Friday, September 25, 2009

Tiki Bar, "Dive Bar," and Randomized Decemberists

I think I’ll be at Otto’s Shrunken Head tonight for their 60s garage rock night, since bachelor-partying George Fishman likes that stuff (as do a couple of my favorite conservative women, as it happens).

My own tastes appear to have a new name: I can’t help noticing that — the online station that I’ve long said seems to have exactly the same music mix you find in all the faux-dive bars in recent years (punk, rockabilly, Johnny Cash, Pixies, etc.) — now explicitly calls itself a “dive bar” station. It’s as if it were all as coorindated as Starbucks somehow even while looking like shabby, decentralized anarchy.

DevilsNight is using the slogan “The best dive-bar juke box you’ve heard in your life.” It’s fascinating to me how this ostensibly rough-and-random set of culture products — punk, old country music, tattoos, Bettie Page haircuts, darkness — became a coherent marketing demographic. But it works (even for wussy New Wave fans like me).

This past Saturday, I witnessed another — more jubilant — example of musical controlled randomness, since the great Decemberists performance I saw was structured around a completely randomized set list, each of their song titles written on big ping pong balls in a drum — which was churned (and its results bombastically and very amusingly announced) by none other than alternative rocker John Wesley Harding, who said (convincingly) that the band had called him up only that day to fulfill this odd role. The band almost refused to submit to the hand of fate during the encore, when the churning bin of chance happened to cough up: a five-song suite called “The Tain.” But they did it — and “Perfect Crime” to boot.

Harding himself is best remembered (at least by me, back in college) for his rather Aristotelian song “(Why Do You Do What You Do When the Things That You Do Hurt) the Person Your Are?” A good question for the immoral rabble.

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