I went to see a McDonalds themed Black Sabbath cover band on Friday night called Mac Sabbath. Lady Gaga recently had Baby Metal – a J-pop meets death metal band, open for her. Ghost won a frikkin’ Grammy for Gods sake. Meanwhile – in the pop world, costumes and stage set ups are more elaborate and fanciful than ever. Even country music has the bug, Luke Bryan comes out on a flaming pick up truck for crying out loud! And of course we are all seeing a surge of gimmicks on our own underground scenes. So – has independent music jumped the shark? It almost feels like all the silliest stuff has been done – where is it going to go from here? People seem to be stoked on stuff that they know is silly, over the top, and oftentimes saccharine in its appeal, so why do we keep circling back to it?
Now I know that some of the best performers have always had over the top and silly performances. One need look no further than thirty years of GWAR, or the mere fact that Dio had a fleet of dozens of trucks following his tours in the 80s. One also needs to remember that, for a variety of reasons, some bands have toned it down. For example, Def Leppard have a surprisingly simple stage show these days. Their only prop is a background of screens. They don’t even interact with the projections, they just provide a backdrop to the performance. So clearly this problem isn’t wholly new, nor is it entirely widespread, but it’s there and it needs to be discussed.
I think that, frankly speaking, people are getting bored with traditional live performances. Someone like Neck Deep – who are a fairly major live act these days, headlining thousand person venues with ease – have no stage show beyond their backdrop, but at the same time, the people going to see their shows only attend a handful of concerts ever year, so they can get away with it. For bands who cater to an audience of frequent concert goers, like Ghoul, the stage performance is a key aspect of what keeps people coming out and checking out the music time and time again. The question really though – is does that take away from the music itself? For example, I wouldn’t imagine nearly as many people would care about Ghost if they didn’t wear masks. So should we be willing to embrace stupid, over the top performances as a necessary part of the modern industry?
As more and more bands focus exclusively on touring, more and more people are going to, consequently, go to more live shows. Now this is all well and good – but it certainly can lead to a certain ennui. After the fifth show in a week you stop caring. I would know – five shows in a week isn’t unusual for me, so if I get to see a bunch of monsters going at it on stage (Like I will tonight with Iron Maiden) then I am going to prefer seeing that then to checking out yet another band at my favorite bar. Unless you’ve got a ton of hype going for your band, you’re going to need a righteous live show if you want people to pay attention and really remember you beyond ‘that band we saw one time,’ and the easiest way to have a memorable (If not necessarily righteous) live show is to have a ridiculous and gimmicky performance.
Of course – this hurts the democracy that music, arguably, should have. If you want to have a live performance with lots of badass stage gear, demons fighting band members and all the rest of it, you are going to need a ton of money to pull it off, or at least the know how to do the whole DIY thing like Ghoul (And even they probably lose money with all that extra gear they have to lug around) For most of these bands, you’re going to still need to be a great performer to get to the point where you can get props to to help bring the people out. The issue is that nowadays we are seeing more new bands than ever making the gimmick the focal point of the band and using that to guide the whole thing forward rather than graduating into it like most bands did in previous eras of popular music.
So – I don’t mean to sound like a profit of doom – but if we continue to expand the already high startup cost of being a band (Gear is expensive yo!) then music is going to suffer and become homogeneous. This doesn’t mean we can’t really appreciate badass sets with pyro and all that fun stuff, but it also means that we collectively need to raise up our performance game in order to beat out the rich kids. It’s going to be a struggle. I don’t think that anyone would argue otherwise, but I believe that by working together we can help to transcend this and sequester it to its rightful place in the industry once again.