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The Top Ten Christmas Songs That Are Not Awful

In Holidays, Music on December 14, 2013 at 1:12 pm

It’s that time of year again, where the background music of retail establishments goes from being merely bland and soulless to actively noticeable and soulless. Audiophonic muck seeps out of the PA systems of various kinds of public spaces, and offensive, grating “music” sears the ears of perfectly innocent citizens who only want to ambulate from one section of a shopping establishment to another. It’s the most musically awful time of year. It’s Christmas, and that means foul, foul song-like noise is getting blasted at you, me, and everybody until the 25th.

Jingle Bells, The Twelve Days of Christmas, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer are all terrible abominations that mock the laws of God, Nature, and Man. They are without value or merit. They offend the ears and make the listener long for silence. These oft-played Christmas songs suck, and they do so with vigor and persistence.

I hate them. You are advised to do likewise.

Believe it or not, though, there are a few Christmas songs that are not the aural equivalent of having your hand frozen with liquid nitrogen and then smashed with an impact hammer. Some seasonal tunes are actually nonterrible. Some you can even tolerate. Some are even actually good. Here are ten of them.

10: The Snow Miser and Heat Miser Songs

If either of these songs got the kind of exposure the Frosty the Snowman got, they’d probably be insufferable, too, but they’re not, so they’re charming. My favorite part of these songs is that it’s just the Snow Miser and Heat Miser saying hi. They’re receiving Mrs. Clause and her pals in their climate-themed throne rooms, and immediately bust out the song and dance. The dialogue directly after the songs makes it clear that both of them know Mrs. Clause decently well, so we can only assume that this is how these guys say hello every single time they meet someone. I kind of dig that.

And yes, that is the Snow Miser song that Mr. Freeze grooved to in that awful hunk of solidified bile that was marketed as a Batman movie.

9: I Believe in Father Christmas

You get the idea that Greg Lake doesn’t really believe in Father Christmas, or the ideas of Christmas, or God. He’s perplexed at the idea of having a season of peace when there’s so much terrible conflict around, and is obviously perturbed that folks can say “Merry Christmas” while still supporting war and belligerence. However, he seems to want to believe in Christmas and he finds it achingly painful that he can’t actually partake in that feeling that he remembers from childhood. As an atheist who still kind of likes this holiday, I find that touching and very easy to relate to.

8: The Boar’s Head Carol

This song is about food, and more specifically about eating a pig’s face, and how great it is to eat pork face. Okay, the song hearkens back to primal pre-Christian sacrifices and ceremonial feasts (and that’s neat) but food is easily one of the best things about Christmas or pretty much any holiday. The Boar’s Head Carol is about how awesome treats are, and how excited people are to stuff a bunch of herb-bedecked pork into their face holes. That’s festive, and something that pretty much everyone can relate to.

7: O Holy Night

O Holy Night really does feel, well, holy. It’s the kind of thing that could ring through a clear, cold night inviting contemplation and peace. It’s a welcome antidote to the bombast and obnoxiousness that typifies, say, The Twelve Days of Christmas or its ilk.

6: The Holly and the Ivy

The Holly and the Ivy is of a piece with The Boar’s Head Carol in that it evokes a kind of old and even ancient European yule tradition. Unlike a lot of other Christmas music, The Holly and the Ivy seems to have a sense of restraint to go along with its grandness. Most choral versions of it alternate between solo voices and the full rush of a choir. This restraint and return to individual voices during the verse makes the song conversational and communal, something lacking in lots of other songs.

5: Good King Wenceslas

The song loses points for Wenceslas only helping a particular peasant at a singular point of need, rather than implementing systemic reforms that would help a broader class of people, but the idea of a king and a common person sharing a table together is still a nice image.

4: The Carol of the Bells

The Carol of the Bells, as good as it is, doesn’t seem to be much about or evocative of bells. A better image is one of a progressively building snow flurry, light dusting eventually building into an aural blizzard. It sounds like winter feels, cold and harsh and raging around you.

Also there are lots of metal versions, so that’s cool.

