Monday, June 16, 2008

Shut Down the Devil Sound

From June 11th (posting delayed due to the as-of-yet unblogged trip to London over the weekend):

All the decorum of my Classical [sic] music concert-going during the past month-and-a-third left me somehow ill-prepared for my most recent live-music hearing experience. Thanks to the one music-business connection that I have (that would be, incidentally, my best friend’s wife’s older sister’s longtime boyfriend (not too shabby, eh?)), I went to go see Anti-Flag (from Pittsburgh) and Rage Against the Machine play an outdoor concert in a giant castle in West Berlin. On the Guest List. I am that cool. Though once Rage Against the Machine played their first note and suddenly the thousands of people in front of the stage started to jump around like maniacs and I was totally caught off guard, I was thrown right back into uncoolness.

I’ve been cracking jokes about ‘90s nostalgia for at least a year now, as if it were my original idea, though this concert was the first full-fledged 90’s-nostalgic experience that I’ve had—though, admittedly, it’s nostalgia for a ‘90s that I didn’t actually participate in. Interesting, though, since I was on the younger edge (or possibly more median than I realized (I don’t know if my face has actually aged much in the last 8 years, but my self-image is still very young-faced)) of the demographic. So lot’s of late-20 and early-30 year olds in attendance and not many youngins—the “we’re getting older’ vibe was furthered by the fact that my friend Markus, who came with me to the concert—almost exactly my age, incidentally—actually managed to do some networking for translation work between Anti-Flag and Rage. The teenagers that I did notice were all fleeing the melee of the thousands strong mosh pit (I don’t actually know that “mosh pit” is the exactly-appropriate nomenclature for what we were doing, but it’s close enough) (which I, incidentally, did not flee (I think I did some rather good maniacal around-jumping)), with terrified looks on their faces. That’s right kids, this is how we did things back in the ‘90s. Run back to Momma and your wimpy 21st century “rock music.”

So, do to my general lack of pop-cultural awareness back in the 90s (my favorite band for the entire decade (until ’98-’99ish when Fugazi took over (that’s something of a leap, eh?)) was They Might Be Giants (raise high your nerd flag, Pete (Lay Deep the Foundation, Masons)), I was rather late in coming to an appreciation of RAtM, but I do like their music, and have since, say… 2001 or so. It was always interesting to me too, because during college, I worked in an office with three Republicans, and RAtM was about the only music that we could all agree to listen to when the compulsion hit the office to play music out loud (the only other agreement, organized-noise-wise that was ever reached was to never ever play NPR—though we were obviously coming from opposite ends of the spectrum on that one (though we both (this was really only between me and one of the other Republicans) could say that it was “too liberal”))). Therefore, this concert generated an awful lot of surplus enjoyment for me, in that it was fulfilling a lack that I didn’t actually experience (haven’t been actually experiencing).

Which isn’t to say that I don’t know how to rock, but it certainly was the case that all the Germans surrounding me (I’d say a conservative estimate was at least 5,000 concert-goers) could more thoroughly sing along with the lyrics better than I (though I at least new when to jump even more ecstatically than normal). Zach de la Rocha has quite a stage presence too, so that was cool. And his voice sounded pretty much just like the recordings, which is impressive. Actually, the whole show – especially the initial sequence of the first five songs – was impressively accurate. To the point where it forced me, at least for a few moments in between jumping around and then gagging on the massive clouds of dirt that enveloped the crowd (it hasn’t rained in Berlin since the second week of May (and even then it didn’t rain that much), to wonder about the whole concert-going experience, since they may as well have just played a CD through all the massive speakers. Though, eventually I decided that that was off-base, since, really, the compressed mix on a studio album wouldn’t sound the way the music did as they played it – serious credit to their sound guy, I guess. And Tom Morello (the guitarist) did eventually fuck up a couple of notes, which was refreshing.

Though can I really put my finger on what the difference between RAtM not missing any notes and the Berliner Philharmoniker not missing any notes? Well, yeah, I guess that I can, in that classical music is interpretive, thus always prone to flux, whereas the ideal of rock music may well be just to accurately represent the album that you are currently selling (or, in this case, I guess they’re mostly just selling t-shirts (some of the shirts for their European tour (at some point (actually, the only point where he did any talking) Zach announced, in a very rehearsed-sounding speech, that they were in Europe to help Bush along on his farewell tour (which strikes me as bull-shit—nostalgic or not, I am not of an age where I can at all buy into mass-marketed faux-counter-culture (as much as it’s fun, the way it can get you all bugaboo))) said “The Battle of Europe” which I guess is a riff on their last studio album “The Battle of Los Angeles”—the common-knowledge POV on band t-shirts is that that’s where mainstream bands make their money, but I have to wonder who maintains “creative control” of what the cash cow shirts actually say)).

And so shoot me for having read Adorno if you must, but there’s an absolutely crucial difference between the interpretative praxis of Classical [sic] music and the reproductive praxis of Popular (Culture-Industrial) music. My defense for being such a snot about the political aspect of the music is that I feel like I’m at least trying to approach RAtM on their own terms – since they seem to think that they can use their popularity to encourage radical discourse amongst their listeners (I’m trying hard not to evoke the problematic of “empty signifiers” in disseminatory musics), at the same time that they mostly just sell t-shirts. Which doesn’t diminish how much the show rocked and was a lot of fun, but further underscores why art music has been so much more resonant for me than popular music now for the last near-decade. And you don’t leave the Philharmonie caked in dirt. I had to shower that night, and even then, the next morning had to pick the dirt that had reappeared in my tear ducts out of there. Gross.

And, of course, I enjoy being an intellectual snot too, so that, if anything, even further amplifies how great it was to see them (both bands) play.


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