Two Ears/ One Mouth
Independent live music reviews & Other Cockamamie Horseshit from The Canadian Prairies
by Michael Dunn
CAN’T BEAT A GOOD FIASCO
In small towns, people tend to get to know a lot about you, whether they know you particularly well or not. Word gets around, and most of the time you’re lucky if all the talk is positive. It’s an awfully small town in this Canadian music scene, and word travels quickly indeed. In this community, if they’re not talking about you, you’re not doing anything right.
Since I moved to Calgary, I’ve heard a lot of people talk, about bands they’re in, bands they used to be in, bands their friends are in, and bands full of people they don’t like. This last one is a pretty common occurrence for some reason, and not just here. It’s almost as common as people talking about bands they love, in every town I’ve hung out in. A weird juxtaposition in conversation.
My friend the writer told me that when reviewing a show, to remove all subjective interest from the equation. Ask yourself, “Is this band good at what they do? Do they have an identifiable sound? Is there anything that differentiates them from literally thousands of other bands? And are they owning it, or phoning it in?” He also mentioned that, when I get the opportunity to be interviewed for some of my own musical pursuits, to not be boring. Say something interesting. Music writers hear the same shit from every band they have to interview, and I imagine the tedium can push even the most verbose of wordsmiths to their wit’s end.
Some bands never change. Pick a style, endlessly slamming out the same thing until their schtick is well-established and they can profit from having stuck it out as long as they have. And some bands take a risk. They change the whole thing. They keep certain elements of the music that got them to where they are, and risk alienating the people who enjoyed their thing because the band grew as individuals, and their tastes changed. They evolved. Some bands do this. Some are content to continue trotting out the party line.
Last week, I saw a gig. It was a big one, for all of the players involved. High stakes. Every band played well. It’s a hard-learned trick to play to the back of the bar as well as the people packed right up front. To make the crowd work as hard as the band. Everyone down in front left in a sweaty mess, as did the band, after pushing their new, unreleased material, and mixing in some revamped arrangements of their old tunes, to the approval of all in the audience. There was showmanship, banter, groove, and a tight, muscular band playing like they had nothing to lose. No trepidation, and clearly, no fucks given. An hour after their set, another band in the downstairs bar played one of their tunes, in a young boys cutting loose, extra speedy amphetamine fashion. “Hey band upstairs, thanks for rippin’ a killer show.”
In its best and most adolescent and fun way, rock n’ roll is an unpredictable, entertaining fiasco. Crazy kids playing loud, and doing and saying nutty shit, and getting away with it, because they have the balls to do or something outrageous in the first place. Things have become a lot tamer in recent years, but some bands still own it and live it to the hilt, to the point of slightly important broken body parts, just to see what happens. When they play, they’re as in the moment and serious as it gets, and sure, people unwind from playing a killer gig in different ways. Some people have families to go home to, and that’s not only admirable, it shows a level of commitment some artists won’t reach for. Some bands stay up all night hanging out with the crowd they just entertained, because they’ve committed to music to where having a family is almost an impossibility. They’ve all paid their dues, for years and years.
It’s a small town, and they’re out there running around like a gang of kids with slingshots, a carton of eggs and can of spray paint that makes me wonder, “What crazy shit are these fuckers up to?” If I were going to put a lot of money in the hands of an artist, I would want them to create some amazing music, but I would also want to be entertained, and follow their careers just to see what insane thing they decide to do next. I’d give that money to Cowpuncher, just to see what kind of fiasco they’d cook up.