Bob Kuban and the In-Men only had one major hit. That one hit was a record called “The Cheater” which stormed up the charts in 1966. And maybe the band’s story would have ended there if it wasn’t for the compelling story that surrounds them, in particular lead singer Walter Scott, and keeps people interested to this day.
Kuban was a drummer from St. Louis. He was just out of high school when he put together his In-Men there in 1964. They were eight pieces strong and included a horn section, which was something of an anachronism given that it was the year that the British Invasion, with its emphasis on guitars, was arriving on these shores.
The British Invasion wasn’t the only thing that was going on at that time. The Vietnam War was heating up and musicians were just as susceptible to the draft as anyone else. In order to keep their deferments, members of the In-Men had to stay in college or work day jobs as teachers. That impacted the band’s ability to tour much beyond their local area.
They recorded “The Cheater” in St. Louis, and released it on Musicland Records in 1966. Originally the song had been written in the first person, but as Kuban told writer Rick Simmons, he was looking for something with energy, excitement, and a driving rhythm, so the narrative was changed to third person and a bridge was added.
Whatever changes they made worked very well. The record charged up the Billboard Hot 100 until it peaked at #12. It was a million-seller and gold record award-winner. The success of “The Cheater” led to nationwide touring and television appearances for the band, including a spot on American Bandstand.
“The Cheater” was also a hit overseas and a tour was planned but the United States government stepped in at that point and let Kuban know that if the band went overseas their deferments would be pulled and they would all be re-classified 1-A. Instead of touring, they returned to the studio. They were looking for a strong follow-up to “The Cheater,” but what they got was “The Teaser,” a song that Kuban himself had little use for and only managed to reach the #70 spot on the Pop chart.
The next single, a cover of the Beatles song “Drive My Car,” didn’t even do that well, only reaching #93. Still, Bob Kuban and the In-Men had placed three singles in the Top 100 in a single year, and that was promising to say the least. But the future would not turn out to be as bright as it looked, primarily because the band’s manager, Mel Friedman, was plotting, unbeknownst to Kuban, to pull lead singer Scott out of the group and push him into a solo career.
There they were, a band with three chart singles in one year, including a million-seller, and yet they were on the verge of dissolution. Eventually, Scott did leave for that solo career, a move that didn’t work out for him, or for Kuban and the band because none of them was able to reach the heights they had hit with “The Cheater.”
Flash forward almost 20 years and Bob Kuban and the In-Men, including Scott who had realized his mistake, were planning a reunion concert in 1983. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Scott disappeared. It took nearly four years to find his body at which time it emerged that Scott had been shot and thrown into a water tank. In a shocking twist of fate, given that Scott was the lead singer on “The Cheater,” the perpetrator turned out to be the then-boyfriend of Scott’s second wife. In addition to Scott, he killed his own wife and was given two life sentences for his crimes. Scott’s ex-wife was sentenced to five years for hindering the prosecution of the murders.
Kuban continues to tour around the Midwest with his band to this day. He remains bitter about the way that Friedman undermined his band when they were on the brink of big-time success. Kuban was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their permanent exhibit of one-hit wonders.
My first show to stay entirely within one decade (well, 11 years, really). I recently received a USB turntable for my birthday from my lovely wife, and I had some fun with it. One of this week’s songs is a 12″ mix that I had never heard until a few days ago, yet I’ve had the record for years. Just didn’t have anything to play it on.
Bands making their Dizzy Heights debut this week: General Public, Aztec Camera, The Style Council, Bourgeois Tagg, The Cars, The Mighty Lemon Drops, Judie Tzuke, and Korgis. Lots of 12″ goodness (including a special edit by yours truly) and jangle pop as well.
This month’s entry is being dictated by the times.
We’re still marking the 100-year anniversary of the most ghoulish, pointless war the world has seen — World War I. Mental Floss is up to its 284th entry in a grim, essential series retelling the events 100 years after they happened.
And we were supposed to learn from that. We were supposed to make sure the entire generation of European sons who were wiped out in horrific fashion would be the last to do so.
