Musicians Pushing the Intoxicants

So I saw the Fagettes last Saturday night at O’Brien’s in Allston. That was a good time—the girl from the Fagettes was this cute brunette (in above video I believe) who was in the audience for the opening acts—O’Brien’s is cool because it’s a small venue and it seems like the past few times I’ve gone a good chunk of the crowd is actually in one of the bands.

The shows I’ve been going to at O’Brien’s have tended to be sausage-fests though. There were a couple of girls sitting in the corner at the bar, furthest point from the stage, and it was kind of funny—I imagined them sort of looking for a quiet place to have a glass of wine and just chit chat, and here they were at this place that sells ear plugs for a buck (and you need them sometimes—the Black Thai show at O’Brien’s left my ears ringing all the next day—and that almost never happens to me anymore, presumably because I’ve lost some hearing).

I know three people who struggle with tinnitus actually—I get the little short periods of it after a loud show, rarely, or during a loud practice for half a day or whatever, but it doesn’t bug me—I used to be very bothered by loud music—I’d sit in the passenger seat of my buddies Ford Bronco in my high school days as we drove around and he’d blast the music and I was really uncomfortable—a kind of anxiety would wash over me—I’m losing my hearing. This noise is bothersome to me—now that just doesn’t happen. Even at the Black Thai show where my ears were getting destroyed by the heavy metal, I didn’t feel that anxiety I felt when I was in that Ford Bronco—kind of an odd thing, isn’t it? I can’t quite figure out what’s happened since then. I wonder if I were to sit in that car now and listen to the music blaring as I did back then, would I be bothered, or am I just numbed to that decibel level now?

A member of Black Thai, by the way, was tending bar at the Fagettes show—the gent with the long beard who looks vaguely like a beefier Simon Pegg. Here he is doing his thing:

I noticed between acts that Pavement’s Wowee Zowee was playing—this is probably my favorite Pavement album—I think if I were to recommend one album to someone to listen to of the Pavement catalog, to get them into Pavement, I’d probably go with Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but Wowee Zowee is that idiosyncratic album that has a kind of self-indulgence and discontinuity that for whatever reason I quite like—or at least that’s what leaps to mind when I think of that album and what I like about it—I also think of Frank Black’s Teenager of the Year as a similar kind of album—all over the place and he’s diving deep into his weirdness, and it’s just great. Maybe those albums that are really coherent are cool, but they maybe seem a bit too polished to really show a personality underneath, whereas the ragged albums seem to me, maybe, like more a reflection of an actual person. Or maybe that’s just BS, who knows? Oh, Alien Lanes by Guided by Voices is also another great example of one of those idiosyncratic albums—though for whatever reason Wowee Zowee was panned IIRC and Alien Lanes is in the canon of great indie albums (I guess—where is the canon—can I order it on Amazon? Why do I think I know what’s in the canon?).

I think Teenager of the Year was critically acclaimed too. While I’m discursing (made up word) on albums, I would say if I had to get someone into Frank Black with an album recommendation, I think the best bet would be the first album, Frank Black, the self titled one. But my favorite Frank Black album is Teenager of the Year I think. If I were trying to get someone into GBV I would recommend Alien Lanes, and I actually think this is my favorite album of theirs.

Anyway, back to the show—yeah, NICE GUYS played first but I thought they were the Fagettes, because I had read the O’Brien’s website wrongly, confusing headliners as openers and vice versa. Oh well.

NICE GUYS kept dedicating songs to someone, who was it, Luke or someone? I don’t know. RedTimbe is going to kill me for not remembering these details. I was emailing with RedTimbre about how I kind of have to develop a reporter consciousness a bit more, since I show up to a music show and I kind of bop my head and I have no idea what I am listening to—like I’m really not paying that much attention to the music, other than some very big effects, like some throbbing bass line or some cool riff, but usually not much gets through my brain other than a kind of…not white noise, but kind of that loud…the sound of loud noisy rock that pretty much every show produces. It seems to me there’s a kind of flattening effect where everyone is playing pretty loud and yelling–one acquaintance of mine once said something like, “You can always be the loudest band.” I think he meant it was a good way of distinguishing yourself from the other bands, of getting attention–but the problem is if everyone does it or can do it, you don’t have what economists or game theorists call a separating equilibrium—if everyone can turn up to get attention, everyone will and consequently no one will get attention (someone wrote basically this point in an argument about how some pick-up technique or techniques [picking up women] suffer from a lack of creating a separating equilibrium, because everyone can do it and so you can’t stand out–I think the context was telling people you’re rich or something–and I think the writer might have been Tyler Cowen–I googled and couldn’t find it though). There was that whole problem of bands making their songs louder on albums to get heard better on the radio too, which is the same issue.

