Channel Change

Hey, you! Stop calling it Riverport! UMB has dibs now!

Last week, Radar Station received an invitation to a Clear Channel press conference: "We've got a secret!" was the coy message on the card. What could this secret be, we wondered? Would Clear Channel executives peel off their human-flesh casings and reveal their true demon forms? Would they announce their plans to dominate the live-entertainment and radio markets, antitrust legislation be damned? -- oh, wait, that already happened.

Secrets, shmecrets: They had us with the promise of a free lunch. On Feb. 12, we headed downtown to the Sheraton and joined a couple hundred industry types, most of whom seemed to be in on the secret already. (In his Feb. 10 column, the P-D's Jerry Berger scooped his own paper's music columnist, who followed up on the story three days later.) In any case, no one gasped audibly or blanched with shock (although Radar Station let loose with a piercing giggle) when the corporate fat cats revealed their secret: The Riverport Amphitheater shall henceforth be known as the UMB Bank Pavilion. (Rolls off the tongue, yes?)

Clear Channel CEO Dave Lucas rhapsodized about the new "corporate partnership" -- a very big deal for the "Clear Channel Entertainment Family," which will entertain more than 1 million St. Louis concertgoers next year. Next, he directed our attention to a short video presentation featuring highlights from previous Riverport shows -- lots of giddy white people waving their arms and holding up lighters while images of Mick Jagger, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Steven Tyler, Carlos Santana and other senescent superstars flashed across the screen.

Then Peter J. Genovese, president of UMB, took the podium, mumbling something like "I'd score about 10 percent if I had to identify who all those artists were!" The audience tittered politely, and we wondered whether he'd been trapped in a bank vault for the past 30 years -- even our 80-year-old great-aunt would have aced the hypothetical quiz. It's not as if anyone asked Genovese to distinguish Mandy Moore from Jessica Simpson or name all the members of the Backstreet Boys. Despite his apparent lack of interest in all things pop-music-related, Genovese waxed enthusiastic about the importance of the St. Louis market to UMB. "We wanted a company that had a common attitude. The UMB/Clear Channel partnership couldn't be a better match!"

Yeah, because banks are so rock.

Breathes there a person who still believes that rock & roll is an expression of the counterculture? Assuming there is, whew, are you in for a rude surprise! As far as the guys in suits are concerned, you're just a consumer, someone who'll plunk down $8 for a parking space and $5 for a bad beer and maybe even fill out a credit-card application or avail yourself of a UMB ATM while you're waiting in line. Although no one discussed the filthy-lucre aspects of the deal at the press conference, we later learned that UMB will pay Clear Channel $500,000 a year for the naming rights and the opportunity to hawk its services to patrons of the glorified meatpit. Talk about adding insult to injury!

We wondered briefly how Clear Channel could possibly need the money. In addition to Riverport -- whoops, the UMB Bank Pavilion -- the company owns 44 amphitheaters in the U.S. and 28 venues in Europe. Clear Channel also rules the airwaves, with 1,200 stations (six in St. Louis alone). Clear Channel not only dominates the market, it pretty much is the market. In fact, U.S. Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) recently asked Attorney General John Ashcroft and FCC Chairman Michael Powell to investigate charges that Clear Channel limited radio airplay of the music of Britney Spears and other artists because they don't use its concert-promotion services. Clear Channel is also being sued by an independent concert promoter, Denver's Nobody in Particular Presents, which accuses the corporation of using its stations to plug its artists at the expense of those promoted by competitors. (The FCC supposedly forbids the practice, which is called plugola.) Time will tell whether the feds see fit to punish Clear Channel for monopolizing the concert market. If they do, that 500 grand a year might buy Clear Channel a few extra paralegals or something.

Radar Station recently caught wind of a delicious rumor: A certain local rock dude graced 'N Sync's latest masterpiece with a little "bad-ass guitar" -- uncredited, naturally. According to our spies, the guitarist, who's been playing around town for the past 15 years in various projects, was generously paid for his hott lixx -- but forbidden from telling anyone. If asked, he'll deny it, but hey, who wouldn't? God knows it's not nearly as cool as playing guitar with the Psychedelic Furs, for example.

So many concerts, so little space: On Feb. 22, Washington University's Gargoyle welcomes freaky hip-hop geniuses Peanut Butter Wolf, Madlib, DeeJay P and DJ Mike 2600. All underground heads: This show is a must-see. Also that evening, the Yuri Yunakov Ensemble, a six-piece Bulgarian wedding band, performs at the Bosna-Gold Restaurant (4601 Gravois Ave.). On Feb. 23, the Greenhornes bring their raw and raunchy garage-rock to the Creepy Crawl; the Forty Fives, the Cripplers and Tomorrow's Caveman share the bill.

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