But in the past week, we’ve needlessly ramped up rhetoric with North Korea. And we’ve seen armed white supremacists walk through the peaceful college town of Charlottesville, punctuated by a man driving a car into a crowd and killing three people.
Have we not learned anything?
We sometimes find hope in strange places. Right now, I find it in the fact that a Boston “Celtic punk” band whose music is sometimes used for pumping up a crowd at sports events has taken an old solemn Irish lament for the lost sons of the Great War and modernized it just slightly, giving it the emphatic punch it needs.
The original is by one Eric Bogle, who was born in Scotland and moved to Australia as a child. He also wrote And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda, another classic World War I remembrance written “as an oblique comment on the Vietnam war.” The song of this post, The Green Fields of France (sometimes called No Man’s Land), also had a contemporary point to make — it was written in one of those flare-ups of tension between Ireland and England, and Bogle wanted to remind the English that the Irish bled alongside them.
And Bogle’s original is certainly worth a listen:
There are a few other noteworthy covers of the song. The unlikely pairing of Joss Stone and Jeff Beck turned it into a modern R&B tune. The Fureys and Davey Arthur had Irish chart success with it, introducing it as “probably the greatest anti-war song ever written.” I particularly love the follow-up comment in the intro: “If people would listen to it all over the world, there’d be less trouble than we have at the moment.”
But my favorite performance is still the first one I heard. If you don’t think the Dropkick Murphys can do this tune justice, listen up. It’s lovely. The vocals are sublime. The piano, the pipes and all the Celtic touches are perfect.
The basic idea of this blog series is to try to explain song meanings. This one is pretty easy, and we’ve already covered the subtext of Bogle writing it during a time of English/Irish upheaval. At Genius, the contributors decode all the references to funeral songs and so forth. The first two verses start a conversation between a traveler and a young soldier named Willie McBride, whose grave he visits.
The third verse ups the ante. No longer is this about one Willie McBride. These brilliant lines expand the meaning:
But here in this graveyard that’s still no man’s land The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man’s blind indifference to his fellow man
And a whole generation were butchered and damned
That’s World War I in a nutshell. And if that’s not bad enough, the narrator has bad news for young Willie McBride.
And I can’t help but wonder oh Willie McBride
Do all those who lie here know why they died Did you really believe them when they told you the cause Did you really believe that this war would end wars Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame The killing and dying, it was all done in vain Oh Willie McBride, it all happened again And again, and again, and again, and again …
Bleak stuff. And yet I take hope from hearing this song. Maybe Bogle, the Fureys, Joss Stone and the Dropkick Murphys will get through to a future generation.
Because I firmly believe that the peacemakers are the majority. This is a song by the peacemakers, sung by peacemakers, for peacemakers of all generations to come.
“Regan’s Song,” the latest video collaboration by Razorhouse bandleader Mark Panick and filmmaker and photographer Peter Rosenbaum, is an vivid, black and white tribute to Regan, who was a fixture in Chicago’s punk and LGBTQ bar scene from the late 1970s until her death in 1997. Popdose is pleased to present it here for you as an exclusive.
Regan was a model for the famous photographer Francesco Scavullo. She was both openly transsexual and defiantly tough in an era before LGBTQ acronyms, where terms for gender identity and even words such as “transsexual” weren’t part of daily lexicon. Embraced by Chicago’s underground music and art scenes, Regan was notorious for her beauty and her steel; her persona wrapped in a combination of punk glamor and hairspray; a razor sharp combination of dangerous wit and vulnerability. Panick met Regan in the early ‘80s Chicago punk scene amid misfits and social nonconformists. From the thick-skinned yet kindred underground, Panick tells Regan’s tale of trying to be yourself in world that shuns your very identity. Regan “lived by her wits,” according to Panick.
Portland’s Taylor Malsey presents listeners with some warbled tunes and an inviting, warm blanket of melancholia on the excellent Wilt debut Hand Mirror, out now on Good Cheer Records. And, though it’s mostly a record for people who like their music with bumps and cracks in it, all in all, it’s pretty enveloping stuff.