I wonder if the Pixies got noticed because of their dynamics? They did the famous loud-quiet-loud thing—they got quiet and then got super loud, and apparently that was kind of a new thing–David Bowie saying this, around the 0:30 mark):

Of course dynamics isn’t a separting equilibrium either, because everyone can do that too—everyone can go from quiet to loud to quiet, and I suppose it probably was popular—is it still? Nirvana, as others I think have pointed out, used that approach too. I mean, bands do have some dynamics usually—but they don’t seem to be grabbing me generally.

I really do not easily get my attention grabbed at shows. It’s usually a good, fun, exciting vague experience that I just kind of don’t remember much about later. I similarly have this problem with albums—people recommend me albums—I ask them to, and I listen to albums and I think, that was cool, and then I forget pretty much everything about the album. Ever have that happen? You listen to an album a few times maybe, and have a conversation that goes something like this:

“I was listening to album X. It’s pretty good.”

“Oh, me too. I liked song Y.”

“Which one was that?”

“It’s the one that goes, ‘(insert song lyrics).’”

“Uh…I don’t remember—I liked that one…what was the title…”

“Can you hum it?”

“Uh…it was…hm, no.”

No, I don’t smoke pot. I wish I had an excuse.

What does it take for music to get into your head? It’s kind of important to know if you want to be a successful musician. You have to get into a certain number of people’s heads. How do you do it?

Well, so that separating equilibrium seems possibly important—you want to stand out in a way that can’t be copied and that is good. Which seems hard. This is the classic ‘find your niche’ argument, I suppose. You could be the best guitarist, or you could write the best songs, or you could do something no one else is doing (yet)—I suppose you can do things that others copy as long as you get there first, and you get some advantage, and then when people catch up you change (arguably like the well-known chameleons David Bowie and Madonna). Maybe you could say their niche is innovation–they can innovate better than others and so always get attention by being weird in a copy-able way, but reap the rewards before others can copy–sort of like a business that comes up with some copy-able innovation and is just the only man in town for a while.

Actually, now that I think of it, in the book Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, one of their criteria for an idea sticking in people’s minds is that it be unusual i.e. weird.

I guess anything that can make you different and that is hard to copy and gets you positive attention would be something you would probably want to max out on. Since none of us can play like Jimmy Page, if you can, well, you can blow people away at shows. You’d distinguish yourself.

(Source)

There’s so many good bands out there. Every band I saw Saturday was good. I have a hard time thinking of a band I really didn’t enjoy seeing recently, even bands where I thought they weren’t really my cup of tea—there’s something just kind of enjoyable about being in a loud place with beer-drinking artsy types. A lot of the music sort of blends together…it might even be that playing loud makes different kinds of music all start to converge on one kind of big fuzzy clamor. Maybe bands sound similar at the early levels because of sound engineering limitations or something.

Also, I wonder if the buzz we talk about when we drink is similar to an actual physical buzz that could be produced by an amp. I think there is a kind of buzziness to a buzz, and there’s obviously a buzziness to music, so, maybe music intoxicates. I feel like I might have read something to this effect somewhere, but can’t remember. Gods, grant me memory! I do recall Maynard James Keenan of Tool saying somewhere something about the sound of a concert affecting him in an interesting way–don’t recall if it was intoxicating or something else, but yeah–if you find the interview, put a link in the comments–a cursory search produces nothing for me.

Have you ever had that experience of seeing a band live and thinking it was the best thing you’d ever seen, and then you get home and you listen to the album and you think, oh, this is just okay (or worse). Maybe cranking up the volume is an elegant solution to making okay-sounding music sound awesome or enjoyable (though perhaps not memorable). I noticed I liked watching lots of crime shows like Law and Order or CSI, but would frequently forget the plots completely. Entertaining but not memorable. Even literary stuff that I love I forget vast swathes of. If I reread some of my favorite books, it would practically be like reading something new. The broad arch would be there but the details would largely be gone. It’s maybe not a terrible approach—we’re going to be entertained and get an exciting experience, and if cranking up the music does that, then can you blame the sound engineers?

I once asked a guy who had done some work in a sound studio if albums were so underwhelming compared to live shows because the guys in the studio have really loud speakers that are nice quality and they listen to the music through those, but then they send that music out to the public for their consumption and that public plays the music on shitty speakers or little ear buds, and don’t get the same experience as the guys listening to stuff on great speakers. But he said that the sound engineers are aware of that and listen on normal speakers to make sure it sounds cool, in his experience, IIRC.