3: Adeste Fidelis

Also known as Oh Come All Ye Faithful, but really this song needs to be in Latin. Quid latine dictum sit altum viditur, after all. Latin is the language of soaring Gothic arches and stained-glass panoramas. It’s a language that evokes vistas of Heaven, Hell, and transcendent divinity. Sure you can sing it in English, but if you do it no longer sounds like the Celestial Vault is suddenly filled with Angelic Hosts who are proclaiming the presence of God on Earth. As someone raised Catholic, Adeste Fidelis is one of the songs most evocative of badass, thundering God glory, and its majesty stands in welcome contrast to how inane most other, lesser Christmas songs tend to be.

2: White Wine in the Sun

I was only recently introduced to this song, but it pretty much ticks all the boxes of the problems I have with Christmas, and but why I like it anyway. Tim Minchin’s ode to family togetherness is, more than any other song on this list, all about the True Meaning of Christmas. I almost put this in the number one spot, but the song doesn’t feel archetypically Christmassy enough for top honors. Call it Northern Hemisphere bias, because it is. No, the best Christmas song, the one that’s all about snow and cold and the one that sounds like the season feels is…

1: Fairytale of New York

Pretty much every person who has conflicted thoughts about Christmas is required to like this song, and I’m no exception. It’s all wind and snow and ringing bells, with a few bad words thrown in for good measure.

This one’s particularly endearing to me, though, because during my first Christmas in Japan, I was at karaoke with a number of my students and coworkers. An enthusiastic student asked me to sing a Christmas song, so I and a female coworker (also a Westerner) cracked this one out. There was much bewilderment and confusion at the two of us joyously calling each other vulgar names. We sang, we swayed back and forth, and then we probably drank a bunch of horrible beer because that’s what you do in a Japanese karaoke bar. This one will always remind of having Christmas in a weird foreign place, which I suppose is what the song is about to begin with.

The Band Styx is Not Worthy of Its Name

In Music, Mythology on March 2, 2012 at 11:24 am

The other day as I strode through a Fred Meyer, I was somewhat appalled by the musical choices of whoever was running the PA system. Of course, the music in Fred Meyer is always bad, but on this particular day, it was especially offensive because jumping from the speakers was the absolutely insufferable music of Styx, one of the most insufferable bands to come out of the 1970s.

If you’re not familiar with the music Styx, that’s good. Keep it that way. They are most known for Mr. Roboto, probably one of the worst songs ever inflicted upon airwaves. While I hate Styx for their music, that’s not thing thing that annoys me the most about them. No, the reason I really hate Styx is that they don’t deserve their name.

Styx, of course, is the river in Greek mythology that runs through the Underworld. It runs through the darkness of Erebus and Tartarus, where the dead wander and eat dust for eternity. It runs past the mighty guardian wolf Cerberus, the great three-headed monster that keeps the dead in and the living out. It runs through the mighty fields of Elysium, where heroes feast in eternal splendor. Daily and nightly Charon, the ferryman of the dead boats upon the Styx, shuttling the departed to their final fate. Such powerful, iconic, resonating imagery, should not be the province of a terrible seventies progressive band. The name “Styx,” in a just world, would belong to a far better musical entity.

Somewhere, there’s a metal band whose guitar chords scream like the fiery wails of demons and, whose basslines thunder like the rage of the gods. But, they cannot name themselves after the river of hell.

Somewhere, there’s a darkwave group whose sythesizers echo like lonely cries of the forever damned and, whose singer cries like liquid darkness. But, they cannot name themselves after the waterway of eternal regret.

Somewhere, there’s an industrial act whose beats echo into hopeless eternity and whose refrains screech out the hows of Cerberus. But, they cannot name themselves after the boundary that divides the living and the dead.

It is just and proper that Nirvana, a band named for Buddhist enlightenment, did actually change the world. It is good and laudable that Black Sabbath, a band whose name recalls dark covens and hideous rituals, delivers on what their title promies. It is entirely appropriate that AC/DC’s music is exactly as electric as their name suggests. Styx, though, abuses their name. Their insufferable and flaccid music recalls nothing of the mighty mythological imagery that they summon up. They wish to invoke Death itself, but instead deliver horrible music that is already its own parody.

