Monday, August 20, 2007

Stage presence: The art of being ignored

Lately I've begun thinking about what makes for great stage presence. What makes for a great front man/woman.
In my years I've seen incredible bands clear a room, simply because they lack a certain something that draws people inside their worlds. They didn't deserve to be ignored. Their music was outstanding, but people left anyway.
So what is that "something" that denotes stage presence? That's the age-old question of rock n' roll. Elvis is dead. Bono, sadly, is the closest we have to John Lennon. And Lou Reed is too old.
In a way, this article relates to the one I did on scenesters. Sometimes musicians are innately interesting, simply for the fact that they know 90 percent of the people in their crowds. They went to school with them, were in a fraternity with them, dated half of them, or are related to them. There's not much difference between a house party or a gig for them.
That's too easy.
So I refuse to highlight a band that falls in that category. Perhaps the crowds only leave because the band isn't "in" with the scenesters? It's possible. That sure is lame. But life is also pretty unfair.
I asked a few bands in the region what they thought and The High Strung came through with the best answer. They pointed out the man who single-handedly embodies the great Midwestern frontman: Bob Pollard.
When you talk about stage presence, the man has it. Even when he's fall down drunk. He tells stories onstage, has fun, fucks around, windmills? Check. High kicks? Check. He creates a world people want to enter into because it looks so damn fun.
Better yet, Pollard created this world from the ground up. He was a teacher before he became well-known as the leader of Guided By Voices. As far as I know he wasn't best buddies with people on record labels. His band just made some tapes and scattered them into history. It was only up from there.
That is a real band. That is a real front man.
But there is also the fact that Pollard didn't really have to play guitar a lot of the time. In fact, a lot of the best front people have great stage presence because they aren't tied down by playing an instrument.
Anyone can run around and get the crowd going, if they don't have a guitar chord keeping them within a 10 foot radius.
I've also noticed the expanding trend of bands having up to 10 members onstage. I guess the idea is to have so many people in your band that it looks like a party. Too easy.
Then there are the bands that play dress up. Maybe they wear pirate masks or dress up like animals.
Again, that is way too easy.
So how does the lone person with a guitar, singing their heart out, stuck in one spot, get attention from anyone these days? It just doesn't seem to be enough to have a suberb voice or sing with emotion anymore.
I have no idea.
In fact, other than the Heartless Bastards, there are no other current Midwestern bands who have that ability.
Jeff Tweedy can do tons of solo acoustic shows and sell the place out, but he's already famous. Too easy.
I saw Wilco in Pittsburgh, before Tweedy became famous, and they played their asses off. But it's not like they had any stage presence.
I've noticed that 90 percent of bands that are on a national level, never even acknowledge the crowd.
Right now I'm trying to think of anyone playing music these days that really stands out as having great stage presence. I'm looking for a band that has something special that warrants the attention. I'm looking for some kind of purity of stage prescence, with no gimmicks attached.
Until I find one, I really wish people would stop clearing a room because the out of town band lacks "stage presence."
Just be honest and say you think the band sucks, or that you're not personally friends with any of the band's members.
But my guess is that the whole reason may come down to scenesterism and xenophobia again.
I'm starting to get disappointed in seeing this come up.

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