The typical Wilt song doesn’t run much longer than a minute or two, and Malsey, for all the attention to capturing just the right sort of off-kilter post-rock balladry, isn’t very concerned with structure. It’s the buzz of emotion and authenticity he’s after. And, time and again, he achieves a kind of innocence and nostalgia that will plant an earworm in your head. Calling to mind lo-fi contemporaries like Alex G and sounding, at times, like a slightly updated take on John Stuart Mill, Malsey presents glassy guitars; poppy, half-whispered vocals; and buried bass, synth and drums among a myriad of founds sounds and tape effects on tracks like the beautiful “Pane of Glass,” the catchy “Coven,” the warped “Wilt” and the pop-ish “Polin.”
Advance material made a bit of noise about Malsey ruminating on lost youth but the lyrics, far from an afterthought, are sunken pretty low in the mix – and while it’s a stretch to say he’s unintelligible, it is another form of introversion among one of the most extroverted of affairs. There are moments that teeter on the experimental (the ambience of “bbboo,” the synthy pseudo-song “Circle”) but pop-rock structures and sentiments dominate the soundscape; everything fidelity-wise is so shaky that the whole thing – wonderfully so – feels like it might run off the rails. The fact that Malsey so casually tosses off song-snippets that invite repeated listens will surprise you and that seems to be the point.
There are no clear singles on the disc and that, again, seems to be done with intention. Hand Mirror is meant to hang together as a whole document, an experience, not a collection of moments, and, in that respect, Malsey owes a great debt to the pre-streaming society of the 1990s and its lo-fi movements. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, Smog/Bill Callahan before him and others out there still might stake a claim to colorful but experimental pop music in the lo- to mid-fi domain but, with Wilt’s Hand Mirror, Malsey proves he’s out to grab a corner on the gray market.
In the dark days between the end of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and, well, the return of Mystery Science Theater 3000, fans could console themselves with two complementary efforts that continued the show’s legacy: Michael J. Nelson’s Rifftrax and series creator Joel Hodgson’s Cinematic Titanic. While Rifftrax has mocked everything from the Twilight movies to National Geographic specials, Cinematic Titanic stuck firmly to the dregs of the filmic universe, delivering the MST treatment to dire finds like Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks and Danger of Tiki Island. Featuring Joel alongside J. Elvis (formerly Josh) Weinstein, Trace Beaulieu, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl, Cinematic Titanic never had an entirely smooth run and Hodgson closed the door on it for good in 2013 — clearing the way, we now know, to bring back MST3K. But it remains essential viewing for any MSTie, and thanks to Shout! Factory, you can do just that with Cinematic Titanic: The Complete Collection, which gathers every film the troupe released, along with a couple of bonus features. As ever, Popdose’s Dan Wiencek and Tony Redman divided and conquered to review all 12 films. And so it begins …
#1. The Oozing Skull
In “A Look Back with J. Elvis Weinstein,” one of two bonus features included in the six-disc set, the writer candidly admits that as a concept, Cinematic Titanic was never fleshed out as thoroughly as MST3K. It’s kept somewhat vague where Cinematic Titanic is and why our writer-performers — all appearing under their own names — are there, but that’s a momentary distraction before we dive into the riffing. The Oozing Skull (originally titled Brain of Blood but renamed at the request of the original producers) is a sort-of mad scientist movie with some surprisingly stomach-turning visuals for an early-70s cheapie. (Mary Jo Pehl: “I would be grossed out, but since this movie started, I’ve lost the ability to feel anything.”) In lieu of MST-style host segments, the gang will often freeze the film to perform a short skit, but otherwise it’s just straight riffage, and a strong first outing for the team.
#2. The Doomsday Machine
This notorious production consists largely of stock NASA footage — J. Elvis complains, “If they’re going to use that footage in this movie, I want my tax dollars back” — as well as stand-ins whose faces are hidden by space helmets, brought in to pad the movie after the original cast wasn’t available. It’s like Marooned but even more flat and talky, and the gang struggles to make something watchable out of it, though there are some gems sprinkled here and there; I especially liked Frank responding to a character’s “My God!” with “It’s full of low-grade stars!”