So, you suck, Styx. You stole one of the most potentially awesome names in music and mythology. The most badass geographic feature in Greek myth really should belong to a better band, but you ruined it, and I hate you for it.

In Which I Admit That I Care Somewhat About the Oscars, and Subsequently Rant About My Least Favorite “Best Picture.”

In Music, Rants on February 24, 2012 at 7:46 am

The Oscars are stupid, and we should hate them. Everyone knows that. And yet, everyone keeps paying attention to the damn things, talking about them, and sticking their eyeballs to the television when the whole bloated thing comes on. As much as I like to say “the Oscars don’t matter,” I do have some bit of emotional investment in them in that I enjoy seeing my opinions validated by an external entity, and get sort of miffed when I see awards (or even nominations) going to things I think are crap. This is in stark contrast to, say, the Grammys. I don’t even think about the Grammys. They are utterly external to my experience of music. The Oscars, though- they get in there. As much as we like to pretend otherwise, the Oscars elicit an emotional reaction from a good many movie viewers.

This happens the extent that certain choices by the Academy have filled me with a certain weird rage, making me hate the Oscars all the more and, paradoxically, making me think about and care about them more. This is, of course, highly stupid. Annie Hall, for example beat Star Wars. One of those movies changed movies, culture, and media forever*, and the other one has plummeted into utter irrelevance. Forrest Gump beat out Pulp Fiction. No one watches, talks about, or even acknowledges the existence of the insipidly shallow Gump anymore, but Pulp Fiction is held up as a classic.

So, the Oscars don’t really matter. What gets remembered, what gets talked about, what gets watched- that’s all independent of which movies get little golden men. And yet, I still get worked up into a frothy rage whenever Oscar rewards the “wrong” movie. I rolled my eyes last year when they gave it to The King’s Speech and was very disappointed to see an award go to A Beautiful Mind, which totally sanitized John Nash’s life story. Having Titanic beat out L.A. Confidential was disappointing, but inevitable, and I will concede that Titanic is a Very Important Movie in the History of Cinema.

Absolutely none of those, though, angered me as much as what happened in 2005, when they gave the Best Picture statuette to Crash, and passed up Brokeback Mountain. I hated Crash. Hated it. Hated, hated, hated, hated, hated it. Crash was a contrived, simplistic, emotionally manipulative piece of offal. The film, such as it is, is basically Racism is Bad: The Movie and attempts to tell the audience, through a series of interconnected stories in modern L.A., about how racism is bad.

I did not resent Crash for its politics. I utterly agree with its politics. However, the movie expects the politics and the message to do all of the heavy lifting. Crash seems to think, because it’s about an important issue, that it deserves to be a good movie. The characters, though, are contrived, the plot relies on a series of improbable coincidences, and it never really ears the reaction that it expects from the audience. Movies about Big Issues do well when they put a human face on the issues and show us the personal side of why a given controversy is important. Crash, though, seems to think that because it’s about an emotionally charged issue, we’ll automatically empathize with the characters.

When the award went to what is essentially an after school special, I was perplexed and annoyed. Crash, more than anything else, drove me to realize that movies get Oscars less because they are good, and more because they meet certain criteria. I of course knew that before Crash, but seeing that movie win allowed me to grok that truth on a level heretofore unrealized.

All that said, I might watch the Oscars on Sunday, if I’m not doing anything. More likely, I’ll just check Twitter while they’re going on. I don’t really care who wins this year but I do know that if they give it to Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I’ll want to break something.

*One of my earliest memories is watching The Return of the Jedi in the back of my parents’ car at a drive in while wearing Superman pajamas. I would also posit that Star Wars mind-warped an entire generation of people like me. Woody Allen, on the other hand, fucked his stepdaughter.

A Small Observation Re: Spinal Tap

In Movies, Music on November 12, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Yesterday was 11/11/11, and to celebrate the august palindromic occasion, a local theater pub was playing This is Spinal Tap at 11:11 last night. I and several of my friends went to see Nigel and company’s rocking misadventures, and a fun time was had by all. Spinal Tap is an utterly intelligent and hilarious film. While watching it last night, though, I noticed something that I hadn’t before: Nigel and his rocking compatriots spend the entire film sober.

