Thursday, March 22, 2007

"I is the Smart...I is the Smart..."

Fun with science: next time a snarky hipster calls you a meat head for rocking out to [insert metal song title here] and tells you only Neanderthals with IQs that make celery looks smart listen to metal, you can tell them a study done in England says otherwise. According to the study, done by the University of Warwick on 1,057 students, all members of the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, which represents the top 5% of academic achievement in Britain, a disproportionate number of the students listed metal as their favorite type of music. The researchers feel the tie-in to metal are the feelings of alienation smart people have trying to adjust to society and the feelings of alienation expressed in so much of metal music.

Of course, these findings don't mean that there aren't absolute meat head metalheads out there; the Slayer-loving genius I mentioned in my first post is the exception that disproves the rule. Furthermore, if you need to justify yourself to anyone, especially elitists who think all irony all the time is the way to live your life, as to why you love metal, it might be time for a gut check. But still, when you know you listen to music that features as many cerebral guitar lines as it does blast beats, it's nice to get some validation that your music choices reflect some higher intellectual processes. Biatch.

A Little Metallica Love

The VW Passat: truly the most metal of cars. Especially when it's painted sea-green.

Via Glowfoto

Monday, March 19, 2007

Jailbait Baby Get Down

Every time I see this billboard on the entrance to a subway station I think about how much better it would be if the show was the Wendy O. Williams Experience instead.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Maiden as an Analogy for Symphony X

After several days of discussion about Symphony X stemming from their (partial) participation in this show with my buddy Seth, I built up enough interest to go out and download their full catalog after years (literally - I bought V: The New Mythology Suite five or six years ago and I've seen them live twice since) of intending to do more exploration of the band's history. In general, I'm pleasantly unsurprised by what I'm hearing (i.e., I expected the music to be good and it is), but while listening to Symphony X, their first album, recorded with previous singer Rod Tyler I made some observations I felt I had to share.

Right from the first track, it was painfully obvious that Rod Tyler is no Russell Allen (the current singer). Lines that Allen would take completely over the top (as is appropriate for a power metal singer) leave Tyler's mouth in a comparatively tame fashion. That's not to say he's a bad singer - he's got a bit of vibrato and can hold a tune - but his style is somewhere between "reaching" and "completely wrong" for Symphony X's music. The analog that came to me immediately was Iron Maiden: Blaze Bailey isn't a bad singer, but when he sings Maiden he's a poor man's Bruce Dickenson and everyone knows it.

I also quickly noticed that, in addition to Tyler's shortcomings, the backup vocals on this album are absolutely wretched; at one point I swore I was listening to the results of Alvin and Chipmunks kicking Dave to the curb, dropping their voices a few octaves and forming a progressive metal band. To say that this album is an excellent illustration of the necessity of a strong singer and a good producer might be an understatement.

Then "Masquerade" came on. "Masquerade" is a rocking track and the band re-recorded it with Allen on vocals in 1998, releasing it on Prelude to the Millenium (and then again as a bonus track on The Odyssey). Listening to the original version (with the newer version in my head) I realized that Symphony X is a clear, clear illustration of why Maiden should rerecord The X Factor and Virtual XI. Both albums have their fair share of good songs that have done well when Maiden plays them live with Bruce at the helm - they're just lacking that touch that would put them in the same glorious group as almost everything else Dickenson has done with the band.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pay To Play: That Much Worse

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, my only trip to Studio B in Brooklyn was less than pleasant on a number of levels, including the one where hypothermia poked its ugly head, stared at me and started licking its lips. However, I was willing to entertain the idea of going back again...until this past weekend.

The home domain of (where this blog resides) is a clips page I built to link to all of the writing I've published, mainly over the past year. On that page is a link to a "contact me" page, because I'm a glutton for punishment who hopes to drum up business in the process and on Friday, I had the pleasure of receiving an email from Walter Cardenas, one of the guitarists from Everything's Ruined, which opened up for Destruction that fateful night. Although he had contacted me in search of a (forthcoming) review of his band's EP, we ended up discussing the show that night - specifically the sketchy ways of Bill, the Studio B promoter. Edit: the Darkcity Production promoter. Basically, when it says Studio B, read Dark City. Although I'm still not thrilled about having to wait outside in the cold. Thanks to Walter for the correction.

