Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Don’t Pay to Play

Went to the MEANY Fest last night at Arlene’s. All I knew about this was that they’d moved it from CBGB, and that if you emailed them, you could get on the guest list (typically, bands and the club each have their own lists). As it turns out, it’s a competition: more about that later. Wanting to see Devi and to give the club a chance to redeem themselves after the sonic fiasco that was the Sloe Guns show here last week, I went to the MEANY site and signed up using our email (we get enough spam here, never mind giving them my personal email). Sure enough, the door girl didn’t have any record of it. This time around, however, she’d apparently done a couple of lines of meth off her baby’s belly, which seemingly calmed her down to the point where she finally handed over a wristband for club admission.

The good news is that the sound was good tonight, with the regular sound guy here running things. But there were bad omens everywhere. The bands were only getting half-hour sets to play (as opposed to the 40 minutes to an hour that Arlene’s gives bands onstage). Despite this, the night was running an hour and a half behind schedule, even though the clock had yet to strike nine. While the band’s email listed a 9 PM showtime, there had been two other acts put on the bill before them. To their credit, Arlene’s runs pretty much on time: you’re always assured of seeing the band you came for without much if any delay if you get there at showtime. That wouldn’t be the case tonight, and that was a drag. My days of showing up right when the club doors open, and then standing for hours and suffering through the likes of the Suburbs or 54-40, just to make sure I was in the front row when the Church took the stage ended a long, long time ago. Call me unadventurous or closed-minded, but that’s what the internet and myspace are for. If somebody I trust (NOT a promoter or a band manager) tells me that I should check out such-and-such, I’ll google them, I’ve got better things to do than sit through one wretched wannabe after another without being able to stop the track when it’s obvious that the band really sucks.

After taking what seemed an eternity to set up, trumpeter/pianist and Tom Waits wannabe John McGrew and his competent if uninspired backing band played a set that ran about as long as it took to get the band going (even though the club has a backline, with all the bands using the club’s gear instead of switching over to their own amps and such between sets). The wait grew longer as Uncle Pumpkin took the stage. While we don’t usually do negative reviews here, Uncle Pumpkin warrants an exception. This corporate rock act with a silly analog synthesizer from the 70s is stupefyingly bad. Watching them live was a vivid reminder of how equally vomitific corporate radio has become. This band sounds exactly like every other loud, tuneless corporate act that the corporate stations play but never tell you who they are or what song they’ve just played, as if you’re supposed to know who they are by osmosis or telepathy or something. Even though their vocalist (I wouldn’t call him a singer) doesn’t bray or mumblemouth the lyrics, Pearl Jam style, Uncle Pumpkin could easily win this whole thing. Which is saddening beyond belief.

Bad music may be good comedy, but this kind of comedy gets old awfully fast. There was no way in hell I was going to sit through a whole set of this shit. And on a Thursday night (or pretty much any night, even a Monday, if it’s late enough), there’s absolutely nowhere in my old neighborhood to go where you can have a drink and get away from the throngs of tourists. There was a girl in the back of the club with ballots for the audience to fill out, so I stopped there on my way out to vote for Devi. The promoters told the crowd that voters had to choose two bands, which stumped me: McGrew hadn’t earned my vote and I didn’t know any of the others. And while scanning down the list, I noticed that the promoters had scheduled a band for 1 AM. Meaning that at the rate the night was going, they were probably going to take the stage somewhere around three.

Now if you’re in a band whose fan base is a bunch of drunks who don’t mind staying out late and going to work the next day on hardly any sleep, and if you’re also a drunk who doesn’t mind staying up late just to play a brief, half-hour set in the wee hours and then going to work the next day hungover on no sleep, that’s great. But let’s say your fan base isn’t likely to stick around til 3 AM on a rainy night when they have to get up for work the next day. What do you do, play to an empty room? That’s absolute fucking bullshit. This is exploitation. Fuck you, MEANY Fest. You chose the right name. I gave my other vote to the 1 AM band.

And a little googling afterward uncovered something considerably more revealing: each band that played tonight paid MEANY Fest $40 to play this gig. And that’s bullshit. I predict that within five years, since the only young people who can afford to come to New York now are independently wealthy, clubs are going to start making bands pay if they want to do a show (CB’s Gallery tried to do this with their downstairs space in their last couple of years, without much success).

But til then, there’s absolutely no need for this kind of shit. You want exposure? The promoters put a Tom Waits wannabe back to back with a corporate grunge-pop act, followed by a melodic indie rock band with psychedelic tendencies. Tell me that anybody from the first crowd is likely to stick around for the next band, and so on. Talk about bad segues: it’s Brownie’s, 1999, all over again. That’s no way to build a fan base. At this point in history, bands can play the Dives of New York tour, a new venue every month and never run out of places to play. And the way to build a fan base in New York isn’t by playing live shows, anyway: the new permanent-tourist class here doesn’t have any interest in music, or film, or art, or literature. They’re into what everybody else in New Jersey, or wherever they come from, is into: they watch tv. The only way for New York musicians to reach a wider audience is to reach out to that audience and go where they are. Because musically, artistically or otherwise inclined young people can’t afford to come to New York anymore. You have to go out of town and find the pockets of coolness where these people are hiding. They’re out there, trust me. And they’ll gladly pay a $10 cover and buy your merchandise and regale you after the show about how good you were because you ARE good, especially by comparison to the Clapton wannabes and cover bands which is usually the only kind of live music you can find outside of urban areas.

So forget all the gaudy promises on the website, the prizes, the record deals, the hookers, the blow. Don’t waste your money on MEANY Fest, or Emergenza, or any of these scams. These assholes are just looking to make a buck at your expense. Let’s put them out of business.

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October 12, 2007 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Rant, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

3 Comments »

  1. For someone who doesn’t usually write negative reviews, you surely are coming across as quite the prick here. You almost seemed to revel in your negative tone. I feel sorry for you if you can’t try to enjoy the experience and gain a new positive perspective from every situation, regardless of any drawbacks. My experience at MEANY fest was much more positive – I support these artists, who are invariably just trying to be heard. Moreover, I’m really sure that MEANY is just rolling in money from the massive $40 increments per artist that they receive to (probably barely) cover their costs. Furthermore, I don’t know what schedule you were looking at, but according to the schedule that was listed on meanyfest.com, they were running only 10 minutes behind schedule. Please stop spreading your vile opinions of starving artists who are simply trying to practice, get better, and some day possibly be heard by someone who actually has an opinion worth reading.

    Comment by Ike | November 6, 2007 | Reply

  2. MEANY takes unsophisticated bands’ $$$ to cover their cost?!? What cost? The venue puts up everything: backline, advertising, door person, sound engineer. MEANY does nothing except exploit these “artists” who, as you so accurately put it “are simply trying to practice, get better, and someday be heard.” Until then, the bands who played before Devi on this particular night should keep practicing with the hope they will someday get better. But I doubt it. And obviously, you weren’t there to witness how far behind schedule the night was running. Are you part of MEANY? One of the unfortunate souls who were suckered into playing that night?

    By the way, Devi didn’t pay to play – they were on the bill because someone apparently invited them.

    Comment by delarue | November 7, 2007 | Reply

  3. Right ON!! I couldn’t agree with reviewer more! These ‘contests’ like Meany and Emergenza are a SCAM. They are glorified popularity contests for which the contestents pay $40 to find out how many friends they have willing to come out and cheer. But that’s our whole culture…people just needing to feed their own egos rather than concentrating on making good music

    Comment by David Easton | July 23, 2008 | Reply


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