Low’s Rock the Garden Show A Little Too Low For Some
The fans and critics loving/hating on Low’s extended drone interpretation of ‘Do You Know How To Waltz?’ have been hard to ignore. Listen for yourself, then ask yourself how you’d feel if you went out to the Rock The Garden concert at the Walker Art Museum and paid $55 to get in.
Despite the message from the band, “Drone, Not Drones,” the reaction at the performance was mostly negative, and devolved online into a social media pissing contest. Twitter accounts broke out for and against the performance. Radio station 99.3 The Current (sponsors of the event) raised the question What Does A Band Owe Us When We Pay To See Them Perform? The comments/responses made the exact same sound as Low’s performance – a vaguely annoying drone:
Old fan…never heard ’em before…loved it…hated it…taking chances…ruined a great opportunity…
The Envelope And How To Push It
Try to remember that this is an over 20-year old experimental-rock band playing an Art Museum. I could imagine so much worse:
- The White Stripes played a One Note Tour, in which they’d set up in public, sound check and all, and play one single note.
- The Replacements played Hello Dolly repeatedly until people left the venue.
- Type-O Negative recorded several minutes of silence and called it “The Misinterpretation of Silence and its Disastrous Consequences” (from their 1991 album, Slow, Deep and Hard)
Low’s half hour of drone doesn’t even come close. People who say that Low didn’t actually play can shut straight up. Go listen to some Coil, then come back and apologize for your musical incompetence.
Some Low supporters turned the argument around, pointing out Minnesota crowds intolerance for ‘real art.’ Since Minneapolis made 4th place on America’s Top 10 Snobbiest Cities I guess that’s a possibility. Perhaps if the crowd were told that some social-media-gatekeeper gave Low a seal of approval before they started playing? Perhaps if Low had included some sugar-pop-rock in their set, they could have proven their musical competence while still showing their avant-guard sensibility?
Maybe they shouldn’t have to.
Experimental Artist + Charitably Interpretive Audience = ???
Lightsey Darst sums it up well. Artists should be disappointing sometimes.
Artists (especially prolific ones like Low) push the envelope through the formula of trial-and-error. If all bands kept churning out the same album for decades (cough AC-DC cough) musical innovation would stagnate. Dubstep wouldn’t be invented for millennia, if ever. The world of music would be as utterly boring and predictable as KQ92.
Thank goodness for artists who are not afraid to continually experiment and “reinvent themselves.” I’m not talking about silly antics like the ones listed above, I’m talking about real artistic innovation. My hat’s off to Tom Loftus, who beat me to the punch on my first two choices of artists who are not afraid of change: Bob Mould (who also played at the same Rock the Garden concert as Low) and Neil Young.
But if you wanna make an omelette, you gotta break some eggs. When artists push the envelope they will hit friction, resistance, and, inevitably, art that doesn’t agree with everyone. Ask Neil Young, who’s had as many number one hits as he has “experiments gone awry.” But like Neil Young, they also hit on great stuff. They spawn entire artistic movements. The Next Big Thing.
It’s easy to write off artwork as talentless bullshit. Doing so is also, ironically, talentless bullshit. My philosophy of ethics instructor, Professor Valerie Tiberius, used to say we need to give works a “charitable interpretation.” If you don’t, then you lose out on the possibility of discovering something. Possibly something amazing. To get the most out of art, you have to put yourself in the role of the creator, and assume that they had a legitimate intention.
I give Low the benefit of the doubt. They aren’t new. They had a legitimate intention. They were trying to do something interesting and different. Maybe people who didn’t like the show could fill in the blanks and imagine what they were trying to accomplish. Maybe some people aren’t able to do this.
More likely, they just don’t want to.
Charitable interpretation takes work. And sometimes people show up at the gig and just wanna drink cheap beer and dance to fun pop songs that they already know.
Which makes me wonder more about the role of the audience than the role of the artist. So, try this on for size:
What does an audience owe to us when we share our art with them?