Saturday, April 30, 2011

Oreilles Gauloises (Music Festival Edition) - Less is More...

I realized tonight that it's been over a year since I've last posted an album review on this site...incredible. Not sure how that happened exactly, but it's definitely a habit I have - doing something for a while, and then just stopping without any warning or clear reason. I'll have to cogitate a bit more on that at some later time, and maybe I'll put up a post about my mental ruminations on that topic.

In any case, I'm a year older now (technically, I turned 42 about 11 hours ago, GMT +1), and as my album-listening and live music experiences have drastically decreased over the last year (for a myriad of reasons), I figured that when I feel I have something to say about the musical world, I should just do it without thinking too much about it.

So, in that vein...

I went to Coachella a couple of weeks ago. All three days. I had a great time, and if there was one thing I took out of that experience, it is definitely that the smallest bands tend to make the loudest sounds these days. That very much appeals to me, especially in contrast to the larger outfits with bigger "production" in their records and in their live acts.

So, for example, the bands that made the most impression on me that weekend were the ones that had at most two people in it. In comparison, the biggest disappointments were all bands with at least four members, or musical acts that relied heavily on stadium-style stage productions, with dancers, fireworks, etc.

My favorite act was The Black Keys. Bass, and guitar. Nothing else. Nothing to hide behind. If someone blows clams, you hear it, zero distortion. It's clear then that when they're less-than-on, their show can easily become a disaster. But they were definitely on that day, and they blew everybody else off the stage.

Another example was Death From Above 1979, who recently reunited after breaking up about five years ago. One drummer, and one bass player. Same deal: nowhere to hide. If you suck that evening, you don't have anyone to lean on to prop you up and make you sound a bit better. It's a musical tightrope without a safety net. But just like the Black Keys, DFA 1979 was ON, and the result was impressive. It could easily have gone either way, though, and everyone seemed to know it.

One last example of that concept was Lightning Bolt, a bass/drum duo from Providence RI who's been around since the mid-90's. Probably the loudest thing I've heard since My Bloody Valentine, and definitely one of the most exciting live act I've seen in a long time. But again, just two guys, and despite the wall of sounds from all the effects pedals and voice distortion, you knew that this train could come off the rails at any point. It was exciting to watch and listen to, not the least of which because the danger inherent in the music was palpable.

So, the main lesson for me from that whole weekend was very clear: less is often more, especially if the number of warm bodies on that stage doesn't go above two! So I left Indio CA feeling blown away by The Kills, and completely unsatiated by the likes of the Kings of Leon, or Kanye West and his 12+ dancers/light show/fireworks.

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