Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? E-mail us at email@example.com.
I love Earth and its spare, droning instrumental music. Yet I don’t feel like it’s a band I would pay to see live, out of fear of being bored. It’s perfect mood music, but I can’t imagine paying $20 or more to just stand there. The truth is, there are several bands in my catalog that I quite like without wanting to see them in concert. What band do you like but would never pay money to see live? —Martin
I feel the same way about Apocalyptica, the classical string quartet that started out playing covers of Metallica, Pantera, Sepultura, and so forth. I have a bunch of its early albums, and they make for great background music, but I think I’d find it exhausting watching the band members viciously saw away on their cellos for more than an hour straight, and while the early albums are fun, they aren’t as musically or tonally diverse as I’d want a live show to be. That said, I went to the band’s website to see whether it was even around anymore, and found out it’s now doing full-band shows with vocalists. On the other hand, it seems to be doing a lot of shrieking speed metal for angry moshing fans, to judge from the videos on the site. So maybe I’d want to avoid Apocalyptica shows for a whole different reason now. But I admit, I’m more intrigued by the idea than I was when I started writing this response.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say I love her, but I’ve considered the appeal of seeing Madonna in concert. I’ve seen some of her concert movies, and love her or hate her, that lady knows out to put on a show. (In case you couldn’t tell, I have conflicting feelings about Madonna. She seems like an unpleasant person, and I dislike that her unpleasantness is sometimes celebrated as if it’s a good thing, but at the same time, I can’t deny how much enjoyment I’ve gotten out of her music and videos.) However, I haven’t been a concert person for some time now. I dislike crowds and being shoved around and standing for a long time, plus I’m short and sometimes impatient with humanity as a whole. Plus I’m so sick of the “Let’s pretend to draw you back out with our applause so you will grant us the encore that’s coming anyway” thing. And also, staying out late loses its appeal with every passing year. I’m old and okay with it, I guess is what I’m saying. So the concept of shelling out a couple hundred bucks to go see Madge live with thousands of adoring, screaming fans is pretty low on my to-do list. However, if someone bought me a ticket, preferably one in a nice, fully-stocked skybox, high above the hoi polloi, I think I’d change my tune.
I bow to no one (except maybe Sean O’Neal) in my love of The Fall, but I don’t plan to be in the same room with Mark E. Smith again. I saw The Fall once before its infamous 1998 show at Philadelphia’s Trocadero, a thrilling gig during Brix Smith’s brief return to the band, around the time of the Cerebral Caustic album. Three years later, it was a different story. Smith shambled around the stage, spending less time speaking into the microphone than twiddling knobs on his bandmates’ amplifiers, a practice that visibly irked longtime bassist Steve Hanley, who resorted to trying to keep his body between Smith and his amp. When Smith persisted, Hanley took a failed swing at Smith with his instrument and stormed off the stage, quickly followed by the rest of the band—excepting Smith’s then-girlfriend and keyboardist, whom he then introduced with a theatrical “Julia Nagle!” A few days later, Smith was arrested for assaulting her in their New York hotel. Smith started over, not for the first time, with a new batch of musicians and has continued to rotate the band’s lineup ever since, drawing from an apparently bottomless well of young players willing to put up with his crap in exchange for listing The Fall on their CVs. Fans have taken Smith’s behavior in stride, dutifully annotating setlists with “[walkoff]” every time Smith quits the stage, but even though I keep buying The Fall’s (often very good) records, I have no desire to watch Smith treat people like shit in person again.
Only after seeing Slint twice did I learn that I never needed to see it live again. I’m only a casual fan—I like Spiderland, sure—but have friends who freaked out when the band announced some reunion shows in 2005 (and later in 2007). Slint hailed from Kentucky, but released two albums on Chicago’s Touch And Go Records, so it was practically a hometown band. When its members emerged onto the Metro’s stage in 2005, they were greeted like conquering heroes… and then they proceeded to play one of the sleepiest sets I’ve ever seen. The band specializes in slowly simmering, mostly instrumental songs—and whatever vocals they have tend to be spoken—so you could argue I should’ve expected it. That’s fair, but maybe someone could’ve talked a little between songs to break it up a bit. Things didn’t improve when Slint played the ’07 Pitchfork Music Festival. My wife was shooting the festival for The New York Times, and she took a telling photo that captured the experience: Brian McMahan sitting in a chair onstage, leaning his head in his hand, eyes closed, like he was sleeping. I stayed awake, but just barely.