#3. The Wasp Woman
The only black-and-white film the gang tackled, The Wasp Woman is even tougher going than Doomsday Machine despite being (marginally) more watchable as a film. The story of a vain woman willing to do anything to preserve her beauty, it brings out surprisingly little edge in the crew, with a lot of formulaic filler gags (“Meanwhile, back in Gotham City” — come on, guys); the biggest laugh for me was when Joel impersonates a rabbit being injected with drugs: “I swear it’s like kissing God!”
#4. Legacy of Blood
The story of a thoroughly unlikeable family forced to survive the week together in a house in order to claim the patriarch’s inheritance. The head of the house is played by John Carradine in a role he could have literally phoned in. It’s a pretty dreary affair, brightened up a bit by Joel and company. For instance, the butler is an old, insanely muscular man named Igor, who Trace describes as “Body by Charles Atlas. Head by Mel Brooks.” I won’t give away who’s killing off everybody, other than to say that if you paid for Carradine, you might as well use him as much as you can!
#5. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Cinematic Titanic’s only return trip to the MST3K well, this fresh take on the anything-but-classic holiday tale illustrates the harder edge that CT adopted over the more winsome approach of MST during the Joel years. When Dropo binges on food pills, J. Elvis notes, “It’s like watching Judy Garland, Mama Cass and the Great Gazoo all kill themselves at once.” On the flip side, the constant complaints about the hammy acting seem beside the point in a Christmas movie featuring Martians in green face-paint, but maybe that’s just me.
#6. Frankenstein’s Castle of Freaks
A sewn-together monster, a dwarf, a caveman(!), and a mad doctor with an almost unintelligible accent (played by South Pacific star Rossano Brazzi no less) make for this crazy muddle of a movie. This also marked the first (and last) appearance of the breast blimp, a zeppelin that wandered into the frame when one of the ladies bathes topless. As was remarked elsewhere, it’s funny that the subject matter and language of the riffers wanders into PG-13 territory, but they still feel the need to cover up boobs, albeit in a funny way.
#7. Blood of the Vampires This cinematic stinker takes place in Mexico but was filmed in the Philippines. A man keeps a mysterious secret from his grown kids: he keeps their fanged mother in a coffin and periodically chains and whips her. (Mary Jo remarks that having a mom as a vampire “takes the whole idea of bloodthirsty demons and makes it kind of creepy.”) Mom laters bites her son and chaos ensues, eventually saved by the prerequisite horde of villagers who burn down the castle. The oddest thing about this already odd movie is the slaves played by people in blackface, who Joel refers to as “the Jolsonettes.”
#8. East Meets Watts (aka The Dynamite Brothers) This Asian/blaxsploitation film was their first recorded live show, and it is by far my favorite of all the Cinematic Titanic outings. The rapport with the audience made a great riffing job even better. While there was a smattering of jokes some might consider racist, it still was hilarious to see them do a collective spit take when a white guy uses the n-word.
#9. The Alien Factor
This movie seems to me to be the most like an old MST3K episode: cheesy monsters, horrible acting, and inept effects. Heck, the CT gang even joke about the cars used. (Trace: “Has there ever in history been a two-door cop car?”) The monsters in question were supposed to be part of an intergalactic zoo, but the spaceship transporting them crashed to Earth. These guys have had a lot of experiencing riffing films like this, and this is one of their funnier efforts.
#10. The Danger of Tiki Island
If Cinematic Titanic had a weak spot, I’d suggest that the movies they chose often struck an unfavorable balance between good-bad and out-and-out bad-bad. The Doomsday Machine is Manos-level unwatchable and The Danger of Tiki Island is close behind, with an appallingly racist premise, scenes that seem underlit even in broad daylight and a loud, murky soundtrack. There are virtually no laughs to be had in the first act, and the jokes that do land are surprisingly louche: As a little person gazes up at the beautiful heroine, Josh quips, “I’d like to go up on her!” Ba-dum-bum.
