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Saturday, August 2, 2008

“Fuck You Dude, I’m Playing Metallica.”

posted by on August 2 at 13:56 PM

Owen @ Neumos

After years of touring with just an acoustic guitar, playing at venues with too many people who would rather have a conversation than listen to his songs, it’s become clear Mike Kinsella doesn’t really give a shit about his audience. On the Owen records Kinsella plays all the instruments, and most of the songs sound like a real band. But live it’s just a man and his guitar, playing stripped down versions of his own songs. He doesn’t even try to win the attention of the room, starting his set with “Good Deeds,” an especially soft, finger-picked number. The background noise downs him out. A note to the people sitting at the far end of the upstairs balcony: You need to shut the fuck up, forever. What were you even doing at an Owen / Rocky Votolato show if all you wanted to do was have a loud conversation? These are two of the highest caliber acoustic performers: if you want to have an asinine yelling match go in the other room and stop ruining everyone else’s show. Or die. Just go die somewhere, quietly. If only you had been paying attention to the lyrics during “Bad News,” that song was written precisely for you: “Whatever it is you think you are / You aren’t: / A good friend, unique, well-read / Good-looking, or smart / Well now you know.” There must be assholes like you at every show Owen plays; it’s no wonder he comes off so jaded on stage.

People yell out songs for him to play, and they are of course ignored. “These guys came from Utah and asked me to play like six songs, and I’m not going to play any of them,” he shrugs. Someone yells out, “Fade to Black!” That sparks his attention. At the end of his set, Kinsella announces, “Okay, now I’m going to play every riff I know from “Fade to Black.” He knows most of the 7 minute Metallica epic, and goes from riff to riff for about three minutes, adding the occasional guitar solo with his mouth. When he’s done with that he announces, “Now I’m going to play all the other Metallica riffs I know,” and proceeds to toss out random sections of different songs. The crowd starts to get restless. Someone yells something at him, he responds, “Fuck you dude, I’m playing Metallica.” After several minutes he walks off stage saying, “You don’t want to hear this? These are the highest selling riffs of all time! I’ll save them for an audience who cares.” There is scattered applause. Outside I hear a girl tell her friends, “That was the shittiest performance I’ve ever seen, and I’m from Montana.

This is the genius of Owen. He is the Larry David of musicians. Awkward Metallica antics aside, what he has to say is often too real for most people to hear, and it can make them uncomfortable. I realized a few songs in that it’s not particularly great music to take a date to, especially a date with a girl you don’t know that well. Take “Breaking Away:”

Well just between you and me
This thing between you and me
Might not be anything worth singing about
Or it might be just what I need
Someone to take my mind off things
At the end of a long day
Someone to take my pants off for me
At the end of a long night
Either way, we’re here

We’re two bicycles, ridden too tired to know
Which one of us of us two
Was dumb enough to choose the other as a lover

It’s not really a scenario you want detailed out early on in a date, especially if there’s a good chance that awkward situation is actually going to play out later in the night. Kinsella is a poet for the lazy everyman. His outlooks on life and young love are some of the most astringent, generally relatable sentiments since Holden Caulfield. And somehow, fittingly, he’ll probably never get the attention or respect he deserves.

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security should throw those people out.

Posted by josh | August 2, 2008 2:49 PM

Soft, acoustic music and bars are a bad combination. The fact is the business model of playing in bars is only viable if the bar makes money on alcohol sales, and this means a steady stream of people drinking throughout the night, constant activity at the bar (usually in the same room as the music) and a crowd that gets progressively drunker and more obnoxious as the night wears on. People in this country at this moment in time are so used to going out to bars where the sound is pounding them and they have to shout to be heard, where there are multiple TVs playing at all times to provide shiny flashing pictures to stare at in case their attention wanders for an instant, and where the music, live or recorded, is just one more piece of atmosphere for their drinking and socializing experience; it's just a freaking nightmare to get people to shut up and listen in that setting. The etiquette for live performance seems to be going through an especially bad patch, and since the solution is usually to turn up the house sound to drown out the idiots (who respond by talking louder) the whole process has just snowballed.

