Friday, November 14, 2014

Rock nostalgia ain't what it used to be

After many years of following Dylan and going to see him every time he plays Toronto I have come to an important watershed. I am getting older and I am not in touch with the living and breathing music scene. I recently looked at the “just announced” section for concerts in NOW magazine and noticed that I haven’t heard of a single band. My need for new music recently prompted me to randomly pick up an album called “Salad Days” by Mac Demarco, after listening to it on headphones at HMV. I liked the sound. It was unique and cool, and every track on the album was good. I started getting into it, watched a bunch of videos on youtube and then went to the show at the NXNE festival last June.  The show was fantastic. It had an energy and humour, an edginess and unpredictability that is not typical of any of the aging classic rock bands that have canalized their way into our collective pop culture psyches. His stage presence is different from many of the bands that we take for granted as fixtures in the music industry establishment. It exists. As a rising young artist, he is driven and he shows gratitude and generosity to his audience. By comparison, the kind of gratitude that I have seen from many of the successful major label artists, such as Tom Petty or Dave Grohl seems feigned. No matter how big their heads and egos have become, it is impossible for their level of gratitude to possibly reflect the degree of accolades that they have received from their herds of blind minions. They seem to be going through the motions. In Bob’s case he seems to hover on the stage like a god, untouchable and out of touch with his fans. There even seems to be a sense of disdain. I don’t blame him. After sixty years of having to maintain a public persona as a living legend some ennui must set in, and yet there is no pretense. His stage presence is an honest mask. Are birds free from the chains of the skyway?

I’m not saying that the aging bands don’t put on a good show, however they tend to rely on audience nostalgia and big light shows instead of the capacity for direct communication of the human spirit. Last week I went to see Mac Demarco again at the Danforth Music Hall. It was a raucous and energetic performance. Complete with copious drug and alcohol consumption, crowd surfing and other unruly behaviours. The following link demonstrates some of his outrageous offstage antics. Mac Demarco - Crowd surfing. As the encore they played a twenty minute version of the Top Gun Anthem on three electric guitars and a synth, that was the musical equivalent of a Mark Rothko painting, and had most of the audience baffled. Epic. It was a very young crowd, mostly kids barely out of high school. I realized that music is still percolating the way it was when I was in high school with bands like Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer, etc.. There are up and coming bands now, some of whom will go on to enjoy legendary status and to define THIS generation. These are the Led Zeppelins, the David Bowies of now. I have resolved to discover some of these bands, who are just now peaking, brimming with youthful and rebellious energy, just like the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix or the Doors were in their time.

I think it is a shame that many young and talented artists are relatively unnoticed, while large stadium tours for geriatric rock bands are selling out. The problem is, we can’t go back and see The Beatles or Pink Floyd in their heyday, so we go see Paul McCartney or Roger Waters out of a desire for the next best thing, nostalgia. I find myself wanting to see Leonard Cohen or Gordon Lightfoot just so that I can say I saw them before they died. Don’t get me wrong these guys are still good, and Dylan is the prime example of a geriatric case that is ironically still in his prime. But it’s not a scene anymore. I’ve been to so many Dylan shows and I refuse to admit to myself that it’s not doing for me what it once did. It’s become a habit. I do think Dylan might have another big shake-up in reserve, like his late nineties comeback, which he will spring upon us when we finally give up all hope that it might happen. This could be as simple as him coming out and playing a few solo acoustic songs (oh how our expectations have lagged). In the meantime there are acts out now that are making history and breaking new boundaries in real time, and people in the over twenty set are not in the cognoscenti. Besides we’re too busy trying to relive our youth. Ask the most rebellious 17 year old punk kid you can find for the names of the most important current bands, and he’ll probably try to throw you off the scent. If a bunch of old timers started showing up at these shows whatever scene there is would soon dry up anyhow. Truthfully, I’m just assuming there are other great new young artists out there and I am just beginning my search. But for now I can say for certain that Mac DeMarco puts on an unpredictable, slightly unsettling performance that could serve to awaken some of us from our fossilized state. Mac Demarco’s newest album is shortlisted for the 2014 Polaris Music Prize.

Mac Demarco - Pepperoni playboy

1 comment:

  1. Great post. Big Dylan fan myself & just attended his 11/1 gig in Denver. 7th time in 14 yrs I've seen Dylan just in my hometown and it's the 6th different venue he has played. Sadly, the Bellco Theatre is one of the WORST places to see rock music. It's a 5,000 seat indoor half-circle auditorium setup with an odd sloping down by the really expensive seats. Everyone and I mean EVERYONE sat down right after the first tune started. I had seen a few shows here before & any nostalgic act rock show here has been seated. Period. Sure, we could standup to clap after the songs but you MUST sit back down immediately and not move at all. A guy sitting in the row behind my girlfriend actually asked her to stop clapping as he couldn't see the stage. I was incredulous at his request to which my gf said she'd be glad to stand the whole time. The nerd lost it & went to get security. OMFG I jumped in & convinced the ushers to move the guy & his boyfriend somewhere else. They left & several ppl congratulated me on getting the guy's bad energy out of there.

    This seems to be a Denver-area problem at older rock shows which led me to do just what you are doing - searching out younger bands & going out to smaller clubs where there's energy, heart and passion. Saw FOXYGEN last month here in town and it was brilliant, joyful rocknroll w/high energy, backup singers, tight musicianship and a wild front man. Their music is the kind of music the Rolling Stones would've made if Captain Beefheart brought Richard O'Brien and Jim Sharman (Rocky Horror creative team) to Nellcote in France in 1971 to work on Exile. I shit you not - that is my best description for it and I LOVE IT.

    The new bands are tougher to find through traditional outlet but if you spend a few hours a week poking around you will find a load of great stuff, just like you said - scrolling through YouTube videos and hitting up blogs that specialize in new music. Last year I also stumbled into Burger Records & the whole youthful rocknroll scene they are creating around their label & record store that is unabashedly devoted to its artists. Check em out - they even release a lot of stuff on cassette!