Sep 292010

Thursday, September 30

The Muggs

Green Lantern, 10:00. 21+

Detroit. Rock city. A little more than a decade ago I was smitten, as it happens, with a young woman way out my league. This was in Portland, Oregon, and the young woman in question was fresh in from DTW. Don’t remember why she’d come, but she’d moved with several friends who all knew the saxophonist in a local jazz-funk outfit that I road-managed for a time, who’d also moved to Portland some years prior, after taking a music degree from Wayne State.

She was beautiful, so much so that when she told me one night over drinks that basketball player Grant Hill, then with the Pistons, had once made an unsuccessful play for her affections, I absolutely believed her. She was a bit tipsy at the time, and this was her beautiful-woman way of rejecting my own advances: I’ve turned down millionaire NBA stars, honey; don’t embarrass yourself further. I took the hint.

But we became friends, and the relationship was mutually beneficial, if sexually frustrating. When we went places together I felt the envy of other men, which is of course nice–maybe I had money, or maybe she doesn’t see well–and she obviously enjoyed the conversation and my indulgence of her beautiful-woman whims. And her company gave me VIP status everywhere: wanna go backstage at the big show? You’re with her? No problem. Hot new club being tough at the door? Come right in. No tables available? I’m sure we can find something for you.

So it was okay, except for the no sex thing, and one other problem of even greater severity: she listened to KISS all the goddamn time. I mean, you wouldn’t think it, but we’d get in the car and the CD would start and suddenly there’s Paul Stanley telling me he was made for loving me. Or her, I guess, but you get the point. KISS in the daytime, KISS at night, KISS round the clock.

I tried to get her to play some Nugent; I’m not a huge fan, but you know, something besides damned KISS. Didn’t work. Mitch Ryder? Nope? Motown? Too old, I guess. Ditto Wilson Pickett. At one point I tried to play the ace in the hole, namely Stevie Wonder. Her mom, apparently, liked that stuff. After that I didn’t even bother trying jazz.

We moved on with our lives and eventually lost touch, but a couple of weeks ago she contacted me through Facebook, and after exchanging some tentative pleasantries, I thought to try an experiment of sorts, and so posted on her wall a simple, timeless phrase: “DETROIT ROCK CITY!”

Her reply flabbergasted me. She said still listened to KISS now and again, but that she’d of late really gotten into another Detroit act, a band by name of The Muggs. “You mean,” I responded once I’d found my bearings, “if we hung out now you wouldn’t make me listen to Destroyer anymore?”

“Nah,” she posted. “I still like to rock, but I’ve gotten more sophisticated. And the Muggs are kick-ass.”

This was a sea change, and despite the years and the miles between us, I couldn’t help but try another little experiment: “If I fly out to see you next week, will you have sex with me?”

Came her inevitable reply: “Grant Hill.” Some things never change. —Keith Halladay

Friday, October 1

Zoe Boekbinder

Al’s Bar, 9 P.M. 21+.

“Just because I’m dead,” Zoe Boekbinder sings in “Funeral,” the third track on her 2009 release, Artichoke Perfume, “doesn’t mean I can’t love.” Yeah, that’s pretty weird. And that’s not the half of it. Try scanning the lyrics to “Adventures of Turtle and Seahorse.” Now try it again with hallucinogens—no, make that nitrous oxide. This is whippet music. Back in college my buddy Pete and I spent a lazy afternoon listening to Ween’s “Push the Little Daisies” while splitting a box of whipped cream propellant, and we just about lost our minds for good. I no longer have enough brain cells to be fooling around with that stuff, but if you think you do, go for it.

Lexington’s Ford Theatre Reunion opens, and happens to cite Bokebinder’s former band, Vermillion Lies, as an influence on their own music. So that’s another box of whippets, right there. This show is gonna mess you up. —Buck Edwards

These United States

Cosmic Charlie’s, 9 P.M.

When has a band “made it?” What’s the definition of success for a pop act these days? Do you have to collaborate with before you can say you’ve made it, or is the bar lower?

Time was, you knew you’d done well for yourself if you could make a living with your music, without having to work a day job to make ends meet. This could be accomplished in more or less three ways: first, you could sell a whole mess of albums, and if your record deal wasn’t too unfair you’d make at least a middle-class living that way. Or you could tour relentlessly, selling enough tickets on Tuesday night to buy enough gas to get to Wednesday’s gig, and then (hopefully) cashing in big on the weekends. Or you could write a great song, get somebody else to perform it and have them sell a whole mess of albums, thereby funding your own efforts with songwriting royalties.

