Most record labels admit that the decades old pay-to-listen industry model is over. Streaming provides a decent revenue for labels, if not for artists, but it’s rare that music releases are now anything other than loss-leading.
So whilst the industry struggles and experiments with new business models (U2 style give-aways; Take That style early-bird tour offers) the artists tour and pay for its upkeep.
We’ve had this for a while; the result being consistently increasing ticket prices and larger numbers of bands reforming/touring classic albums.
Finances aside, the touring model can be, artistically, beneficial to acts. Particularly to those who’s music sounds better, and is more easily understood, live.
Public Image Limited are a good example of this. Listening from home you can miss the small nuances that are obvious when they play live.
The same conditions apply to Preoccupations- as complex and musical as PiL at their best, and a band who I found must be seen live to be fully understood.
To play music as good as this, you need good musicians; and all four members are absolute masters of their chosen instrument.
Centered around Denny Wilson-esque drummer Mike Wallace, the band are an absolute nuclear live act. He leads the other three players magnificently; finding the right moment to start the songs off, making in-song adjustments to time & tempo, and consciously moving the music between states of electronica and garage rock. Shirtless and chiseled, he looks like either the next star of an Armani-campaign or lead in a new Bret Easton Ellis.
Bassist Matthew Flegel and guitarist Scott Munro both provide the structure and menace to the songs. A menace that is apparent in the lyrics “You don’t have to say sorry /For all the things you failed to do/ You don’t have to say sorry /For all the times when everything fell through”.
Multi instrumentalist Dan Christiansen builds a sonic soundscape with complexities to rival anything by Thurston Moore, Peter Holmstrom or The Edge. Watching him dart between instruments is enough to make a workaholic look lazy.
The songs and their presentation are all brilliant; cleverly riding a path between high-art, goth, post-punk and american hardcore. You can see the dichotomy play out by watching the crowd; half stand and stoke chins, half mosh. Tracks like March of progress and Silhouettes (“There’s no connection left in your head/ Another book of things to forget/ An overwhelming sense of regret/ Relay, reply, react, and reset”) are absolute knock out live; energizing the crowd to stroke faster or mosh angrier.
Yet as moody and dark as the lyrics the sound, the overall feeling of the music is upbeat and optimistic; there is a strength to their honesty rather than a defeatism.
Perhaps this is what I failed to see when listening to the record. What I get live, reflecting as I pull this together, is the positivity of the band; you can see this in their smiles and in the way they attack their instruments.
This is a celebration of the dark things in life.
I saw Viet Cong earlier last year; one more album in has resulted in an extra 40 minutes of playing time and a new personal favorite (‘Memory’) which sits alongside an old favorite (‘Death’) as being uncomprehendingly brilliant, both musically and emotionally.
It’s difficult to say if they have grown musically- they were brilliant a year ago- but the business model has probably had them on the road more. And as a result I’d like to think that more people now fully understand them.
This must be the ticket to get.