#11. War of the Insects You know this movie is going to start in hot and heavy when the first thing they show is a mushroom cloud, when causes Trace to quip, “Michele Bachmann’s first day as president.” In this film, an airman’s PTSD kicks in at a most unfortunate time, as an errant bee in his plane makes him go crazy and prepare the H-bomb they were carrying to drop. A huge swarm of insects finish the job as the plane explodes and the bomb drops. A mad search for the bomb (and bugs biting everyone they can) causes mass havoc.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: skewering ’70s drive-in flicks always brought out the best in MST3K, and it’s no different with Cinematic Titanic. This is the most easily enjoyable film in the set for my money (though East Meets Watts is a close second), with a bland, slab-like leading man; a strident women’s-libber who nevertheless goes completely to pieces as soon as trouble starts; and an awful lot of rattlesnakes. The sight of the previously antagonistic leads kissing on a Las Vegas dance floor prompts Joel to wonder, “Did they cut out the reel with the personal chemistry?”, and when the disgraced Army colonel lobs a grenade, Mary Jo asks, “Who doesn’t steal office supplies when they’re fired?” It’s a shame Cinematic Titanic only lasted long enough to knock down a dozen movies, but wittingly or not, they picked a good one to go out on.
This is a great set to pick up, especially for Mystery Science Theater 3000 fans. Speaking of which, Shout! Factory is preparing to release their next (and unfortunately probably their last) volume of the MST3K box sets. Featured in the set will be Girls Town, The Amazing Transparent Man, Diabolik (the last episode), and an entire disc of host segments from the movies they haven’t been able to get the rights to. Between Rhino and Shout!, there were 39 volumes and numerous one-offs, and considering that all but 11 episodes were officially released, that’s not too shabby. Rest assured that Dan and I will be back to review that last box set as soon as we can get our hands on it!
An interestingly compelling album from Florida’s Flagship Romance, Tales From The Self-Help Section is a low-key but powerful gathering of twelve songs that explore love, life and trying to cope in an uncertain time and place. The production on this album is beyond stellar; the performances are moving and everything simply works to the maximum.
The opening track “Friends” is a perfect example – starting quietly with acoustic guitars and vocals, the song builds up to soulful heights and is filled with weighty emotion; “Growing Up So Fast” is sweet and thoughtful and lush – this is what “acoustic pop” should sound like. The warm and upbeat feel of “Caught Up” has a spot-on vocal harmony and “If I Can’t Break Your Heart” with its country flavor is stunningly beautiful. “Life Is A Song” is definitely the “radio single” and again, having a country texture makes this a standout (listen to the pedal steel runs); “Scare Yourself” is the other radio-ready number – something you can drive down the highway, blasting and “Nemesis” is a throwback to the Nashville of old with its muted banjo and again, an on-the-one harmony.
It’s always uplifting to hear something new and fresh – and certainly Flagship Romance have that. Their sound, their delivery – their songs are to be marveled at and taken in for the long run. Another act that I do hope can continue to produce fine and highly personal work.
Tales From The Self-Help Section is currently available
Randy Newman is a conundrum. He is a national treasure and dangerously redundant. He is acidic in his observations and sweetly sentimental. He is one of our most insightful lyricists but is frequently so inside of the joke, no one could tell it was a joke at all. All these are present on his new album, Dark Matter, and none at all. See what I mean?
The nine-song record features an all new track and re-recordings of songs Newman wrote either for other purposes or other people. The draw is the opening track “The Great Debate” which pits science’s elitism against religion’s absolutism. On the scientist’s side, pronouncements are made with ridiculous portent, such as would be heard in a sci-fi movie from the ’50s. Religion taunts in retort, “I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus, I’ll take Jesus every time,” as if it was a gospel hymn by way of “nyahh nyahh-nyaah nyaah-nyaah!” One is left to think that the point of the song is to highlight the intractability of these two sides, and their childish attempts at winning the debate. Instead, by the third section of the almost 9-minute song, a “true believer” steps from the shadows. He accuses Newman himself of playing to tropes to embarrass both sides and to feel smug. (Incidentally, Newman sings all the parts, so it can get a little twisted in its split personalities.) His argument is that Newman has chosen the worst of science’s blowhards and the worst of religion’s blind faithful with no greater intent to exact his contempt, “…hence, the strawman.” It is a clever turn of events as the song’s author takes a moment to call himself out on his own B.S.
