One And A Half Reviews

I saw No Country For Old Men the other night. What struck me most was the lack of music within the film. The sound was as arid and sparse as the landscape portrayed on screen. And the scarcity provided greater suspense than any aptly placed timpani hit or string section crescendo. The images, the characters, and the dialog had no cushion beneath them, nothing to soften the harshness they portrayed, giving each scene a brittle and sometimes disturbing clarity. Though I love the marriage of film and music, seeing a movie that was the sonic equivalent of a faint, distant knocking, came as a pleasant, albeit uneasy, respite.

I also went to three shows this past weekend and I don't think I've done that since I was twenty-two, which was nearly 100 years ago. Since I've gotten older, and probably for the last five years, my relationship trajectory with live shows goes something like this:

1. See listing in local paper or hear about a show from a friend.
2. Think about going to the show, maybe even put it on my calendar.
3. Start listening to the band's music in anticipation of the show.
4. When people ask me what I am doing that night, say that I am going to the show. I am not lying—in my mind, I am really going to the show.
5. Feel tired the day of show and check out what movies are playing.
6. The night of the show, look at the clock and think about what is happening at the show at that very moment.
7. Rent a movie.
8. Sometime in the next week, hear about the show from someone who went.
9. Tell myself I will see the band next time.
10. Find a new show to plan on seeing.

On Saturday I saw Emily Jane White. Upon first hearing her sing you will think of Cat Power or Jolie Holland. It's good to get that thought out of the way. I found her less soulful than Cat Power and more Southern Gothic than Holland. And she has her own thing as well that I would describe as haunted folk.

I don't like reviewing shows. When I see live music, I often find myself drawn to other aspects than the music itself (and this is not due to a lack of magic on the band's part). So, here is what else was happening at the shows I attended:

I could not believe how long the middle band played at the Emily Jane White show. It was one of those instances where they clearly had a lot of friends in the audience and were therefore pretending that the show was taking place in their living room. The band insisted on bringing their own PA, apparently due to the uniqueness of their sound. Get this: they had a cello! With the house sound person rendered useless, and wanting nothing to do with this band, there was no one to fix the searing feedback that the cellist made each time she hit a high note. It made for a lovely hour and a half. When they were done, they took thirty minutes to get their gear off stage. At one point, I heard a drum fall and assumed it was Emily White's drummer setting up. No, it was the middle band's drummer finally taking his gear down. He had been hanging with his friends outside, oblivious to the fact that they weren't headlining. This brand of rudeness always seeps into the next set, but fortunately, EJW's music made up for it.

On Friday I saw a friend's band play at a club called Dante's. There were more human seatbelts in that audience than at any show I'd been to in a long time. A human seatbelt is when one person comes up from behind and wraps their arms lovingly (possessively) around the person in front of them. The human seatbelt is often accompanied by a slow swaying.

Personally, I never buckle up at a show.

Enjoy your day.



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damn, i wish i had gone to the quasi show. but like you, and probably most people, i follow that list you made to a "t".

Sent by brittany | 1:47 PM | 11-20-2007

Did any of that human seat belt action come with a side of wave your cell phone like it's a lighter? Double whammy.

That's gross, Adam. Why do you have to put images like that in my head. -CB

Sent by Adam @ NPR | 1:58 PM | 11-20-2007

i've never heard someone explain my neurosis about going to a show so eloquently. i've still never heard it, but read it i suppose. also, i went to a thursday show once and there were at least seventeen seatbelts. so weird.

Sent by jacob | 2:05 PM | 11-20-2007

Here in Cleveland we unaffectionately call the human seatbelt coupledance. They are almost always 1 of 2 breeds, a dude in a white hat drinking miller beer with his sorority girlfriend, or two 15 year old girls with identical haircuts and outfits.

Sent by beth | 2:06 PM | 11-20-2007

I went to lots of really loud metal shows when I was younger and I also played in a band, so now I have to REALLY want to see a band before I'll consider going to a concert. I feel like most bands aren't worth the ear damage (I don't like ear plugs).

