In the Boston area? Join us at River Gods in Central Square, Cambridge, on Thursday night (April 15th, 9-11 pm) for an evening of music chosen by yours truly. It’s for this month’s Tourfilter Night – on the third Thursday each month, the amazingly useful concert site hosts an evening of music from bands that have upcoming shows in Boston. Chris Marstall, the man behind Tourfilter, graciously invited me to be the guest DJ this week. There are tons of amazing bands coming to Boston in the next few months, so I’ll get to play lots of fantastic songs. If you’re within range, please join us! And stay tuned – I’ll post my playlist after the set.
Archive for the ‘Concerts’ Category
Today in Boston: Two great bands (in two completely different genres). Two CD release parties. Two different venues. At exactly the same time. The horror. What’s worse, members of both bands are friends of mine (and frequent commenters here at z=z).
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is duo Sophia Cacciola and Michael Epstein (also of The Motion Sick). Their music is loud, minimal (just drums, bass and vox), and angry. Themed off the TV series The Prisoner, their music and lyrics deal with similar themes of alienation and totalitarianism. Despite all that, their songs are inexplicably catchy (occasionally dangerously catchy, as I found myself singing/yelling along to “Gun gun gunning for you!’ as I drove on the interstate). They’re releasing their debut EP, The New Number 2, today with a set at Church.
Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, with Voodoo Screw Machine, Gene Dante and the Future Starlets, Vostok 4 and Corey Tut at Church of Boston
Kingsley Flood, on the other hand, is a (post-?) Americana band, blending traditional folk instrumentation (including fiddle and mandolin) with lyrics touching on modern and urban themes – think Wilco or Hey Marseilles. And they put on a fantastic, energetic, compelling live set. They’re celebrating the release of their debut full-length, Dust Windows, with a show tonight at the Middle East Upstairs.
Kingsley Flood, with Cassavetes, Grown-Up Noise and Spouse, at the Middle East Upstairs
Both bands go on at 10 pm. Decisions, decisions….
Much has been made of the future of music being in live experiences, rather than in CD sales. But as someone who sees a lot of live shows, I can’t help but ask, ‘Where are the fans?’ It’s pretty clear that the slice of fans who regularly go to indie rock (for lack of a better term) shows is startlingly limited: largely in their 20s, more male than female and, even in a city as diverse as Cambridge, predominantly white.
Leaving aside this last point—although it certainly seems like there’s a pattern—it’s pretty clear that age (and, to a lesser extent, gender) is governed by the venues. I frequent fantastic local bars that support live music but they’re still, well, bars. They make their payroll by selling alcohol, and this has consequences. If you want to see live music in Boston, you pretty much need to be over 21. You need to be okay with staying up late on a work night, because it doesn’t make financial sense for bars to host early shows. You need to have enough flexibility with your home schedule that you can hang out for an evening (although one of the reasons I love my local bars is because they post and stringently adhere to set times). You need to be comfortable in an environment where most people are drinking. And you need to be able to get home late at night, especially in Boston, where the subway unfathomably stops running before bars close. (It’s easy to see how the latter two factors would seriously affect the gender balance, even without any additional cultural issue.) Coupled with the aversion that many people have to the risk inherent in live music, only a tiny demographic slice of fans goes to see shows in small venues.
This was a perfectly fine state of affairs when the purpose of small local shows was to attract the attention of an A&R person: the slender stratum of early adopters was all that was needed to establish the public appeal of a band before they were catapulted into the world of record sales and radio play.
But if none of that’s going to happen, then live shows are it, and fans need to be able to come out. And based on the evidence, I’m not sure that’s happening.
From the perspective of the insider-fan, there’s something to be said for a small, discrete culture of concertgoers: everyone knows the etiquette, for example (something that can’t be counted on at bigger or all-ages shows). But in the larger sense, I’m not sure that this model is the best one for musicians. While there are certainly artists experimenting with alternatives, like Amanda Palmer’s tweet-ups, for example, I can’t see a straightforward solution to this demographic conundrum.
Live music, especially in small venues, is about taking risks. And not everyone is comfortable with that.
A couple of months ago, I went with a friend to see The Killers play at the TD Garden in Boston. It was the first arena show I’d been to in many years, and what I was most struck by was how safe and controlled it was. The band transitioned smoothly from song to song, the lightshow was pretty, and all the songs sounded much like their recorded versions.
