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The Boys in the Band

I went to see a bunch of very good musicians on Saturday. It’s a band I’ve liked for a long time, playing material I love, and I was deeply disappointed.

Okay, so some of it may have been due to the car breaking down in the middle of the street earlier that day, or a disappointing dinner someplace that serves its beer 20 degrees too cold and dripping down the outside of the mug (and onto my jeans), or the scent of patchouli hitting me in the face when I walked in the door. But I think there was more to it.

The lineup of the band has changed since the last time I saw and enjoyed them. (I saw them once in the transition process–WAY too many musicians who hadn’t rehearsed together. Highly annoying.) Their lead singer and guitarist has been replaced by two people. They’re both hugely talented. Their original fiddle player has returned to the fold. He’s not the virtuoso their interim fiddler was, but he’s perfectly competent. They’d even rehearsed.

So why was I getting more disgusted by the minute?

First there was the lack of energy. These are killer tunes that in the past have had me dancing so long and so hard I could barely move the next day. Saturday there were pauses to tune and discuss in between each song. The fiddle player was under amped, so every time he took over, momentum dropped off. And the lead singer kept “jazzing” up the lyrics by singing them with no regard for the beat. You just can’t do that and keep your audience stamping their feet.

Every time he sang one of my favorite songs, I wanted to throttle him, but I’m not sure he would have cared. He might have viewed it as his chance to stop singing that song forever.

When they played a new song and the energy of the place jumped, I figured out the problem. Their lead singer wasn’t having a good time. He was bored with the music he’d written fifteen years ago (the first time he was with the band), and the fact that we liked it didn’t matter. He wasn’t playing for us. He didn’t care whether I had a good time. Somewhere along the way, he’d lost the realization that I’m not paying him to sit on a stage and tootle a tin whistle; I’m paying him to entertain me.

The last guy was a bit of a showoff. He was at least as talented as this new guy, and he did some silly stuff on stage to keep himself from getting bored. But he always brought it back to the songs, and he always took his audience with him for the ride. To me, that means he met the bigger challenge, one the band was failing Saturday night.