This weekend was a weird and somewhat disappointing one for live music news (that is, unless you’re a String Cheese Incident fan — more on that shortly). The tragedy being what it is following Love Parade in Germany, I’d hate to highlight something so devastating when there’s perhaps a more useful, half-hearted set of headlines that can be shared to end the day on a better note. And while they can be taken lightly, it had me thinking more seriously about the role of live music in our lives and how sometimes our expectations aren’t really in line with what the artist is trying to accomplish. Are there times and circumstances when a band or thing gets too big and gets detached? Too hyped? Too misunderstood or too jarring for a populace that seems to wish they had it a certain way? How do our concert expectations get fulfilled and do some artists just go well out of their way to satisfy their own needs at the expense of the audience’s potential reaction?
Maybe those are a seemingly random mix of questions, but they seemed to flow together when I sat down to write a post on the news following the Kings of Leon show this past Friday night. I had also just read about M.I.A.’s performance this weekend and finally caught up with the Panda Bear photos and review over at You Ain’t No Picasso. Do these artists suck at concerts?
If you haven’t heard about the Kings of Leon debacle yet, the show was canceled after only three songs because the band was getting pooped on by pigeons infesting the rafters at the amphitheater…
An infestation of the birds in the rafters of the Verizon Amphitheatre bombarded the musicians as soon as they took the stage, according to Andy Mendelsohn of Vector Management.
“Jared (Followill) was hit several times during the first two songs,” Mendelsohn said of the band’s bassist.
“It’s not only disgusting — it’s a toxic health hazard. They really tried to hang in there,” Mendelsohn added.
Hidden Track also peeped us to the rogue pigeon that’s broadcasting its pirate Twitter signal and stalking the brothers in the band. Love it.
Seriously, though — I’m not sure I can completely blame the band for not wanting to perform under a set of rafters with gross pigeon s*** flying all around them. That said, this is the Kings of Leon we’re talking about here. Have they gotten too big for their own britches? You’d think their crew, likely one of the best and most expensive in the world these days, would have planned anything at all for something like this, especially after the two openers did come off stage completely poop-faced. It’s funny, really. Not if I was there and had actually, you know, expected a rock concert by a huge arena band that cost me something like $100 there and back by the time the night was over with. But you get the humor in it all if you’re only watching the YouTube clips and reading fake Twitter accounts.
The best part of the story to me was that Widespread Panic decided to open their show on Saturday night with “Pigeons.”
Then we have the curious case that is M.I.A., who’s recent Letterman appearance was a bit jarring and dare-I-say not good, which also seems to be the sentiment from her set this weekend at Hard Fest NYC on Governor’s Island.
Two long, sharp flashes of lightning brought to a close a set that had itself been, to say the least, stormy. It was loud, chaotic, atonal and often seemed specifically designed to alienate. In other words, it was typical M.I.A. The first sounds from the speakers were a symphony of power drills, and the rest of the set aimed to replicate that grinding, mechanical whirr. Songs were shorn down to either booming beats or shrill, shrieking synths. The high end was cranked to ear-splitting levels. The crowd may have come to Governor’s Island for a party, but M.I.A. was going to give them a performance piece.
She’s been known as a provocateur for so long that I wonder if she just continually runs strategy in her head plotting the key tactics necessary to getting proper headlines in today’s music business. She’s got it down. Not fully surprising by any stretch of the imagination, but just something that caught my eye this morning. I guess I would expect nothing less and maybe that’s how she wants her music to be reflected on. Who are we to judge anyway?
And that’s the sentiment I got when I saw reports that Panda Bear’s set at Pitchfork Fest sucked. brooklynvegan was the first to round up some of the info on it, with a full set of tweets showing that some people liked the spaced-out, new-song-only ambience to a festival set in the middle of a hot Chicago afternoon, but most people overwhelming came away with a blah reaction. My friend that went thought it sucked. I was all “but it’s Panda Bear and he rules…” with the mindset that maybe the new material takes some time to grow on people. Even You Ain’t No Picasso had nothing really great to say about it, which is definitely a fan perspective and one that I would trust in this case…
I kept moderately decent notes this weekend, but the only thing I wrote down for Panda Bear’s performance was “zzz.” Literally, that’s it. He started out by alternating between droning tones and occasionally making some non-verbal vocal sounds overtop of it. That went on for a long, long time.
That’s three top tier, top dollar artists that have delivered Cleveland steamers for sets when the fans pay good money and good effort and time to come out and show support. Granted, I would place more blame on the venue in the Kings of Leon case, maybe the lightning for the M.I.A. set (but not really) and the vibe at Pitchfork Fest in general for Panda Bear’s snooze-worthy set — everyone has an off day — but you have to power through it and keep doing what you’re doing as an artist, sans concern for a set of critiques and words written on the internet that say you may have phoned it in. But you also have to give the people what they paid to see.
Regarding critique, we know in M.I.A.’s case that she’s used to it and she knows how to respond with a level of vitriol force and aggression. Kings of Leon quickly took blame off themselves and Live Nation did promptly issue a refund, but that was a waste of a night for a lot of people and definitely a bummer. As for Panda Bear, maybe I’m just bummed because I bought a bunch of extra tickets in anticipation for me and my crew heading over the bridge to see him at the Fox Theater in Oakland in early September around his next tour dates. Something about it said, “snatch up tickets now before it sells out, and grab extras…” I really hope I’m not stuck with a bum ticket if people get wise that his performance may induce a deep sleep (or deep internal criticism for self-indulgent live performances at a music festival set).
To the larger point and theme here, these sets were totally disappointing to the mass of people that attended each and mostly for different reasons. The artists involved should take note and remember that these are experiences that need to be made up for. We all know how the good concerts feel, and those disappointed the most will start to seek other artists who can deliver that experience to them.