??!! Dear Instrumental Bands: Your Visual Accompaniment Isn’t Necessary
posted by October 16 at 16:21 PMon
Question: Do you think watching an instrumental band play live is just as exciting as watching a band with a lead singer?
Here’s why I ask, since instrumental bands don’t have a singer, it could appear as though their live show would lack that instant connection that comes with having a charismatic frontman.
But does it?
I saw Russian Circles at the Crocodile many months ago. The instrumental trio was opening for Appleseed Cast. I had never heard them until that night, and their set was fantastic—they’re an unfuckwitable wall of technically proficient sound, blending the fluidity of melodic rock with the finger-tapping characteristics of math. Their drummer was intense and infallible, and the bassist and guitarist felt every note of the music, thrashing their long hair around during the climactic parts, zoning out over the pedal boards during the waves of drones. They clearly didn’t give a shit that they didn’t have a dude with a mic standing at the front of the stage—they knew their performance was just as worthy as any band with a singer.
But then I see an instrumental act that opts to “enhance” their performance with some kind of visual aide—flashy stage props, the projection of films on a screen behind them—and I’m always confused by this choice.
Two local acts, Bronze Fawn and Joy Wants Eternity, write great instrumental songs. Joy Wants Eternity is moody and dark, summoning a My Blood Valentine vibe, while Bronze Fawn is more dynamic and playful. For both acts, their music is strong enough to do all the talking for them, yet every time I see either band, they’ve got some strange distraction on stage. JWE has this winged mannequin with a TV screen for a face, and I’ve seen the same clip of a chicken farm and a kid with a gun at a number of Bronze Fawn shows.
These visual accompaniments don’t do a thing for me. If anything, I get distracted from the music while trying to make sense of what I’m looking at and how it pertains to what I’m hearing. I can never find a connection, I just end up confused. And since there’s no purpose in my mind, it just appears as though the band is timid about the fact that they are without a singer—without an immediate connection for the audience. But why? I have no problem watching someone play guitar. I like it, it’s connection enough for me.
What do you think? Do you like it when the band, especially an instrumental outfit, has something else going on during their set that they personally aren’t engaged in (that means the Flaming Lips are excluded from this discussion)? Or would you prefer they ditch the eyesore shenanigans and just exist as the organic noise that they are?