Watch for it the next time you fire up Spinal Tap. There are no shots of them doing lines of cocaine, shooting heroin, smoking joints, or even swigging on bottles of whiskey. There are a few oblique references to drugs, but there is nothing explicit. For a band that’s supposed to be bombastic and over the top, they spend a remarkable amount of time not getting high, drunk, or both.

This actually works in the movie’s favor- had the guys in the band been constantly inebriated, they wouldn’t be nearly as likable. As much as it’s about a heavy-metal band all of the musicians in the movie are, as a friend of mine put it, big softies. Their slack-jawed expressions and general doofiness become endearing personality quirks, rather than a side effect of rock ‘n roll excess. It also liberates Spinal Tap from having to confront any issues regarding, say, heroin or alcoholism, and allows the film to retain it’s light-hearted tone. It certainly would be a nastier movie if we were to see Nigel drowning his sorrows in a bottle or sticking a needle in his arm.

As much as I don’t like whitewashing issues or self-censorship, I thought that this was a very deft choice on the part of the filmmakers. Spinal Tap, after all isn’t really about sex (though there’s a hint of that) or drugs. It is, first and foremost, a hilarious movie about rock ‘n roll.

In Which I Learn That Kenny G is Objectively Bad

In Music on October 2, 2011 at 4:38 pm

The other day I had some time between work events, and decided to recline and read in the lobby of my company’s office building. There’s a cafe down there, and they have a number of comfortable couches and nice chairs.

“I know,” I said to myself, “I shall get myself a coffee, and proceed to imbibe a favorite beverage while reading and relaxing on one of those several very nice pieces of butt-bearing furniture.”

I bought a coffee, sat down, opened my book, and began to read. Unfortunately, this was not a process that kept happening. My enjoyment of the delicious coffee and the engagement with the ripping yarn open before me were interrupted by the hideously bad music that was playing in the cafe. Normally, I like cafe music. Most Portland baristas have fairly good taste, and I have no objection to, say, the solo works of Brian Eno playing away whilst I while away my time sipping a roasty stimulant.

This music, however, was not something that I could either enjoy or tune out. It was a hideous form of dominating sound that could perhaps be described as “jazz.” A saxophone warbled away, and in the background the undriving beat of automated non-drums disrupted both concentration, disengagement, and all states in between. I tried to ignore it.

I attempted to concentrate on things like the taste of delicious coffee, and the various plot twists of my book. That, however, proved difficult. The hideous muzak-jazz permeated the whole of the environment, and I began shifting uncomfortably on the comfy chair where I sat.

The track ended. I was glad.

Another track just like it started. It was more than I could take. The hideous saxophone was back and I couldn’t concentrate on my coffee, book, or anything. The only thing I wanted to do was murder the music with something pointy.

I tried to tough it out. I lasted for another track, and then, after that, something I recognized came on. It was this.

I immediately recognized the horrible strains of Kenny G’s biggest “hit,” Songbird. Suddenly, I was very happy. Not because Kenny G was playing- I was still perturbed by that, but because I had one of my biases confirmed. I learned that Kenny G is objectively bad.

I didn’t know that the offensive music had been a Kenny G album. But, I did hate it. I hated it stripped of context and presentation, stripped of personality and adornment. It was nice to know that I don’t think that Kenny G is a horrible musician (and probably a horrible person) because he has stupid hair or because middlebrow suburban Applebee’s customers enjoy him. I don’t hate him because it’s cool to hate him or because he’s an easy target. Suffering through his music, and not knowing it was his, taught me that Kenny G is objectively bad. All things being equal, his music is bad music.

It’s a rare opportunity to have one’s opinions stripped of context and tested. That cafe, though, gave me the opportunity to evaluate something I hate on a totally level playing field. Even on a level playing field, I learned that it was still awful.

Moments like that are great and valuable- finding an opinion confirmed, denied, or changed when context has been stripped away. It’s a rare thing to evaluate something in and of itself, and I walked to my next work function happily knowing that i gleefully hated Kenny G.

Here, Have a Picture of a Guy Rocking Out While Wearing Leopard Print Pants, Wielding an Axe, and Wearing a Chicken Mask

In Music, Uncategorized on September 23, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I love Portland so much. That is all.