Sent by Gary Drechsel | 2:14 PM | 11-20-2007

I think the use of primarily diegetic music can be a powerful tool. Too often drama is added with music alone, more or less compensating for the lack of power in a scene.

Off the top of my head, I would say the best use of music in a film has to be "Dr. Strangelove." I believe it's all diegetic, except for "The Ants Go Marching On" in the airplane scenes. The irony of it all is just great.

Sent by Megan | 2:16 PM | 11-20-2007

Human Seatbelt = Full of Win.

Sent by Brandi | 2:16 PM | 11-20-2007

An hour and a half for an opening band? That is pretty severe.

Sent by Dan G | 2:39 PM | 11-20-2007

What's worse than the human seat belt is the MOBILE human seat belt. I love to see couples trying to work that one out while walking down the street...usually going home from school.

Sent by Lo | 2:52 PM | 11-20-2007

there is nothing more annoying at a show than an over zealous opening act. even if there are lots of friends in the audience. 30 minutes then done.

an opening act should be like cooking dinner. it is fun to cook, but shouldn't take all night. cook for 30 minutes, and then sit back and enjoy the meal. if it takes too long to cook, you'll be annoyed by the meal, and won't enjoy it as much.

Sent by Brian | 2:52 PM | 11-20-2007

If that's the human seat belt, what's it when people move in an a-la 70s lighted haze down the street with hands in each other's back pockets?

I've seen this twice now in a week after years of its absence, which is why I'm asking.

Sent by Elizabeth | 3:10 PM | 11-20-2007

You perfectly describe my own relationships with live shows these days. Do you think it's JUST age or do you think it's being a musician too? When I was younger and in college I went to shows in NYC and NJ all the time. As I got older I started playing in bands and my show attendance dwindled with every passing year. I keep saying it's something to do with how "hate to be at a show and know that I can't jump up and play." But maybe it really is just cuz I'm olde. Sigh.

"Human seatbelts" is the best description. Totally stealing it.

Sent by Chriso | 3:29 PM | 11-20-2007

Chriso, Carrie... Yes.

I also have similar experiences regarding my infrequent show attendance in recent years. Chriso, you may be right about the musician thing. I think experiencing the shows from the band's perspective sours it somewhat (like noticing how rude it is for an opener to play for 90 minutes and drag ass tearing down). It is also rare that I can just "enjoy" the show, vs. making mental fieldnotes of the performance and wondering things like, "God, I hope I don't look like THAT when I play."

I also find myself becoming increasingly annoyed at the concept of "musician time" (60-90 minutes after the rest of the world), especially when I have to be up at 6 am for work the next day. That part's probably just me getting old, though.
If shows started at 8 pm (and REALLY started at 8 pm), I would probably do a lot better.

Sent by Joel | 4:02 PM | 11-20-2007

It sounds as though I am not alone with respect to live show attendance. For years I blamed my extinguished hype on school but now I am not sure what my excuse is.

Sent by shi | 4:06 PM | 11-20-2007

re: ten-point plan

Preach it, sister.

Sent by knitknit | 4:10 PM | 11-20-2007

Part of my problem is staying up late for a show and going to work the next day. My other issue is dealing with fellow concert attendees and their rude behavior.

The chatting, cell phone waving, drunk stumbling, yelling stupid things and so on. I am getting old.

Sent by E | 4:16 PM | 11-20-2007

At least no one was making out. That's always fun. Why did you even come to the show if all you're going to do is snog?

Sent by Jaime | 4:24 PM | 11-20-2007

I can relate to your relationship trajectory with live shows.

Mine is currently:
1. actually find a live show that I want to go to here in StL 2A. put off buying a ticket because who honestly would be with it enough here in StL to want to go to said show 3A. show inevitably sells out. 4A. decide bitterly that I didn't want to see said band anyways because of all the people who would also be there (i.e. the human seatbelt action)...

leading to the alternative trajectory:
2B. buy ticket to show. 3B. go to show and generally enjoy the music, but 4B. have to put up with everyone else from StL who decided to attend the show. 90% of them seem to be okay, it's just the 10% that always seem to stand behind me talk loudly and feel up their gfs (modified human seatbelt)... which then sends me careening back to trajectory A. sigh.

