up with some new rules for attending concerts.

1.  As we’ve discussed before, be respectful with your camera.  Don’t be an asshole.  If its an SLR, don’t be snappin’ all up in someone’s ear.  If its an iPhone, make sure the light is not on when you’re taking video.  Simple enough.

2.  If you’re going to yell things in between songs, be cool about it.  Do it once, then back off.  The performer is not there to have a conversation with you.  That’s what they have friends for.  And their friends don’t exclusively see them at paid events.

3.  If you must sing along, do so at appropriate times, at an appropriate volume.  Don’t hold out your notes longer than the performer.  Don’t do harmonies with them at full volume.  Don’t add vibrato to said longer notes and harmonies to get attention.  Because it will certainly get you attention.  But it may be far more rage filled than you would hope.

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I say these things, in order of increasing importance, because we experienced all of them last night.  Glen Hansard played an intimate benefit performance at the Housingworks Bookstore in Soho.  A beautiful little bookstore, which donates all of its proceeds to charity.  What a lovely guy that Glen is.  Too bad his number one fan came to the show straight from hell.

Let’s talk about some positives.  Hansard has a voice like no other. He means every note, there is no hint of BS.  At one moment he can be joking with you, the next there are tears in your eyes, and you fight them back with the force of a thousand tiny Bono’s (which I guess is just regular Bono) just to look like you’re keeping it together.

He’s had well deserved astronomic success recently, he won an Oscar and a Tony, and is just a Grammy and Emmy away from an EGOT.  Let’s make that happen.  He has a new solo album coming out which I have not heard, but the songs he played from it were promising.

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We won’t get too much into song specifics though, because there was a greater issue at hand. This terrible person in the front row.  Lets call her “Sheebaz; Queen Of Evil” or just Sheebaz for short.

Man, this girl knew how to get right in there.  There were maybe 20 seats, the rest standing.  She must have waited in the pouring rain for 2 hours.  We were outside in line for quite a bit, and had to stand.  There was no one in front of her.  People surrounded the stage, but there were no direct eye lines to give her a death stare.  And clearly, her powers of supreme evil fought off all the collective dirty looks sent her way.

It started simple enough…she was singing a bit too loud when the crowd was asked to sing along.  “Who is doing those annoying harmonies?”  Who’s holding out the notes a little too long?  Man, that’s just not cool!” But we all figured it was a passing incident.  Oh no, oh god no it was not.

It just didn’t stop.  It was clearly coming from one source.  A brunette with “The Crazy Eye.”  You know “The Crazy Eye”…it’s unmistakable.  That look someone gives you, which clearly says “I’m going to kill you, then eat your hair*” The look that makes you think “Wow, I have to get out of here, wait, where did everyone else go?  Oh no, they already left.  FUCK.  How do I get out of this one…….NOOOOOOO”  but by then it’s too late…she’s already started talking about the independent theater productions she has acted in.

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Between each song, she would respond to anything Hansard said.  Like a full on response, not just “Woo!”  woo is ok, you’re supposed to do that.  This is a direct quote:

Hansard:  “So I got this new record coming out, I’m gonna play some of these for the first time

Sheebaz Queen Of Evil:  OHMYGOD Glen I heard the new album today and I love it I just had to tell you that I’m such a big fan and it sounds so great SO GREAT!!!

I’m not exaggerating that in any way.  She went stream of consciousness on him.  Someone yelled “You were great on Fallon!”  a nice little note, and she chimed in!  Giving a full rundown of what she liked about it!

We looked to Hansard for guidance.  The man was a busker on the streets of Ireland, this must look like amateur hour compared to the characters he’s seen.  But honestly, I think he was a little thrown off at the crazy this queen of evil was throwing his way.

After a few comments, he finally addressed her head on.  Hansard donned his armor and was going into the cave of supreme darkness.  “Oh ‘tanks, ‘tanks.  You’re very sweet.  You can yell whatever crazy crap you want, but ya know, I feel like you might be affecting some people’s joy by doing that.”   The first dagger was thrown.  He had calmed the dragon in the way only he could.  He didn’t punch her in the head, like Jeff Tweedy, although maybe he should have.

