Blog on the Tracks
Okay, the reality is that most bands - most - get the audience they deserve. We listen to what we are sure are our cutting edge groups and cry out about how they deserve to be bigger - but they don't. They're not making music that suits everyone. Their music works for the niche they've created/targeted. And that's that. Most often that's the case. But we can always dream, right? That's part of being a fan - being incredulous that the world hasn't caught up with this; isn't thinking just exactly as you are.
As I write this I'm listening to Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra - the name alone could send shudders down the spine, could make any ignorant blog commenter rush for their default "your a hipster" bum-out, that fearsome burn.
But goddamn, their music is great; the music sends shivers down the spine. And yes, I kinda hate the name - but in spite of that I was curious enough to listen. I'll have a review up on Off The Tracks by the time you read this - or soon after. It reinforced what I felt yesterday when watching the Drive-By Truckers Live From Austin, TX DVD - such a great band. They deserve a bigger audience. It's probably as pointless a cry as determining someone who also - happily - writes about Dire Straits and Phil Collins a hipster.
Or for that matter, labelling someone a dad-rock bore when they write about a range of music - old and new - day in, day out. But hey, what's the internet then without a bit of self-righteousness? Today, I offer you 10 Awesome Bands That I Think Deserve a Bigger Audience. And in the way of this blog, rather than any "article" or "review" or "essay", I invite you at the end to do the same. Share the bands you think should be bigger than they are.
1. Drive-By Truckers: I'll start with the obvious, since this band in the reason for today's post. As I mentioned, I watched the live DVD from 2008 just yesterday. On the back of already gushing about this band most recently here and - I guess - rediscovering them anew with this year's great album, English Oceans. The perfect tight-but-loose band, top-notch songwriting, just so great - you want The Rolling Stones? They can do that. You want Ryan Adams? They trounce him. You want a return to the No Depression-era first wave of alt-country. Sure. They got it. They'll take you back to Uncle Tupelo and surpass the best efforts of that band and splinter groups Son Volt and Wilco. They have the dynamism of The Roots and Little Feat. They deserve to be huge! Well, in my mind they do...
It's actually going to happen - Purple Reign 2: Let's Go Crazy is all booked for Thursday, April 10 at Mighty Mighty in Wellington.
I wrote recently about the idea of doing a second Prince DJ set and I thought I'd give you plenty of notice (or warning - as the case may be). It's gonna be a beautiful night, nothing but Prince for four hours, maybe five - if there's enough interest. And Mighty should also provide a great dance-floor experience for anyone who wants to have a boogie. And with a night of tunes by Prince it would be irresistible, surely.
Last year (August) was the first Purple Reign evening - and though I certainly won't be repeating that exact set-list (see here for the tunes I played last time) I'll have to revisit some of those anthems. So many of those big hits are just too good to not play. But there's certainly enough material to play another whole night without repeats. I'll be aiming for other album cuts, for more b-sides, and of course there's some brand new material slowly trickling into place from Prince.
It seems a good time to celebrate the Purple One - there's news of his recent four-hour set at a surprise gig. There have been reports of jaw-dropping moments during his current run of pop-up shows across England and America. There's even - occasionally - some footage to be glimpsed, some audio to be heard. Then, as always, it disappears. Prince seems to change his opinion on the internet and its worth at least once a week.
In preparing for this second serving of Prince tunes I'm promising to dedicate myself to the Matt Thorne-written Prince biography which, by all accounts, is the bible for Prince trainspotters. I had to give it a rest for a few months. Last year I read Toure's slim volume that deals with unpacking the concept of Prince as a pop star; his magic. It's really a wonderful book, an amazing piece of writing, particularly given its brevity. An inspired piece of journalism from a talented writer, and something any Prince fan should read. Thorne's book, as I understand it, and from the little of it I have experienced, is not for every Prince fan - it's so concerned with documenting the bootlegs and the recording sessions, accounting for almost every performance and certainly any moment of booked studio time. That sort of thing is catnip to a certain kind of fan and just tiring for a lot of readers.
I can't remember the exact wording - but recently I was asked to talk about mainstream pop acts that I enjoyed, how mainstream did I go; that sort of thing.
Hard to just list names - really. And anyway, lists of names just end up being used against you, criticism comes for both what you included and what you left out and then there's the way this information is stored away, pulled out as some trump-card when needed.