Other highlights include the very funny, and frustratingly topical “Putin.” Sung from the position of a Putin loyalist, Newman speaks glowingly, exorbitantly, and mockingly. “Putin takes his shirt off, drives the ladies crazy. When Putin takes his shirt off, makes ME want to be a lady!” I’m also very fond of the theme song from the show Monk, “It’s A Jungle Out There,” the touching “She Chose Me” from the television debacle that was Cop Rock, and the equally tender “Lost Without You.”
But the other side of this is that Randy Newman sounds like Randy Newman, or rather, he has a few modes that he works in and that is it. His limitless wit and lyrical grace is countered by a musical familiarity that threatens to undercut the whole shebang. Remember how I said I really like “It’s A Jungle Out There”? I do, but cannot escape the fact it sounds way too much like “You Got A Friend In Me” from Toy Story or “I Love To See You Smile” from the film version of Parenthood. Even the closing segment of “The Great Debate” shows strains of that ragtime pop. His sentimental songs pull confidently at the heartstrings but, still, tread overly familiar melodic territory.
I suppose there are worse crimes an artist can commit than sounding like his-or-herself. For what’s good on Newman’s Dark Matter, one can easily dismiss what’s not as good, such as that lingering musical deja vu, but the listener is forewarned to expect it. Much as Newman takes his tricks to task in the opening cut, you might take his composition tricks with equal derision.
Judging a Roger Waters concert against any other concert experience is impossible. Even in the days when Waters was with the band Pink Floyd, the concept of a performance as performance art was paramount. They didn’t just stand there and play. Things happened in front and around the audience. This has carried on through Waters’ solo shows which has, in previous years, highlighted the albums Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall.
The first of a three-night stand at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center, Roger Waters’ Us + Them Tour on Tuesday, August 8 once again proved why his shows are not a concert but an event, more Cirque Du Soleil than Lollapalooza.
The Us + Them Tour has three purposes: to highlight Waters’ new album Is This The Life We Really Want, to focus on the album Animals, and to make a statement about our current culture and political events. (More on point three momentarily.) The pre-show “countdown” consisted of a rear-projection of a woman sitting on a beach, huddled in her coat with a headscarf on, looking out to the water. Over the course of fifteen minutes, this scene would shift in small increments, most of which would pass by an inattentive audience as they filed in and took their seats. To more focused observers, the sky gradually darkened in the film and the undertones of the soundtrack became more insidious. No one could know at that moment that this scene, which pulls back into a surreal million-mile aerial view, is part of a greater narrative and, in a way, the heart of the concert.
The show kicked off with side one of Dark Side of the Moon, with “One Of These Days” inserted between “Breathe” and “Time.” The vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the band Lucius held down backing vocal duties, which is an understatement. When the song “The Great Gig In The Sky” rolled around, both singers were called upon to perform this incredibly difficult, wordless vocal. It is not an easy song to sing by any stretch — being able to handle the orgasmic peaks and valleys without being too exaggerated or too passive — but the singers were up to the challenge and did so in harmony.
From the passionate moan to the cold, uncaring throb, “Welcome To The Machine” utilized the vintage projection animation of a steel beast roaming across desert sands, destroying all in it’s path and laying waste to humanity. The visuals resolve into those of a sea of blood and, eventually, as waves turning into hands grabbing into the sky. For some, this would be a total nostalgia trip, a golden oldie. In the context of this show, however,it is perfectly thematic. It could very easily tie into the opening scene of the woman on the beach, and will be that much more pertinent just a couple of songs from now.
