Sunday, May 4, 2008

Opera: Some Boring Thoughts

For those of you who felt that a blog post comparing hardcore/punk/indie shows to the opera was 1) inevitable, 2) sure to be boring, and 3) already sufficiently "previewed" in real-life conversation, feel free to tune out. You are probably dating me or hear enough of my opinions as it is. 

For the rest of you, this comparison is sure to be invigorating and off-the-wall. 

When one goes to the opera, one expects a great deal:
*a return on the outlay of money for tickets, in the form of world-class singing and staging
*good acoustics
*a bunch of old New Yorkers who will cough and rustle paper for the entire performance
*many guaranteed "highlights" interspersed among boring plot-advancement
*everything going off "without a hitch"
*established and world-renowned classics of the genre, confirmed by generations of fans 
*showmanship, performance, excellence
*socializing optional
*class anxiety

When one goes to a "show" in Brooklyn, one ought to be prepared for:

*milling about and preening by people not really there to see the band(s)
*many people only there to see one band: their friends' band
*sound difficulties, bad sound
*unprofessional performance, drunkenness
*sets that go on for too long
*unpleasant social interactions with people you didn't know still lived here
*bands whose raison d'etre seems to be free drinks/getting laid/being talked-about
*no one even pretends that the goal is to give a memorable evening of entertainment

Now, I have seen some great shows in my life: but many of those were bands from Japan (with a completely different idea of performance than ours), and many of the others irregular "DIY" shows in basements, laundry rooms, etc.--no one was there for the ambience. On the other end of the spectrum, nearly every stadium-rock concert I've seen has been great: Judas Priest, John Fogerty, etc. 

The problem, then, seems to be somewhere in the middle. A show so desperate to exist that it needs to take place in a laundry room, stands a fair chance of being good. A major concert with hundreds of staffers and million-dollar sounds, will probably be OK. It is almost a certainty that "some band" playing the Cakeshop, however, will suck hard. 

Here I hope the opera comparison is useful. No one goes to hear a Mozart opera and walks away without having heard some astonishing and catchy tunes. And yet it is common in the extreme that your friends' band will play a show where, granted, the instrumentation may be fine, you may "like" the music for what that is worth, but the "take away" is nothing. A week later, you have forgotten who played completely. Only the ubiquitousness and incessant hyping of bar and club shows could produce their current dominance. No opera could be staged without a good chance of success, without elaborate composition that would ensure periodic engagement. No such "screening process" is necessary for a band to play their shitty set-list, however. 

I could go on, but you take my point. "Shows" are a waste of money. The music scene in (your town) is a cluster fuck. If only bands worth seeing played shows, there would be 1/30th the number of shows there are now. The question no artist seems to ask is, "Will anyone care that we wrote these songs, five months from now?" 

And to the reply that this is all an obvious point, I rejoin: is it? Then why is it that I am perpetually told that I "should come out" to X show; that it "will be fun," that Y band "is pretty good"? If I don't hear these phrases a single time this summer, then I will admit this point was obvious and unnecessary. Meanwhile, you will find me at home with my records or in line for rush orchestra seats.


Slobodan Burgher said...

Yeah, well precisely.

In a review of Killing Joke's last album, Hosannas from hell, which was an album full of esoteric meanings about life and the world and so on, I asked whether most people who buy the record would get it...or whether they bought the record for the exoterics, i.e. the loud pounding guitars and beats etc. I guess that is remotely relevant to what you say here...

Punk rock and other "subcultures" may attract strange people, but all the while there's people who are into "the scene" or the music (or whatever) for other reasons that is not necessarily related to purely antisocial needs.

Then of course there's the (almost) fact that musicians are not necessarily the best thinkers...ho ho ho.

Dan Gr said...

No opera could be staged without a good chance of success, without elaborate composition that would ensure periodic engagement.

This book would seem to refute that point. Funding was pieced together for Einstein on the Beach from multiple sources not expecting any return on the investment nor expecting a success by Opera standards. It was assumed that the engagement could never be periodic (or repeated, say, even once). The composition came together at the last moment and, while intricate, is performed by a small ensemble and not elaborate. The opera also ended 90,000 dollars in the hole. And the composer continued to drive a taxi. So well, I guess that is kinda punk.