Caught between the bar and the sound booth, I slendered myself as much as possible for the people passing. I’m not giant by any means, but I’m capable of blocking a view. Unless I’m particularly engaged or with someone who is, I’ll tend toward the back of a venue. Arms crossed so you know that I’m enjoying myself. As different haircuts made their way around me to order a drink or find some standing room the lights faded slowly.
Last time I was at the Teragram Ballroom was seeing Tim Hecker, and it was better than hearing him through my speakers. Chest tightening music. It ended far too soon and I commented when the room let out. Usually, an encore frustrates me but I was disappointed. “They don’t do that” my date stoically informed me, standing as close to stage as possible. I was embarrassed. It’s no secret that I listen to more artists than I would bother to attend and going hadn’t been my idea. What kind of mistake had I made? I felt uncouth.
The lights hovered at steady dimness as the guitarists began to tune their bright white guitars. Men of gentle frame, the strat and tele they were holding caused an illusion of perspective. Two drummers sat behind them, their kits mirrored. They were joined by a rather enthusiastic bassist and an extremely life-like statue that moved occasionally over his synth. As the processed bass notes droned louder and slowly louder still, a long, bearded image dressed in black jeans and a matching deep-v stepped up to a small table holding two microphones and signal processors. Big Black Delta was now on stage. The energy in the room didn’t change that much.
It was halfway through the set that I realized the only music coming from the stage was the often off-key vocal and the two drummers (who were fucking nailing it, man.) I actually didn’t have much of an issue with it at first. There was even a pretty bitchin’ bass solo during one of the last songs. But, there were several times that the guitarists and bassist were visibly playing in discordant keys. With my proximity to the mixing board, I could watch as the sound guys queued the live string players in and out.
Turning to the bar I received another beer, and all I had to give them for it was money. What was happening behind me wasn’t anything new. I’ve never owned a ‘Drum Machines have No Soul’ t-shirt. They weren’t Milli-Vanilli and most people know the score. There were close to 600 people there, and none of them seemed to care. I was annoyed that it was disingenuous, but it’s pop music in 2015. What was bothering me was something else.
They finished their set at 11, and the lights came on rapidly. My friend turned to me, slightly dismayed. Big Black Delta hadn’t played his favorite song. He lifted his eyebrows and twitched to speak, “They don’t do that”, I said stoically, finally hip. He was kind enough to give me a ride up the street to my apartment. I held up my end of the bargain getting out of the car, so instead of going home I got a slice of pizza. Handing the gentleman $3, my wristband sunk below the cuff of my jacket and caught his attention. With almost painful anticipation, I waited an arbitrary amount of time and was customarily asked about my night. With both eyes on the oven, I summarized my time but still couldn’t fully grasp what had irritated me.
Returning home, I placed My Life in the Bush of Ghosts on the turntable and drifted into sleep. I woke up and made my way to work after showering. Over coffee, I compared evenings with my colleagues still agitated. I thought about being the person that says “I play guitar in Big Black Delta.” Nevermind that this person is Dhani Harrison. Checking the papers, I saw there were actually a good amount of shows I wanted to see that night. There was also a show that was free, and around the corner from work.
I remained at the office until 8 or 8:30. At first having a beer with my colleagues, and then with some colleagues of colleagues. The conversation was pretentious and dull. When being asked about Led Zeppelin, I usually shoot straight and tell you that they bore the shit out of me. I’m more satisfied by Muddy Waters, or Elmore James, or Howlin’ Wolf. I was reminded that originality is a dubious claim and not necessary for the making of great art. That may or may not be true, but I don’t really like Led Zeppelin and I’m not sure originality has anything to do with it.
I locked up and made my way over to see some local band with decent press. It was halfway through their set and nobody was there. A thin line of stripes, plaids, black jeans, and leather attached itself to the opposite exterior wall of the giant condominium complex Beach Party was being paid $1000 to play. One of them was smoking, so I stood next to him and listened.
They weren’t bad, the sound was alright considering, and though they were derivative they weren’t exceedingly inauthentic. When they played ‘El Scorcho’ they sincerely meant it, hell man, they played the shit out of it. But whatever had bothered me the night before was only exacerbated. It was growing late and I didn’t give a fuck about following this crowd back to the party they invited me to attend so I made my way across town and settled into my bed. Still wearing my shoes, I fumbled for my turntable and thumped back onto my pillows.
Beach Party was a decent, well-practiced band but there wasn’t anything exciting about it. Rock ‘N’ Roll used to bleed exuberance. Now its constrained in tight jeans and assumed attitude, more often concerned about the after party. Big Black Delta’s alt-disco smooth jams are a groovy external experience but there is no good reason for that band up there. They wanted to identify themselves with an established idea instead of creating their own. It sounded hollow. Tim Hecker’s avant-assault of texture and tone elicits contemplation from the listener. Alone, on stage behind his laptop presiding over a dense, enveloping cacophony. But it was a monologue.
What was bothering me more than discerning a purpose behind the useless band on stage with Big Black Delta, or the uselessness of the band on stage the following night, was how self-enclosed it all seemed. What is the point of preaching to the choir when the choir isn’t singing? And what is the point of leaving them wanting more, and then just leaving?