Rough Book

random musings of just another computer nerd

Category: U2

Where has all the good music gone?

I’m writing this partly in response to this well-written post. I couldn’t agree more. There is a serious dearth of good mainstream music today. Granted, my tastes are geared more towards various forms of Rock and Metal and so I’ll be referring to bands that mainly play that kind of music.

I rarely listen to mainstream music anymore. I find it to be completely boring. Of course, there are a few catchy tunes now and then that are good for a listen or two, but there is nothing that captures and captivates the mind – nothing that you can listen to over and over again and hear something new each time. Gone are the complex chord and rhythm changes and meaningful lyrics. Instead, mainstream music has devolved into predictable chord-progressions, simple rhythm structures, and inane, uninspired lyrics. In fact, it’s almost embarrassing when you realize that songs from some bands sound almost exactly the same. Try listening to the choruses from Dirty Little Secret and Swing Swing by The All-American Rejects, or for that matter, any song by Nickelback. I won’t say that these bands lack talent, but the fact remains that their music isn’t exactly stellar.

If you really want to compare, take a look at these lyrics from Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. These lyrics come from the second chorus:

When I was a child I caught a fleeting glimpse,
Out of the corner of my eye.
I turned to look but it was gone.
I cannot put my finger on it now.
The child is grown, the dream is gone.
I have become comfortably numb.

Haunting. Nostalgic. Beautiful. You’d be hard-pressed to find anything this profound from music these days. The entire song is a conversation (of sorts) between a doctor and Roger Waters. The non-chorus parts of the song are sung from the point of view of the doctor, and the chorus is from Waters’ point of view. The song and the entire album is built upon a set of themes. It’s a little too long to go into now, but if you’d like, take a look at this analysis of the song, and this analysis of the movie and the album. It’s very hard to find a complex, self-referential, and thematic work like that in mainstream music today.

The bands that I listen to now include Coldplay, Muse, The Shins, The Strokes, Modest Mouse, Pinback, and Sigur Rós (just to name a few). A quick tangent on Coldplay. Many accuse them of sounding too much like U2. I’ll admit, I did that too initially, because Chris Martin did sound like Bono. But this is only true of their early works. Bono’s voice evokes in you a sense of pain, longing, aching, and hope. Chris Martin’s voice is much mellower. Furthermore, their later works may sound superficially like U2’s, and this happens only if you concentrate on Chris Martin’s voice. But the music is very much different. Anyway, you may not have heard of some of the bands above. If you have, kudos to you! If you haven’t, I urge you to listen to them. I try to listen to music from independent labels because I do think that they sound better, are more innovative and have their own sound and character. Major labels mainly support bands that will get more air play, that will top the charts and that can get the most number of 12-14 year-old girl fans (I’m sure an accountant at one of the big labels has come up with a formula that translates this number into a dollar amount). The latter seems the be the major metric these days for the success of a band, and the first two seem to have an inverse relation to the quality of music these days.

Now that this decade is almost over, I’m left wondering what exactly would define this decade in terms of music. The 60’s and 70’s both had amazing rock bands in addition to disco (which defined the 70’s in some sense). The 80’s of course, has 80’s music, replete with synthesizers and synth-drums. The 90’s is definitely grunge and alternative. What about the 2000’s (or 00’s)? I can’t find any particular genre that defines it. If you go by mainstream, the only thing that defines music for me in the 2000’s is terrible, music-as-a-commodity stuff. But if you go by independent music, you’ll find a bunch of rich, innovative (and definitely fringe and avant-garde) music. Their success definitely has to do with the growth of the internet. Bands no longer need labels and radio to promote them, and this only highlights the fact that good music these days doesn’t come from big labels (corporations that just want to make money), but they come from small, independent labels that just want to make good music. But that’s another topic to explore.

U2

I went to the U2 concert yesterday. The last time I saw them was four years ago. I remember that experience being absolutely amazing. It was also my first real concert. I couldn’t wait to see them again. Fast forward a little less than four years to a cold January morning at the Glendale Arena. Abhishek and I went there at about six in the morning to get the tickets. They weren’t going to start selling until 9, and were going to hand out arm band at around 8, I think. So this is how the whole ticket thing was going to work. There was no first-come, first-serve. They gave you an arm band with number on it. After everyone had received their arm bands, they would pick a random number to serve as the starting point. Then sequentially, from that number, they would go forward and loop around until one less than the starting point. For example, let’s say we had arm bands numbered from 1 to 100. Let’s assume that they picked 60. Then everyone goes sequentially from 60 to 100, and then from 1 to 59. I guess it was sort of fair, meaning everyone pretty much had an even chance. Anyway, Abhishek and I stood far apart in the line because we didn’t want to get numbers close to each other since that would ruin our chances. I think he got 13 and I got 30 or something. After getting our arm bands, we went to sleep in my car for about an hour. Then, while pondering our chances, we decided to check out other sales venues. They were all packed, so we decided to stick around. At 9 o’ clock, they picked some random girl to draw the number. I remember being really anxious. She picked 15. That meant I was 15th in line. But since they had 12 ticket counters, I was effectively 2nd in line. Anyway, Abhishek and I checked the seat layout to figure out the best seats for the price. We wanted section 223 since that would put us directly in front of the stage. When I went up to the ticket counter, the lady told me that I couldn’t pick anything. So I just asked her to give me the best 8 tickets she could. She gave me 8 seats in section 223. Sweet.

Fast forward to April 14th. Warm April evening. We were all in front of Glendale Arena, waiting to go in. “We” consisted of me, Sadhana, Parthavi, Josh, Suhrid, Abhishek, Apurva, Parag, and Tanjot. Josh had brought me about three small bottles of Sauza, which I hid in my socks. They didn’t even pat us down as we went in. We lounged about for a while and got some stuff to drink and then went in to see the opening act. I was surprised at how calm I was… I wasn’t very anxious or anything. In fact, I wasn’t anxious waiting for this entire concert to happen. Somehow, that made it better because I didn’t anticipate or expect anything.

U2 came on. It was just pure ecstacy. I haven’t enjoyed myself so much in a long time. I can’t even begin to describe the surge of emotions that went through me. The music was all around me, surrounding me. I was whooping and singing, no, shouting along to the songs. It was a wild trip the entire way through. The three little bottles of Tequila helped too. Sadhana claims I was moving too much and slamming in to her, but as usual, she says that because she is on crack. Ok maybe, I slammed her a little bit. This dude next to me, however, was playing air-guitar. But most of the time I was just singing along and clapping. U2, of course, was promoting their new album, so they played a couple of songs from there. But the best part was when they started playing their classic stuff – War, Joshua Tree, and Achtung Baby. They even played stuff from Boy, and also from All That You Leave Behind. Oh yeah, and their stage effects were awesome! It was somewhat like a light show. They had these light trails going around the (circular) stage. They also had some sort of curtain or something in the background that would display images. Then you have just the band themselves… simply awesome. The chemistry they share between each other, and with the audience is so rich. They are very few bands that can elicit such a response from the audience. When they played “Where The Streets Have No Name”, you could barely hear Bono because the entire arena was singing along! Then of course, you have Bono’s monologues. He said something that was really poignant. He said that a certain tsunami happens every day and still doesn’t make it on the news. A 150,000 people die every day in Africa because of AIDS, and that still doesn’t make the news. How fucked up is that?

Anyway, to sum it all up… It was just quite simply, an amazing concert. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time, and I haven’t felt this happy in a long time. My voice is gone, and my throat hurts, but hell… it was worth it.

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