By Erika Meyer
On September 20, the Experience Music Project, Seattle’s rock history museum, hosted a benefit performance of the Nirvana album, Nevermind. I found out that there was a live feed of the performance about an hour into it, and watched for a while as several different bands performed songs from the album, one by one, in order. After all the songs on Nevermind had been performed, more bands came up to perform more favorite Nirvana tunes.
Such a big beautiful stage, with a big screen behind it, like on the TV show, America’s Got Talent. If my band were playing that stage, I’d be the one trying to get them to play my own DVD instead of their generic effects. Can you imagine what, for example, a close-up of a cockroach would look like at that size?
It can’t be easy to set up, perform just one song, then quickly move your stuff off stage so the next band can get up there. It’s the kind of arrangement that doesn’t do a lot to keep the energy flow high. So while I can appreciate a band’s effort to create a lot of energy around a song, some things just seemed wrong.
I found myself at first disturbed, and later fascinated by The Crypts’ performance of ‘Endless Nameless’ and the audience reactions.
The vocalist writhes around, dances like a deranged ape, locates and jumps off an amp, strips, makes humping movements with a hand in his pants, hurls mic stands, and finishes by screaming, “That’s how Nirvana would have done it motherfuckers!!!” (Describing it here makes it sound better than it looked.) He later tells Seattle weekly The Stranger, “We wanted to pay homage to Nirvana”.
The live chat feed during The Crypts’ performance reflected a generally and sometimes viscerally negative reaction to the performance. At the end, the EMP audience seemed almost stunned. Comments on websites indicate some people were hurt. Someone posted on YouTube, “I was the kid he whipped in the face with his belt and hit me in the face with his mic stand”. (Stage destruction party foul!) There was a smattering of applause. There was anger.
Wait — stage left — is that the possessed shirtless maniac politely packing up his gear to leave the stage?
In my view, the greatest power in a live performance comes when the artist manages to capture, channel, and manipulate genuine energy. Sure, some of it might be pre-planned and prepared for, but you don’t roll with it unless you feel it. The energy of the audience feeds it, the energy of the artist feeds it, and it becomes something great, exciting, genuine, REAL. It’s not supposed to be a spectacle to look at, it’s supposed to be something transformational. Again, difficult to do with one song, but there is room to work. ‘Endless, Nameless’ is an improvisational piece. Why would you smash a guitar if you’re not a guitar player? It’s meaningless.
Making unconventional sounds with your instruments through use of feedback or other chaotic techniques (including, but not limited to, beating the living crap out of them) is one way to create and channel rock’n'roll energy. I’m all for trying new things, but something about manipulating sounds on a laptop doesn’t quite get there for me, not on this song. Now, if you were to SMASH the laptop, maybe that would convey something, but I’m not sure you could get much from that in the way of good sounds. Not like you could get by playing your guitar while detuning it, whacking it against things, ripping your guitar strings off one by one, or shoving it into the amp.
Nirvana would have done it more like this: