Sunday, June 26, 2005

SU-ER -R-UP

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So this past Saturday i saw the New Pornographers in Brooklyn w/ Erin. Now, the show was great - they played a good ammount of new songs, and covered a lot of their first 2 albums as well (highlight by far: "Testament to Youth in Verse"). However, something about the show really really bugged me, and it's had me thinking ever since they started until now.

To fully understand the thought process, you must first know a little bit about the New Pornographers. They are a sort of indie rock supergroup. Fronted mainly by former Zumpano member A.C. (Carl) Newman, the group also features Destroyer's Dan Bejar, solo sensation (and #1 on Brian's 'Celebrities I'd Cheat On My Lady With' list) Neko Case, as well as members of lots of other Canada-based bands.

For this show, neither Bejar nor Case were present. This can be understood, as both have other projects/schedules, however it is still somewhat disarming. The show was advertised as the New Pornographers - and to a certain degree it was: John Collins, Kurt Dahle, Blaine Thurier, and Todd Fancy were there with Newman. But when it came time to play "Jackie," a Bejar tune, Dahle sang it. Newman also sang Bejar's "Testament to Youth in Verse." Now, this to me is quasi-acceptable, b/c they are active members of the band handling the songs.

However, Case's parts were sung by newest member Kathryn Calder. Not only her parts, but also her 3 'showcase songs' on the first two records, "Mass Romantic," "Letter From an Occupant" and "All For Swinging You Around." Now, Calder sang the songs fine, as well as i'm sure she could. But none of the scab singers could replace the vocals on the records by Bejar and Case, which begs the question: Was i duped that night?

Is it better to have seen 'The New Pornographers' on the Celebrate Brooklyn website or for them to have advertised it as "Most of the New Pornographers?" I still would have gone and seen the show, even if it was a Newman solo show. Or is it better that i got to hear all those great songs in a live context, even if it wasn't really the band playing them? As i said before, the best song of the night was "Testament to Youth in Verse" and that was one of the songs not sung by its intended vocalist.

Back in the mid-1960s, Brian Wilson stopped touring as a member of the Beach Boys and instead worked on writing/arranging/recording their music and then letting the other guys sing their parts whenever the tours would end. Did my dad feel the same way when he saw the Beach Boys in the early 70s? Did Dad feel that it was blasphemous to hear someone else sing the falsetto part on "I Get Around?" I called and asked, and here is what he said: "I always felt cheated when Bruce Johnston sang Brian Wilson's parts. Every time. But i knew what i was getting - by that point Brian Wilson had stopped touring with them for a few years and it was well known." However, when i asked him if he had wished they didn't play songs sung by Brian Wilson, he said "No - I'd rather hear someone else sing it with the band than not hear it at all."

So, Dad and i were on the same page. But we take our music pretty seriously (and our film, baseball, cooking and politics), so was this just a nerd thing, or did people who weren't so obsessive with their arts similar in their feelings?

I decided to call someone who enjoys music that i don't - teen-pop. I called one of my resident Rant fans and also a fan of choreographed dance moves along with songs sung by borderline straight men with headset mics, Eileen Nagle. I presented her with a similar scenario - she goes to see NSync, and JC Chasez (the member she said sings the most non-Timberlake songs) was not there. Now, with a group as popular/money making as NSync, this probably wouldn't happen (and despite the claims some who read this might make, they ain't a supergroup), plus with the internet being what it is, i'm sure Eileen would have heard about it by the time she approached the show. I, on the other hand, did not hear because it was such a short tour, and because i was away for most of the week before the show, so i didn't really poke around their message board to see who was actually playing with the band. Also, the missing of one of their members on tour is not big enough news to make Rolling Stone.

But anyway, Eileen was surprisingly the most ardent on the points that a) you should get who you paid to see and that b) unless the songs are changed to be dramatically different without the missing member, they should not be played. When asked if she'd want another member to sing them, she said "Well, I'd rather Justin [Timberlake] sing it over some nobody, yeah, but only if they changed it around." So just playing the song with the replacement singer singing it would piss you off? "Oh, yeah."

