Till My Head Falls Off 01.21.04: Better Than You

For Your Listening Pleasure
Michael Jackson – Thriller

Sometimes it’s good to just remember the times before icons turned loopy…

New to You
Time for a change. New year, new format.

Starting next time.

Dammit, and one of my New Year’s resolutions was to stop procrastinating.

News to You
The 411 Music Awards are up, and again I’d like to thank everyone – both staff and readers –who voted (especially those who voted for me).

Speaking of awards, it looks like the GRAMMY performers are being lined up as we speak, with the following already confirmed, according to Billboard.com: Sting with Sean Paul, Martina McBride, Black Eyed Peas, Justin Timberlake, Christina Aguilera and the White Stripes, with the members of OutKast taking part in a funk tribute segment. I’m at the point where I don’t watch for the awards anymore, but to see the spectacle, and a big part of that spectacle are the performers. OutKast paying tribute to P-Funk? Are you kidding me? That’ll be fun… The rest remains to be seen, but I’ll have as open a mind that I can.

Better Than You
I think it’s safe to say that I’ve been to quite a few concerts over the past few years, at venues ranging from small bars and clubs to arenas to stadia (or is it stadiums? I could never figure that one out). Bruce Springsteen at Giants Stadium, Pearl Jam at Madison Square Garden, Collider at Arlene Grocery, Perfect Strangers at the Mercury Lounge, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones at the Tillis Center, etc., etc.

As a musician (if I can call myself that, having not played my drums in public in over four years), it’s easy to get a bit nostalgic when at these shows. I remember the days of playing small clubs on Long Island, all-ages shows at community centers, or a local “battle of the bands”… begging my friends that were in other bands to let us open for them, sending makeshift press kits and tapes out, and hoping to one day be able to play a “real” club (meaning ANYwhere in NYC). Maybe you were like me ten or so years ago, and made a “demo tape” (or more recently, burned a few CDs), recorded in your friend’s basement on his stepfather’s 4-track, or maybe you actually made it into a studio. You struggled over designing cover art for the demo, took official band photos, and begged your friends to show up at gigs. Maybe you even “made it,” playing a NYC club like the Spiral, the Pyramid, the Bottom Line (do any of these exist anymore?), or if you were really lucky, a Tuesday at midnight at CBGB.

That’s where things ended for me. Outside of a few more shows in friends’ backyards or while away at college, my dream of taking things any further has pretty much faded. Sure, it would be great to play around here and there, but I personally have the deadly combination: a lack of the talent, motivation and good fortune necessary to get to the next level (plus some horrible tendonitis in my wrists, which just doesn’t work very well if you’re a drummer). And I’m okay with that at this point in my life. Perhaps I’ll get my drive back one day, but for now I’m happy rooting my more talented, more ambitious friends on, enjoying their art, and hoping they’re able to continue to be creative and productive – and have an appreciative audience – long into their old age.

For whatever reason, though, it still gets to me. Every damn time I go see a concert, there’s at least a moment or three where I wish that was me up on stage. I’m sure this is a common feeling for any fan, but I’m a musician. I’ve tasted it, even if there were only a dozen people in the audience. I know what it feels like to see someone singing along to a lyric I wrote. And while it’s a definite turn-on to see others’ lyrics sung by a crowd (nothing, to this day, beats “Piano Man” at Giants’ Stadium, 1994), it kills me when I see a band perform that I know my band could out-play.

I started thinking about this at a Gomez show last night at Irving Plaza. Don’t get me wrong, they’re a talented band, and I went in not knowing more than a couple of songs, and left having really enjoyed myself. I’m not saying that I could have been as good and/or successful as these blokes had my band continued to show ambition, improved ability, and said lots of prayers… but wow, was the opening act painfully mediocre. I can’t even remember her name, although it was Japanese, and all I can recall about her individually was that she claimed to be one quarter German, was cuter sitting down than when she stood up, and seemed to write a lot of songs about unrequited love. Original, let me tell you.

Initially I thought her voice was interesting: kind of Norah Jones meets Fiona Apple meets Harvey Fierstein. And sure, she can carry a tune and was very personable introducing each song. After two, three, four, five songs in a row that ALL SOUNDED ALIKE, I was left completely uninspired. That’s not to say that all music must be inspirational, innovative masterpieces; I like a poppy tune just as much as anyone. These songs were far from poppy, however, and while I’m sure she is a very nice girl, with a lot to say about her broken heart, I didn’t learn anything from her performance that I couldn’t have gotten from a conversation with her at the bar. A musician’s work should teach me something about the artist, the world, or a point of view I hadn’t thought of before… it should be somewhat innovative… or, at the very least, it should make me wanna shake my ass. Her set did none of the above, and that’s my problem with it.

Yeah, I could have definitely done better. And if not me, I’m sure I have a dozen friends who would have relished the chance to.

peace. love. moe.

– Matt

Matthew Michaels’s Till My Head Falls Off can be found weekly on 411 Music (old columns are archived in the pull-down menu below each column). More from Matt can be found on 411 Black, moodspins and 1-42.