Sent by Lex Webb | 4:24 PM | 11-20-2007

It sounds like the Cohen brothers are going back to their noir'ish "Blood Simple" days. I really want to see that movie. I've waited long enough for it to open everywhere.

Sent by Nick L. | 6:07 PM | 11-20-2007

Hmmm, that sounds like the way I "attend" a show, but mine is more, I read it in the paper, sounds good, intend to go see the show (this really sucks when its artists who rarely tour, or cannot get their visas straight). Talk about that as my plans for the evening. The only trick is, if I do not have a ticket already, it is very likely I am not going to end up going. However there are two instances when I went and got so freaking bored by the waiting around that I left. That is why I do not like going to shows at clubs so much, the time doesn't seem to matter, although when it is 11:45pm and the main act hasnt started and I need to work at 7:30am, I am not too happy.
There have been two times recently (Interpol at the Coliseum and Arctic Monkeys at the Roseland) where I showed up not even five minutes before the band started. I loved that. I only had to give the better part of an hour and maybe 30 minutes so I had no time to get bored watching them say "Check 1, 2" "Check" "Check". Annoying drum 50 times in a row and then just hang out with the lights up absolutely no one on stage and no reason to keep us waiting.
Artist please note, it isn't suspenseful waiting for more than 20 minutes for you. So that is my constant battle with live music.

I also saw a movie recently without a musical soundtrack and yes, there is something quite suspenseful and eerie about it. But there is also something so great, no distraction. I only wish I knew the name of the movie.

Sent by Luis | 6:49 PM | 11-20-2007

I had tickets to see Broken Social Scene presents Kevin Drew with some friends... that day we went shopping just felt like vegging and drinking hot cocoa.
We ended up going to the show after watching Mean Girls on TBS. The show started at 9 and we left around 9:30.

BSS started at 10pm and we left at 12:30 and they hadn't even gone to an encore yet.

I always feel like I want bands to play for longer, then when they do I get anxious. I guess it's better to play a shorter set and leave something to be desired?

Sent by Carla K. | 7:30 PM | 11-20-2007

I love Emily Jane White's music. I just recieved her album Dark Undercoat in the mail the other day. I'm happy to see her getting some publicity.

Sent by Tracy | 8:15 PM | 11-20-2007

For me, the process of seeing a show involves at minimum a 3 hour round trip drive, so I'm very picky about what bands I see live.

Thanks for the bit on No Country For Old Men. I'm especially appreciative of the fact that you gave us a good insight into an aspect of the the film without revealing any plot points.

Dog Day Afternoon is another film that uses no musical score. Elton John's "Amoreena" plays over the opening credit sequence, but that's it.

Sent by Scott | 8:15 PM | 11-20-2007

I hate to say it, but I've almost gotten sick of the way music is used in films, and I'd love people to stop for a while. Even Martin Scorsese, who's usually right on, stumbled a bit with parts of The Departed - he almost made me annoyed with "Gimme Shelter", which takes some doing. I'd love people to strip things back to natural sound, with maybe a song or two used where they'd actually be found in real life. Does anyone else think that the music soundtrack tie in have done some serious damage to movies? Then again, when it's done right I can't get enough of it. Franki Valli in The Deerhunter - I'm looking right straight at you.

Sent by Brendan | 9:17 PM | 11-20-2007

Are you referring to the Quasi show on Thursday at Dante's? If so, I was unfortunatley RIGHT behind the human seat belt action that was going on front row, center. Once "You turn me on" started playing, I thought I was going to witness a porno film in the making.

