06 September 2009

Festival Bands

A friend (Mirage, co-writer here) and I sat down the other day and started to discuss the festival experience and how festivals are becoming a major musical outlet for audiences, even here in the USA with four major festivals (All Points West, Austin City Limits Music Festival, Coachella Festival, and Lollapalooza). There is definitely a big draw to festivals, whether they are the one day or three day variety, it allows an audience to see multiple bands for a fraction of the price it would take to see them separately. The Cure, in 2004 touring to their self-titled album, toured the USA in a “festival format,” with two stages and eight bands any given night including Interpol, Rapture, Mogwai, Muse, Cooper Temple Clause, Scarling, Head Automatica, Melissa Au Du Meir, Thursday, and Cursive. Linkin Park has set up Project Revolution, and radio stations are jumping the bandwagon as well, as KROQ in San Bernadino with Inland Invasion. But it is more than just the economic advantage for an audience member of seeing forty bands for 200 bucks, there is a culture and a camaraderie that exists at festivals.

First off, for younger bands, it is an opportunity to play in front of thousands; the young Muse played everything from the Livid Festival in Australia to Hurricane Festival in Germany when they had released their deubt album, “Showbiz.” Young bands have a greater chance of establishing themselves with the exposure that they might not have otherwise. And even bands that are established, like Placebo, who have played the largest of venues in Europe, Australia, and Latin America, get the opportunity to show what they are made of in front of a stage of thousands when they toured with Projekt Revolution in the USA.

Second off, though there are specialized festivals, like Wave-Gotik-Treffen in Germany, most of the major festivals attract a plethora of bands of different genres into one event. This has two effects. The first is that most members of an audience have a range in tastes. Most people do not listen to just one genre of music, but rather a range of music, and festivals will allow them to relish in all of it. Second, bands get cross-pollinated with ideas. Rock bands get to see pop and electronic acts, dance acts get to see rock acts, etc… In this “indie”/genre-bending world we are in, it allows bands to hear and witness audiences buy into different ideas, giving them ideas of their own.

Third, competition. Fuck the pop charts; between payola and paying for commercial time to play music, and all sort of backroom dealings, charts represent the competition between record companies and promoters, not musicians. To see bands rise to the top, look at festivals. Now they are not playing on their own, they cannot just go passively through a standard set of singles and think the audience is going to buy it. Bands have to put their best foot forward; there is a reason why the Cure, Depeche Mode, and Metallica always headline festivals, it is not because they have been around for years, as many veteran bands are not headliners; it is because they can deliver live.

Fourth is the economics of it. Bands can tour the festival circuit all summer long, with little expense to themselves. Could they make more money on their own? Perhaps, if they are large enough, but the reality is that the music industry is losing money every day. The paradigm is starting to shift from selling records to selling concert tickets (wonder why they keep getting more and more expensive?). Remember, tours use to be shorter, the average live set 45 minutes. Now, tours go on for 18 months at time, with over 150 dates. Festivals are a sure way for the industry to recoup some of its lost royalty funds, while providing audiences with the best value for their buck.

Below are five bands known for their festival performances. We decided to review five albums/bands of recent music, but that predated the blog by a few months, to give an idea of what might be seen on the festival circuit.

Glasvegas: “Glasvegas” (2008)

Scottish rock band out of Glasgow, Glasvegas formed in 2003 and clawed their way to national and European recognition in a slow and deliberate process. One of the distinct things about this band is that it is three boys with a female drummer (Caroline McKay). Releasing their self-titled debut album in the UK on 8 September 2008, it reached the #2 in the UK and Ireland, and #5 in Sweden. What helped their popularity? Well, touring with the likes of Muse, Oasis, and U2 did not hurt a bit, but hitting the festivals was a smart idea: Godiva Festival, Glastonbury Festival, Reading Festival, Leeds Festival, Kendal Calling Festival, Standon Calling Festival, Oxegen Festival, T in the Park, Coachella Festival, Hurricane Festival, Roskilde Festival, Rusirock Festival, Eurokeenes Festival, Benicasism Festival, Gurten Festival, and Lollapalooza – and that is the way to spread the word around in 14 months.

