Originally posted 2007 on MySpace
I *was* going to call this blog “Public Masturbation” but I didn’t want anyone thinking I was getting into the porno blog business. When I say “public masturbation” I mean it figuratively. Sort of. I know. Half of you are sighing with relief, and the other half are going “Oh, darn!”
And yes, you guessed it, I’m picking on musicians again. In my line of work, they’re just such easy targets. I really should find a more challenging group to pick on. But it’s all meant in love. Truly! Some of my most adored bands are guilty of this particular sin, in one form or another. Some of them literally *cough*. . . but this blog is about the figurative sort. (And yes, this blog was inspired in part by yet another show that I went to this week!)
Now when I say some musicians are guilty of “public masturbation”, what I am referring to are those times during a show when an artist appears to be more concerned with pleasuring themselves or stroking their own. . ego. . .than they are with pleasing the audience. There are three main ways (well, there are probably more, but I’ll keep it to three) in which this gratuitous self-gratification takes place:
1) The hyper-extended guitar/drum solo
Yes, we know you’re a guitar god. Yes, we know you like to show off. That’s fine, but do us all a favor and please set a timer. I can tolerate a 3 minute demonstration of your awe-inspiring skills. But if you’re after a 15-20 minute elongated noodling session to showcase your superior dexterity, I start to feel. . .well, superfluous. Like – I’m not really needed here, so I’ll just leave you and your guitar to get a room, thanks.
Now if you’re playing a 2 ½ – 3 hour set, I can certainly understand letting the drummer/guitarist/fiddle player showcase his talent while the band takes a quick break. But there’s no need for that if your set is less than 2 hours long. If you really need to show off, do us all a favor and write a song that actually features an impressive solo as part of the package. (Hey! What a concept!) Any solo improv that starts to approach the five-minute mark (let alone go beyond) ceases to be interesting and starts to look an awful lot like. . . um, yeah. Like the performer in question is far more interested in stroking himself on stage than in actually entertaining the audience.
2) The stadium chant-off
We’ve all been a part of this one. You know, where the band decides to play one side of the stadium against the other to see who can sing, chant or shout the loudest? “OK, first this side! OK now that side! OK now how about all the folks in the back? OK, let’s hear it from the folks in the nosebleed seats! Oh come on, you can be louder than that!” Et cetera, ad nauseum. There’s really only one place this kind of thing belongs, and that’s in high school football stadiums/gymnasiums.
Yes, I know we all love to have “audience participation” – so fine. Have a song or two where you drop the vocals and let the audience sing a verse or chorus. That’s nice. That keeps us all going with the flow. As far as I can see the only purpose to going back and forth between different sides of the venue and seeing who can scream/applaud/shriek/clap the loudest is to feed your ego. I’m sure it feels just great to have thousands of people screaming for you and following your direction. But it doesn’t do anything for me (the paying customer, here!) except maybe provide me with a good point mid-show where I can sneak out to use the bathroom. Not to mention that 15-20 minutes wasted in such a fashion is time that could have been spent in playing at least 3 songs that we now WON’T be hearing because you used up that time getting people to whoop and holler at you for no apparent reason. Add that to the time spent in solo grandstanding as mentioned above and now I’m really starting to feel cheated out of the actual MUSIC that I came here to see and hear.
3) Changing the arrangements of well-known songs
This one’s the dealbreaker for me. I can deal with the first two – I may not be crazy about ‘em, but I’ll tolerate those antics if I really like the band. Screwing around with hit songs, however, is a BIG no-no in my book. There are some artists I really loved once who I will NOT go see again because I no longer trust them not to f**k up their own songs to the point that they are unrecognizable.
Yes, I know you’ve played these songs a billion times, day in, day out, maybe for years on end. Yes, I know you’re sick to death of them, and that playing them the same way day in, day out is getting OLD already. Too f’n bad. You’re bored? Then throw a couple of obscurities from your back catalog into your set and rotate the list. If I’m one of those “I only know the hits” fans, I might be motivated to expand my knowledge of your repertoire. And if I’m a die-hard fan, you just made my night.
But never. . . never, NEVER take one of your biggest hits – or heaven forbid, your ONE big hit – and turn it into some kind of down-tempo production with a reggae-samba beat just to make it more “interesting” for YOU. I have seen SO many artists do s**t like that, and as far as I’m concerned, it ruins the show. That is just total self-gratification at the expense of the audience’s pleasure – and y’know what? If I’ve thrown down upwards of $200 for a 90-minute performance of songs I know and love, then I think *I* should be the one who gets pleasured here. After all, shouldn’t the paying customer be the one who gets off? People love to sing along to their favorite songs. That’s what they come for, that’s what they pay for. And if you go radically changing the arrangement of their favorite song – guess what? You just screwed the audience (not in a nice way!) and they didn’t get what they came for.
Now I will admit that there have been a couple of rare occasions when a band has come up with a new arrangement for an old familiar song, and I’ve actually enjoyed it. I might even come to prefer the new version to the original. But that’s extremely rare. I can also cut some slack to an artist who wants to test out a new song and then later makes changes to it. But once you’ve committed a recording to a CD that you expect people to buy, please – PLEASE – leave it the hell alone! Let people come to your show and enjoy the songs in the well-known arrangements that they’ve come to love. After all, the audience are the folks who are PAYING to see you perform. Shouldn’t you be making the effort to see that THEY leave satisfied?
As with anything, your mileage may vary. I’m sure there are fans out there who love bands that publicly mas….uh, that play extended solos, lead rah-rah teams, or play “re-mixed” versions of their hits. These just don’t happen to be things that float my boat – and I know I’m not alone. I figure I’ve logged enough hours standing on my aching feet in crowded nightclubs and stadiums that I should have a license by now to share my observations about what works as entertainment, and what doesn’t. And guess what? There’s another side to this coin as well. . .and that’s all the annoying, disrespectful things that a clueless audience often inflicts on the entertainers they’ve come to see. But that’s a blog for another time. Never fear though – I *do* know how to do more than just bitch! It’s just that ranting is so much fun….LOL. But I promise – I’ve also got some blogs coming down the pike that will give some praiseworthy musicians the worship they deserve!