Dry Humping The Cash Cow

festival crowd

"We're one..but were..not the same..we gotta..carry each other...carry each other..ooonnnneeee."

When I was a sophomore in high school a friend of mine watched a short MTV interview clip of a new, young band from LA. He was so intrigued by them that he went out and bought one of their albums before ever hearing a note of their music. A few months later, after he had turned me on to said band and we listened to their two albums about 300 times each, they came to play at a club in Trenton, NJ that held a few hundred at most. The show was on a Sunday night and we didn’t have our driver’s license yet (17 in NJ) therefore we were unable to see them perform. About two years later, during our senior year, we did get a chance to see them play at a different, slighty larger garden: Madison Square Garden. The band was Jane’s Addiction.

Their show at MSG was incredible, of course, because they had just put out Ritual de lo Habitual and we were totally geeked up to see them play. We had waited two years and spent most of that time listening to and discussing how important a band they were for that time. In hindsight, I wish one thing was different about that MSG concert: That we could’ve seen them play at City Gardens before they blew up and we had to share them with 20,000 other fans. I don’t mean that in a selfish way, it’s just that you would be hard pressed to find anyone that would prefer watching their favorite band play in front of 20,000 people vs. 200.

Since the days of Woodstock and Altamont to the Monsters of Rock Tours of the 80’s, and LollapaHordeLilithWarped of the 90’s, to today’s Activia Presents Crosby, Stills, and Nash 2011 Tour, festivals have been the best method for promoters and sponsors to make tons of money off tons of bands at once. It gives certain artists a chance to perform in front of tens of thousands of fans instead of the usual 800 seat clubs. If a band can do a 4pm slot and get 1000 out of 15,000 people in the audience to download their album onto their iPods then they have succeeded for the day. If that same band plays at the 9:30 Club in DC to 1500 people then there is a better chance that 1500 people will download that album. Why? Because more than likely you are going to see a better performance at the smaller venue. How does the band enhance or change their songs to fit the more intimate show? What kind of interpersonal play and banter do they have with each other on stage? Are they shoegazers? Jump-up-and-downers? How do they react and feed off the smaller audiences? Are you really going to get that when the band is hardly audible over 25,000 people singing along to their rock anthems?

930 Club

Much better. (Photo: Brendan Smialowski, The New York Times)

Sure, there are tons of bands built for the arenas and huge audiences–the U2’s, the Dave Mathews Bands, The Muse’s–but wouldn’t you rather go see them play at your local bar? I wonder how many of today’s bands even consider putting out live albums, which used to be the staple for how good a band was. As an artist, can you really get through to all of those little dots in the distance?  When so many love you is it the same?

Festivals have turned music into a mass consumption meal, like a Cracker Barrel Buffet of Bands. Pay attention to this one, half-pay attention to that one. And please make sure you purchase your Sony Earbuds Sponsored by Bud Lite so you can download your favorite bands song (not album) today. Shit, they even have multiple artists playing on different stages at the same time, practically forcing you to have musical ADD.

There is an awesome satire on the live album/festival show that was done by a band named Alice Donut. They played a gig at CBGB’s–a place that held hundreds, not thousands–and released it as a live album called Dry Humping The Cash Cow. Besides the recording being a great musical capture of how fun they were live, the band also threw in samples of extra crowd noise on top of their performance. But it’s not just crowd noise, its arena rock, screaming audience, Beatles-circa-1964-crowd noise. It’s freakin hilarious. They turned CBGB’s into Giants Stadium. The screams and volume swells are placed perfectly–at high points of chorus’ or solos–showing the ultimate irony of how at the peak of a band’s performance is when you hear them the least.

So make sure you go out soon and check out that latest up-and-coming band you’ve been hearing about when they play your local club. Chances are, within a year they will be playing every CoachellaRooFest and you might have missed your opportunity to see which foot pedals the guitar player was using, how sweaty the singer gets, or what it’s like to see the actual band while they are performing. You know, not have to watch them on a 40′ HD screen atop a rafter tower from two football fields back while some group of casual fans assemble their picnic area right next to you.  In the words of the wise Mike Damone, wouldn’t you rather be so close the stage you practically scare the band?

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2 Comments

  1. I think Muse is a band that wouldn’t be very good in your local bar or club. I think they kind of need that big stage, separation and set to really get the full effect.

    Reply

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