At this point, I don’t really like to see any music live. It’s almost always more of a hassle than it’s worth, and was a lot more fun and interactive when I was younger. Just about the only bands I’d pay money to see would be icons of my youth, but even in those instances, I wind up feeling cranky, tired, and anxious for personal space. I’ve also been disappointed in concert by an infinite number of bands I adore. All that’s left are the artists whom I love or admire without having sullied that by stepping outside my own private fantasy relationship to their music. Take The Prodigy, for instance. Its first two LPs, Experience and Music For The Jilted Generation, are deserving classics among old-school ravers, retro big-beat acolytes, and dance purists alike, as well as two of my all-time headphone-candy favorites. (“No Good” and “Out Of Space” just can’t be stopped.) And their live experience, particularly in the UK, has long been heralded and documented as some kind of strobe-lit Burning Man for angsty club kids. Unfortunately, I missed my moment (i.e. 1995). I don’t actually mind Fat Of The Land, and even dug a few tracks on Always Outnumbered, Never Outgunned, but I’m not attracted in the least to Keith Flint’s crazy-eyed frontman antics, or the band’s more industrial directions. Mostly, I wouldn’t last 30 seconds among a dubious sea of sweaty dudes on ecstasy, with unpredictable mood swings. Not sure I would have in ’95, either.
I love The Rolling Stones. I mean, who doesn’t? Yet I don’t think I could stomach seeing them on one of their twice-a-decade tours. It’s not even that they’re so old or anything like that. I’ll gladly pay any time Bruce Springsteen is in the general vicinity. I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the Stones haven’t made much music that’s terribly relevant to me in the past decade and a half—the last album of theirs with any songs I like is 1994’s Voodoo Lounge. Plus, something about the excess that marks their concerts just rubs me the wrong way. I don’t really know that I go to see a show for giant pyrotechnics and craziness, and that increasingly seems to be what the band is selling. It’s just not something I need to experience live, particularly when the CDs are so very perfect.
As a fan of Southern rock—and someone who grew up in Florida in the ’70s, totally submerged in the stuff—I do enjoy the swampy yet sublimely sophisticated sounds of The Allman Brothers Band. But due to a combination of factors, I’d have to be dragged kicking and screaming to one of its shows. First of all, I can’t imagine hanging out in a massive throng of hippie-type-folks for an entire evening. (It’s not you, hippie-type-folks, it’s me.) Second, it’d kill me not to behold at least one of the band’s original guitarists, the late Duane Allman or the estranged Dickie Betts, up there onstage. And that just isn’t going to happen. But, man, to be able to see a customarily extended rendition of “Whipping Post” played live by any incarnation of the Allmans would almost be worth it.
Like Jason, I’m a fan of noodly hippie rockers who peaked in the late ’60s and early ’70s, including the ultimate example of the form, the Grateful Dead. The death of Jerry Garcia precludes me from ever seeing that version of the band, but the surviving members continue to tour under various guises, and even together as The Dead. I’m enough of a fan to have several Phil Lesh live bootlegs in my collection, but I can’t imagine ever seeing Lesh live, for the same reason Jason cites. I was dragged to a Grateful Dead tribute show a few years ago, and while the band did a pretty remarkable job of replicating an entire show from the Dead’s voluminous archives, I felt severely out of place amid the sea of stinky ponytails and free-swinging, hippie-dancing limbs. This is obviously an “it’s not you, it’s me” situation, but when it comes to being a Deadhead, I’m fine with skipping the communal experience.
A few weeks ago, I selected Avril Lavigne’s “Contagious” as a “good song by a bad band.” That was half a lie: It is a good song, but I don’t consider Avril Lavigne a bad band or pop star. In fact, I like Avril Lavigne. A lot. There, it’s out there. But I would never, ever go to an Avril Lavigne live show, for a hundred different reasons, but mostly because of the off-the-charts creepy factor of a 33-year-old man attending an Avril Lavigne show.