For once, i am actually the most leniant on something! Like i said before, i would have much prefered to hear Case or Bejar sing their songs, but given the circumstances, i think i would have felt more jipped by the whole experience if i hadn't heard any of those songs. I suppose my whole problem with it is the billing: Are they still The New Pornographers without two of their key members? Bejar is sort of expected to not be there, as he usually doesn't tour with them, but Case's voice is all over these records, on just about every song they ever recorded. And if you go to the NP's website, unless you dig into the message board, you would have no idea that Ms. Case would not be present. In the photo gallery there are "new 2005 pictures (one of which is posted up top)" of the band that feature Neko Case, and nowhere to be found is this new lassy, Ms. Calder. Which leads me to believe that she is a touring replacement, and therefore, somewhere on the main website it should say so, correct?

However unhappy i was, i'm going to see them again (I hope) at Webster Hall in December - Destroyer is opening so i assume Bejar is going to be there, and if Case is there, well, i might have to bring a clean pair of shorts.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

When i was 15...

When i was talking to Eileen last week, i mentioned how there were some things i wish i could tell my 15 year old self now to save him some grief/enlighten him about his future. Here are some of them:

-Hey Brian, what's up. Shave your head. People will respect you more. Then grow it long again just to piss them off. When you're 23, you'll have a job and the long hair just won't be so appropriate any more. Shave it to gain their respect, then fuck w/ 'em by growing it even longer. Oh yeah, and freshmen year of college, go mohawk. Don't pussy out like i did. DO IT.

-Believe it or not, one day you will have "El Shaddai" on your iPod. Oh, don't worry about trying to figure out what an iPod is.

-Avoid trying to date girls not named "Erin" - it'll just save time.

-Be cooler when meeting musicians you respect. Don't be obsessed with being their best friend, and take better photos with them. Wipe that wine lip off when you meet Frank Black the 2nd time, don't get drunk before taking a picture with Sufjan Stevens and whatever you do, don't allow the ridiculous number of chins in the photo with David Lovering. I still have never shown that to anyone i look so fat.

-Enjoy every fucking minute of college - i'm serious - if you don't, i'll go back and tell 14 year old Brian to punch himself in the balls exactly one year from that day

-Go on Habitat for Humanity w/ your junior class. I didn't feel like arguing with my then movie theater manager and skipped it, and i'm still kicking myself for not hearing Chin say "Shake the Milk Genius!" in person.

-Even though it may seem stupid now, believe me when i say that you should invent this sort of yo-yo thing that has a big, elasitc-y ball filled with water w/ sparkles in it, and attatch it to a long, elastic-y string with a loop around it. Call it a yo-yo ball. Copyright the idea and make millions.

-Pay more attention to Saved By the Bell - one day it won't be on all the time. Wait, thats a lie. But seriously, respect the post-dinner Growing Pains episodes. Those don't last.

-Get used to hanging out in Vinny's room.

-Go easy on Mark a little bit. One day he'll be taller than you. Actually, fuck that - hobble him so he can never be taller than you. MUCH better game plan.

-Take lots of video of Brandy while he is young and wild. One day he'll shit everywhere and have a hard time climbing stairs. Try and remember him the way he is.

-I just realized that last one sounded emo, and for that i apologize. But dogs choke a brother up

-I just realized you don't know what emo means - never learn.

-Get in better shape. That way, 23 year old you doesn't have to deal with the gut. Or, at least not as big of a gut.

-Don't even go see the Star Wars Prequels - in fact, if you can, stop them from happening. We'll call that "Operation Save Your Childhood." See the manilla folder under your bed.

-Try and care about cars. Really

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

The Five Stages of an Indie Music Snob Accepting Pop-Culture Acceptance of His Music, OR, Why The O.C. is a Double Edged Sword

So this past weekend i was at a BBQ at Cranford, NJ's own John and Jessica Buonocore. A good time was had by all, but early in the party something struck me. As i was downing my first beer of the afternoon, i heard some music coming from inside. The chords sounded familiar, and by the end of the song i fully recognized it: "Popular Mechanics for Lovers" by Beulah.

