Take The King Bucks, for example.
Nothing wrong with their music, and they have chops. They're good lookin'. They have some fine ironic facial hair.
But I don't like 'em and I'll tell you why: Because they don't care about me. Not me personally, but me as a member of the audience.
The couple of times I've seen the King Bucks, they've played skillfully but put out no sparks. Occasionally one or the other muttered something unintelligible into the mic, but mostly they didn't bother with patter. They seemed to be looking at something deep in their own heads rather than at the full-house crowds that had shown up to commune with them. They didn't show us any love.
Ergo, fuck 'em. I'm not interested.
This is show business. Gimme a show. Put some energy into it. Send some energy out. Gimme some patter, some razzle-dazzle. Prove to me that you want it. Entertain me.
A lot of bands I've seen in recent years don't seem to know that they're in show business. They seem to think they're just taking it out of the living room onto a stage. And I'm not just talking about shoegazers.
You don't need dancing monkeys, rings of fire or levitating drummers to put on a show. You just have to care, really care, that your audience has a good time.
Sammy Davis Jr. put on a show. (Yeah, I've seen him. He was greatness.) Jerry Lee Lewis puts on a show. (And is one of the most terrifying people I have ever seen close up. The Killer, indeed.) Prince puts on a show. Mick Jagger, at 137 years old, can still put on a show. Los Straitjackets put on a show. Guided by Voices put on a show, even though I spent much of it wondering who on stage would be first to hurl. Emmylou Harris put on a show the other night, creating an intimate, porch-swing experience for her audience. It was quiet, but it was a show.
Boys Named Sue are shticky, but they put on a show. Ditto Brave Combo. The "o" in The O's stands for "overexposed," but they put on a show, too. They talk to the audience, they kid around. I feel like they care, so I care back. I've seen Binary Sunrise just once but I'd see them again. Their show spattered a kind of weird energy all over the small room and I dug 'em.
I'd mention other bands that don't put on a show, but who the hell remembers them? Most people leave their sets early.
Perhaps the problem is that we are now deep into generations of musicians whose early experiences of music were mediated by screens. Maybe some of them don't know the importance of looking an audience in the eye (literally and metaphorically) because their introduction to music was on TV or a computer, where you can't feel the heat no matter how many smoldering looks bands give the camera.
I'm old and crotchety and have high expectations.
My family tree includes vaudevillians, movie stars and musicians. I grew up in New York City when $5 bought a standing room ticket to any show on Broadway. I saw lots. My formative musical years were spent at CBGB and Max's Kansas City, when punk was new and right up in your face.
The Ramones put on a show that blew your hair back. Klaus Nomi put on a show. The Dead Boys put on a show. Tuff Darts put on a show. Suicide put on a show. A weird one.
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My strict personal rule is that I applaud any performer on stage, no matter how sucky. I applaud their willingness to take the risk of performing, and believe applause is part of the contract between audience and performer.
But a band that doesn't put on a show gets my "yeah, whatever" applause. A few feeble claps and out. The equivalent of a five percent tip.
Want the full, hand-hurting, slightly-longer-than-necessary applause, maybe even some over-the-head-action, or, the holy grail, a shouted "WHOOOOOOOO!" and you've got to work for it. Gimme a show. Entertain me.
If you want me to love you, baby, you gotta love me back.