The missus adores what I regard as some highly unworthy acts. I have never been terribly impressed by Todd Rundgren. She, and many of her closest friends, regards him as The God Who Walks Among Us, though, in fairness, the phrase is actually my own. She regards The Tubes, whom I like considerably less than I like Todd Rundgren, and whom I in fact don’t like very much at all, as indescribably wonderful — indeed, as The Greatest Live Band Ever.
When she was in this country for a few weeks last month, I took her to see the latter act in San Juan Capistrano. The opening act was Casey Jones & The Railsplittrers, apparently from southern California’s Inland Empire. They reminded me of a bit the Bay Area comedian Rick Reynolds did in the early ‘90s about performing at San Quentin, seeing in his audience a bunch of inmates with their hair in curlers, and wondering, “How special does the evening have to be for them to want to look their best?”
Well, how big a gig do CJRS need to change out of the T-shirts they’d wear to rehearse in on a day they weren't going to bother to shave either?
My guess is that what they think their ultra-casual self-presentation says is, “We’re all about the music, man.” What it says most clearly is, “We’re an anonymous opening act, and don’t deserve your attention.” The sad thing being that they were actually pretty good. Their vocal harmony on The Beatles’ “Because” (Abbey Road) was glorious, in fact. The bass player played with considerable enthusiasm, but there were times when, because he was playing eighth notes with his bass drum foot, all I could see was the drummer’s ample flab jiggling. I could not later unsee it.
In 1964, when The Rolling Stones took to misplacing their uniform jackets and coming on stage mismatched, it was revelatory, and maybe even thrilling. The audacity! It was pretty nervy of Bryan Adams, in his own mid-80s heyday, to wear nothing but plain white T-shirts on stage. In the 21sst century, dressing ‘way, ‘way down isn’t audacious or revelatory. It’s par for the course, and very, very boring.
You honor your audience by dressing up to perform for it, though I appreciate that throughout most of the rock era, it’s been the audience that’s supposed to honor the performer. (Your top headliner takes the stage when he or she damned well pleases, and becomes visibly miffed if the audience doesn't abandon its comfortable seats to come stand reverently before him the whole show.) The performer honors his or her own music by dressing up to play it. I’ve been saying all those since the mid-1980s, when I said it in Creem. Don’t make me keep saying it, OK?