Thursday, September 18, 2008

Feeling authentically bluesy

Mixed returns on my last two outings.

Catherine Baÿ's The Snow White Project, part of the Crossing the Line fest on Tuesday, was a total wash as far as I'm concerned. Essentially we milled in front of the Diane von Furstenberg store in the meatpacking district, watching women dressed as Snow White hold placards bearing inscriptions such as "On strike" and "I am an everyday consumer product" inside the store. Suddenly it really felt like the 80s again: a financial meltdown against a background of overpriced doodads, while an artist trots out tired slogans and blindingly obvious concepts. It was a rather smug example of vacant cooptation—and I loathed half the people I was standing next to. I admit that I left after half an hour so I missed the one seemingly dynamic element that came at the end, according to the Times' review. Life is too short.

Then last night I was in the mood for some rawk so off to Bowery Ballroom I went, where Swedish retro masters Graveyard and Witchcraft were sandwiching local act TK Webb and the Visions. The Swedes don't have an ounce of originality between them, faithfully playing a late 60s/early 70s psych- and blues-flavored rock, with a hefty dose of Black Sabbathism in the case of Witchcraft. But they do have that Scandi sense of craft and they threw themselves wholeheartedly into their music. Plus the Graveyard drummer was amazing in an octopus/Keith Moon/Animal kinda way, and Witchcraft has enough great riffs to easily fill a set.

But TK Webb and the Visions…It's almost a bummer to see these guys come across like such a bunch of wankers because Webb at least has been a downtown fixture for a while now, so his commitment seems beyond question. But what's with the second guitarist, the guy in white showing off his tats and striking poses? He looked as if he'd rehearsed every single move in front of the mirror for hours; there was not an ounce of honesty in what he did.

Speaking of which, let's go back to the Celine Dion show for a minute. The Times reviewer wrote of a particular song's interpretation that "instead of connoting feeling — there is not a whit of blues in Ms. Dion’s voice — it felt like a technical exercise."


Is the blues the only way to show feeling? Isn't it just one of many performative devices one can use to evoke feeling? TK Webb's gravelly pipes sure made him sound like he felt things, man, for real, but does that make him a better singer? Or even just an interesting one? Furthermore, can't one have technique and emotion? I'm sure those highly trained classical singers would say yes.

In addition, you can think and say many things of Celine Dion, but one thing she does have is feeling—it's just that her version does not fit some people's definition of how it's meant to be expressed, and of realness, authenticity or taste (all dubious words anyway). The last element is the most important here, I think, getting into what the Times' readership think it's okay to mock.

Jeezus, I can't believe I've become a Celine Dion defender…

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