I was just presented with a quiz by a co-worker here at the PMc studio that was supposed to determine how much of a music snob I am.
"The Beatles or the Stones?" He asked.
"The Beatles." I responded.
"Michael Jackson or Prince?"
"I'm confused." He said.
"Because you strike me as a music snob and music snobs always say they prefer Prince, as you did, but also the Stones, NOT The Beatles."
Actually, his little quiz really did suss out what I am. Though I entered my Twenties as the worse type of music snob known to roam the earth (a college radio DJ on a highly regarded progressive station, WRAS in Atlanta), I exited as someone who had developed a sense of taste in ALL kinds of music. This was the result of having a commercial job at a Top 40 station and realizing that if I was to stop being miserable, I had to embrace the concept of POPULAR music and develop opinions of good or bad within that context. By extending the practice of opening up my mind in order to make judgments (which you have to do when you are creating a playlist) AFTER I had heard something, rather than BEFORE, it helped me create my own style, which was based on playing what I liked in various types of music. Today there is even a name for what I was doing: A Mash-up. When I first did it in NYC clubs, I was just dismissed as being all over the place and not understanding what a decent segue was. I can't tell you how many times I heard a club owner or dancer complain, "Can't you at least play THREE of the same types of songs in a row?" I have no idea why THREE was the magic number.
However, not only did this set me apart from the other deejays, but my determination to keep my mind open increased my love of music by increasing what I exposed myself to. By downshifting my bull-headed ignorance, I downshifted my arrogance. I never became a hits machine, but I could certainly argue why I did or did not like something because I was actually familiar with it and did not just randomly dismiss anything because it didn't fit into a particular type. Remember, the definition of "prejudice" means to pre-judge.
In other words, I WOULD end up as a fence sitter within the context of the alleged music snob test. I am a snob, yet I'm not. I'm a snob because I am highly opinionated, but not a snob because I would never dismiss something just because it's popular. Of course the Stones have an edgier reputation than the Beatles. The Stones were never "cute" (except Brian Jones and we all know what happened to HIM), they never wore matching outfits, they never allowed themselves to be marketed as collector dolls, they never sang about
hand-holding or weeping guitars or wallowed in all-out musical schmaltz, and when THEY were arrested, it involved HARD drugs and a naked woman (Marianne Faithfull) wrapped in rug with a chocolate bar shoved up her hoo-ha. Nevertheless, as I explained to my inquisitor, when it came to shear musical brilliance of the CREATIVE sort, there was no comparison. Sure, the Stones were far and away the greater LIVE band, but, when it came to creating NEW sounds and directions in music and when it came to what came out of the
STUDIO, there was no way you could place the Stones over The Beatles. The Beatles were, at least, one step ahead of the Stones creatively. In fact, The Beach Boys were also ahead of the Stones and The Beatles creatively. Whereas the Stones have always been firmly within the contest of the heaviest Blues, The Beatles came out of the more watered-down R&B pop of Motown and Rockabilly. It's what they DID with this lighter base, how they expanded and twisted and experimented with it, that made it so brilliant and ageless.
Therefore, it didn't surprise me that it's The Beatles' influence that I hear most and have heard most in the bands that I found interesting that came afterwards. Sure, I found Stones-rip-off The Hives interesting for a nano-second, until the lead singer's Mick-lifted rooster dance and facial expressions made me want to punch him in the face. However, I can still listen to unabashed Beatles freaks like Oasis 'til the cows come home. And, honestly, even though you'd sell your first born to get great Stones tickets, when was the last time you actually bought or even downloaded one of their records?
Which brings us to The Kooks. I receive a lot of music and I try to listen to everything. Even though I approach everything with the aforementioned open mind, after years of forming opinions, it does not take me long to decide if I like what I'm hearing. It is rare that I do like what I'm hearing, unfortunately. Therefore, I was astonished by how much I loved The Kooks. My enthusiasm even sent me running around the PMc studio like a town crier because most of the gang here loves music and, being a natural born DJ, I'm consumed with the need to SHARE. Immediately, my passion was trumped by the screams of our latest interns, who were both from Scotland. I could barely understand what they were shouting back at me because of their thick accents (a hilarious fact, since one was, inexplicably, in charge of answering phones), but I did make out that they were such Kooks fanatics that their iPods were crammed with little else. I completely understood that type of fanaticism (the word from which "fan" is derived) from having been the same way about The Beatles and others at various times. Who hasn't?
I contacted the people who had sent me the CD and begged to see them in person. It took me nearly a year to do so. When the time came, I was asked if I would also catch the opening act, Illinois. I agreed, even though that is a LOT of time to devote to concert going because I had to be at Irving Plaza by 8 PM. I usually prefer the two-hour drive-by.