Why is it a must? Combining a bit of noise pop with shoegazinig, this debut album packs a subtle punch. It is never in your face, but there is definitely an emotional undertow, which is sort of addicting. Incorporated are elements/songs that everyone will recognize instantly: “You Are My Sunshine” and “Moonlight Sonata,” and the deluxe edition even includes “Silent Night / Noapte de Vis.” Our pick for highlight track: “Geraldine.” It is all about the power of subtlety. It is the type of song you can imagine some crowd surfing and cell phones (lighters have been replaced at live shows) whirling around. It is just one of those songs that lack any virtuoso qualities, but still sucks you into a trance, into a soundscape that is melodically perfect. And if you invest in that deluxe edition, you get “Fuck You, It’s Over.” It has that appeal of late 80’s angered music by bands associated with the gothic rock and post-punk scenes. What makes the song interesting is that it is not sung from the vocalists’ (James Allan) point of view: he sings from a gay point of view, and the band does not hold back: “I gave you all the love a boy could ever need, and in this world there’s only one of me. And all there is left is the realization that we’re never meant to be. Fuck you, fuck you, it’s over.”

Track Listing:
1. Flowers & Football Tops
2. Geraldine
3. It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry
4. Lonesome Swan
5. Go Square Go
6. Polmont on My Mind
7. Daddy’s Gone Home
8. Stabbed
9. S.A.D. Light
10. Ice Cream Van
11. Careful What You Wish For – Deluxe Edition
12. Fuck You, It’s Over – Deluxe Edition
13. Cruel Moon – Deluxe Edition
14. Please Come Back Home – Deluxe Edition
15. A Snowflake Fell (And It Felt Like a Kiss) – Deluxe Edition
16. Silent Night / Noapte de Vis – Deluxe Edition

Keep up with Glasvegas at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is the Glasvegas video for “Flowers and Football Tops” from their MySpace Video page.

Glasvegas - "Flowers & Football Tops"

Snow Patrol: “A Hundred Million Suns” (2008)

One of those bands formed at university (the University of Dundee to be exact) and working out of Glasgow, Snow Patrol (formed as Shrug, then shifting to Polarbear then to Snow Patrol) is a band that suffered more than their share of pressure and stress early on – from avoiding legal issues with the original name of the band (as an American band was named Shrug as well) to members not being able to cope with the stress of being in a band. But this never got them down, and intelligently, this is one of the bands that knew how to use the festival circuit to gain exposure and build a fan base. Moreover, in recent times they have started Polar Music, a publishing company that does not put the pressure on emerging artists, as they want to offer one album deals and allow artists to grow at their own pace.

Why is it a must? Well, “A Hundred Million Suns” was recorded in part at Hansa Studios in Berlin, which gets points in my book. Gary Lightbody (vocalist) was inspired by particle physics, another one of those things that gets points in my book. And with tracks like “Take Back the City” (“Take back the city for yourself tonight; I’ll take back the city for me…”), is one of those songs that leave you flabbergasted when you realize it reminds you of the last time you went out to the City for a bit of (non-laid back) partying. Then there is “Please Just Take These Photos from My Hand,” which is one of those songs that will strike a chord in you if you ever lost someone that you were not just in love with, but also loved dearly. It is the tale of trying to leave those memories behind… the futile attempt to forget. Definitely a universal album from beginning to end, it will be hard not to relate this album on many levels.

Track Listing:
1. If There’s a Rocket Tie Me to It
2. Crack the Shutters
3. Take Back the City
4. Lifeboats
5. The Golden Floor
6. Please Just Take These Photos from My Hands
7. Set Down Your Glass
8. The Planets Bend Between Us
9. Engines
10. Disaster Button
11. The Lightning Strike

Keep up with Snow Patrol at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Kaiser Chiefs: “Off With Their Heads” (2008)

What is a “Kaiser Chief”? The band took their name after a South African football club (that’s soccer!), Kaizer Chiefs. Combining punk urgency and new wave quirkiness, artistic introspection and a kick-ass sense of humor, the band was an out of left field success with fans and on the festival circuit. From first listen, you might not immediately imagine them playing in a field with 80,000 people going crazy, but when you start to feel yourself connected to their music, you understand the sway they have over an audience. It is not because they use a generic approach to hooks and crooks, but rather they compose each song to its own maximum potential.

Why is it a must? “Off With Their Heads” is definitely a step away from radio-friendly music in a traditional sense. Sarcasm and a cutting wit, the album is lyrically as catchy as musically. Take the lead single, “Never Miss a Beat,” which is an anthem against the lack of formal (school) or cultural (television) education, yet the “kids on the street, no they miss a beat…” Why? Because, “it is cool to know nothin’…” a growing reality in our world! Wrapped in an urgent, almost despair oozing, beat, what makes the song work is what makes most Kaiser Chiefs’ songs work: they do not bitch and moan, complain and pout at the problems of the world; they put it out there for you, with a twist and a sense of humor and allow you to make the most of it. If you want a band that can be critical, but never preachy, this is your band.

