Wednesday, 12 October 2011

The Armen Ra-Black Mountain scale

The memories of the Who and Led Zepplin were stirred by my reaction to the opening act at the Portishead concert on Oct 10 at the Sound Academy in Toronto. My life-partner, Laura, and I were trying to decide where their opening act, Thoughtforms, should rank on the Armen Ra-Black Mountain scale.
Armen Ra is a therimin player who opened for Grinderman in November 2010. To quote JrazyBlog, it was "the equivalent of having Zamphir open for Slayer." Talented perhaps - but the last thing in the world I wanted to hear at a Grinderman concert! It would be a 1 on the scale, whereas Black Mountain, who opened for Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds a year earlier, since I bought one of their cds the next day - would have been a 10.
Our conclusion: Thoughtforms was ultimately about a 4 on that scale, almost redeeming themselves with their final track, but still failing to convince me that the 2 guitarists could actually play their instruments. They could make lots of interesting and atmospheric noises and create a fairly convincing wall of sound when they got wound up, but tune, rhythm, melody and other such musical notions were ignored. I usually love "experimental" but these guys just seemed sort of juvenile and formless. I feel that the same rule applies as for writers and painters - show me you have a grasp of the basic techniques - then dazzle me with your innovation. But having failed to demonstrate a mastery of the basics (I will admit that the drummer impressed throughout the set), it just felt like they were - as one site put it - like a bunch of kids noodling around in their bedroom.

Misremembering the past

Should one think of it as misremembering or merely reremembering? I think sometimes we rearrange our memories in a more aesthetically pleasing way. For instance, I went for many years believing that I saw Led Zepplin opening for the Who in 1969. Not too far off. I did see both bands at the Edmonton Gardens - the Who in 68 and Led Zepplin in 69. I prefer my original memory, where Zep was an enormous revelation. As far as I was concerned, I had never heard of them before and discovered them at the Who concert. Best discovery ever...or at least it would have been if it had really happened. But alas, there were two separate concerts. I missed the Who as a backup band in 67 (I was too young to go to concerts alone. And I don't have any memory of who opened for them when I actually did see them in 68.) So my memory of The Who and Zepplin together was much more efficient and pleasing than the truth. Truth is highly overrated. After all, that lineup did actually play in Maryland 3 months later. So I think I'll keep that memory.
Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Led Zepplin as opening act for the Who? Man, that was a concert!