Sunday, March 17, 2013


So, I've mentioned "Classic rock" and how absurd the "canon" ( in the sense of a literary "canon") is for "Classic Rock radio". Truthfully, all of it is just a holdover of an earlier age. If we listen to radio, these days, we're listening to Satellite radio in our cars or in stores. Such radio is heavily "curated", and bears more in common with watching a specialty channel on Cable TV  than it does to listening to a DJ spinning records. But, for people of my age, Radio, the classic rock "canon", etc, all has totemic value. Some of us would do just about anything to get into that canon- it bears the same weight of validation as getting approval from an older brother, or a medal for honorable service, or a trophy at a sport. That's, essentially, what I've gotten out of two things recently. First, Dave Grohl wants in so badly, I think he's pretty much done everything he possibly could have. So, any talk of his "Sound City" project has to start there. This guy has all but tried to forge his birth certificate, so he could be ten years older, and born in either Los Angeles or Birmingham.( doesn't matter if you think of Alabama or the West Midlands, either will do for authenticity's sake) so his "Sound City: Real to Reel" soundtrack could easily be a K-tel record from 1974. That is, it's an uneven collection of songs by marquee level artists done so that, while each Artist benefits from the project, no one benefits more than Dave Grohl, by securing the licensing rights to their brand. By that I don't mean in a financial sense. I honestly don't know how the rights to these songs are divvied up, but I suspect it involves complex contracts. I mean that by having, say, Paul McCartney playing on a track with the surviving members of Nirvana, Dave has secured the brand image that says "Sir Paul McCartney" and the Nirvana brand image, and the linking between the two, get it?  He gets to make himself the connection between Fear and Fleetwood Mac, between QOTSA and Cheap Trick, and between Nine Inch Nails and Rick Springfield. If that makes Dave Grohl sound calculating and venal, I don't think he is, but I do think he'd do anything to occupy that space that he thinks of as 'classic rock"- and it is a very human desire to be seen as equal to those that inspire you. But, for me, as a listener, I find it odd that the best tracks are the ones where such "classic rockers"  are doing their damnedest to make themselves current. Stevie Nicks hasn't sounded this witchy, and wild in years and years, perhaps ever. Her track, "You can't fix this" is easily my favorite on the record, and I am no fan of Fleetwood Mac. I also really enjoy "Cut me some Slack" the MaccaNirvana track- it hits this bluesy wail that sounds like the noisiest Jon Spencer ever gets. Also, I'm a punk at heart I guess, because the Lee Ving (Fear) Track "Your Wife is Calling" is more invigorating than it has any right to be- hitting a sweet spot between "We Destroy the Family" and "Sweet Emotion". Finally, "Heaven and All" the track that opens with BMRC is just a great BMRC track. I completely can get behind guys that know they were put here to do one thing and that thing only.  I can't say I like a whole lot else on this. It sounds like a too-focused Desert Sessions. Like collecting a bunch of odd musicians, and, rather than letting them hash out what comes next, telling them, in increasingly nagging tones "Make Magic, dammit!" Maybe it'll make more sense when I see the Movie, but, for now, I'd say download those four tracks, and wait for the new QOTSA.
Then, there was the "concert" I saw last night. I think the word "show" might be more apropriaate,  but it was a musical performance... I saw Everclear at the Hollywood Casino.  Now, you might think this was at a hall, inside a building that also housed a casino. You would be wrong- they were set up in a corner lounge right on the casino floor. Easily, one of the stranger shows I've attended. It was a free show at a massive Casino, and horse track  in West Virginia, 12 miles from my home. When I say massive, I mean tens of thousands of square feet. I  also mean that literally tens of thousands of people were there. Just as a guess, I'd say somewhere in the neighborhood of 25000 people were in the building. Of those, maybe 2000 were watching Everclear. A strange show? I was standing near slot machines the whole time, with a lone Go Go dancer over my shoulder (I shit you not) watching everyone from Honduran day labourers to an Afghan in a Fez wander by, looking to play some slots or blackjack, who knows? Further, this being West Virginia, smoking was not just allowed in the building, it was encouraged, so the one thing most of these people had together was a cigarette. It is something to see Everclear bouncing about playing "Father of Mine" while an aged sour-faced Korean grandmother wheels by you in an electric wheelchair she's decked out with a literal "ash tray"-  as in a tray, like an airplane seat tray, that she uses to catch ashes, and hold her coin cup. It only gets more surreal from there. As entertaining ( or not- this will definitely be my last concert attended there) as that might be- you're probably wondering what that has to do with "Classic Rock" or the pursuit thereof. Here's what- Everclear, like their album title a few years back, are having their Vegas years. Only, unlike that album title, there's no irony in this. Hollywood Casinos are part of a chain of Casinos- and Everclear, evidently, have some kind of deal with them- so they've been playing Casinos and have honed their act into a Vegas-style revue their hits, complete with stage banter.  The latter third of the set, before the encore, was meant to evoke a loose jam, but it was really a chance for them to play bits and pieces of "classic rock" chestnuts- from "Sweet Home Alabama" to "Rock and roll" to "Another One Bites the Dust". It was clearly a favorite part of the show, and involved audience participation- even the Go Go dancer seemed to get excited during Sweet Home Alabama. It just hammered in, for me, how badly Art Alexakis has always wanted to be part of the Classic Rock Canon. Moreso even than Dave Grohl.  There are throwaway lines in songs " I dreamed Jimmy page would come to Santa Monica and Teach me to play", and covers ( apart from the above, they've done "Sin City" "American Girl"  "The Boys are Back in Town" and "Brown Eyed Girl") and it doesn't take close listening to hear the classic rock influences - from Tom Petty to Led Zeppelin- that sometimes drowns out their more punk tendancies. So, what's the template for playing a canned show, where you "play the hits" and pay tribute to the supposed audiences' tastes, even if they differ from your own? That's right- Vegas. That, also, is my problem with this worship of classic rock. Oh, I still like my Everclear CDs, and so on, but listen to Henry Rollins carefully on this bit here. Did you hear the bit about making the album you're told to make? Yeah, I think the same could be said for making a show, don't you?
Because it's either Everclear is selling out on the live show ( which seems likely, given Art's financial troubles) or their new records. They played nothing from the last two records- both of which are performed by the band as they are now- and instead played only the songs from the "glory years" ( pretty much the entirety of "So much for the Afterglow" mixed with some "Sparkle and Fade" and "Songs from An American Movie".
I know that it could be said that Rock is Dead. That's fair enough, but I still think it's better to play songs that are you, as you are now, rather than songs about who you wanted to be in another time. Ultimately, that's what this impulse for 1975 is, right?

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