In the last decade or so, the first option has certainly become more difficult. It really can’t matter much to U2 if you pirate their latest, but for bands grappling with the question of whether to quit the day jobs and go for it full-time, the buck or two they’d make off a CD or MP3 sale can mean a lot. And touring year-round isn’t as lucrative as it once was, as skyrocketing ticket prices for the big acts and festivals leave fewer consumer dollars for the lesser-known road warriors. Songwriting can still pay well, but the ability to pen the perfect three-minute pop or country track is but one sort of musical accomplishment, and if a songwriter’s genius is better expressed in more complex or inaccessible forms, that option may not even be available.

It’s sometimes surprising to learn that musicians haven’t yet been able to quit their day jobs. In late Spring of last year a friend and I ventured to Uncle Pleasant’s in Louisville to catch a multiple-act metal show. The well-known death metal act Soilwork headlined the evening, while fellow Swedes Darkane and California thrash band Warbringer provided support, along with several regional acts.

While I like Soilwork, I was really there to see Darkane, and in particular the lead guitarist Christofer Malmström, whose melodic touch and gorgeous tone separate the band from many of their melo-death peers. And he didn’t disappoint in person, even though he had to cover the rhythm guitarist’s parts, thanks to a wave of flu that had just swept the band’s tour bus and afflicted the unlucky axeman so badly he had to fly back to Sweden to recuperate.

After the show I spent some time on the web reading interviews with Darkane members, and I was somewhat shocked to learn that most of the band, including Malmström, had to take time off from their jobs back home to accommodate the two-month US tour. Surely they made enough from their music to live comfortably?

Then I started doing the math. The Uncle Pleasant’s show cost fans about $12 in advance, and maybe 200 showed up. Soilwork undoubtedly took the biggest chunk of the ticket price, and Darkane the next-largest, with the rest being split among the other five bands on the bill. Surely the two tour buses cost a lot to keep running, and then meal money, and then strings, picks, sticks, heads, tubes, and the various necessities of playing amplified music, and then the road crew’s pay, and whatever cut the club got, and so on. All from a $12 ticket, times 200.

Record sales? Semi-obscure Swedish metal band don’t sell that many records, and while I can’t find exact figures, Amazon ranks their last effort, Demonic Art, as the 227,658th best selling record on their site. Songwriting? Well, stranger things, but it seems unlikely Maroon 5 will be soon covering anything from the Nuclear Blast catalog. So, day jobs.

The touring schedule of These United States, who play their sometime hometown Lexington on Friday, suggests they must have quit their day jobs some time ago, but the economics of touring hard are the same for them as for any band of their stature. Their latest record, What Lasts, is something close to an indie-rock masterpiece, but hasn’t yet cracked the top 200,000 on Amazon. The songs are gems, earning critical acclaim from all corners of the media, but Lady Gaga has yet to pick one up (again, stranger things). So have they made it?

Well, here’s what you can do to help: go to Cosmic Charlie’s with few friends, buy your tickets, buy a shirt, buy the CD, and then when eventually they collaborate with and become wealthy, you can say to yourself with no small satisfaction, “I helped them get where they are.” Good for you. —KH

Thursday, October 7

Dan Deacon w/ Lightning Bolt

Buster’s, 9 P.M. $12. 18+

Dan Deacon, a rogue musician from Baltimore, is a must-see performer. He’s not your typical musician with stunning good looks, a melodic voice, and a low-key temperament on stage. Actually, he’s quite the opposite. Deacon has been known to deck himself out in anything from a gray, full-body sweat suit to a tiger costume with a little red bow tie, but always rocks his super-nerd glasses.

His music is captivating, to say the least. He creates electronic beats with the aid of a small keyboard, a mixer, and other computerized instruments. He uses vocal distortion technologies to offer lyrics such as, “My dad is so cool, he is the coolest dad in dad school.”

He also incorporates audience participation into his live performances. This man can get even the biggest stiffs movin’ and shakin’ to his jams. I guarantee you will be dancing by the end of the show.

No matter who you are, no matter what you like, you need to see this show. It could be a life-changing experience, or at the very least a few laughs, a nice buzz, and a good time. —Rebecca Fear

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