One of the things I love about seeing live music is the spontaneity and the interactivity. And, of course, that means that sometimes things go wrong. At arena shows, the larger scale means that everything needs to go right, and all of the rough edges need to be smoothed down. Something going wrong in a club show adds to the live experience; something going wrong in an arena show detracts from it. Arena shows are low-risk events.
A few weeks ago at Music Hack Day Boston, Paul Lamere talked about the fanciful idea of a ‘risk knob’ for music recommendation. If you’re having a rough day at work, for example, you can turn down the risk knob and listen to familiar music. Or you can turn it up for wilder suggestions.
Most people, it seems, have their risk knob turned fairly low when it comes to live music. They want to hear something familiar. A tiny minority have their risk knobs turned high enough to go see bands in small venues, prepared to hear something they’ve never heard before. You can play a bit with risk homeostasis: unfamiliar bands can do covers, for example. Or someone might go see a favourite singer front a new band. But, ultimately, you can’t really change people’s tolerance for musical risk. And it seems that this would have implications for bands that are trying to make a living from live gigs.
Note, also, that if you expect people at your shows to take the risk to hear your music, they need to be comfortable in the environment and with the crowd—more on this soon.
Thanks to Michael Epstein for discussions around this topic.
One Night Band. Saturday, August 29th, 8 pm at the Middle East Up Down! Go.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the new bio of Sonic Youth and I commented that one of the striking things about them was how embedded they were in their community, the 1980s New York art-music scene. And Cory Doctorow made the point that, in an age of all creative works being just a click away, only relationships aren’t fungible. So I’m really intrigued by One Night Band, a music event organized by Boston Band Crush. The deal is that 40 people from local bands get together at the godawfully early hour of 10 am on Saturday, are randomly assorted into eight bands of five people, and then scatter to rehearsal spaces all over Boston. The mayfly bands have to write and learn three original songs, and rehearse one cover, before they present themselves at the Middle East Upstairs Downstairs, ready to rock. One of the neat things about this format it is how it allows for the cross-pollination of local music fans – with any luck, it’ll draw a superset of the followers of all the participants.
Read more about the event here, here, or here, and check out Boston Band Crush’s wall-to-wall coverage of the participants. The z=z award for most honest comment goes to Henry Beguiristain of Aloud, who wrote: Am simultaneously frightened by and looking forward to One Night Band this Saturday. Should be fun and/or horrible.
Of course, One Night Band as part of the development of a local community in the digital age is only part of why I’m going – I’m also hoping to see some trainwrecks.
(Okay, well, not really – I’m hoping to see some great musicians do interesting new songs, leavened by some cool covers. But I do predict that there will be some entertaining trainwrecks.)
EDIT: No one is so wrong as someone who is absolutely sure they’re right. It’s at Middle East Downstairs, not Upstairs. Which means that there’ll be more room for you!
Winding down the summer with another great week in 02139. Tonight - Wednesday, August 26th - Ryan’s Smashing Life presents a great-looking lineup at the Middle East Upstairs, with Larcenist, Static of the Gods, The Shondes and Ian Adams. Full details at RSL, including lots of pictures and songs to download.
On Thursday night, we’ll be heading back to the Middle East Up to see The Lights Out, The Future Everybody‘s debut showing (featuring bassist Matthew Girard, who really gets around), Golden Bloom, and Gene Dante and the Future Starlets, who I’m especially looking forward to checking out after watching their Michael Pope-directed and distinctly NSFW video for ‘C Star’ (hint: it’s not actually about starfish)
Zed equals zee is back in 02139, hurrah! Postings will be light this week, thanks to Verizon deciding they need an entire week to turn the phone service on in my apartment, but I’m psyched to return to a bunch of zed equals zee local faves doing live shows. Tomorrow night (Thursday, August 6th), The Main Drag [myspace] is headlining at the Middle East Upstairs, and The Lights Out are playing with The Divorced at TT the Bear‘s (and if you’re looking for a few seconds of fame, The Lights Out will be shooting a music video at the gig). And on Saturday night, The Motion Sick will be part of the Third Annual 08.08 Party, also at the Middle East Up. And there’s a bunch of shows on my calendar for the second half of the month (like Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling and Gene Dante and the Future Starlets). And I’m really, really looking forward to the musical and community experience of One Night Band, presented by Boston Band Crush, on August 29. It’s good to be home!