Track Listing:
1. Spanish Metal
2. Never Miss a Beat
3. Like It Too Much
4. You Want History
5. Can’t Say What I Mean
6. Good Days Bad Days
7. Tomato in the Rain
8. Half the Truth
9. Always Happens Like That
10. Addicted to Drugs
11. Remember You’re a Girl

Keep up with the Kaiser Chiefs at their homepage and MySpace.

Here is their video for “Never Miss a Beat” from their MySpace Video page.

Kaiser Chiefs - Never Miss A Beat

Kings of Leon: “Only By the Night” (2008)

Kings of Leon is one of those great American bands that are more popular in the UK than here. Hailing from the South (Nashville, Tennessee), the quartet is composed of brothers. Their music blends elements of Southern rock, garage rock, and an indie mentality of being distinct. Though many “indie” bands are not capable of writing distinct music, this is not problem for these brothers. Aggressive but cathartically infectious, straightforward but intricate, the Kings of Leon are a study in contradictions. And though they have worked the festival circuit to obtain global success, Caleb Followill (vocalist) was not afraid to tell the Reading Festival audience members who were not fans, “…we’ve worked hard to be here. We’re the goddam Kings of Leon, so fuck you.” Of course, they complimented the Leeds Festival (the second, less referenced half of the “Carling Weekend,” though no longer referred to as such) crowd two days later.

Why is it a must? Well, because as Caleb said, they’re the fucking Kings of Leon. “Only By the Night” shows the growth, maturity, and incredible craftsmanship of the band. “Closer,” a darker number than usually expected from the Kings of Leon, the song creeps in its layered soundscape, with guitars trying to escape into a full-fledged orgy of sound, but they never do. Caleb sings, “Driven by the strangle of vein showing no mercy, I do it again; open up your eye, you keep on crying baby, I’ll bleed you dry…” This is pretty fucked up shit you might expect from a gothic rock band, but the Kings pull it off in “Closer” with their aggressiveness and certain sleek sexiness that they seem to be able to produce in their music. The album closes with “Cold Desert,” clocking in at over five minutes, which includes a fade out towards the end that makes you think the song is about to end before it picks up again; there is a definite feel of epic proportion to the song. They end the album with a soundscape that smacks you hard in the head; not the fastest, not the hardest song on the album, the sense of melancholy in the song is cathartic to anyone who is listening. Brilliant, but then again, they’re the fucking Kings of Leon.

Side note: there are two distinct covers to the album, the first of the two being the official cover. I have only seen the second as an import in the USA.

Track Listing:
1. Closer
2. Crawl
3. Sex on Fire
4. Use Somebody
5. Manhattan
6. Revelry
7. 17
8. Notion
9. I Want You
10. Be Somebody
11. Cold Desert

Keep up with the Kings of Leon at their homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Razorlight: “Slipway Fires” (2008)

Razorlight is one of those British bands that have achieved an amazing measure of success in the UK and Ireland, but have not seriously caught on around the world, though their latest album also did well in Germany. From early on in their career, they were smart to jump the festival bandwagon, like playing Live 8 at Hyde Park in 2005. (Supporting veterans like Queen and the Rolling Stones did not hurt either.) They have been slagged off as another generic piano / acoustic rock outfit, but this belies the truth. It is smart to remember that Razorlight does not always produce / mix down their songs in the same vein as many piano bands, and though their music may sound warm and friendly, lyrically they have a way of making a listener feel, well, a bit uncomfortable.

Why is it a must? “Slipway Fires” did not receive the critical reviews that the prior two albums did, and this was a good thing – a blessing in disguise. For the first time, Razorlight ignored what was expected of them and the hype machine and concentrated solely on their craft. With their third effort, Razorlight did not produce an easily consumed album; instead the album is meant to make you think (I know, how dare they!). Though the music is not a great departure from their previous efforts, the lyrics will give you cause to pause. “What is love but the strangest of feelings? A sin you swallow for the rest of your life…” (“Wire to Wire”). There is also a real narrative quality to many of the lyrics that are comparable to some of the best in the industry (Bob Dylan, Robert Smith): “…she takes me to a warehouse in the city, her gaze as vacant as a byline in the news, and I reach in disbelief then resign myself: she’s slumming it, in someone else’s shoes…” (“Burberry Blue Eyes”). Don’t allow the epitaphs like “sissy rock” disway you from listening; this is an album that is full of wonder and substance that will get you thinking.

Track Listing:
1. Wire to Wire
2. Hostage of Love
3. You and the Rest
4. Tabloid Lover
5. North London Trash
6. 60 Thompson
7. Stinger
8. Burberry Blue Eyes
9. Blood for Wild Blood
10. Monster Boots
11. The House

Keep up with Razorlight at their own band page, official homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

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