Can’t Buy a Thrill
Last week, Clear Channel announced it would no longer accept money from independent promoters, following the lead of the smaller Cox chain. This may mean the end of the stinks-like-a-duck ’90s version of payola, in which middlemen bill labels when singles are added to playlists and then make payments to stations. Industry critics, like the artists’ union AFTRA, had no choice but to applaud, but did they really benefit?
“Clear Channel is in the middle of a charm offensive,” says Michael Bracy, who founded the Future of Music Coalition with indie rocker Jenny Toomey. “The FCC is right now considering rules that would make this look like child’s play.” FCC chair Michael Powell is pushing deregulation that would allow even greater consolidation of broadcasting, and pay-for-play was becoming an embarrassment. With 1,200 stations, Clear Channel claims it accepted payments out of “fiduciary duty” to shareholders; the Los Angeles Times pegged its take at a mere $10 million a year, chump change to a major conglomerate (’02 revenue: $8.42 billion) but too spendy for the promoters themselves. “Some of them have been crying to me that they were losing money,” says a label exec who declined to be identified. “They had contracts with stations that guaranteed minimums, and they couldn’t collect enough to cover them from the record companies.” (Leading indies Jeff McKluskey and Tri-State Promotions declined to comment.) As documented in Fred Dannen’s Hit Men, none of this is new; in the 1980s, labels allowed mobbed-up promoters to be crushed when their power outstripped their ability to deliver, cutting into profits. Bizzers assume promoters will re-emerge as consultants, keeping what they used to pass on to the stations. It’s a no-brainer, a win-win for labels, stations, and even promoters—everyone, it seems, but you. —Josh Goldfein
Sparking It Up
Man, that Dick Valentine is one gracious frontman. Fit too. Not only did he applaud the Bowery Ballroom crowd after each number, thank them for watching his band instead of the regime change, and bust Axl-worthy serpentines throughout a verse, but, during one guitar solo, he actually dropped and gave us twenty. A full twenty push-ups—and then 10 sit-ups. It was some seriously fit shit.
Virile, hairy-chested mahn-liness was among the 50-odd rock conceits sent up last Monday by Electric Six, authors of the neo-disco freakout “Danger! High Voltage,” which co-stars a steadfastly denied Jack White. As one might glean from the aviator shades and stage names like “the Rock and Roll Indian,” these are Detroit jokers deep in the garage-rock idiom. But people, they worked it. “It would be awesome/if we could dance-ah,” roared the hair-beslicked Valentine, “Dance Commander” being among many songs mixing crushing grooves, metaphors, and the pronunciation-key of rock’s decadence period, wherein “fire” is “fie-yah” and “kiss” gets the three-syllable treatment of the announcer on Kiss’s Alive! (“Kee-yaw-sss!”) Not blazingly original, but expert enough that a magisterial cover of Queen’s “Radio Gaga” came off not as a gag but wistful counterpoint to the CNN gaga on at home. We missed them once Auckland’s D4 began their set of “balls-out” rock ‘n’ roll—or “rock”—with “Get Loose.” The sturdy stadium jams of a late-Datsun’s vintage rang vaguely hollow without Electric Six punchlines like “Girl, I wanna take you to a gay bar.” As a cool-hunter in William Gibson’s latest says, “There must be some Tommy Hilfiger event horizon, beyond which it is impossible to be more derivative, more removed from the source, more devoid of soul.” Maybe. But wit sure helps take out the sting. —Chris Norris
Just Another Raid?
Believe it: If you can be told not to dance, you can also be told what to see, read, and hear. That’s how it looked March 28, when a 114th Precinct squad stormed 38nine studios in Long Island City, the site of a fundraiser for Sustainable Energy Now’s B.I.O. Tour.
At around 2:30, halfway through the night’s lineup (including a rare performance by Lisa Shaw and husband DJ Swingsett), as the crowd waited for the Green Circus, police put on a circus all their own—in what at times felt like the humiliating jerk-off scene from Bad Lieutenant—ordering performers, as well as exhibitors Greenpeace, Dancesafe, the Drug Policy Alliance, and Sustainable Energy Now to cease and desist. Taking over the dancefloor (did I say dancefloor?) like a flak-jacketed Tony Manero, the squad leader declared the event over, warning that they’d be “bringing 50 bodies in [to jail].” Despite originally threatening to search everyone, the squad inexplicably shortened the operation, which was a relief, but also left a lingering sense of absurdity, and serious questions about whether the event was targeted because of the politically active groups.
“It was the most oppressive bust I’ve seen in six years,” said Sustainable Energy Now’s Brent “DJ Chrome” Baker. “If powers that be are threatened by opposition to the war, people gathering, and the use of alternative fuels, then these are reasons we’d be targeted.” Co-planner Jason “DJ Blackkat” Fitzsimmons recalls, “Some cops even told me that ‘if you’d been a different crowd we would’ve left it alone.’ ” The two were raising money for Bio Tour, a vegetable-oil-powered bus trip to promote alternative-energy awareness. Despite losing money on the fundraiser, they are looking forward to hosting the Mayday celebration April 27 in Tompkins Square Park, featuring DJs Red Alert, Frankie Bones, and Heather Hart. “We’re definitely doing Mayday,” asserts Fitzsimmons. “This has encouraged us to rock the hell out of that. We have permits in order—and a lawyer on hand.” —Michael Vazquez
Bad Plus Good
Judging by the rave reviews, and heavy promotion from Columbia, it might seem that the Bad Plus are heading for the arena-rock stardom of that other cross-genre piano trio, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Don’t believe the hype—you won’t see frontman Ethan Iverson strapped to a gyrating baby grand anytime soon; that might muss his natty, double-breasted suits. With his immaculate bald dome cast in stark relief against the exposed brick of the Village Underground, the pianist radiated jazz reserve on April Fool’s evening. Bassist Reid Anderson personified Midwest grunge in his scruffy T-shirt and jeans ensemble, while drummer David King’s protruding brow, rictus smile, and maniacal bobbing called to mind a pogoing British soccer hooligan. Such disparate parts sum up their show: rock’s blunt, repetitive hooks mutated and burnished through jazz alchemy, all of it leavened by Iverson’s stage patter, which flatters the audience’s ability to endure avant-garde dissonance while reveling in levitations of club-footed melodies like that of Sabbath’s “Ironman.” A seamless combination of two originals, “Neptune” and “Silence Is the Question,” thrilled the house, as King stroked his kit with the antennae of toy walkie-talkies, coaxing ethereal feedback from the tiny speakers. His asymmetrical rhythms anchored Anderson’s expansive bass while barely containing the spun gold swirling from the ivories.
Rock is for drinking, fighting, and fucking, and that will always put more fannies in the seats than the subtler, more complex emotions of jazz. But when the Bad boys lean into their signature cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” the battered, twisted chords they weave around the original tune tap a potent cultural slipstream. When you’ve got the talent and insight to expose a slashing rock anthem as a coming American standard, and don’t care what anyone thinks, yeah, there’s a lush life indeed. —R.C. Baker