Fat Cat Plankton

Nonsense in extensia

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

And When I Say Me, I Mean My Brain

It's unavoidable: one of the things you have to give up when you start writing about music *professionally* is unconditional fandom. You know, that unshakeable conviction that everything your favorite band does is preordained to be golden. They've done so much for you in the past, why would you want to sully that relationship with objectivity? So you look the other way when they start doing backwards-masked studio experiments or songs about bugs accompanied only by accordion. Pretty much, they’re gonna have to release 3-4 consecutive albums of irredeemable crap in order to shatter your sycophancy. Really, it doesn’t matter what the new songs sound like when it comes to seeing them in concert – you just want to see them, and you owe it to yourself to do everything in your power to psych yourself up for the experience, including persuading yourself to love the new material.
Of course, all this eminently forgiving favoritism goes out the window when you start seriously trying to hold all music up to the same standards, not giving anybody a free pass anymore because you want people to have faith in your opinions and in your capacity for unbiased critique. A small but significant part of the fan inside you has to die, and while it’s a sad sad story that’s no doubt been told thousands of times, it’s no less troubling and regrettable when it happens to you. The live performance component of this negative equation is especially bothersome to me because as I’ve gotten more and more receptive to enjoying mainstream music perhaps at the expense of certain indie sounds, my list of genuinely excitement-worthy concert options seem to be shrinking accordingly.
Just as a matter of predilection and experience, I’m probably always going to prefer club shows and other intimate places over stadiums, outdoor sheds, or arenas, just because those latter venues are so rarely conducive to the passion, intensity, and direct emotional expression that are often so easily facilitated by the former. As much as I love Gretchen Wilson, Big and Rich, Los Lonely Boys, Ghostface, Petey Pablo, and Kanye West, I highly doubt I’ll experience a truly revelatory live moment with any of them anytime in the near future. The only band for whom I can really tolerate the big barns is Radiohead, and even then I greatly preferred the setup at their Stone Mountain show (7,000 or so folks in a giant field) in 2001 over 20,000 at HiFi Buys in 2003.
Basically, the whole point behind this rambling post is that I caught myself the other day trying to convince myself I liked Ted Leo’s newest, Shake the Streets, just as much as I LOVELOVELOVED Hearts of Oak and Tyranny of Distance. Actually, I think it’s a solid, occasionally splended album and in time perhaps I might regard it just as highly as his others, but right now I consider a definite notch below his previous standard, which is a little bit sad when you think about it because Ted is undoubtedly one of my top five favorite performers right now and if anyone can make me truly geeky and swoony and fanboyish about rock ‘n’ roll, it’s him.
Shake the Streets is by no means a disappointment, but at the same time I can’t let my desire to turn Ted into a paragon of All Things Good obscure the weaknesses I hear when I listen to the CD, the fact that the melodies don’t grab you quite as firmly, that the intensity of the opener, “Me and Mia” isn’t really maintained, that a number of the songs actually don’t make you want to roll down your windows, scream at the top of your lungs, and maniacally bob up and down.
Maybe it is a higher standard to which I hold Ted, but I can’t just let him off the hook because he’s one of my secretly crushed-out rockist saviors. At the same time, however, Ted’s not going anywhere from my list of private unimpeachables – there’s only four or five bands for whom I maintain an ecstatic personal attachment (Ted, Radiohead, Fiery Furnaces, Drive-By Truckers, maybe Sleater-Kinney), and in my heart of hearts he can still do no wrong.


  • At August 4, 2004 at 1:06 PM, Blogger hillary said…

    the solution to this is to attach your fanboy love to bands that aren't around anymore and thus (mostly) aren't releasing any new stuff.

  • At August 4, 2004 at 3:10 PM, Blogger Josh said…

    Ratt 4EVR!

    Seriously though, that would work except you still have the problem of not being able to share in that live experience, which I think is crucial to developing an unhealthy devotion to a band, but that's just me. I never could work up quite as much of an emotional relatioinship with a band or artist that wasn't of my own generation, it never felt like they were "mine."

  • At August 4, 2004 at 4:05 PM, Blogger hillary said…

    heh. you're gonna love my post bitching about Peter Gammons then....

    i like going to a good concert almost as much as the next person, but i definitely relate better to recorded music. and most of my favorite favorite artists aren't really around any longer.

  • At August 4, 2004 at 5:15 PM, Blogger Josh said…

    Oh yeah, I definitely enjoy studio albums more than live albums, I just don't think you can put a premium on the anticipation and excitement of seeing your favorite band live.

    I lost alot of respect for Gammons when he bigged-up John Mayer a while back. Bill Simmons knows equally squat about music - I remember he did a running diary on the Grammys a couple of years ago and totally crapped on O Brother!, then made fun of Bjork (a near-unpardonable sin).

  • At August 5, 2004 at 1:41 AM, Blogger Ian said…

    I don't know - I like live shows a lot, and in the past they have sometimes boosted my love for a band to a higher plane (the Wrens, the Delgados, etc), but there are more bands I lovelovelove that I never have/never will see live.


Post a Comment

<< Home