The good part about this was that I was the only person in the upstairs VIP enclosure when I went inside. All the tables seemed to be reserved, so I began searching for a comfortable spot that would still have a good view of the stage. Luckily, the large man who had parted the ropes for me saw me casing the joint. "Sit here." He instructed, pointing to the table closest to the entrance. "No one has reserved that one." I wanted to kiss him.
As the place filled up (the show was sold-out), I busied myself trying to suss out what the typical New York Kooks fan looked like. Actually, the audience looked like any college-aged music audience. If there was any fashion element that stood out, it was the preponderance of horizontally striped tops. Obviously, no one cared about the fattening effect horizontal stripes have on one's figure or, perhaps, wanting to wear what was obviously IN for Spring trumped such concerns. Nevertheless, the sea of stripes made the ballroom look like a mixer for jailbirds and French sailors.
This was a change from the last time I had been to Irving Plaza for a concert. or so I thought. Actually, make that THREE concerts. The hubby (AKA The Mod Cousin) and I had scored tickets for the 3-day sold-out residency of Paul Weller (AKA The Modfather) in January. It had been an amazing experience. The first night was primarily devoted to The Jam, the second day was primarily devoted to the Style Council and the third day was primarily devoted to Weller's solo career. I emphasize "primarily" because, despite assurances that each night would be a totally different show, they weren't really. Weller opened with the supposed theme and returned to it at another times, but each night featured many of the same songs that were pulled from his solo career. The Mod Cousin and I still argue this point: Mod Cousin INSISTS the three shows were different and I totally disagree. It's too bad that real life can't have that "Roshomon" moment of revelation.
At the Weller shows, the audience tried to look as spiffy as possible because that's the MOD way. Because each night represented a different Weller persona, each night's audience looked quite different, not only in terms of clothing and hairdos, but also in age. The only constant was that the audience seemed to be around 99% British. Weller is such a god in Britain, yet is relatively unknown here. There was a huge line for the first night's show and, whenever a passerby asked who was playing, when they heard "Paul Weller", the general reaction was a shrugging of the shoulders and an incomprehensive widening of the eyes, followed by, "I don't know who that is."
But, back to THIS evening.
Finally, Illinois appeared on stage. The place was filled, but not packed. Those who were waiting until they thought The Kooks would come on really missed a treat. I loved this band. Though they are from Pennsylvania, they had allegedly been living in my hometown of Detroit and it showed. To me, the interesting part of music from Michigan (excluding Madonna) is how English it sounds. I always thought it might be because of the proximity to Canada and the exposure to Canadian radio and TV, meaning a constant exposure to English music you would normally not hear on a US station. As a child, my pop music loving family always went over to Windsor to buy the English releases of The Beatles, Stones, Kinks, etc. because the albums were longer, pressed on better vinyl and had different covers. You could also get singles with marvelous picture sleeves that were not available in the US. Of course, there are other US cities along the Canadian border whose local music sucks, so I guess that theory has some holes in it.
The fact is that the sound of Michigan rock always had that edgier and harder sound that the Brits brought to anything they took from us. Look what The Beatles did with Motown. Then listen to Iggy, the MC5, Ted Nugent, Suzi Quatro, etc., all the way up through the Acid House era up to the White Stripes and even Eminem.
Illinois has that same English sound going for it.no matter where they're really from. I heard a bit of T-Rex, a bit of The Kinks, some Strokes and a lot of Mark E. Smith (The Fall) because of lead singer Chris Archibald's love of a vocal distorter (allegedly an amplified telephone handset), especially when he was doing his sing-songy talk thing. There was someone else's vocal sound I heard, but, for the life of me, I can't remember the guy's name. I remember he was in a band with his brother and then went solo. He had that little boy plaintive sound to his voice. If anyone can help me unfreeze that brain cell, please let me know because his name is driving me nuts. All I know is that Google has not been helpful in my quest.
Stylistically, Illinois love to use the Isley Bros. "Shout (pts. 1 & 2)" gimmick of ".a little bit softer now." false endings. However, it is Archibald's excellent use of a banjo that gave the band its incredible and unique sound. Not that the rest of the band isn't excellent and, generally, multi-instrumentalists. The general effect was a nice fat Bo Diddley goes country with the occasional George Harrison sitar sound thrown in. Try to catch them the next time they come to your town.
It was quite amusing to watch so many in the audience taking pictures of Illinois with their cell phones. It was as if the crowd was frozen in Nazi salutes with individual hands raised constantly as they clicked away. What really made it hilarious was that, when I was waiting to get my ticket torn on my way in, they made the girl in front of me check her camera! Poor dear. When the Mod Cousin and I went to see Elton John's extravaganza in Vegas, they were, at least, smart enough to confiscate everyone's cell phones as well.
