During U2's live stream from the Rosebowl it seemed that the unthinkable has happened. Bono has started editing himself. There was still some of that naff self righteous patter, but I remember U2 concerts when you could retire to the back stalls for a bit of a snooze between songs while Bono rabbited on about Burma, or Mandela, or whales, or the memory of Martin Luther King or the Troubles......whatever. Don't get me wrong. Among many of my friends I am often the only one who thinks dear Bono is actually doing something incredible during his days off (unlike those people lounging on sofas criticizing him for, it seems, working to alleviate world hunger and poverty) but I now prefer my live music served up sans manifesto de half baked.
Now this wasn't always the case. I once saw Courtney Love eat up most of Hole's set slurring her way through an unintelligible stage patter. She was talking total rubbish but yes, it was utterly mesmerizing. Later, on the same stage, Iggy Pop spent a great deal of time talking about his dick and then thought the best thing to do was show it to us. (I was too far from the stage to now give an honest assessment of the appendage).
And at the same festival Rage Against The Machine table-thumped against a grab bag of causes that left me totally addled. Cuban refugees, the arms race, Africa, Republicans, pseudo-Republicans, gay Republicans, gay hating Republicans, gay Cuban refugees. Zack de la Rocha raved on ... and on, and the gaps between the songs were so long that I could have completed a sophomore political science thesis and had time to spare.
This was a very long time ago. Several generations ago in rock years (which if you add up rock years like you do dog years, you begin to feel creakingly old at oh, about 30). There was nothing unusual at all about the amount of time The Ig, Courtney and Zack blathered on.
Now it would be true, even in the loosey goosey world of rock and roll, that Courtney Love is the exception to just about every rule, but don't you think that times have changed? No longer are we content to hear the tin pot half-baked undergraduate political ramblings of some bloke who just happens to have the mic. What in the hell would he know? And why is he breaking up the set like that? Start with your first song and don't stop playing until the final bar of your last. Thank you, money well spent.
I realized I was over the political science lessons one night in a gigantic pub venue where some of the best alternative bands were playing. Granted, I was older than most of the audience, but in my defense, I was still pretty young (it was a long time ago). A band with members that I knew quite well played, and the lead singer - a lovely guy who fancied himself a bit of a political activist - chatted between songs from a seeming shopping list of pet causes including the right wing governor of his home state. His diatribe went like this (and I am fairly sure I am recounting this word perfectly). "Now listen, this dude is, you know, like a bad man and yeah! Like yeah! We gotta you know ... yeah right! ... it's like bad news man, and he's a fascist and man, he's just bad news, I'm here to tell you ... so like wow ...." In fairness this chap was a fan of John Pilger, which would dull anyone's political acuity, but honestly, I was hoping that he would just shut up and get on with the set.
The last big concert I saw was Nine Inch Nails. Now Trent really knows how to shut up. The band walked on stage and cranked it up. About an hour later Trent spoke for the first time. "Thank you" he said. Then off they churned again with their industrial strength boil-in-the-bag assault. My skull was catapulted onto the back wall of the arena and I didn't want to have to stop for a minute to hear Trent crap on about many of his causes. And he does have them. We all know that Trent is an ardent animal rights activist and musician's rights advocate. Last week he came out all guns blazing about the use of music as torture at Gitmo. But did he give us a lecture and a bit of finger wagging in between Head like a Hole and March of the Pigs? Thankfully, no. Toward the end of the set, Trent mumbled the names of the band with a bit of an arm wave in their direction. Didn't catch the names, didn't care. I was waiting for more songs with naughty words in them.
Maybe I'm just more grown up and going to more grown up concerts although my desire to hear naughty words in NiN songs may be an indication that this is not entirely true. But the need to fly your political colors, or just ramble about the addled state of your brain (refer: Iggy and Courtney) or have meaningless discussions with the audience about how- is everyone-feeling-this-great-day seems to be receding. Is it because rock is the mainstream? Or is it because as esteemed music critic Greil Marcus famously once said, (and I am paraphrasing here) we are just too grown up to get our political education from some numbskull with a guitar? Like I said, I have lived my life in love with numbskulls with guitars, but now it seems cooler than ever to just shut up.