One Head at a Time
Peaches En Randalia #59
“However, Animal! is the more passionately engaging work as the majority of tracks considered too extreme by the label (“At the Carnival,” “I Am a Lightning Rod,” “Love Song for a Shuba’s Bartender,” and “Mariel’s Brazen Overture”) are, actually, the gems one would desire. Leave the label. Take the muse.” – my praise for Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s while dumping on their record label
Word of mouth cannot be underestimated, nor does it appear to be going out of style. Word of mouth is also a difficult beast to define since it is often left to the whims of the fickle and unwashed mass of heathens. You know, like me. But that idea that something incredible is happening, and one just needs to pass along the good word until it locks into that mighty tractor beam of “and so on and so on and so on”—or, until you’ve got a thousand barefoot children outside dancing on your lawn—is profound and timeless.
Which is a damned good thing because I write and edit for Jambands.com, and there is something pure, true, ragged and funky, and just plain right about the fact that much of the information gathered on the site is culled from the word coming not only straight from the artist or publicist’s mouth, but THE WORD as it has been passed down from the Unholy STREETS where all good knowledge should bounce atop one head at a time.
When I look at bands that have slowly exploded over time, I have to sit bemused at some of them that appear to have blown up without any hint of ambition or a significant canon. But most bands or artists that have grown and developed into larger acts appear to do so the old-fashioned way—they tour, progressing from bars to clubs to arenas, and onwards, on the turtle’s back (supported by four elephants) of a rather killer set of tunes.
In recent years, I have seen Matisyahu move from tiny venues to much larger locales. I saw Trey play in front of 15 people, and then, I have seen Trey play to the entire population on the Eastern seaboard. I have seen the Avett Brothers go from 200-capacity dives to 1,500-capacity theatres. I have seen Jessica Lea Mayfield open up for the Brothers Avett in a tiny bar, and then, suddenly, a few years later, she is featured in Relix magazine. All of these acts appear diverse, but they share one common denominator—(and it is the similarities in diversity that we crave, not the differences) these acts all benefited quite a bit from strong word of mouth.
Word of mouth coupled with a driving relentless need to tour with a bag full of good tunes is not a guarantee that a band or solo act will succeed. But it sure helps. What is most refreshing in that potential for commercial or artistic success is that the very concept of ‘word of mouth’ is rooted in a priceless marketing scheme. And by priceless, one can venture to guess that said word of mouth is accompanied by some fairly kick ass entertainment, which…wait for it…offers a unique artistic experience. In the case of rock music, and some variations of jamband-oriented music, that word ‘unique’ is a tough one.
So much of what passes for live improv music seems fairly rote. Hell, even the Grateful Dead’s once revolutionary two-set format appeared unique to their modus operandi back in 1970s. But any live act these days worth its in-the-moment salt plays two sets of music with a large strand of improvisation wrapped around its inner core. What compels a fan to continue seeking new music, which is worth talking about, also transforms an artistic conversation. It can change in the space of a few moments amongst friends or several peeps conferring in an online forum thread. And, hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
What is good, and should always remain, is that idea that communicating an opinion, or a note of praise, or constructive criticism, can still motivate a band who, presumably, do not evolve within a vacuum, nor do they create without forming and maintaining a relationship with one’s audience. After all, as the saying goes, when free jazz came onto the scene, it was also derisively called that because the musicians weren’t getting paid due to the fact that they were alienating their audiences. And, hey, that’s great, too—change happens; change motivates, shapes and forms that which we experience. In other words, if you see something good, trust yourself, and tell someone else. And so on and…