Waters had one more from the classics, the tender “Wish You Were Here,” before launching into some new songs. Is This The Life We Really Want has been characterized by critics as having too much of a parallel to older Waters compositions, and that’s a fair statement. While I like the new songs, I absolutely hear their antecedents in them. That said, the songs came alive in concert. “When We Were Young,” “The Last Refugee,” and “Déjà Vu” help further the narrative of the woman on the beach, how she dances alone in a shack and thinks back to a time of elegance of grace. She lays down in the fetal position on sheets of cardboard. She remembers a doll. She later sees that doll at the edge of the waterline, an allusion to images of a drowned Syrian refugee child on the beach, hence “The Last Refugee.”
The fourth new song, “Picture That,” gets to Waters’ anger about why the human race would be, again, at this point of Déjà Vu. He sings, “Picture a leader with no f***ing brains,” like an opening salvo. The first set closes out with the shocking sight of a line of children assembled on the stage in orange prison jumpsuits. The song is, of course, “Another Brick In The Wall (Parts 2 & 3)” and the subtext is the failure of education to actually instill a sense not just of STEM, but of right and wrong, of social responsibility, and of critical thinking in a political age that prefers citizens to gladly accept what comes down from on high without debate or dissent.
Here’s where the audience very easily could have fallen off. The argument has long stood that “I paid a lot of money to be entertained, not to have the performer(s) get all political on me. Just play me the songs.” Maybe — maybe — that train of thought could be applied to other performers who are not known to be as political as Waters, but he has been, ever since “Money,” and ever since “Welcome to the Machine.” If anyone attended a concert of his with the expectation that they weren’t going to be engaged by a message of political import, that was their fault.
Set two opened in dazzling fashion as the audience was surrounded by sound effects of police calls, sirens, gun shots, etc. in a dark auditorium. Suddenly, red emergency flashers illuminate the auditorium and descend from the ceiling, almost so close to the audience that someone could have stood on their chair and possibly touched them — they were that close. From the tops of these lightboxes emerged inflatable replicas of the Battersea power station cooling towers that doubled as projection screens. We are into the Animals portion of the show.
Animals was an interesting Pink Floyd album that had the misfortune of coming between Wish You Were Here and The Wall and was, therefore, relegated to cutout bins for years as those other two Floyd records remained cash cows. Part of this was because the album’s lack of a concrete reason for being. “Dogs” emerged from the the song “You Gotta Be Crazy” which David Gilmour tried and failed to have included on Wish You Were Here. No one could have known that the reason it needed would arrive decades later in the form of one Donald Trump.
Waters was able to make a meal out of the song “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” through rear projections of the U.S. president in many unflattering poses, several of which prominently featured Vladimir Putin in a particularly dominant position over Trump. He also channeled his vitriol with the song’s hook-line of “Ha ha, charade you are!” as the iconic pig drone buzzed through the stadium, defaced Banksy-style with a portrait of Trump with dollar signs for eyes, with a word balloon stating, “I won!” That written expression was inserted into the dialog that stitched together one of Pink Floyd’s most-famous songs, “Money.”
This led to the classic “Us and Them,” the song that provided the tour its name and it’s r’aison detre. Waters is, at heart, a peacenik, even if his expression of his intents has been more controversial than what they expressed. For tonight, “Us and Them” was certainly the emotional center, the idea behind the drama. Can humans learn to live together even though they are different? If they can, do they even want to, and isn’t that the fatal flaw in the human experiment? Do we have the capacity to resist the drum beat to war, or to persecute and demean, or to punish the different on the basis of only the differences?
“Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” closed what would ostensibly be the second set with dazzling projections, an inflatable drone of the steel sphere which opens the “Welcome To The Machine” animation, and a laser light prism that enveloped the audience on the floor of the arena and bathed them in smoke-projected rainbow light. In an ordinary show, this would be where the band left the stage and, after the perfunctory demand for an encore, the band would emerge for a few more songs. Waters and company did not waste time by playing the game.