Actually, no I'm not. It was a band called Uh Uh Her on Friday. But I was at the Quasi show too. There was less seatbelting but not by much. -CB

Sent by Melinda | 9:40 PM | 11-20-2007

That was a movie that I was actually kind of interested in checking out on the "Big Screen." Now it's been down played to a "should I stay, or should I go?" Oh well, I try not to let critics influence my choices of celluloid entertainment. So I'll have to check it out as if I didn't just read that review.

Oh My! Eek. Sounds like someone is allowing the notion of age to hamper their total scope of enjoyment. I always remind a friend of mine who is not but 3 years older than me (and I'm ONLY a young 34) that he'd better stop making himself sound as if he is in his 70's as his bones may begin to creak & ache just at the very thought. (rolls eyes)

But yeah no PDA at shows, save it for the park. And 90 minutes for a opening act would definitely lose my attention for good.

Sent by Brian | 10:06 PM | 11-20-2007

I also saw No Country For Old Men this past weekend and while there was no seatbelting, the film remained outstanding. Yes, it is absolutely a "return to form" for the Cohen Bros. The creepy tension and subtlety of Blood Simple mixed with a touch of the naively ignorant greed and regional accents of Fargo. It's so good! Go see it.

Shows. Yeah. Youth definitely fuels some of the tolerance of live music. It use to be I would go see anything, friends, enemies, national, local, etc... Now I am much more selective and snobby. Usually I will only go if I am certain the band will not be playing again in a month, pretty sure I will not be sweating my a** off because it's at a alternative space with absolutely zero air circulation, confident I will not be the oldest person there and finally the train ride isn't more then 20 minutes.

ha, ha... seatbelting...

Sent by KM | 10:38 PM | 11-20-2007

My band once played a show with a 12 piece band in which half of the instruments were orchestral. Man alive, I admire rock bands for breaking the rules but it killed the flow for the show.

Sent by JJ Hellgate | 11:12 PM | 11-20-2007

Avoiding going to shows is like avoiding going to West Virginia or Alaska... just kidding.

I'm going to be 30 in two months and feel pretty good about it but the exponentially shrinking number of live music acts I catch each year alarms and disturbs me. And I live in NY!

My problem is that I get overwhelmed by the volume of new bands and tend to fall back on the 'tried and trues' so thanks for mentioning Emily Jane White...
I'll definitely check her out.

PS, I like that you sign your initials, CB. It reminds me of one of my favorite characters ever on film, CB Barnes from 'Out of the Blue.' Have you seen it?

Sent by Rachel Michelle | 11:33 PM | 11-20-2007

*$&#in' human seatbelts are the reason I'm becoming increasingly more reluctant to leave my house. Movies are awesome!

Sent by Melissa K. | 12:09 AM | 11-21-2007

Crazy. It just so happens that I opted not to see Trail of Dead tonight at Lee's Palace because of some of the very same list items + some laziness and cheapness. Yes, I've performed a #1, a #2, didn't care too much for a #3 tonight, and told a few loved ones that I should be going (#4). It's now 12:46 AM and, yes, I'm wondering what's going on at that show (#6). Probably because I didn't go, it'll be the most rockingest evening in recent times.

But hey! They're sure to come back again soon (didn't they recently release a new album?), and I'll definitely go then (#9).

It's however a little too late for a movie. This calls for a #10 so I'm going to sift through tour date listings and hope for the best.

Sent by Rich I. | 12:54 AM | 11-21-2007

Hey hey! I don't see anything wrong with human seatbelts as long as the person behind isn't nibbling on the other person's ears and other PDAish things... Or waving their cell phones. Plus, it gives other people more standing room, right? Right??

P.S. O dang, I wanted to see Uh Huh Her... Except I heard about the show when I was visiting my family. Oh well.

Sent by Jennifer | 1:06 AM | 11-21-2007

I am an old fogey trapped [or more likely comfortably reclined] in the body of a 21 year-old. I like my concerts muted [via ear muffs and ear plugs] with a heavy dose of herbal tea and personal space [preferably far removed from the trajectory of flailing cigarettes].
Do the bucklers not realize that seat belts won't protect them from embarrassment?