Acoustic music often does better in a more theater-like setting, where people are willing to sit there and give the music their full attention, but of course theater is not a commercially viable business model.

I've been to plenty of shows at the Tractor, a venue known for bringing in internationally-known acoustic artists, paid fifteen to twenty bucks for a ticket, and still had the performer drowned out by inane drunken conversation. It makes you really see the value of the quiet drunk.

It seems likely that the louder-and-louder cycle can't continue, at least not in a city increasingly full of million-dollar condos without noise insulation. So maybe at some point people will begin to see the value in music that doesn't rely on a massive system pumping 115 decibels straight into your head to have an impact. But for that to happen, bar audiences will have to re-learn the fine art of talking quietly or not at all while the person on stage is playing. Not that I'm holding my breath.

Posted by flamingbanjo | August 2, 2008 6:19 PM

alright, I've heard Owen when someone's put him on a couple times at work, and granted, it's pretty okay folky indie folk. But dude deserves our attention and respect when he just sits around and plays video games at home? We should be giving him our money we earned at work so he can sit around and play Halo while not on tour?

Posted by passive observer | August 3, 2008 1:47 PM

Some of the best shows I have seen with quiet performers have been at The Vera Project, with most of the crowd in their teens and they really appreciate listening to the performer.

And well, there are no obnoxious drunk people there.

I too am really tired of the people who run the Tractor not telling loud people to talk quieter. It is their club, they brought the band there, can they not run it how the performer would like it? Lame.

Thank you Vera Project. Great.

Posted by robert | August 3, 2008 2:41 PM

I have seen Owen 3 times and all were shitty because of the background noise. All 3, Mike walked off early after a short set. I decided that watching Owen live is impossible at any bar-venue, and he continues to only plays at these same venues in my state. So what's the point? The last time, it was as if he was expecting the obnoxiousness to occur and almost willingly allowed the crowd to trample all over him; although I often wonder why you would pay to see Owen and then talk through the whole thing. The last time he was in town, my friend went, despite my cautionary tale, and Mike walked off stage early. I'll buy his records, but I won't see him in a bar, which is where he plays. So that sucks. I can't see Owen because of drunk people. What's the deal? I'm drunk at the show, but I don't act like a buffoon. But I would have loved to be at that show. Although the time he played Simon and Garf's America was awesome.

Posted by shawn | August 5, 2008 10:10 AM

Mike has told me about his troubles with people at venues, and really, it depends on the city. The shows he plays in Illinois (Chicago, especially) usually garner a warmer, more receptive crowd. I've been to a few of his performances in sold out venues. Granted, this may be the 'hometown discount' type thing, but the reaction he gets outside the midwest is so drastically different. I feel bad for Mike, for having to play to group after group of rowdy drunks. He's just there to make a few bucks and entertain people there to see him play. I also feel bad for the people who *are* actually there to see him play - psst, if you are, e-mail him with some angry words, he'll make it up to you! But you didn't hear it from me.

People need to keep in mind that Mike is just an everyday person, and that is best reflected by his live act. The fact that it's just him and a guitar and sometimes an iPod up there says something. Not only is he an everyday person, but he is, self-admittedly, a lazy person. That's not to say he doesn't give a shit, because he does; but music is more of an outlet for him to make himself happy, not make other people happy. And that's the main thing people aren't getting; just because he walks off stage early doesn't mean he hates his fans or the music industry or whatever - it's far from that. Crowds at venues have off nights just like Mike does. But if you're going to an Owen show expecting him to play everything off the American Football LP, you're in the wrong place.

And yes, we should give our money to a guy who sits around and plays Halo when not on tour. It's better than landing himself in a rehab clinic or something else like the rest of the music industry seems to be doing. Mike is not a rock star; hell, he's barely a musician. He is, however, a regular guy. Let's start treating him like one.

Posted by Derek | August 5, 2008 5:40 PM

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