Sunday, September 28, 2014

Shindig- 2014

I'm starting to get to that part of life where more things are ending than beginning. It's part of the bargain we make at birth- that there's a beginning, a story, an ending, and then, you get an epitaph. I understand, and I'm cool with it, but it makes me make some strange choices at this stage in the game. So, even though I'm not really a "festival" guy, I went to the Shindig in Baltimore. Why? Several bands on the bill, it was basically my farewell. On the line up, I was there to see Fishbone, Clutch, Gogol Bordello, and Jane's Addiction. I figure that Fishbone doesn't have long, so chances are this is it for me and them. With Neil's Stenosis, I know quite well that despite the strong new LP, Clutch are on a time-line ( basically, with spinal stenosis, the spine gets narrower and narrower, and physical strain makes it worse. I know from horrific experience that if you have spinal stenosis somewhere in you top 7 vertebrae, serious strain can paralyze, and injury can mean death. I watched a guy choke out, go into cardiac arrest, and die when his neck got wrenched, and he hadn't told anyone of his stenosis in the neck.). Perry is currently 55. Dave is my age, 47, Stephen is a little younger than me, but is still 47. Now, they're in great physical shape. But there have been times where they have hated each other. I know from my own experiences, as you get older, you're less likely to put up with uncomfortable situations, regardless of the benefits. I could easily see Jane's Addiction exploding onstage again, at any moment. Eric Avery, who was the secret engine of the band ( besides listening to the music, read the writing credits- he really was one of the two driving forces in the band) already signed off- and I'm sure for good. So basically, I went because I really cannot count on seeing three of my favorite bands, again. If it happens, awesome, but I have to count on this being farewell.
So, how was it? Fishbone clearly are a "review" act, now, despite the new LP. It was play to the crowd, do a few antics to remind folks, and play some blissed out ska for senior stoners. I had a word or two with Angelo, and mentally, he's still clear, if addled, but physically, he was not in the best shape. So, I understand. Play the hits to remind people why you're here, then, settle into some jazzy, relaxed grooves, just to please yourself. I don't blame them. But, this is a far cry from the crazed Ska-punk-jazz-gospel-rock that was so inspiring that I even joined a ska band. So, again, a fond farewell. I bid them a pleasant rest, and you should buy their records so they have a comfortable retirement.
Clutch, like every act on the bill, was plagued by bad sound. Now, there's good sound, Stadium acceptable sound, mediocre festival sound, understandably flawed festival sound, and just plain poorly mixed sound. My next post will be photos, you'll see where I was. From that vantage point, I should have been able to hear all instruments. Several points were marred by whoever the wannabe DJ was that had control of the PA. I can tell this jackass' musical taste runs towards rap, because the bass, and snare were the only things audible at several points, and "dub versions" of say "The Mob goes Wild" are fine for home listening, but in a park? It's just annoying. Still, Clutch played well, and leaned heavy on their stunning last LP. In terms of musicianship, they owned the place- beating out my personal heroes in Angelo Moore, John Fisher, Stephen Perkins, and Dave Navarro. In terms of showmanship, Neil did his thing as best he could, but in an obviously restricted way. Lots of grasping at invisible oranges.
Gogol Bordello are much more a ladies' act. By that I mean- I saw loads of girls who were freaked out gonzo for the band, but nowhere near as many guys. I'm totally down for that, and think it's great. There are way too many acts that are for the dudes. I'm a little bit of a manly man, and I'll readily admit I can be a bit sexist- and I know that a lot of my preferred styles- from Hardcore punk to Aluminum Beard post-noise-rock cater almost exclusively to males, but even most other acts on the bill made music designed mostly to be enjoyed by the guys. If a girl dug it, that's cool, but Gogol Bordello, along with Perry from Jane's Addiction, were out-and-out trying to play for the women- and that, to me, is awesome! I'm not hopeful for a segregated audience. I'm hopeful for as inclusive a space as possible. I want all races, creeds, genders, and inclinations to feel like they belong. That's part of what made the music of my college years ( late 1980's) so great- I could go to the "boy's own" punk rock or noise rock show, but I could also go to the college rock or later, Alternative show, and dance with folks of all types. You don't see that so much, any more- everything is getting so tribal- so, seeing a bunch of girls go nuts for a band that I enjoy was great. I'm in no position to discuss Gogol Bordello's music- I can play a couple of klezmer songs, but I'm no expert of eastern European or Gypsy musical styles. But, yes, the sound was off, again- even cutting out entirely on a couple of songs. Seriously, I would fire whoever was running sound. I worked as a for-real professional in that job for over a decade, and I fired people for less than the sound cutting out for a full five minutes, mid-set. I've fired people for not properly installing a snake- which I noticed all the snakes were installed poorly, with exposed connections, and obviously loose connections. I never had to fire anyone for not properly grounding equipment, because that would never have come to it, and yet, at this show I saw several sparks. I know I'm getting into some nerdery here, so I'll stop, but even non- geeks were noticing how bad the sound was throughout.