One time, I tried to defend Phil Collins via a discussion of his debut solo album, Face Value. It didn't matter that I talked about the dearth of quality material in his solo catalogue, and of his nasty personality traits, I had tried to defend Phil Collins in some way. So that must mean I'm a fan for life - and that must be a bad thing. I will be reminded of that as often as I'm currently being reminded that Lorde scooped a couple of Grammy Awards, making any criticism of her work redundant. Apparently.
So, listing names could get a bit silly. Seems I give you more than enough ammo as it is.
The other week's discussion of Pharrell was meant to be around his new album - but say any bad word and people decide there's no need to read properly. I acknowledged his contribution to a lot of great pop music, but wondered what the excitement was about with him as a solo act. I might as well have said he was the worst musician who had ever lived. Maybe chucked in a line about wishing he no longer lived.
Whenever I write about lyrics - here or in a post on Facebook - there are always comments from people telling me that lyrics aren't important, or are the least important part of music for them. Fair enough, we all have our own ways of listening, our own taste, and though I love a good lyric - as on Bill Callahan's album last year or most recently the new Sun Kil Moon album - I'm also a sucker for great instrumental pieces, ambient music, jazz, soundtracks and big, dumb pop songs with really obvious, simple lyrics. There's no one thing that wins you over every time.
But I have to tell you that discovering Courtney Barnett's album, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas I was won over, instantly, by the lyrics. She's a great singer, I like the lick and curl and pout of the music - reminds me of first time back listening to Liz Phair and a bunch of other things I used to love - but it's the words in these songs (stories) that have pulled me in.
Time on the road and more time at the craft might result in something else happening within the music - and that would be needed to hook me in to a second album, I wouldn't want to hear all of this again but just with new words, I'd want something different, but this first album is full of great lyrical ideas. It's funny, quirky and there's something often magical in the way the word and the guitar line/s fit together, the phrasing; nice surprises, punchlines that weren't telegraphed, twists and surprises.
There's also that thing of singing about the mundane nature of everyday life, so you're back to hearing Pavement and Chris Knox and Jonathan Richman and many others.
Courtney Barnett manages to sing about contemporary life in a way that avoids the cringe and twinge mechanisms.
Okay, I've gone and done it - tonight I'm the wedding DJ. I've been in this role a few times, but not that many. It's not something I seek out, to tell the truth. But tonight should be alright - I'm at least looking forward to it - because I'm a guest also, that is to say I would have been at the wedding anyway, I just happen to be taking along a couple of crates of records.
I've played at a lot of weddings though - in bands. Dozens of weddings, maybe a hundred or so actually; at one point I considered writing a book about experiences spying in on the weddings of people you don't know. As part of the band you'd bond with the kitchen staff, waiters, waitresses, the photographer and his/her assistant, venue management, anyone integral to the day but not directly connected to Bridezilla and Groomdrinka and the different versions of the Happy Couple.
It's pretty strange being a crucial part of the biggest day in someone's life - someone you don't know and won't ever see again.
Being in the band wasn't often fun - you'd play a set, and it was fine, people happy, dancing. Then the requests would start to flow. People finding you on your ten minute break. The conversation always starting with something like, "hey, great music and all, but do you think you could also play some..." and whatever followed was a) actually their idea of great music, not what we had been playing and b) fundamentally ridiculous given the type of band they had booked. You'd be an Irish band at a Scottish wedding, and that was fine - we could fudge that, plenty of the songs crossed over, and we had separate Scottish material too, and often a Scottish band-member, so that helped. But first request of the night would be to "play some ABBA" or even "Bruce Springsteen..."
Worse than that, the way - after several drinks - anyone was instantly sure of their backing-singer prowess; the way they just walk up and grab at microphones, knock over guitars and mandolins on stands, decide they're entitled to be part of the band...
The wedding DJ has it tough I reckon - they have to please the crowd, or give it a go, and span some decades generally. They have to also please the happy couple, or a member of the bridal party anyway, be it bridesmaid or groomsman or mother or father of the bride or groom. And sometimes there can be very different ideas of what is working. Then there's the requests that start to fire in and the more open the bar the more the closed the mind with regard to what should be playing. And the reasonable amount of time that can pass between a request being slurred in your face and that platter being pushed into place.
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