A Plea For Coat Checks At Portland Music Venues

In Music, Portland, Rants on March 6, 2011 at 8:43 am
Dear Every Portland Venue Ever,

Please have a coat check.

We have a fantastic music scene in this city. On any given night of the week, you can rock out for not very much money. The clubs, pubs, bars and venues here are absolutely wonderful, and I’m proud to call the local music scene mine.

Except for the lack of coat checks.

Why? Please, for the love of all that is decent and holy, why doesn’t every single venue in this town have a coat check? I don’t want to dance, gyrate, headbang, and otherwise get crazy in my jacket. I want to do all of that sans-jacket. What’s more, I don’t want to have to worry about my jacket being rifled through while it sits on a bench somewhere. And, even if it isn’t rifled through (I admit this is a remote possibility, actually), there is the potential that some drunken jackhole (and I use the term “drunken jackhole” in the most affectionate way possible) will spill beer on it during the festivities. Just the other I was at the Crystal Ballroom (a magical place) and my girlfriend and I left our jackets on a bench. When we got back to them, after the show, her jacket was somewhat moist. This did not spoil the evening, but it was unpleasant.

So, have a coat check. Please.

It rains here. It is often wet and dark and cold. Crowds of people file into concerts and then have to shed various layers of waterproof gear before venturing out onto the floor of a concert. Oftentimes, piles of discarded jackets litter the sides of concert venues. This is messy, undesirable, and could easily be solved. Each venue could make a tidy bit of money chekcing coats. It is mystifying why you don’t offer this service.

Every Portland venue ever, I implore you: Give me a place to check my jacket. A place where I can stow it safely and not have to think about it’s security, structural integrity, or moisture level while revelries transpire. This is a simple problem with an easy solution.

I love you, Portland Music Scene. A lot. Gobs and bunches, in fact.

However, the lack of coat checks is utterly moronic. Fix it. I will give you all big, appreciative hugs if you do.



In Honor of Washington’s Birthday: Our New National Anthem

In Movies, Music on February 22, 2011 at 12:59 pm
It was March of 2007. I was in Tokyo for the first time, crashing in an inexpensive hostel. In the morning I heard an American voice singing in the shower. “America!” it sang, “Fuck yeah!”It was The Fourth of July, 2009. Rolling down the streets of North Portland, a ridiculously augmented pickup truck rapidly rolled. The wheels were raised and beneath it various auto parts vibrated audibly under the influence of it’s immense speakers. “America!” said the speakers, “Fuck yeah!”

It was a week or so ago. I was making breakfast. Eggs, probably. Someone said “America.” I said, instinctively, “Fuck yeah!”

And of course, there’s this:

Team America: World Police was, at best, an uneven movie. There were parts of it that I enjoyed, but other parts of it that I thought fell flat as satire. The abovereferenced song, though, is probably the most successful thing that Trey Parker and Matt Stone have every created. It is better than any single moment of South Park or Cannibal: The Musical. It is better than Orgazmo. I doubt that their upcoming musical, The Book of Mormon, will be able to best their success here.

The song is obviously about how bloviatingly bombastic America and Americans are or are perceived to be. It’s a send-up of the ultranationalism and chauvinism that typified George W. Bush’s America, a thumb to the nose of everyone who has a “Don’t Tread on Me” bumper sticker. Parker and Stone go out of their way to portray America as evil (by referencing slavery), shallow (by calling out Bed Bath and Beyond) and stupid (by taking credit for sushi, which is notably from a place that is not America).

However, if the song was only a hateful spitwad, it wouldn’t have the enduring appeal that it does. There is something genuine about the song. Even an urban liberal type such as myself really does think, at times “America! Fuck yeah!” I don’t think that the guys in the big truck blasting on the Fourth of July were getting it wrong, either. It wasn’t the case that the satire was lost on them. They were reveling in the very real (and sort of obnoxious) patriotism of the song.

Yes, I think this song is patriotic. In a juvenile and twisted way, it is. Displays of patriotism are often overtaken with saccharine injections of sentimentality that make them nigh-unpalatable to anyone with even a modicum of skepticism. Parker and Stone, though, have put in just enough self-critical irony make it palatable.