The NICE GUYS finished playing their set and it was fun and I told the drummer I liked the show and he was friendly. His girlfriend was hanging out nearby and I heard Pavement’s Wowee Zowee playing over the PA, as I mentioned before, and so I turned to her and said something like, “I love this album—Pavement—you like Pavement?” and she said something like, “Never heard of them. Are they playing tonight?” I wish. Can’t blame her for not knowing about Pavement though, Pavement broke up a long time ago (though they did have a reunion) and aren’t that well known outside a certain subculture I guess.  I’m still getting into bands someone in the cognoscenti should know about—like now I’m enjoying the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime (see below video)

which was recommended to me by a gent I went to an open mic with (Smoken’ Joe’s in Brighton). I try to ask people to give me an album recommendation, one album. That was his and he nailed it. We took a break from sitting in Smoken’ Joes for a couple minutes while he smoked and I pretended to smoke a cig he had kindly given me, and we both talked about how Teenager of the Year was our favorite Frank Black album.

Actually, I talked to the soundman at O’Brien’s this Saturday—I had asked one of the bartenders if he chose Wowee Zowee as the interstitial music, if you will, that played between bands, and he said that the sound guy did that, so I went over to the sound guy at some opportune moment and said I loved that album—he was kind of busy I guess because he had to get up on the stage to do some stuff, but eventually he came back and I talked to him a little more. I asked him something like, ‘What are you listening to?” looking for some recommendations and he said something like, “Just this, all the time.” It’s funny–here I am at a show of bands that are new to me, and I’m more interested and excited about Wowee Zowee playing, an album I’ve listened to countless times. And the sound engineer, who sees bands all the time presumably, says he pretty much only listens to this album.

Of course, he was kind of nervous so I thought maybe he was just trying to get me to buzz off, which is fine—chatty possibly drunk dudes might not be the most interesting group of people to talk to. Poor pretty girls, they have to deal with that shit all the time.

Though actually, the cute brunette from the Fagettes was up front in the audience dancing away to all the opening acts, IIRC, and no one seemed to approach her I don’t think, and as I said, this was a sausage-fest, so a fair conjecture is we’re all a bunch of pussies afraid to talk to pretty girls. If it were Tavern in the Square she’d have like twelve guys on her, right? Does that seem like a fair guess?

I literally pictured a football pile up there. Was that an ancient mating tactic, the pile up? Wiggle around and hope…well, yeah. I’m grossing myself out.

The Dikes of Holland came  on after the NICE GUYS. The girl singer, a little blonde, mentioned to the audience the band needed a place to crash, and weed, and also that she was high on speed. That I remember. I remember pretty girls and odd stage banter. Like, how odd they don’t have a place to crash and are willing to accept weed as payment for their merch (IIRC) and she’s willing to tell a bar she’s on speed. It’s an attention-getter. Drama might be a draw to shows too, I think–if there might be some on-stage fighting or something. I bought their album, Brain-Dead USA, which I’m listening to right now—well, an mp3 download of the album via Bandcamp.

(Source–Um…no dikes…it’s Holland though, so, yeah).

I don’t know what order the songs are on this album—I played it in my media player once and it came up one way and then I had to do it again and now the songs are in a different order. I feel a certain indifference to listening to the album in the order it was sequenced in even though I think sequencing can be great. I guess I’m just not in the mood right now to be fussy. I just want to listen to some tunes. Alien Lanes IMO is maybe the best sequenced album around, and I feel like I’m echoing someone else but I can’t recall on who, if anyone.

I chit chatted with the girl singer of The Dikes of Holland and she didn’t seem like she was on speed. I mean I guess I don’t have any idea what a person on speed is like other than what I have seen on Breaking Bad, but it’s a stimulant so you’d think she’d be kind of hyper—she had some energy. She was manning the merch table after the show, which strikes me as an anti-climax—I think bands should do auctions between songs or something—like, “Hey did you like that song? Who wants to buy a shirt? Who wants a CD?” I wonder if people would buy a CD or something just to get the show going–like bands do this little pledge drive and won’t do another song until they sell 20 bucks of merch or something. Or maybe shows could have like these little mini-intermissions of like 5 songs, then sell some shit, then 5 more songs or something.

The more I talk about this the more it sounds like the dumbest fucking idea ever. I do like the auction idea though—I think that’s kind of a laugh. I picture a carnival barker taking the mic from the vocalist and being like “How about that! Who wants to buy an album—10 dollars a piece!” People are waving their hands in the air with 10 bucks and grabbing CDs or whatever…shirts.

Well, you’ve got to try the ideas–you don’t know until you try.

Or maybe the band plays a song and then they say, “Who wants to buy a download of that song?” The Dikes of Holland had these little slips of paper that gave you a Band Camp address that you could go to, so this is not impossible to do. People up front could hand a buck to someone on stage and get a slip of paper.

