Monday, April 21, 2014

More Thoughts From Coachella

Last time's thoughts here and here.

-Concert festivals are one of the very few ways to a get a relative price measure of the popularity of artists at any given point (other than record sales, but ain't nobody got time for anything that boring). Award shows will rank artists who came out with new records that year, but what about ones who didn't? How do you compare the likely popularity/impact of old classic bands (e.g. The Pet Shop Boys) with relatively new but rising stars (e.g. Lorde)? Simple - see who gets scheduled later and on the larger stage. The promoters must make an estimate of who's going to be popular and who's not, and are one of the very few head-to-head comparisons we observe. This isn't a market price of course, just one sampling of informed demand, backed up by actual valuable time and resources. There's a second estimate, of course, which comes from the crowds, which is what the promoters are mostly trying to assess. Sometimes they get it wrong - they badly underestimated the popularity of Bastille (who really became hot since the lineup was first set), and this drew crowds away from the relatively overpriced Neko Case. If you want a sense of the distribution, look at the font sizes used in their poster.

-Sooner or later, corporate organization beats hippie organization, even for hippie events. So you want a chilled out vibe and cool art installations? That may be so, but do you think a massive tent, pyrotechnics and copious numbers of portapotties are going to organize themselves? Not likely. All the art installations in the world aren't going to count for squat when there's nowhere for people to take a dump, believe me. You're better off worrying about logistics first and outsourcing the damn art installations. There's a reason that Burning Man, the ne plus ultra of hippie festivals, is organized by a group called Black Rock City LLC.

-After attending a few of these, it's clear that concert promoters really value professionalism. The bands that get invited back multiple times are those that can be relied on to turn up on time, play lots of songs that are polished and well-rehearsed, and keep boring blather between songs to a minimum. The artists that get passively aggressively cut off halfway through the last song when the set time is up are those that droned on about worthless nonsense (Kings of Leon last time, Beck this time) or worse, those who turned up late (Cee Lo Green). It's fine to smash your guitar, as long as you wait until the set is finished or have another one ready. In this case, Empire of the Sun are the first band I've seen to smash a guitar and then perform an encore (not involving a guitar) afterwards.

-Among the odd list of unacceptable items to bring into Coachella is 'flags'. Yes, really. I couldn't tell if they were more worried that their audience are nationalistic soccer hooligans waiting to form running gangs based on the presence of a Mexican flag, or children who might poke each other in the eye with the sharp stick the flag is attached to.

-I thought I was in denial about adulthood and the appropriateness of attending massive festival rock concerts. Then I got there and saw a lady pushing a child who was either 2 or 3, sitting in a pram. In 37C heat. There is no way that ended well for either of them.

-Seeing some of the big name DJs perform (Calvin Harris, Fatboy Slim) made think that the type of performer they most resemble is not actually a musician, but rather a conductor. They command a massive wall of sound, as often as not prepared by others, and their skill is in putting it all together. Listen to the Faint's memorable description of a conductor, adjust for the slight differences in the mechanics, and see if the rest of the words ring true:
Confident with your back to the audience.
Tremolo strings begin with your gesturing wrist.
Start the orchestra slow with an elegant aire,
Then a circular sweep crescendoing swell.
Your arms are calling out,
They wave like a swarm of sound.
You pull the sound from scores of notes,
You step the stage and take control.
-The combination of attractive young people and general atmosphere of a paean to hedonism made me think of both Dylan and Goethe. From Dylan:
God bless them pretty women,
I wish they was mine,
Their breath is as sweet,
The dew on the vine,
The riposte comes from Goethe:
If e'er upon my couch stretched at my ease, I'm found
Then may my life at that instant cease.
When to the moment I shall say
"Linger awhile! so fair thou art!"
Then mayst thou fetter me straightway,
Then to the abyss will I depart!

This post brought to you by the Greek and MW, who both hate my music posts.

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