Bill is one of those pay-to-play guys bands hate (and with good reason - they're screwing things up for us fans, too), although he seems to operate with a special venom or a special level of retardation. Up until Friday, my understanding of pay-to-play was that the band and the promoter worked out a specific number of tickets the band would sell beforehand, the band would pay for those tickets up front and that was it. Any losses came out of the band's pocket, or something to that effect, but they're (hopefully) manageable because the band estimated the amount beforehand. According to Walter, Bill took this grimy business to the next level by giving Everything's Ruined the number of tickets he wanted to sell (70) and the price ($20) in an email before the show, without any negotiation. When the band arrived that night at the door with the money from the 24 tickets they did sell, Bill tried to demand that they pay for the extra 46 tickets themselves, at the cost of about $1,000.

Stupid sick, right? People like Bill make me think of the quote about the music business attributed to Hunter S. Thompson, because somehow, emotions go from sickened to outraged when someone takes something you love and exploit it to its last penny just for short-term gain. Although I have no way of knowing how many concert promoters in New York follow the same practice as Bill, I do have one recourse: I won't be giving Studio B my money ever again.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Guitar is Great

Quickie post on an item that caught my eye: the 500 Greatest Guitar Riffs, in reverse order (for some reason) on a site called retroCRUSH. It looks like they did a good job putting this together and the YouTube and guitar tab links included with most songs are a nice touch. I think I could even agree with their top 20 in its current order.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Secrets of the Photo Pass

Starting last fall, I've been getting photo passes to the shows I review. Photo passes are interesting things: they give you the liberty to not only carry a camera into a venue (which seems to be a pretty common privilege these days, when everyone has a camera on their cell phone), but to go up in front of the security barricades and take pictures of the band while you dodge crowd surfers and the security personnel in charge of catching them. There are also a few universal rules:
  • If you're photographing a well-known band (i.e., most headliners and a few major players at the end of the opening list), you'll also
  • Time up front seems to be universally limited to three songs, a rule that seems fairly arbitrary, but does at least give you a lot of practice in taking effective shots quickly. My guess is that the three song rule is a compromise between event organizers, security staff and bands to get the maximum amount of publicity with the minimum amount of distraction. Also, unless you're photographing a band with a long stage show like GWAR, you've probably taken every useful shot you can get in three songs. When I took pictures at Destruction's show in February, there was basically no security to speak of until people started stage diving during Municipal Waste's set, but I kept to the three song rule for each band because I ran out of subjects.
  • Flashes are almost always verboten. It doesn't stop people in the crowd from using them and given the number of stage lights some bands use the rule doesn't always make a lot of sense, but the rule still stands and event organizers won't hesitate to call you on it.
  • There will be at least one fanboy who sings along with the songs. Many times this person is me, although I always spot at least one other photographer screaming out (for example) the lyrics to "Valhall Awaits Me" while he takes pictures of Amon Amarth. Singing photographers (and headbanging photographers, who are a subset of singing photographers) stand in direct contrast to everyone else taking pictures in the security well because they actually seem to care about the music. The first show I shot with a pass was Gigantour 2006, where there were a whole gaggle of photographers in the security well. After the three song limit ended, two-thirds of them retired to the quiet confines of the venue's green room instead of, say, enjoying the show from the floor. In other words, there seems to be a definite line between photographers who are fans...and photographers who are not. I have a theory that there's a correlation between these two types of photographers and the amount of jadedness in the industry, but I'm still working on evidence.
  • Some people will have point-and-shoot cameras, some will have high-powered SLRs. I'm of the former variety, because a.) I can't afford a larger camera and b.) carrying around a big camera is a pain in the ass when you're standing in a room full of people trying to beat the crap out of each other. Come to think of it, this last point might relate back to the jadedness point above.
In the four shows I've shot so far, I've noticed three things: first, my love for venues with lighting rigs that actually illuminate the stage instead of masking it is undying and eternal, because I get so many better pictures that way. I may, in fact, love the Nokia Theatre for just this reason. Second, to take pictures of death metal bands requires extreme patience, as you struggle to capture a shot where the musician isn't moving too much but still looks cool. Third, bands with lead singers who do nothing but sing are the bane of my existence, because the singer, having no instrument to him or her down, charges around the stage and makes so many erratic movements as to make taking good pictures impossible.