Sent by Zia | 2:18 AM | 11-21-2007

Have you seen "Cache" by Austrian director Michael Haneke? No dramatic musical score either, but the silence slowly builds you up to the horrific end. The absence of music only contributed to the unknown terror. I still get goose bumps just by thinking about it.

Sent by sue | 4:18 AM | 11-21-2007

I'm fervently against the buckle as well. It's good to know there are others!

Sent by McCormack | 8:54 AM | 11-21-2007

In eyeballing the responses to the latest blog entry, I've noticed two things:

1.There seems to be a market for non-touching early bird special shows.
2.Quasi is a date band.

I'm off to work on a business plan for item number 1.

Sent by East Coast Terry | 9:57 AM | 11-21-2007

moving human seatbelt = "mall-walk"

As in, "Check out those idiots mall-walking by the incense kiosk." It's actually more of a mall-crawl, considering how slowly people move in that formation. The human seatbelt/mallwalk demographic is also fond of wearing sleepwear in the daytime. As a rule, they enjoy making the entire world into one endless bed, and forcing everyone else to watch them spoon in said bed.

Sent by cs | 10:55 AM | 11-21-2007

I just saw "We Jam Econo" recently about the Minutemen and there's this part where Mike Watt mentions that D Boon was really interested in playing shows for the "working folks" and that shows should start and end earlier to accommodate them, and I was practically jumping up and down shouting "yes! why not that!"

seeing "no country" on Monday, can't wait!

I'll never seatbelt in public again...sob.

Sent by Jason | 11:12 AM | 11-21-2007

i'd take a human seatbelt over a "i wanna have your babies" anyday. i am just the same about going to shows- i want to go, i'm all ready to go, but then i'm like "eh- home is so, there's gonna be traffic...i won't find a parking spot.." i just have to force myself.

for your holiday enjoyment (click it, its funny and creepy!):

Sent by Lauren | 12:59 PM | 11-21-2007

Clearly, you are not sophisticated enough to enjoy the Band With A Cello.

My god! They are so edgy and out there that they have pictures of Charles Manson as the backdrop to their myspace page!

Sent by Mick (not "Mick") | 11:17 PM | 11-21-2007

human seatbelt..ahahaha!

also, i pretty much go through that same routine with shows myself. but rather than rent a movie, i'm wasting away on the internet..

Sent by Muna | 2:31 AM | 11-22-2007

Okay, human seat belting, annoying, yes. More or less annoying than the band that takes forever to set up or break down. I'm talking to you, drummers. I see a fair amount of shows where the band is responsible for this act, and at venues where the band should be far enough along in the process to know that this should be done quickly. Yet, time and time again, they take forever. As much as I love to drink beer, I'm on my feet. My feet get tired, I get tired. My waiting for you to get ready affects how I feel about you as a band, and about the bands that follow. I show a band courtesy by not talking on my cell phone, not talking to friends, staying focused on their act, the least they can do is pretend like I'm part of the equation. I am.

Sent by mikeyj | 3:19 PM | 11-22-2007

First off, you know we're all stealing "human seatbelt" and will pretend we came up with ourselves, right? Good.

Second, I don't know if this blog does requests, but since you slightly mentioned the opening band slowly breaking down their equipment, perhaps you could be the one to explain to non-musicians like myself: what is going on during all that setup/breakdown time? Does it take a lot longer to plug in an amp and guitar than it seems like it would? Do bands do sound checks at smaller clubs, and if so, why do they have to do that drum-check thing every time? Is one band's snare drum sound really that different from the last band's? And then there are still inevitable changes to be made during the first few songs anyway. Could they just start playing and fix it as they go?

Complicated bands with eight keyboards and a flute section, I kind of understand it. But a four-piece rock band? Why?

Anyway, if you're stuck for a topic some day, feel free to take this up. Or just keep making up funny catchphrases!