Yes, I know there are problems with irony, but put those aside for a moment.

Let’s all admit, if only for a moment, that F/A-18s are really fucking cool. That it’s sort of awesome that we invaded France and kicked Hitler’s ass. That we totally won the Cold War. And, that ruling the world is sort of badass. Yes, yes yes. Admitting this makes you feel weird. Trust me, I feel the same way. I used to have a Che Guevera poster on my dorm wall, for god’s sake.

But, just for a moment, think about how stupidly awesome we are. Doesn’t it feel sort of neat?

Parker and Stone made it possible to sing proudly about America even as we acknowledge all of the problems this place has. All of the stupidity and greed and big, nasty history. All of those things that get in the way of singing about Purple Mountain Majesties. (And besides- since when are mountains purple?)

Patriotism doesn’t mean being uncritical or sentimental. It doesn’t mean you love unreservedly. It also doesn’t mean that you have to be all solemn and pietistic. It doesn’t mean you have to stop being self-aware.

So, happy birthday, George Washington! Thanks for kicking King George’s ass, though you couldn’t have done it without France’s help.


Fuck yeah.

A Pretty Okay Daft Punk Video: What I Thought of the New Tron Movie

In Movies, Music, Science Fiction on December 19, 2010 at 7:04 pm

Given that I had a previous post on Tron, I feel bound to offer up a few thoughts about the new movie, which I saw last night.

It was highly adequate. There were a few good thing about it, and a few less good things as well. I’m just going to do a rundown of them. Spoilers ahoy!

Good Stuff:

-Jeff Bridges. Had Bridges not appeared as Flynn, the movie would have very little reason to exist. His being there made it seem more like a “real” Tron movie, and not just an attempt to cash in on geeky nostalgia (even though it is totally that). I loved it that Bridges played the older Flynn as basically an all-purpose Jedi/Buddha/Jesus/The Dude sort of character, an old man with crazy powers in the Grid akin to that of some kind of wizard/god. Also, seeing him digitally de-aged was a neat party trick. I’m sure that it will look terrible and dated in five years, but I enjoyed it for the time being.

-The movie is beautiful. Stunning. Shiny. Dazzling. Electrifying. It is an eye-poppingly wonderful calvacade of cool visuals. The lights and sets and costumes are all fantastically extravagant and orderly all at once. The aesthetic of Tron seems to be that there is a profusion of energy and color, and it is all tightly controlled. It is ecstatically mechanistic, like a choreographed rave. I wish there was a more positive word for “soulless” because the machine-world of Tron is soulless and gorgeous in the best way possible.

-Likewise, the soundtrack by Daft Punk is excellent. There are very few movies where, upon hearing the soundtrack, I think “I would like to hear that in a context outside of this movie.” This was one of them.

-References to other films were nice. Flynn’s apartment outside of the Grid resembles the apartment at the end of 2001, and at one point he quotes War Games saying “the only way to win is to not play.” Bridges also seemed very conscious of his most famous character, The Dude, and put more than a little Big Lebowski flavor into Flynn.

…And that, unfortunately, kind of does it for the really good stuff.

Less Than Good Stuff:

-The action sequences hit their marks, but they weren’t all that thrilling or memorable. While I didn’t find myself groaning or disliking them, they weren’t incredible.

-Garrett Hedlund, the guy who played Sam Flynn, was dry, bland, and didn’t really seem like his father’s son. He was too preppy and well-coiffed, too much of a nice, clean leading man. Also, the part where he parachutes off of the skyscraper is just dumb.

-Olivia Wilde (Quorra) also didn’t thrill me, but she was very nice to look at.

-I didn’t imagine I’d ever think, while watching a movie, that it needed more Bruce Boxleitner. Tron: Legacy, though really did need precisely that. Tron himself appears several times in the movie, but always wearing a black face mask that completely obscures his features. Normally, I’d just think that this was the kind of cheap trick that a director would use if they couldn’t get a given actor for their movie, but Boxleitner appears as Tron’s creator, Alan, early in the film. He also shows up as Tron in a flashback. He could have totally whipped off the mask for a big dramatic reveal! I was expecting that. Not having that there was strange and aggravating.