He turned to the guy with her and said “Is this your boyfriend?”  she says “HUSBAND!”  oh wow, someone help that guy.  I didn’t hear what the guy said, but Glen echoed “NOT AFTER THIS?????”  Clearly the man had been through hell.  We all wish him the best.

For the most part, it quieted down after that.  She continued to sing her annoying harmonies, but only when the crowd was prompted to sing.  There was no more chatter. I had to position myself in such a way that the head of the person in front of me was blocking Sheebaz: Queen Of Evil, so I would not be distracted by her writhing about during the songs.

What brings a person to do this? To have complete disregard for those around them, and pretend the show is happening just for their own enjoyment.  We came to the conclusion that she had one of the following professions:

1.  Works with animals (they can’t tell her to STFU)

2.  Theater Manager who everyone hates

3.  Degenerate Gambler (I just made that one up, it has to be one of the top 2)

That must be the ultimate challenge for a performer.  Not that a crowd hates you, because then you just want to try harder, or just say fuck you.  But when someone loves you to such a degree, that they’re ruining your show out of pure love and admiration.  That is precisely why some famous people have handlers or bodyguards.

Glen Marketa

The show was still fantastic.  Marketa Irglova showed up, and they played some Once/Swell Season hits.  The two have such beautifully matching voices, and everyone could clearly feel it.  Even Sheba kept quiet, well, only during their first song.

I think we need to start a committee.  It will be way more organized than the Occupy movement. Lets call it “People For Ethical Behavior at Shows”  or PEBS for short.  It should probably be a .org.

(*credit to J Aptman I for that line)

I Miss The Mixtape

We all know about DRM, SOPA, CISPA, FROLUTA (I made that one up) and so on.  This will not primarily be a diatribe on these restrictions, but rather on the joy they are taking away.  With technology advancing as rapidly and powerfully as it is, its still a wonder that any law can even attempt to stop the sharing of music.

It seems like we’ve been focusing on nostalgia recently, and maybe that’s true.  I turned 29, so why not see it as a chance to look back and reflect, while anticipating the various apocalyptic events that the internet tells us are about to happen.

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How is there not the greatest app on the planet for creating a “Mixtape” or playlist, and sending that to your friend.  Like, fucking really.  Can the soon to be pointless RIAA really prevent a programmer from anonymously writing this app and just putting it out there?  Napster 2.0.

Most of us came up in the CD era.  Mix CD’s were fantastic.  I guess they’re still out there, but at a rapidly dwindling rate.  I’ve only used a CD recently on one car trip, but before that, it was many months before I hit an actual play button.

Sure we have a billion blogs out there, but you really can’t trust one of them all the time. Once in a while a gem comes through, but you don’t hang out with a blog.  You don’t know who it’s going to try and yell at when it gets drunk.  You don’t know its real favorite bands, not just the ones various PR agencies get it to promote.  Music should come from your friends.

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The majority of new music I have fallen in love with has come directly from live humans telling me about them.  And you know what?  They still cant just send me a link to a fucking mix they’ve created so I can load that shit on my iphone, enjoy the music, pay $20 to see the band live where a way bigger share of that $ goes to the band, then buy their release on vinyl.  All because someone sent me a link.

Bands will always record music.  It’s just something that happens.  It’s getting cheaper and cheaper to record.  Make it yourself.  If it’s a successful band, spend some money and do it in a studio, and you will have better sounding music that will inspire people to come see you live and buy your kick ass merch (signature spatulas, twisty straws, temporary tattoos, that stuff) and special release music.

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Amanda Palmer raised A MILLION DOLLARS on kickstarter.  Stop complaining.

Back to the point though, I miss the mix.  You get a chance to peek inside someone’s brain.  What song did they open with?  Is there a common theme to discover in everything they want you to hear?  THIS SHIT IS FASCINATING.  I can tell you precisely the last Mix CD’s I recieved.  A group of friends would all pass around burned copies of mixes, numbered by volume.  I even took part, dubbing mine “Serious Business.”

All of the elements involved only contributed.  Even writing the tracklist, putting your handwriting on there, it all makes it more personal.  Not that I’m pining for the analog days, the same effect can come from any text, turn your mixtape cover into an internet meme.  (I’m In Ur Tape….Mixin.)

