Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Show Review: Ducktails/Mark McGuire/Lost Ships

Ducktails, from Vogue Magazine

Show Review
Mark McGuire
Lost Ships
@ The Void

  Another well attended show which makes it at least 3 shows in a row that I've been to that haven't ended in a crushing disappointment in terms of attendance.  I've been helping with the on-line marketing of selected events around town and I feel like the strategies employed are working.  It makes me very optimistic about the ability of the online world to multiply real world attendance for live music events on a local level.

 The first band was the nu project of Gentleman Jon Greene, called Lost Ships. Two piece Shoegazy/ballady alt pop.  I'm not exactly neutral since I frequently employ Mr. Greene via his recording studio Electric Orange, but it was an exciting debut.  Lost Ships is way ahead of most bands on their first show, including features like being able to seamlessly transition from one tune into the next without an awkward five minutes of standing around and returning.  They also have a clearly defined style of song writing and a compelling sound.   From a local show perspective they are ideal because they could work with a wide variety of different sounding bands.  Certainly worth a listen at a local show.

Mark McGuire

  The revelation of the night was touring support Mark McGuire(ex-Emeralds.)  Solo guitar/multi instrumentalist  he came across like a one man Ratatat.  He lost some momentum and crowd attention during the middle of the set with an extended spoken-word interlude, but the overall impact was striking AND Peter Hoslin of San Diego City Beat showed up essentially to see him.

 Ducktails did their thing in front of a crowd that had peaked in terms of size and attention span for Mark McGuire.   Far be it from me to question a band that has 2 million last fm plays and a deal with Domino Records, but I would have expected more people to be there FOR Ducktails, and I would guess that only about 30% of the crowd was there for that purpose.  It's not a question of lack of familiarity within the local market- Ducktails played Soda Bar within the last year or so.  It's not a question of not having a new product out on the market- the nu record "dropped" in January of this year.  It's not a question of them sounding different/worse live- the performance was steady and the songs came across so well you could Shazam them.

  So what is? How come a band with two million last fm plays and a well promoted event not generate 150+ paid attendees.  The only explanation I can come up with is that the people who saw them last year probably were not that excited about the show, and that impacted a potential increase in audience size this time around.

 That is a fine illustration to the limits of a Pitchfork driven Audience: They will come out and see you live the first time, but if you don't kill that Audience is not going to expand the next time through.  Ducktails, with their clean, effective live performance is not a band that "sucks live" a la your Salems, but in my mind they didn't outperform, and both opening bands did- strictly in terms of Audience turnout- I'm not making any artistic judgments.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Established Indie Record Labels & The "Negging" Game

  For whatever reason I've had a bunch of people bring up Neil Strauss' The Game, which I guess is a book about the sub culture of Pick Up Artists- guys who delight in picking up chicks, banging them and then ditching them.  Not a fan, not going to read the book but there is at least one interesting concept therein that I've heard tell about- and that is the practice of "negging" which is when a pick up artist belittles a target so that she... I don't know- doubts herself and finds the guy more attractive?

 It's funny because while I've never tried (and wouldn't try) that strategy in the context of dating, I've experienced it a bunch from the other side when talking to larger entities about the possibility of a distribution agreement for the record labels I work wtih.

 Basically the pitch is "Here's what you can't accomplish on  your own."  As Alex Dirty Beaches put it on a really compelling blog post he recently wrote about, "[D]ealing with bigger labels that continue to make me feel like all my efforts are hardly worth anything." (DIRTY BEACHES BLOG)

  Now, I had nothing to do with those negotiations but I'm familiar with the tactic from my own discussions. All these more established labels rely on making the Artists feel like:

      a) they haven't accomplished much on their own
      b) they can't accomplish what they want to without signing a restrictive, multi-album deal.

    That's the pitch- and that is also what A Pick Up Artist would call "Negging" putting someone down to help close the deal.  Pretty shitty way to start a business relationship if you ask me.  Why bother?  Artists get so brain washed by the music industry that most of them never consider that they only reason established indies WANT to talk to them is because of what they've accomplished without the help of that established indies.

     These Artists lack confidence in their own abilities, and maybe in some cases it's justified, but in others... it's just weak.  It's a weakness and a lack of confidence, and the answers are going to lie inside the Artist, not with some outside business that only wants to make money off them.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (book) by Lewis Carroll

Mia Wasikowska as Alice in Wonderland in Tim Burtons terrible 2010 film.  It certainly was Disney who decided that Alice would only be seen in a blue dress for all eternity- I didn't see that description of her clothing in the book.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (book)
 by Lewis Carroll
p. 1865

   Like  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is a narrative that has transcended it's original format and become the modern day equivalent of a myth.   There have to be at least 10 million people in the world who have only heard of the Disney film franchise or vaguely know that there is a book and have never read the original text.  And why would you?  Certainly there is nothing particularly compelling at Alice in Wonderland in its original format except for it actually being the original telling.