Hard to say for sure, but it genuinely appeared that Waters was moved by the uniformly positive response from the audience. He stood for roughly five minutes onstage in surprise and, I presume, gratitude. After all, as has already been stated, there have been a lot of stops on this tour that haven’t received the political stuff with grace. Perhaps Waters was expecting the crowd to be receptive to the message, but not this receptive. But the show must go on…
“Vera,” “Bring the Boys Back Home,” and the absolutely necessary “Comfortably Numb” closed the music portion. On the screen, there too was narrative closure. We’re back to the woman on the beach, looking out at the water, wondering what they’ve taken from her. But then from the left of the screen, a young child emerges to join her mom and watch the waves roll in.
So we’ve talked a lot about the content of the show versus the performances. It is fair to say that Waters would not take out a band that couldn’t perform the task. This was one of the traits that, according to many a published account, caused constant friction inside the Pink Floyd organization. The songs were presented incredibly close to their original state, and while that is often a detriment to a live performance, this is not your typical concert. The music is the largest part of the puzzle, but still just a part. The whole is a combination of the props, the visuals, the way sound affects the audience. For instance, to punctuate the re-imagined intent for “Another Brick In the Wall Part 2” as a statement of education’s failure to serve children’s full intellectual and cultural needs, the arena was darkened, then flash-lit by a screen projection of a hundred flash bulbs going off at once, accompanied by a thunderous sound. You could feel the sound, and you were meant to. This impromptu mugshot photo shoot was meant to shock you awake.
More than the effects, there are moments in the music of Pink Floyd that are just beautiful, and that can easily be overlooked for the visceral moments. “Us and Them” is a gorgeous song, as is “Comfortably Numb,” even if it is profoundly depressing in terms of subject matter. “The Great Gig In The Sky” is intended to be emotionally moving. Without the glamor and stagecraft, the songs would still hold up, and that’s what matters.
A few final thoughts are necessary. This has little to do with the concert than it does with concert culture which is at a low presently. I attended the show with a friend and I wanted to be sure she had a great experience. I believe she did, but the “gentleman” sitting next to her didn’t much care for her experience or anyone else’s. In fact, he spent most of the time video recording the show. He attempted early in the performance to put his phone on a selfie stick to record the entire show. (Special thanks to the gentleman behind him who told him to not be a jerk. The selfie stick went away.)
People want a record to show that they were at a concert. Part of the fun is in the bragging rights, and cell phone technology has made this a real-time conversation with the outside world. And that’s fine. Take a few pictures, shoot a minute or two of video, but be considerate enough to put the phone away MOST of the time and enjoy the show as-is…or don’t screw it up for everyone else. There’s no irony in needing to make that statement — don’t screw it up for everyone else — during a show where the underlying sentiment for the better part of it was exactly that. It only illustrates how selfish the culture can be, and how communication is so fatally flawed when one (or both) of the participants in the conversation doesn’t really care and just wants what they want.
This should be obvious, for small coffeehouse performances and big-budget spectacles alike, to get your document of being present, maybe take a few shots of the most interesting moments, but also be considerate. This individual didn’t ruin the show. It would have taken a lot more than his thoughtlessness to accomplish that, but in our modern era where you cannot ban recording devices anymore because they’re more than just recording devices, a little self-responsibility should be a given.
Radio City with Jon Grayson and Rob Ross: Kickin’ it harder than Jack Ryan on our 4th anniversary…
Once again, Jon and Rob team up to compare notes and toss around ideas in a delightful word salad. Make no mistake, though – these two are not afraid to fire their verbal arrows when necessary, but they also know how to make you laugh and think. Listen to this week’s installment as Jon and Rob celebrate their 4th anniversary of working together as well as the closing of the legendary Maxwell’s (and Rob’s magical experience that night – read about it!); great and unforgettable songs of the ’70’s by virtue of their production; The Thin Cherries’ debut album and The Cynz’ new album L’il Devil; the week leading up to baseball’s trade deadline and the sickening notion of Michael Vick being allowed to remain in football; animal cruelty and “big game hunting” in enclosed places; the usual Washington lunacy…; the insufferability of the “new left” and the always-inspired “In Our Heads” segment.
Kick back – relax and settle down with our heroes…
Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Twenty Four
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