-Oftentimes, the movie was way too talky and self-important. Instead of dramatic it seemed staid.

-The filmmakers seem to have forgotten that Tron is supposed to happen inside of a computer. The Grid is portrayed as a kind of alternate dimension. In the original film, Tron & Co. were inside of a specific computer system. They don’t explicitly contradict this, but it bugged me somewhat.

All in all, the movie wasn’t great unless you were already a Tron fan, and even then, it was only kind of okay. I’m sort of nervous that the franchise (which had once been a nice little piece of cult nostalgia) is going to get crushed under a new wave of sequels and spin offs. I saw Star Wars get revived, only to be crushed to death by its resurrection. That franchise is in a state of deeper necrosis than it ever was precisely because things were added to it. I don’t want the same thing to happen to Tron.

On the other hand, I did love all the pretty glowy lights set to Daft Punk.

The Single Most Important Part of a Concert (Which I Don’t End Up Explaining Very Well)

In Music on May 26, 2010 at 10:53 pm

One of my little brothers once went to see a Pink Floyd cover band (not something that I could imagine myself doing…) and I asked him how it was.

“It sucked,” he said. “They were too good. It’s like someone put the CD in and pushed ‘Play.'” I completely understood where he was coming from. What he described didn’t sound like a concert at all, but some sort of “musical experience” or whatever.
The best concert experiences I’ve had don’t just involve music, but the performers getting on stage and dazzling the audience with that ineffable charisma that makes them so good at what they do. Not only do musicians have to be good at, well, music, but they have to be engaging and fun to watch in a sort of ineffable way. (Of course, musicians aren’t the only ones who have to do this. Actors, lecturers, comedians, etc. also have to be able to work a room.)
Last weekend I saw Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley play at the Crystal Ballroom. I’d seen both of them last year (albeit in an entirely different fashion) and I was happy that I decided to catch them again. Both Palmer and Webley have charisma in spades- not only are they great at playing music, but they exuded waves of charm, presence and charisma on stage. I was amazed at how much the room liked them. Really, really liked them. Granted, the deck was stacked in their favor- I think every hipster/goth/geek in Portland was in that room that night, but still.
A good part of winning over the audience came from the fact that the concert was not simply a concert per se, but also a theatrical performance. In the middle section of it, Palmer and Webley were dressed as the fictional conjoined twins Evelyn Evelyn, each of them wearing matching wigs and piled into the same huge dress/bag costume. As conjoined twins, they performed using Webley’s right hand and Palmer’s left on the piano, accordion, and ukulele. This added absolutely nothing to how they sounded, but it was a neat party trick and the crowd loved it.
They played up their persona as fictional twins as much as possible, singing about their backstory and predicaments, occasionally accompanied by shadow puppets. There was comedy, weirdness, and a freakshowy vibe to the whole thing that just worked, even though (well, maybe because) it was extremely silly.
By the time they took the stage as their actual personae later in the show, the crowd was completely prepared to shower them with love and adoration. When Jason Webley told everyone put their arms around each other, sway from side to side, and sing a drinking song, we all cheerfully obliged. When Palmer prattled on about the story behind her songs, I didn’t care. I liked her too much. I know I’m not going into details, but it’s late and I don’t really know how I can effectively explain how utterly charmed the audience was.
That feeling of being charmed and disarmed, of being compelled by a performer’s raw charisma is exactly what I want out of a show. And, again, I feel like a completely lousy writer for not being able to fully articulate it right now, but I think that’s part of it. It’s not about how well you play or what you say or anything like that. It’s about sheer power of personality. It’s about being utterly charmed by a man with an accordion who tells you to sing along, and then joyfully doing so. It’s about rooting for the artist, about being utterly engaged (and them engaging you) with everything that they’re doing.
I’m sure actors and whatever talk about this a lot. I hope that in my own oratorical pursuits I can be half as compelling as Palmer and Webley. The sheer moxie that I saw on display last Friday is the reason why I will always be willing to get out of my house, open up my wallet, and go to a show.