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The labels are going away.  There’s really no point to it now.  The rights holders to anything recorded before this very minute, will all seek to defend their copyrights to the death, which is understandable if someone is using music for commercial purposes, but perhaps one day, music sharing will not be seen as so negative.  All we can hope, is that it becomes almost like prohibition. The RIAA either needs to disappear, or run out of money so they can’t sue single parents on welfare who rescue adorable puppies and walk old ladies across the street, for downloading a Toby Keith album.

Spotify is an annoying mess, the search doesn’t turn up the results you’re looking for.  And if you have to link it to Facebook, its just a headache.  A mix of music isn’t something you want to share with ALL of your friends, just a select few.  When I see that a friend has used Spotify to listen to the collective hits of Collective Soul, they don’t want me to see that.  Frankly. I don’t want to see it.  Some things need to be kept private.

We need another Napster.  It killed an industry that was already dying and exploiting all sorts of people.  Some things can’t be monetized forever.  Why not just share it?  Yes, that’s the most idealistic free love sentence I have ever typed, but I stand fully behind it.  Let’s end on that note.

EDM: The True Sign You Are Getting Old

That’s all we’re hearing about these days.  The DJ’s.  Everyone is making a mix.  Reggie Watts references Skrillex in concert.  Portlandia takes on everyone who has a DJ night.  All of your friends on the tail end of their sketchy drug culture days are going to some “Electric Daisy” thing, where you see three days of DJ’s in a stadium parking lot.

To me, that sounds exactly like hell.

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About 7 years ago, some friends and I went to a West Chelsea club to see Armin Van Buren.  Yes, I know, I have no idea how it happened, we were young and up for adventure.  I believe the tickets were about $45.  We waited on line outside, then waited at the bar inside, then waited in the crowd.  Forever.  The dude showed up hours late, even the promoter came out and apologized.  He got on the stage, opened a laptop, and played some thumping bass jams.  It did not connect, and we left after about 20 minutes.

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Maybe this music resonates with the next emerging generation.  The first music they heard was a compressed Mp3 on little white ear buds.  Perhaps evolution is at work and their ears cannot hear the incredibly tinny highs and obnoxious lows.  I simply do not understand it.

Some people love girl talk.  LOVE.  I dislike him, immensely. I love the songs he samples from.  They’re fantastic songs.  Maybe what he’s doing is not unlike the British Invasion, where young Brits just ripped off American blues music, and sold it back to us in a new shiny package.  Only these characters are doing it a little more blatantly.  Maybe that’s not even true, had Pete Townsend possessed this type of technology at the time, he might have done the exact same thing.

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There are good and bad DJ’s, just like anything else, but I find it so rare to hear something moving from this genre.  This is not to discount electronic music as a whole.  Squarepusher, Aphex Twin, Fatboy Slim…there are some fantastic musicians out there.  But these people are all musicians.  They’re not some kid with Abelton and a Garageband sample pack.

The point might be, it’s too easy to create something like this.  There are endless loops at your fingertips in any of the plethora of free or easily pirated programs used to make this music.  You can easily quantize any out of time sequence.  You can pitch or time correct anything you want.  The key of a song no longer matters, Pro Tools has Elastic Time functions….making the tempo and tone of an original recording irrelevant.

Is this the true sign of the aging apocalypse?  This is the first new style of music I completely do not understand.  This must be how the previous elder generation felt about rap…punk…rock…folk…big band jazz….wow.  I feel old.

VFW

Let’s talk about nostalgia.  We chase it more and more as we age, and this past weekend reminded me of a particular period in life.  I’m not sure if this phenomenon exists outside of the northeast, but I’m going to assume it does not.  I don’t even know if it currently exists!  As this may have been a one shot reunion deal. We are talking about the American Legion/VFW show.  (lets refer to them as VFW)

VFW 1

The band was asked to play a 30th birthday party, at which the birthday haver (new word) would eat a hamburger for the first time in his life.  While this concept is too fantastically mind boggling for me to get into, let’s just say I support the eating of hamburgers.  He rented a VFW hall in central New Jersey, and invited several bands to play.  Everyone there had gone through this routine.  A good portion of our collective childhoods were spent in rooms just like these, filled with sweaty people and half stack amplifiers.  Before we get into specifics, lets cover some history.