Stage 1: Elation:

This is a great song! The tune is very catchy, the lyrics are top notch, and some good falsetto vocals get me every single time. How awesome is it that in a totally unexpected place i get to hear this great song.

Stage 2 : Confusion:

Now, while the Buonocores are very nice people who have good taste in friends (obviously), champagne, relish-burgers and houses, i had never known them to be big fans of recently disbanded, John Vanderslice befriending San Francisco-based indie rock. So i asked John, "Are you playing a Beulah CD?" To which he replied "No, its an OC Mix CD."

Stage 3 : Rage

FUCK THE OC! FUCK THEM FOR STEALING MY MUSIC! HOW DARE A FOX SHOW TAKE GREAT ARTISTS LIKE BEULAH AND EXPLOIT THEM!

Even worse is their inclusion on their latest "Mix" of a Sufjan Stevens song. Sufjan was totally my 'i know 100x more about music than you' card for the last 18 months or so. Not only do i own all of his records (btw, you can preorder the new one and get it almost a month before the street date - go to Sufjan.com and poke around the Asthmatic Kitty section), but i've seen the guy thrice, taken a photo with him, and i own a vinyl copy of one of his albums. This was my guy i turned everyone on to (when Ed Kelly, Eileen Nagle, Erin Averill, Dan D'Ippolito, and I all agree on an artist, you know he's great), threw on every mix i made, and generally talked up to everyone i met. Not only that, but the song they used on the O.C. is about Jesus. And it was used in a love scene. Talk about killing the mood...

Stage 4: Rationalization

Well, even though i don't like the idea of teeny boppers digging on my music, its great that someone like John could hear a Beulah or a Sufjan song and then go out and explore more. Who knows? Maybe he bought the OC Mix through Amazon, and since Beulah records at Tiny Telephone studios, it'll suggest to him that he should get a Spoon album, and through Spoon he finds other Merge artists like Destroyer, which leads him to go buy an old Bowie album, and now John is practically Lester Fucking Bangs.

Or maybe some teeny bop emo fuck who is all into Taking Back Sunday will hear Death Cab for Cutie and discover something is out there that doesn't involve whiny screams over distorted power chords. And that will lead him to the Postal Service, and obviously, to enlightenment.

Stage 5 : Acceptance

Even though i like to think that bands i like exist in the Brian/Internet/College Radio bubble, occasionally these bands break out. The reason i flip out when people start catching on to these bands is because there is something special about being 100 people in a room hearing someone playing a banjo. And its like finding a long lost brother when you see a car on the highway with a WFMU bumper sticker, or see a guy sporting a Sounds Familyre button on his messenger bag. These are little things that say "hey - you're in on the secret club too! Nanu nanu!"

Not only that, but bands when they get a certain taste of success, many times start compromising their music and losing what made them special in the first place until they become parodies of themselves (see all 2000s Weezer albums, the new Spoon album, even to a certain extent the last two Pixies albums, even though those are better than your mom). It is nice to a see a slow, steady progression of an artist, someone like Pavement, who's fans kept growing and growing steadily, and each album sold more than the one before it. But with Pavement, it was never "let's make a pop record and forgo the silly lyrics." They adapted and changed, but only to pursue their own muse (detractors of Terror Twilight will surely argue with me over this, but that album is incredible. Better songs does not equal selling out!). Also, Pavement disbanded quietly and set course on solo careers before becoming bad. Note to all bands out there: break up before you suck. Then you'll enter the realm of immortals like the Beatles, Pixies, Pavement, Nirvana, and The Clash (let's just ignore Cut the Crap, shall we?)

Luckily, the artist that spawned all this, Beulah, has already called it quits, so the O.C. won't be ruining their discography anytime soon. But if this new Sufjan album has O.C. written all over it, i'll be pissed. I don't see how it can though, with some song titles being 3 sentences long, the fact that there are lots of reed instruments, oddball percussion and banjo on the album, and the fact that it is 2/50ths of his ambitious "The Fifty States" project - can you really sell out when you are making an opus about Illinois?