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Monday, 7 March 2011

You always gotta wait

Keep 'em waiting, keep 'em keen. Bands that hold back going on stage seeking to build up some anticipatory "atmosphere" are ... wait for it .... no wait for. Wait.

OK, bands that hold back going on stage to build up some anticipatory "atmosphere" are ... well, I guess they're destined to be the occupants of large properties in Wiltshire where delivery people are made to wait a long time at the gates before they're allowed in. To the kitchen area only. In other words, we’re talking about rock aristos in the making.

Back at the gig, we ordinary mortals, the gig groundlings, we look up (the stage is generally high at these concerts) and marvel. Is this really where we'll see our heroes in the flesh? In only, oh about one hour’s time (by which time the expectant masses are delirious with expectation). Then, when we’ve achieved the necessary state of obeisance-through-tiredness as our legs begin to give way, they arrive. Oh, glory hallelujah. Deus ex machina, they appear on their altar-like stage, and ... they begin to play. It’s er, an almost religious experience. Some bands even go so far as to set up special lights (the votive candles) and smother the stage in dry ice (shake that censer). I’m sorry reader, it’s all too much, I can’t go on ….

So, it's corny stadium rock stuff. Utterly risible, whether as a mid-70s Whitesnake effort or a 2010 U2 mega-tour date at an American sports arena. And, of course it's true that these tacky antics barely affect the small-scale gig circuit. (Try the dry ice trick at a 40-person venue like Ryan's Bar in Stoke Newington and you might look a tad ridiculous).

But, I have to say, these showbiz affectations do sometimes creep into the small gigs world as well. (Prompting people to clap along to songs is another technique I'd happily see done away with). Recently I was at a gig where the long wait/dry ice/powerful stage lights were all deployed to concoct a sense of "grandeur" that the band's music most certainly did not have. Along with one of the group's bandito lace-up trousers, it was a disconcerting flash-back to the 1970s high watermark of rock's self-importance.

So, shock revelation: some bands still take themselves very seriously. Pomposity in music didn’t die when Queen left the rock throne, it just spread into every other form of music. It’s alive and well backstage at a gig near you. You’ll notice it by the length of time you’re kept waiting for showtime.

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