Monday, April 10, 2006

Live: Soledad Brothers

Two weeks ago, I took in the Soledad Brothers' show at the Bottleneck in Lawrence with a couple of friends. I first became familiar with the Soledads when Jack and Meg covered "Going Back to Memphis" on the White Stripes' Live Under Blackpool Lights DVD. From that point, the Soledad Brothers were a band I kind of monitored from afar, awaiting a chance to see what they were all about, away from the significant shadow a White Stripes endorsement can cast.

I had that opportunity on the last day of March (I know, I know it's been awhile since my last blog...) and to be honest, I was a little let down. Shows rarely leave me dissappointed, partly because I love seeing music live and partly due to the fact that I generally have a pretty good idea about what a band is like before I go into the show. With the Soledad Brothers, however, I was left wanting much more -- and very little of that was due to the band's music, but more with their attitude towards the audience.

I'm the first to grant some solid leeway when it comes to artists with attitude. I assume artists are going to be a little off from the norm and I understand that occasionally the same thing that helps write a great song or tell an interesting story also makes them come across as standoffish and I completely accept that equation. And I knew, going in, that the Soledad Brothers were not lacking in the attitude department. But they still owed us a show. In the time since, I've thought on a couple of occasions about the contract between performer and crowd. Specifically, what does a band owe to the people that came to see it play?

Playing to a small crowd -- among which even more left after a solid opening set by the Heartless Bastards -- the Soledad's appeared upset from the moment they hit the stage. Understandably, the Bottleneck, which holds under 400 at capacity, was embarrasingly empty. Everyone was aware of it. All 75 of us.

The band responded by playing what seemed like an abbreviated 45-minute set, of which the last 10 was an experiment in feedback between guitarist/singer Johnny Walker and multi-instrumentalist/4th Brother Dechman. I can understand loosening up, experimenting and trying something new if there's a small crowd. Have fun with the show, play around, make some mistakes... whatever; just don't make me feel like I'm at fault for the fact that more people didn't make your show.

As it were, people were into the show from the start. At the end, people were confused. Ten minutes of feedback; no encore to reward the audience for sticking with them through it all. The band was trying to empty the place.

There is no place for that. We paid our $10 and expected a full show. As for the band, I can understand the dissappointment of taking the stage to an empty room. But I can't forgive a half-assed performance, especially for a band with so much potential.

On second thought, if you are going to fuck the show, give me a spectacle. Let me know you are pissed. Acknowledge the elephant in the room, knock over a few mic stands and call it a night. At least, I'll feel like it was worth my time.


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