Sent by Greg | 11:41 AM | 11-24-2007

well greg,

i am not ms.cb but having racked up over ten years of performing live gigs, i'll offer some insite to your questions.

as a musician, once you get to the club or venue, you're basically at the mercy of the sound person. you sound check when he or she wants you to. depending on the amount of bands performing, sometimes you don't get to sound check at all.

power! first thing i look for in relation to the stage is the power outlet. is this outlet grounded? after the first few years of being dangerously shocked, i started to carry my own surge protected power strips and testers. sometimes it is hard to find power sources for everyones amps, boards, pedals. quite possibly this is a time waster you've unknowingly witnessed.

during set-up, you're making sure that everyone in the band can hear everyone else. there are sometimes monitors to assist each individual musician but usually not. if we can't hear each other, chances are you're not going to appreciate the quality of the songs as we perform them.

there are several factors that the person running the sound might encounter. every room is different acoustically. the varying types of flooring, walls, ceiling height, etc. can all affect the way every single microphone (be it for vocals, amps, bass drum, cymbals, etc.) individually picks up sound, both direct and ambient. mics jacked up too high can create a lot of feedback. mics placed too close to each other, in front of each other or too close to other amps also affect feedback. older tube amps are prone to humming in close proximity to fluorescent lighting.

as far as specs go, a guitarist or vocalist might want more of their instrument coming out of the monitor. a drummer might want only the guitars and vocals in their monitor. everything varies with each individual musician, their equipment, their sound. also, every amp is different in volume, tone, brightness, intensity, etc. these same factors apply for vocals as well.

i think the general rule of thumb for sound people is to set the levels of the drums first. i like to look at the sound board as the palette. each mic is added, levels adjusted (color). you want a full, clean balance, complimentary to the other sounds (adjusting tone/brightness/sharpness). so yes, unfortunately, the wack-wack-wack of the snare and the thump-thump-thump of the drums is a necessary part of sound checking.

all snares are different, to answer that question. whether a snare and/or the toms have sound dampening rings or moon gel pads, and the intensity with which those skins are hit will also affect the level the sound person sets it at.

often the levels on the sound board have to be adjusted during the first few songs anyways, this is true. but as far as saving the sound checking for your set - who wants to hear that in the middle of the set? i would rather not stop and direct the sound person. who's to say the sound person will adjust things appropriate to my request? and when you only have 20, 30 or 45 minutes to begin with (other than the headliner, MOST bands know this), the last thing you want to think after your set is, "well, the last song sounded good."

by the way - there is also nothing worse than nailing the levels during sound check, being very pleased with your impending outcome, only to have the sound person tweak those pre-sets during your set. ah, being at the mercy of the soundboard.

another reason sound checking is important: when you're out in the audience, you have the p.a. speakers pointed at you. if the sound person has created a fluid mix, the audience can hear everything. we, as musicians, usually can't (especially the vocals). sometimes sound checking is the little bit of reassurance a band needs to pull it off, considering the fact that they can't hear each other entirely.

generally, if a band has their wits about them, they will do their best to set-up, sound check and start the songs in a timely manner. conversely, they will also respect the other musicians and break their gear down as fast as possible. unfortunately, this is not always the case. usually the problem lies in musicians not wanting to be rude to their adoring fans who approach / get on / crowd the stage immediately following a set. the musician will attempt to have a moment of connection with the approacher(s), one that is disrespectful not only to their other bandmates hustling around to get the collective equipment off the stage but to the next band as well (and if it's the end of the night, the club staff who really just want to go home). point being: musicians - quit your gabbing and move your gear! fans - talk to the band outside after they've moved their gear!

that's just what i've thought of off the top of my head - i'm sure there are many more technicalities i've managed to forget.

i hope this doesn't leave me sounding too jaded. playing public shows in "real" forums has been an experience i am very grateful for. but occasionally i long for a good ol' fashioned house show where my only concern is hearing the vocals, and making sure that my amp is audible over the drummer.

Sent by s | 12:06 PM | 11-27-2007

I've gotten to be the same way with planning on going to live shows, however I don't go as far as to rent a movie, I usually just put the kids to bed and fall asleep.

Sent by Kevin | 12:10 AM | 12-6-2007