It's About Value For Money
There has been lots of excitement the last few weeks about Sir Paul McCartney’s tour of Australia. Lots of social media about attendees claiming best concert they have ever seen etc. etc.
No surprise in a way, I mean the legacy of the Beatles and the ability to fund a show of such professionalism and material means you will get a spectacle filled with all killer no filler songs that the whole western world knows.
Then a scientist suggested that through his research into musical that the Beatles were only average anyway and were not great ground breakers or genius songwriters after all. Cue world outrage interspersed with Beatle haters dropping in a few triumphant “I told you sos.”
The link to the article is below but apparently his findings are based on research into chord progressions and harmonic and timbrel shifts in songs on the Billboard charts over the decades from the 60s onwards. It is interesting stuff and I think raises some valid points but of course it isn’t the whole story.
Anyway killing sacred cows is always risky business. For what its worth that early “I Want to hold Your Hand” stuff is awfully trite [I love that word] and no better than a lot of the other Britpop at the time.
And it is true that trouble and teen angst were not in the air in terms of the band’s persona when compared to The Stones or The Who. So there was a “play it safe” going on in one sense. But the subsequent evolution of the Beatles music from the sound and content of She Loves You through to the sound and content of The White Album is without parallel in either speed or successful reach. And in the process they took Rock and Roll out of the crèche and got it through its teenage years. They weren’t alone in this and they were not the first to do everything but they were the ones who got the mix just right.
None of which means I went to McCartney concert. I didn’t go and had no interest in doing so. It seems to me to be too much like ticking one item off the bucket list.
I am not picking on Sir Paul here. I wouldn’t go and see The Rolling Stones either. To me the payoff or the return on the considerable investment is just not there. I mean hundreds of dollars to often sit 50 + metres away looking at a screen, sometimes side on, for the best view just is not worth it. These are great artists who brought rock and roll into adulthood but that was 50 years ago. I don’t need the fireworks or the mass sing-alongs so I kept my coin in my pocket.
Let’s face it, music has been big business for a long time so I am just like everyone else involved, be they punter, promoter or artist, we are all looking for a good return on investment. So if massive stadium tours by past greats are not it, then what is?
Well last night for a fraction of the price, under $20 in fact, I went to a show attended by a capacity crowd of 50 people. This tiny size of venue ensures intimacy and mostly acoustic sounds so the music and musicians are right there, unvarnished and pure.
The band’s name is Shifting Sands and four fifths of the band are old. Not Paul McCartney old but there were no shortage of grey hairs, glasses and beer guts. As these players have all obviously been around awhile the playing was tight and the on stage banter good value.
But it’s not the comedy festival though. The music is sparse and powerful made up of elements from rock and roll’s roots i.e. acoustic blues, country and gospel. It’s a familiar well and Nick Cave has had a good drink from it too but Shifting Sands bring a few other things to the mix especially playing live. There is a movie music influence that creates an atmosphere of melancholy and world weariness that David Lynch would use, a big vibe of whisky soaked USA southern gothic and something very French in the poetic lyrics of lost and unrequited love and the sparse electric guitar and keyboards in the arrangements.
When you see Shifting Sands live it really comes together because the powerful, serious voice and sheer presence of vocalist Geoff Corbett and his interplay both vocally and performance wise with Isabelle Mellor the keyboardist is classic torch singing but with the usual gender roles reversed. Most of the songs are originals with some select covers and this is the guy that could sing you the terms and conditions of your home and contents policy and be never less than mesmerising.
It is fantastic meaty stuff and to see it delivered in a space the size of a McMansion’s media room on a humid rainy night in Brisbane with a stiff drink in hand for under $20 is for me a fantastic return on investment. The Junk Bar rules. Vive la Shifting Sands.
Definitely check out the Shifting Sands album Beach Coma and if I have wet your whistle for some deep and dark country try The Handsome Family or Will Oldham.
The history of the torch singer is linked to both jazz and French popular music, easily explained by 1920s and 30s jazz being very popular in Europe before the Nazis came on the scene. Given the traditional female singing role Edith Piaf immediately comes to mind but Roy Orbison and Morrissey fill the bill in their own ways.
That musical French man and woman duet thing filled with sexual tension and trust issues is also a strong element to the Shifting Sands. Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra and especially Serge Gainsbourg’s work in this field is worth checking out if that floats your boat.
If you have never heard The Beatles, no really, then Rubber Soul and Revolver arguably show their blossoming best.