Now, this history is mostly assumed, but I’m going to guess most of it is true.  And on the internet, well, that’s as good as any bibliography I’ve ever encountered. This is oddly appropriate, considering it was memorial day weekend.  VFW(Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls are little social organizations for veterans, usually containing a bar and some type of performance area.  They need a place to get together and do what social organizations do, kind of like the mafia.  Come to think of it, it’s exactly like the mafia, only the government recognizes VFWs and doesn’t get mad if they don’t pay taxes.

Perhaps the most unlikely yet signifigant  supporters of independent music.
Perhaps the most unlikely yet significant supporters of independent music.

Somewhere along the line, bands realized these rooms could be rented out, by people less sketchy than promoters and venues, to hold local shows.  Black Flag and Fugazi notably pioneered this cause in the hardcore music scene, a tradition that we hope will continue long into the future.

It was a huge breakthrough.  All you need is a PA, and you’re set.  Contrary to popular belief, kids don’t want to go around fucking things up and ruining everyone’s day. They just want a place to congregate.  Admission is cheap, and you likely know at least a few of the bands or people putting it on.  Everyone has a stake in it, because if it goes well there will be more, if it doesn’t…there won’t.  Where as at a club of some type, you don’t really care at all.  They’re not nice to you, you’re not nice to them.

Where as a previous generation might have been able to play in bars to “cut their teeth” and learn to play live, this is what we had.  Bar owners would make you buy tickets in advance to sell to your friends (a concept known as “Pay To Play”) so really, nothing gets accomplished.  You’re playing for 10 of your friends and maybe some parents, no one from the venue wants you there.   Shows are most likely not curated at all, so any friends of the other bands don’t give a shit about you or your music, Its just not a welcoming environment.

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Independently run shows were the polar opposite.  If a kid puts up a few hundred dollars to rent out a hall, they’re going to take great care to put on the best show possible.  Bands are of a similar style, people actually have a good time the entire show.  It’s an incredibly supportive environment, and I genuinely feel band for anyone who did not experience this.  I sometimes attribute my concept of adult responsibility, the fact that I have an income, have not been to rehab, and have no police record, to this era of my life….but then I realize just as many fuck ups were in this scene as well.  There goes my government funding.

Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia
Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia

My first experience at a VFW show was somewhere in Patterson NJ, yes, the one from the Bob Dylan song.  I had gotten my license mere days before, and drove down to sit in with a band I would join later.   The ambitious decision was made to drive there after my bank teller job, with hand written directions and no passengers.  This dear readers, is what we call “Good Decision Making.”

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I got incredibly lost.  Patterson was a frightening area, not the most friendly looking place do a dumbass white kid driving for the first time.  I definitely scraped a concrete wall trying to make a 3 point turn, and arrived just as the last notes were being played, lugging in my 50lb Fender Twin in one hand and a guitar in the other.  That sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happened.

Experiences were far more good than bad though.  I’m trying to think of the worst shows I have ever been a part of, and none of them have been of the VFW type. The PA was always terrible, but somehow you learned to play without monitors. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, a lot of ground was covered at these events.

Death By Audio in Williamsburg
Death By Audio in Williamsburg

It’s hard to have these places in cities, especially in NY, but Death By Audio in Brooklyn certainly captures that aesthetic.  Most likely a fire hazard, not the best sound, but you feel like you’re truly flying under the radar.  There is that VFW in Hoboken that you walk by on the way to Maxwells on Washington Street, with a giant deer head hanging, but they’re probably wise to the real estate, and no punk ass kids can afford it.

Our experience this past weekend may not have been exactly as we remembered it…the music of this band is a lot quieter than previous projects, none of the amps have a distorted channel…people just kind of sat on the perimeter on folding chairs.  There was very enthusiastic applause though, much more so than at a random bar show.  Maybe its true that you can’t relive your childhood, even you buy a giant ranch with an amusement park or trade bodies with Judge Reinhold.

Not a Moch Trial.
Not a Moch Trial.

I really do wonder if these shows are as present today.  The youth of America has far surpassed anyone in their late twenties when it comes to using technology, they probably have entire shows just made up of status updates.  I’d like to hope though, that somewhere out in the sketchy backwoods of Southern NJ, there are some dudes loading a half stack Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and a 9 Piece Orange County Drum Kit into a partially dilapidated shed, with no mid range in sight.