Tuesday, October 24, 2006

The Yes Man

Have you seen the Yes Man? The Yes Man is that guy at the show who believes he enjoys it more thoroughly and more actively than everyone else. Sure, you see people at shows who get drunk and yell a lot and make metal fingers at the band and all that shit, but the Yes Man is up to something else entirely. He is the audience member who thinks that overdoing it is essential to enjoying music, and, I bet, life in general. I could just be making this up, but I see a guy (yes, it's almost always a male) fitting this description at most of the shows I go to. He's not just there to have a good time; he's there to enjoy and appreciate the show as doggedly and thoroughly as possible, all while projecting how proud he is to be so good at appreciating.

I ended up sitting near a table of three Yes Men when I saw Rory Block last week. Block is a pretty good songwriter in her own right and a fine keeper of the acoustic blues—which of course is full of esoteric technique and lore, or, as one of the YM referred to it during a conversation I overheard, "mythos." (The YM doesn't have to be outright pedantic, but these fellows were.) So if a YM knows anything about Robert Johnson (which in this case would be important, because Block's latest album, The Lady And Mr. Johnson, consists entirely of Johnson covers), he's got a head start. He'll catch the in-jokes, the lyrics regarded as especially poignant or significant in blues-nerd circles, and all the soulfullest guitar licks and whatnot. And, in the case of this circle's ringleader (kinda overweight, ponytail), he'll smile and let it linger a little too long, wag his head back and forth as if to say "mm-mm-mm-mm-GOOD!" and even tap his foot for a measure two after a song is over. When I first noticed this YM's behavior, I wrote in my notebook that this is the kind of guy who plays air guitar with accurate chord fingerings. And a few minutes later, he started doing just that.

See, at this show, the artist was providing everything you could reasonably ask for (she's good live!)—a fine performance with a little necessary banter and self-promotion. But for the YM, that's not the whole picture. His experience isn't complete unless he reacts just-so.

Why do I mind? It's not as if these people were keeping me from seeing or hearing or enjoying anything. I think it's because, as Matt's told me, I have a tendency to project the audience onto the performer. Which is just his fancy way of saying this: If one guy's overreacting the whole mood of the show can seem forced to me. Which gets trickier when I'm seeing a band that's always going to have an "emo" label stuck on its ass, like The Appleseed Cast. OK, that's a stupid label, but it's part of the language now, so I try to deal with it. I know they have some whiny numbers, but a lot of the whining gets covered up a lot on their latest album, Peregrine. (I think they kinda make up for it with song titles like "Ceremony," "Woodland Hunter (Part I) ," and "Woodland Hunter (Part II)," if you're into that sort of thing.) In fact, if you want to mope out, you can still enjoy it on that level, and if you don't want to mope out, you can enjoy it as the layered, well-textured, mature (maturing, maybe?) rock it is. I think it's the drums that tie it all together for me. Well, a lot of things tie it together, but hear me out. TAC's drummer kicks ass on a purely musical level, but in every measure he hits a few really emphatic beats that basically sound like headbanging instructions for emo kids: "Hey kid, do it here, and put your back into it!"

The YM at TAC's show here on Saturday followed those instructions impeccably for a solid hour. Sometimes people see a guy acting like that and figure he's just messing with the band, but after seeing him deliberately keep it up for the whole show, you realize that nobody expends that much physical energy for irony. At least not without pay. Does some powerful figure in the record industry have voodoo dolls of these people?

Then again, I'm the guy at the show fussing with my notebook so I can remember all this stuff just-so for my blog. Where does that put me?

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