Here is the classic depiction of Alice in Wonderland from the 1951 Disney film. In the book the character of Alice is recognizable to anyone who has read the Bronte sisters or Jane Austen she is a child, but behaves like a little Victorian adult

   The only format that Alice in Wonderland is missing from its stable of hits is a the big budget Broadway Musical/Re--invention a la Wicked or Into The Woods.  If I read tomorrow morning that Green Day's Bilie Joe Armstrong had been hired by Disney to pen a musical adaptation of Alice in Wonderland it wouldn't shock me.

   And who could forget the terrible Tim Burton lackluster live action version of Alice in Wonderland from 2010. (6.5 on IMDB.)  The only thing the 2010 Tim Burton film had going for it was casting Mia Wasikowska.  Some truly, truly bad casting in that movie.  It's not entirely clear why you would even want to update the 1951 Disney Film, which is basically itself a bigger classic then the original novel.
Anne Hathaway as the White Queen in Tim Burtons 2010 film version of Alice in Wonderland.

  Many Authors from the Victorian period (like Charles Dickens) didn't obtain the full extent of their recognition UNTIL the 1950s, so the fact that Disney's version came out in 1951 puts in that same time period of critical reevaluation of early-mid period Victorian source material.

  Presumably in 1951 there was some Disney executive with a copy of Water Babies by Charles Kingsley and Alice in Wonderland on his desk and a report about why Alice was the project to green-light.
Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen in the 2010 film. WHAT A DISASTER AND WASTE OF MONEY!!!!

 Equally interesting is the emergence of Alice in Wonderland as a metaphor itself OR the use of poetics derived from the book/film.  Certainly the most memorable of these is the conversation she has with the Caterpillar about eating a mushroom to make your larger or smaller.  This scene comes off just as trippy as it does in the 1951 film.

  Like Water Babies, Alice in Wonderland is a "children's book" from a time when children were essentiallly treated like tiny adults.  Certainly your average 10 year old today would be hard pressed to enjoy the book, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.  Or maybe I'm wrong about that.   I can see why you'd WANT a child to read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Carroll/Dodson is nimble prose stylist and still manages to keep the story simple enough to engage someone with a 10 year olds attention span.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Anna Friel as Bella Wilfer in film adaptation of Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens

Our Mutual Friend
by Charles Dickens
published 1865

 1.  A Christmas Carol - 1081 views.  June 2012.
 2.  David Copperfield - 468 views. August 2012.
 3.  Oliver Twist - 138 views. July 2012.
 4.  Nicholas Nicoleby -  82 views. June 2012.
 5.  Charles Dickens biography - 48 views. 2011.
6. Bleak House - 65 views. Sept 2012.
7. Martin Chuzzlewit - 42 views. July 2012.
8.  The Dickens World - 14 views.

  What's interesting about the popularity of the Charles Dickens books listed above- is that Martin Chuzzlewit is, in fact, his least popular novel.  A Christmas Carol is his most popular work- don't think you can question it.  David Copperfield in second place.  No review of Great Expectations- I love Gillian Anderson as Ms. Havisham though.   I would say Great Expectations is maybe 2nd above David Copperfield and Oliver Twist.

Mr. Riah from Charles Dickens Our Mutual Friend- Can you guess... he's a Jew! Charles Dickens was a wee anti-semetic

  Chuzzlewit is the only book on the list that was a critical and commercial disaster- people didn't buy it when it came out and Charles Dickens was bummed.  NOT in the top 5 is The Old Curiosity Shop which was a huge, huge hit that just happened to have been published immediately before Martin Chuzzlewit.  In Chuzzlewit Charles Dickens "departs from his formula" and doesn't provide the hearty sentimentality of A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist.  And he was punished for it: First by the paying Audience and then by the critics. Our Mutual Friend was published in serial form between 1864 and 65.  It was his last completed work.  Oliver Twist was published in 1837.  That's 28 years of writing hits.

   The Charles Dickens who wrote Our Mutual Friend was a man who had witnessed great change.  Specifically, the increasing influence of money and business on people living in the London metropolitan area.  The Sui Generis  impact of his early work has been deadened by three decades of other authors absorbing his style and and learning from his successes.  Every Dickens novel was an event, and every author writing during that period was conscious of what audiences and critics thought about each work.

  Martin Chuzzlewit was literally Dickens only "bomb."  Although his biography always contained a fair amount of drama, he never struggled financially and had was still hugely popular at his somewhat untimely death.  Our Mutual Friend is interesting because of the money consciousness that pervades the plot, but its also labored and lengthy-- even for a Dickens novel.  This may have to do with Dickens writing Our Mutual Friend as a Victorian multi-plot novel rather then a first-person narrative.

  Our Mutual Friend also has some of the elements of the "Sensational" novel that was pioneered by his buddy Wilkie Collins.   The character of a police inspector is again present- as in David Copperfield- as a kind of stock character and an attempted murder is garishly depicted.   The character of Bella Wilfer actually sounds like she has read novels like Vanity Fair in the way that she talks about her "mercenary nature."


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