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THE GREAT DEPRESSION

Taking St. Louis' lead-footed concertgoers to task

Music critics are, on the whole, a pack of cowardly, smug bastards who take perverse delight in belittling the achievements of musicians: "cowardly" because we do so from the safe distance of the written word; "smug" because our musical taste is so much more catholic than yours; and "bastards" because our very nature drives us to analyze, rate, gauge and judge the worth of another person's creative output (or not so creative, in the case of Matchbox 20) with little or no regard for said person's feelings. Cheap jokes and charientisms are our stock-in-trade, and we gleefully dole them out week after week, disrupting your lives with our outbursts like the paste-eating kid with ADD exiled to the back of the room in third grade.

And we do so knowing full well that we have no discernible talent in the field of music whatsoever. Critics are notorious record-collecting geeks (ask me about my Sonic Youth bootleg collection) and fonts of useless musical trivia (did you know Blackie Lawless of WASP was briefly in the New York Dolls?), but when was the last time you heard a great band fronted by a rock critic? Lester Bangs may have been the last great humanist critic, but his band Birdland sucked. Scratch a music critic and you find a failed musician (the violin being my personal waterloo). The aphorism "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach," should be appended "and those who can't do either, become critics."

So why do we do it? Shiny, brass-balled ego. Just like that loudmouth in the third grade, we crave your attention -- positive or negative, we don't really care, as long as you notice us and acknowledge us in some way. Aren't we witty? Aren't we annoying? Look over here! I'm mocking your pop stars! I make funny, no?

But lately you haven't been playing along. Every week the music department slips a couple of (we think) clever blades into the sallow hide of whatever Glamour Shot is topping the charts in hope of eliciting some sort of response from their fans: Britney Spears. Korn. The ever-popular Matchbox 20. These marketing coups have sold millions of albums to you schmucks, and none of you ever writes in to defend them, or explain what it is that drives you to purchase their schlock, no matter how many nasty barbs we hurl at them. How much shit must we pile on top of Limp Bizkit before one of you stands up and fights for your right to "Nookie"?

C'mon, say something. Jill Posey-Smith makes a couple of jokes in her restaurant reviews and she gets all sorts of nasty mail, but what do we get? Nothing. Not even a death threat on toilet paper. Were you all too busy lining up to buy that Alice in Chains boxed set?

So this week we're upping the ante. Rather than critique the bands, we're going after the fans. We hope you'll take this personally and grind your Husky pencils down to nubs on those Big Chief tablets, and the torrent of illegible letters calling us bastards (check the spelling in the first paragraph) will justify our spots on the payroll -- or at least make us feel as important as Jill Posey-Smith.

This is our critique of you, the St. Louis Music Fan: You're afraid to dance.

Mind you, this is a scientifically researched fact, compiled from firsthand experience and one-on-one interviews with concertgoers, so don't try to deny it. But you rave kids are exempt because, well, you're ravers. Given a deep enough K-Hole and a 135BPM click track, you all shimmy and twist as if St. Vitus is slapping you around. But the rest of you, when it comes to dancing, you are chickenshits.

As proof of your cowardice, I first call your attention to the Oct. 4 Mike Watt show at the Side Door. Watt delivered an inspiring set of classic material, jumping from his own "One Reporter's Opinion" to Lou Reed's "The Blue Mask" with a stevedore's grace. His sidemen were tight and on fire. The sound was good and the Old Milwaukee was cheap. The first three rows of that show, inches away from a punk-rock legend, stood in stony silence, arms folded across chests, feet rooted firmly to the cement-slab floor. Nary a head-bob in sight. Watt encored with a flurry of Minutemen classics, and a lone punker shoved his way to the front and pogoed amid the petrified forest that paid 7 bucks to get in and stand stony for a couple hours.

Item No. 2: The Highway Matrons/ Rex Hobart and the Misery Boys show at the Rocket Bar. The Matrons extruded some of the finest rock & roll this city has to offer to a roomful of corpses while a pair of ladies swayed down in front. The Last Honky-Tonk Hero took the stage next and unleashed a fine, fine set of songs that snapped heartstrings and stirred the blood, and the same ladies danced with one another while the crowd impersonated sculpture. The Matrons got their drink on, then returned to the floor to dance with these fine women who obviously knew more about enjoying a show than a roomful of paying "music fans."

Scenes like the ones described above are common throughout the city. You will buy your tickets, pay that ridiculous service charge, stand in line in ungodly conditions (all you folks at the Mr. Bungle show, are you rehydrated yet?) and be herded into venues like cattle, but when the moment of truth arrives, how do you respond? With a wall of indifference.

What's wrong with you people? Don't you want to have fun?

Apparently you'd rather be "cool." When nondancing concertgoers were polled by RFT operatives, they gave remarkably similar answers. A typical exchange follows:

RFT: Great show, huh?

Nondancer: Yeah (takes drag from cigarette).

RFT: So why aren't you dancing?

Nondancer: I don't want to look stupid.

The irony of someone uttering that last line with a bull-ring hanging from his nose is heavy, and disturbing. Who really cares what a bunch of drunken rock fans think of you? It's rock & roll. There was a kid at Cibo Matto who had to be all of 15, sporting a head of giant red liberty spikes and wearing bondage pants, who was not dancing because he didn't want to look stupid. Right....

Now, has anyone here heard of Beatle Bob? You know, tall guy with a moptop and stylishly out-of-date suit? He goes to every show (yes, every show) and unleashes some of the greatest idiosyncratic dance steps and Hai Karate kicks you'll ever hope to see. He grins from ear to ear while doing it and stands up front for all to see. He was at all the shows mentioned in this piece. You nondancers laugh and point at him, but guess what? While you're maintaining your impenetrable facade of icy coolness, Bob's having a great time. He's not practiced or polished, but he does his own thing and enjoys each and every show on a physical, visceral level you'll never understand if you don't cut loose and dance to the music.

The rest of us dancers, we have a great time, too. And while you're all laughing at us, we laugh at you, because you're cool enough to maintain some sort of stoic decorum but not smart enough to have a good time, even when you're the one paying for it. This probably explains your taste in music: A little too cool, but not too smart. And definitely not brave enough to stand out from the rest of the faceless, motionless crowd.

So go ahead and buy that new Korn album. It's not getting any better, but hey, it's got two different covers, and that's pretty cool, right? Well, it looks cool. Or at least that's what your friends tell you. And who cares about the music? It's not like you're going to dance to it anyway.

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