Live Review: Ladyfinger; Column 136 — Matt Sharp and the industry; Noah’s Ark was a Spaceship tonight…
Before we get to this week’s column, a brief comment about last night’s show:
Funny how the only remaining band from Saddle Creek Records that can raise welts on your backside by its sheer ball-bleeding power has been all but forgotten by its own label whenever it plays live on a local stage. Or so it seems.
Ladyfinger (forget about that friggin’ NE, everyone else has) played at The Waiting Room last night to the same bunch of hard-rock enthusiasts that they play to every time they hit a local stage. If you’ve been to a rock show at TWR, O’Leaver’s or Sokol Underground (and I don’t mean one of those brain-dead local metal shows where guys dress up in bondage costumes and act like out-of-work professional wrestlers) in the past six months (or for that matter, The Brothers) you’ve seen this crowd before. It’s a knowledgeable-though-inebriated bunch that is as well-versed in Slayer as they are in The Germs or The Replacements or the last Arcade Fire CD. They don’t look like the guy that sold you your last set of tires, they look like the guy that mounted and balanced them, the guy sweltering out in the off-limits area of the garage that the sales guy said not to bother. Don’t let their just-got-off-work-parking-cars appearance fool you, they know good music, and they love Ladyfinger, just as they should.
While those guys were standing in front of TWR’s enormous stage last night like an angry pack of Dobermans poised in front of an air-conditioning vent after a hard day of guard duty in the local scrap yard, the folks at Ladyfinger’s label were somewhere else, probably enjoying $8 cocktails down at their glass-and-waxed concrete bunker. Too busy to make that 10-minute drive up to Benson to see a band they eagerly signed a year ago, whose debut shriveled to a dry husk on their marketing vine. Who knows if there’s ever been a post mortem for Heavy Hands or some sort of focus group meeting that tried to figure out what went wrong. The sales numbers are a mystery to everyone but the band, the accountants, and the warehouse guys who pass by the unopened cases of the CD every day while picking orders of Jenny Lewis and Maria Taylor discs. Early rumors were that it didn’t just tank, it sunk to the very bottom of the ocean weighed down with enormous boat-anchor chains. The Creek online store posted a free promo for the first 100 buyers of the disc online — that promo stayed there for months, who knows if it was just an oversight (though Creek Webmaster Jadon Ulrich isn’t only one of the most talented artists and designers in the area, he’s also one of the most diligent web guys around — it’s unlikely that he’d forget to take the promo down after the first 100 crawled out of the warehouse).
Ladyfinger certainly did their share of touring, so why didn’t the CD make it into the CMJ top-20? These thoughts crossed my mind last night as I watched the band rip through one track after another from the CD in their usual threatening, monotonous pace. Listening to Ladyfinger is like driving a muscle car with only one gear — once you get it started you can press down on the gas pedal as much as you want, but it ain’t going any faster no matter how loud the engine revs. It’s relentless and ruthlessly unyeilding in its white heat noise, always on the verge of throwing a rod. There’s plenty of good material on Heavy Hands that has gone unheard by the record-buying public, and that still could be heard if somehow someone figured out a way to pump life back into the marketing stream. A mini tour by the band at the end of the month won’t be enough. Looks like we’ll have to wait until the follow-up gets recorded and released by Saddle Creek — that’s right, Creek is still very much behind this band, based on the interview I did with Nansel and Kulbel for the Slowdown opening. A better question might be is Ladyfinger still very much behind Creek? Even if they only sold 500 copies of Heavy Hands, they both could do much worse.
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More Matt Sharp. By the way, I asked Sharp if he really had a chance to get back with Weezer as all the online press seems to indicate. He said the window of opportunity was only open for a brief moment in time, maybe two weeks. Rivers had a wild idea that the reunion would be good for everyone involved. But just as quickly as the window opened, it closed again.
Column 136: Let It Burn
Matt Sharp talks videos, industry wreckage.Here are some leftover thoughts from my interview with Matt Sharp that I hate to see go to waste.While doing research for the interview, I stumbled across a brief bio of Weezer at Allmusic.com, written by Stephen Thomas Erlewine and Greg Prato. It said videos — or the lack of them — were part of the reason Weezer’s critically lauded Pinkerton album never caught on with the general public the way the band’s debut did. “The album failed to become a hit, partially because (Rivers) Cuomo did not want the band to record another series of clever videos,” the bio said.Sharp, a founding member of Weezer who was still with the band during that period, disagreed. “We did do videos for Pinkerton,” he said. “They were horrible.”The reason: Weezer was in a state of disarray after the mind-blowing success of their debut, which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard 200.“We weren’t in a very good state as a group,” Sharp said. “We were dealing with the hangover of the success of ‘the Blue Album’ (the debut), and weren’t very in synch at the end of (Pinkerton). We didn’t have a unified sense of what we should be doing visually, except that Rivers had some ideas for the album art.”
It was Sharp who formed a relationship with maverick filmmaker Spike Jonze, who directed the band’s first video, “Undone (the Sweater Song),” and went on to direct the ubiquitous Happy Days-inspired video for “Buddy Holly” that dominated MTV in the mid-’90s.
“I had a connection with Spike. He was a good friend of mine,” Sharp said. “We talked about the first video, and he conveyed some ideas for the ‘Buddy Holly’ video that I conveyed to the rest of the group. The connection was strong, and we had a lot of admiration for him.”
By the time Pinkerton rolled around, Sharp said everyone in the band was off in their own worlds. Videos were the last thing on their minds. “We weren’t into it, but the pressure was on,” he said. “The directors who did our worst two videos had a history of making one great video after another. When they got to our dysfunctional situation, there was nothing to glue it together.”
Funny how the industry has changed in a mere decade. Back in ’94, videos were still an essential part of music marketing. Today, you’re lucky to find a channel on basic cable that still plays videos at all. MTV has become a ghetto of vapid teen reality shows and sketchy bio-docs obsessed with the greed of the wealthy (or the offspring of the wealthy). Even VH-1 rarely shows videos any more, which only leaves web-based media like YouTube, hardly a cinematic experience.
Sharp said he recently watched the just-finished first “proper video” by his pals Tegan and Sara, shot entirely on 35 mm. “It seemed funny to see it all compressed on YouTube,” he said. “You just don’t think of (videos) as being a main component anymore.” Despite that, he said The Rentals are considering shooting a video for their new EP’s hallmark track, “Last Romantic Day.”
The decline of videos is another reflection of an ever-changing industry that Sharp said is “essentially disintegrating,” while a whole new version is growing up in its place.
“I see us in this bus that’s driving through an industry that’s crashing all around us,” he said. “There’s something exciting about that idea that doesn’t leave me with a sense of depression. Part of me says, ‘Let it burn. Let it go. Let’s start rebuilding it from the bottom up.'”
Sharp said he used to be skeptical when people warned him that the industry was crashing down. “I could always draw a parallel with something that happened 10 years ago,” he said. “Now you can see the bigger shifts going on. It’s strange to think of a time when a label would approach a group and say, ‘You have a sound we like. We want to support you and get your music heard by as many people as possible.’ And the group would say, ‘We would, too,’ and they’d shake on it, and then sign a contract to make a partnership for seven albums that would last a minimum of 14 years.
“I can’t for the life of me imagine signing a 14-year contract in today’s world. Things can change in just six months.”
But what will never change, Sharp said is bands like The Rentals going out and performing on tour every night. “That connection with the audience — that experience and electricity — will always be there.”
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