by Ben Shine
In my last post, I offered up some of my favorite aspects of our local music scene. I also promised a list of cons to balance the pros.
All of this is written with a general caveat: I'm almost 40, and I recognize that some genetic light switch probably flips somewhere around 28, or maybe 38, years of age, dictating that I could no longer know about the coolest things happening in town. (Or, as I'd like to think lately, maybe Indy just has so many good things going on that there's no way I can keep up. It has to be the latter, right?)
For the sake of sounding like Old Man Shine's yelling at the kids again, on to my list of cons:
Indianapolis has some great champions of local music in our local media. They are passionate, dedicated, and put a lot of time into their work. But I've often thought that Indy lacks true critical voices in its music coverage, and I wonder if that hinders the maturation of a local scene, as well as the artists in it. Our visual and performing arts writers haven't ever been afraid to evaluate content and execution with a critical eye, but our music coverage has always seemed focused on what was good about content and execution only. I'm not saying we need snarky Pitchfork Media hit pieces, either. I'm thinking more real, evaluative reviews that aren't hurtful, but make musicians want to be better, to challenge. Good artists of every genre should invite criticism. It's like my favorite writing professor's line on criticism: "You want praise? Get a dog! You want to be good? Listen."
Shows often start too late. This isn't just an idea I've had since becoming a dad or building a more "professional" daily schedule. I've been harping on this for years. Starting shows really late automatically excludes a large audience of music lovers who either have to get up and go to work or who find themselves yawning excessively beginning around 11 pm. If the music starts at 11 pm - and if you have multiple opening bands - a lot of "grown-up" types won't be coming.
Too many bands can kill a show for me. One band on a bill equals an amazing show. Two bands can be great, three can be okay and any more is a waste of my time. We all have friends, but just because someone is your friend doesn't mean that I want to pay money and, more importantly, give you my time to see them. Double negative points go to opening bands that play for anything over forty-five minutes, being self-indulgent ninnies. This rule obviously doesn't apply to festivals; they're supposed to have a slew of bands.
4. Stage Banter
I get it, you have to do something between songs, and so you usually just start talking. The key is to remember to stop talking and start playing music again. There's a reason why there are so few great musical storytellers and truly funny comedic musicians, and if you're not Elvis Costello or Zach Galifinakis, just stop. Just introduce your songs or your bandmates. If you pick a different approach, you might end up sounding like 45 minutes of Kiss's Paul Stanley, like this.
When I look at my two lists as a whole, I see how large, overarching and meaningful the positives are, as well as how trivial and silly the negatives can seem in comparison. But the truth is, trivial stuff can ruin an experience, or make me hesitate to commit my time and energy to your future shows.
What does it look like when live music goes well in our city? In 2010, along with a roomful of really nice people, I saw a great concert that embodied almost all of the pros and - perhaps most importantly - none of the cons on this list. Dean & Britta performed 13 Most Beautiful...Songs for Andy Warhol's Screen Tests at the Toby. Dean & Britta's songs were originally commissioned by the Warhol Museum, and the concert was hosted by the IMA as a companion event to their Andy Warhol exhibit.
The space was different than the average show experience - the floor wasn't sticky and the room was impeccably clean - and it started before the average elementary schooler's bedtime. But more than that, behind the band, Andy Warhol's screen tests flickered in black and white, elevating the music just as much as the music brought another emotional layer to the images. Each song had just a quick moment of introduction, with brief anecdotes about the individuals featured in the screen tests, and everyone there was really happy. That was a good show.