But actually, I had another idea—this is a tricky one but maybe it’s worth it—the band stops and people circulating through the audience walk up to you and ask you if you’d like to buy a CD or an album or something. Honestly 10 bucks seems like too much for a digital download of an album—I know jack-shit about the econ of the music biz, particularly struggling bands, but the idea is you sell your album for a buck, everyone is going to buy your album because it’s about 22% of a Naragansett tall boy at the bar, with a buck tip (yep, 3.50 Naragansett tall boys at O’Brien’s. I like it—PBR is the same there—I notice Rolling Rock being a cheapo beer people buy around here too—a guy smashed a substantially empty 24 case [I think] of Rolling Rock into my thigh as he past by me on Cambridge street that night as I headed from over the Pike and down towards Harvard Ave. to O’Brien’s. The clatter of bottles smacking into each other sounded and maybe some “Oos” from people around us, and I kind of kept going and then turned and said something like, “You okay?” and he said something like, “Oh, yeah, sorry about that.” That’s civilization—there was someone who said something like, “Politeness is the ability to neither give or take offense unnecessarily,” which I think is a huge virtue and I think we fellows showed it pretty well right there–can’t find the quote but I googled for it and found this one–item 4, about two-thirds of the way down…I think it makes something of the same point).

Anyway, yeah, so I’m just fantasizing here, but I picture cigarette girls (but I mean guys too—just it’s my fantasy) kind of circulating for a thirty second intermission between songs and asking people if they want to buy a dollar download of an album by the band. Seems like a worthwhile experiment. It’s a fucking buck too and there’s a good chance a fair amount of people would walk out of the club with a slip of paper they could use to download of your music. Dunno. You never know if this stuff will work till you try it, right?

Also, selling on the sidewalk where people smoke and chat might work. Probably some regulation against that though. Well, maybe as they walk out the door to grab a smoke you have your dollar-album-download-slip for them.

I played an open mic at Smoken’ Joe’s a couple weeks ago with Bloaf (playing his songs, I was just offering some complimentary guitars), and one thing I notice is they put a tip jar right up front in the performance area. I wonder what would happen if they put tip jars on every table for the band? Or someone walked around the restaurant with the jar within hand distance of the patrons, but this tip-jar person is not being pushy about it, just being a human conveyor belt pulling this bucket of money through the isles so if you want to give money you don’t have to shlep your money up to the stage.

Or maybe people should just ball up dollar bills and hum them at the musicians as they play—hahaha, that would be a funny tradition—chuck a buck. No change though, you nimrods. Problem is it’s a restaurant so an errant dollar will no doubt end up in someone’s chilli or pulled pork or beer.

So chuck a buck…yeah, it’s anarchic. Punk rock! Except punks don’t have any money. I guess it wouldn’t work. For a bar maybe it would work better, but still, you’d get that one moron throwing change and blinding the guitarist and giving a scattered group of people in front of him in the audience little coin-shaped bruises below their hair line.

You wake up the next morning wondering why the back of your head hurts and you have a quarter down the back of your shirt. If you got trashed, then this would maybe one of those mysteries of what happened during the black out (e.g. “Dude, Where’s My Car”).

I have the odd experience at shows of kind of losing track of how sober I am based on feel—you’ll go to the bathroom and then for whatever reason, because it’s quieter I guess, you’ll suddenly be able to get a better read on how drunk you are. Is it that all that music is causing you to put lots of brain resources into auditory processing and then when you’re in the quiet you suddenly have more brain resources to devote to monitoring your body? (I read somewhere the brain allocates resources in the brain based on environmental demands, IIRC). Hm. I wonder—I have two neuroscientist acquaintances I could maybe ask next time I see them.

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Though actually I don’t know if I had that experience at O’Brien’s. I was drinking Naragansetts and waiting for my buddy, possibly another one too, to come—I had minorly fractured my radius bone playing flag football the previous weekend and so had been on lots of ibuprophen to kill the pain (and it seems to work pretty well—previously I thought it didn’t do much—I guess I just needed the big dosages my doc recommended)—but anyway, I hadn’t taken any ibuprophen since Friday because I wanted to drink with my buddy at the Brian Jonestown Massacre show…I think I felt okay during the day and then I was drinking at BJM’s show so I think that dulled the pain, but the next day I was in a lot of pain. I was writing up the show and my left arm was throbbing—I’d move it and kind of yelp sometimes. I had a party to go to in Somerville at 6pm and then I had to be back in Allston for about 830pm.

So lots of walking and I was in a lot of pain because I’m an idiot and wanted to drink on my Saturday night. I’d been drinking at that party, then I walked a lot  between Somerville and Allston, with assistance from the Red Line, and then I’m drinking at the show. So my consciousness was altered by lots of different factors–beer, tiredness from walking, pain. I think it was probably also altered by the noise as I mentioned above, and I think maybe also being around lots of people and having some interesting conversations. All seem like possible intoxicants in some sense.

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