So, that leaves me with the headliner- Jane's Addiction. For many there, this was it- they had come to fulfill a "bucket list"- I heard the comment many, many times ( including the most priceless comment I've ever heard from one of my neighboring rednecks- dude was full-bore "West Virginny" Nascarized Mud boggin, catfish noodling,  buck huntin' REHHDDNEHHCKUH- "Well, I finally saw Jane's, now, if I can jam with Pearl Jam, and punch Obama in the face, you can check me off, and bury me right there 'cause I'd be done" ) so they got the full "Jane's Addiction Experience" that they wanted- They played "Nothing's Shocking" start to finish, complete with bringing out Angelo and Jay for Idiot's Rule, then played the "hits". The audience got to be as debauched as they intended- I saw everything from boobie flashing to drug overdoses. There is a line of thinking that says that entertaining is the fulfillment of fantasies. If that's the case- this succeeded. However, I look for something else in my entertainment, For that, it was a bit mixed. Perry just cannot hit the notes anymore, and the mix was bad, again- so what should have been a crushing wave of sound on Ocean Sized was instead a bass thrum with wails of microphonic feedback. Perry did his shaman by way of Vegas showman shtick that he's been doing since the turn of the millenia- which is entertaining, but gets a bit awkward when you realize that this is a middle aged dude, with his wife backstage, singing songs about his ex girlfriend and making eyes at a girl half his age in the front row. I'm not saying I was offended, I'm saying the act would be better if Perry was less of a rock star, and more of an artist about it- which I know him to be. Sincerely, despite his multimillions, and despite how turned around his head may have gotten from the excesses available to him, I know of few people so utterly dedicated to art at their core. Back in 1987, he had what Burning Man became and what Jane's Addiction would soon become, and a Stanley Kubrick film and an Ernst Fuchs painting, and a Jeff Koons sculpture in his head, while living in near flophouse squalor in Venice beach. That's an artist with a vision, and that wouldn't need to be age-specific.
Dave can pull out riffs that reference Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, and Robin Guthrie, at the same time, at will. He still has that. He can improvise on a dime, and he can make sonic sculptures instantly. I never much cared for his exact tone- finding it a bit shrill and histrionic- but his playing is just plain gorgeous. I think his public persona is a bit undercutting- he comes across as a bit flakey and goofy, and that sells the real man underneath short. I know that the guy inside is carrying a ton of pain, and has been using his own rock star dreams to self-medicate that pain. So, yes, he played really well, not that hardly anyone noticed. He's like Mick Ronson in that regard- a brilliant player, with an equally brilliant showman for a front man, and he tries to do his own version of that showmanship, but it devalues his actual talent. They both make me a little sad- but I really think the world of their talents.
And Stephen... I dig other drummers. Big Paul Ferguson, Ted Parsons, Zach Barocas and a few others. But Stephen is it, for me. There is no other better. The combination of John Bonham, Buddy Rich,  and Tony Allen, with a metalhead's Id and a hippie's superego- he's the reason why Jane's Addiction didn't become some Roxy Music styled goth-art-metal band- but instead expanded to include far more interesting tribal and jazz elements as well. He played superbly, as per usual, with self deprecating charm but he was clearly held back by the nostalgia. I could tell he wanted to fly off into outer space, repeatedly, but had to stick to the script.
The bass player was good, no doubt, and it's not fair that I do this, but for me, there is no other that Eric to play in Jane's Addiction. I understand why he's not involved, and even agree with him a bit,  but anyone up there is going to be a cardboard cut out with Eric looming like a ghost behind him. That the guy they got looks like Eric doesn't help.
 ( By the way, yes, I saw all the other acts, but I'm not a fan of any of them, and so, it's really not fair for me just to rip on them for doing whatever it is they do for their fans. Since that's what I would do were I to talk about them, I won't. Get it?)
So, yes, it was worth it. I would classify it as good, but flawed. Enjoy the photos.

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