I was so happy and comfortable sitting at my table. The Mod Cousin hadn't arrived yet because he was at a screening and party for a film he acted in that was going to Cannes. The place has become completely packed and a group was crowded around my table, trying to jockey for the best view as Illinois went off and preparations were being made to bring The Kooks on. Everyone was very sweet, asking me if I could still see whenever they found places against the railing. I didn't even mind when the Mod Cousin's chair was taken away because it was given to the two little children who had taken up residency behind me; I knew he'd understand. The only bad point came when some hyper Brit guy suddenly got in my face and asked me if I was sitting where I was sitting. Since I obviously WAS, I replied, "Yes." He continued to glare at me. "Is this your table?" I stared right back at him. "Yes." I again replied. "That's why I'm sitting here." "Oh." He said. He then disappeared into the crowd to, I guess, try to cause someone else some problem. The kids around me and I just looked at each other and laughed.
"I wish this wasn't here." Moaned one of the kids about my table. This remark might have been slightly manipulative, but he was right: The table was in the way and served no purpose. I had downed all the beer I was going to drink and I could take notes on the guardrail of the balcony. "Move the table." I instructed. "But, you need to write." A girl protested. "I can write here." I placed my writing pad on the rail to show her. Everyone was so happy. Except for that English asshole who tried to commandeer my table (obviously someone's self-important self-deluded gofer), the vibe in the place was really good. Even the between set music was excellent: It's been a LONG time since I've heard "Peaches" by The Stranglers". It used to be a constant of my playlist when I was a DJ at Mudd Club.
A roar from below indicated that the show was about to begin. As the curtain rose, the unmistakable guitar assault of Link Wray's power chord classic "Rumble" filled the ballroom. Ahhh...the memories. When I was deejaying at that aforementioned college station in Atlanta, I interviewed Link on the air. He invited me to his show later that night. When I went to his dressing room afterwards to tell him how great his show had been, he pinned me against a wall and tried to have his way with me. I managed to get away from his clutches and ran out of the room. In 2005, ol' Link himself permanently left the building. Still, GREAT song!
As soon as the band appeared, I thought I was back at The Modfather's shows. By that time, it had occurred to me that everyone at THIS show also seemed to be a Brit. Happily, The Mod Cousin finally appeared next to me and we laughed at the way the crowd was a tightly packed bouncing and heaving mass, just like it had been during Weller's three nights. And just like at Weller's shows, the entire ballroom sang along with every song as if they were part of a mass karaoke experience. Unlike Weller's gigs, the smell of pot permeated the room. Also, some photographer or cinematographer paced back and forth within an enclosed area between the stage and the crowd. He was recording both the band and the audience and remained there all night. Groovy. "MTV", "VH1", some Jools Holland production?
The lead vocalist, Luke Pritchard, took a break from the songs and addressed the fevered audience. I have absolutely no idea what he was saying. I had no idea what he ever said whenever he infrequently spoke during the show. In fact, I originally thought that they were singing, "New York, she was such a.", when they were actually singing "Ooh La", which is their latest single. And I have so many Brit friends, I don't even hear the accent anymore until now (obviously).
The music was VERY Beatles-ish, somewhere around the "Rubber Soul", "Revolver" and "Help" period. There's even a nice bit from George Harrison's "I Need You" floating through "Eddie's Gun". You could also hear The Strokes. The songs are very hook-happy pop with a lot of the psychedelia of reggae dub thrown in every so often. Though every song was a group sing, the biggest numbers were the aforementioned "Ooh La", "Naïve" and "She Moves in Her Own Way", which makes sense.
Performance-wise, these guys have the Rock Star thing DOWN. From Pritchard's Iggy-style walk into the crowd ON the crowd.though he didn't get too far because security quickly escorted him back to the stage.to Paul Garred's throwing of his drum sticks into the audience at the end, it was classic. And they have the looks and attitude in spades. It was also a good sign that, whomever those adorable seat-stealing tykes were hanging over my shoulder, they had, by the end of the concert, placed their hands firmly over their ears. Remember that very young children have not yet destroyed their hearing's upper range through a lifetime of earbuds, so this was a good sign that the din was at the level all good rock should be.
It was obvious that The Kooks' days in this sort of room were numbered. It was not just that the two dates were immediately sold out, it was the FEELING in the room. You could just tell that they had really outgrown clubs and ballrooms. Their sound and presence are definitely BIG-TIME: Arena, festival main stage or, at the very least, Radio City Music Hall big-time. I assume they have achieved this in Europe, though I really don't know. All I do know is that, when I leaned over to mention this to The Mod Cousin, I either spied Ron Delsener behind him, or it was a spot-on doppelganger. For those of you who don't know, Delsener is THE grand poo bah of New York area rock concert promoters and, incidentally, was the co-producer of The Beatles' concert in Forest Hills back in 1964.
By the end of the encore, the crowd was still at 100%. No one had left. Well, physically, at least: The children behind me had fallen asleep.
As I getting up to leave, I noticed that one of the sound guys was wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the logo The Hives.
Seriously, whatever happened to them?