Wednesday, June 17, 2015
Panorama Arts Center (06.16.15)
Before I get into the details of my show last night at Panorama Arts Center in Second Life, I'd like to step back a bit and talk about music in general. I know, I talk about music often anyway, but hear me out... this is something different.
Last night, my friend Matthew Broyles (aka Matthew Perreault in SL, or The Matthew Show in various musical circles) was performing before me at Panorama. When Matthew is playing in the slot previous to mine, I always arrive quite a bit earlier than I ordinarily would. To me, he's one of the best and most original musicians that has chosen to perform in Second Life, and I really enjoy hearing what he might be playing that day. I'd like to think that Matthew and I have some similarities. Both of us are competent musicians and singers. Neither of us have particularly flashy styles in the music we choose to play, or how we choose to perform them live. We're not out to impress other musicians. We both seem to prioritize the song itself.
But while I readied myself for my own show -- setting up my microphones, getting my software ready to stream my audio and all that -- Matthew was playing a song that was over 100 years old... "Fifteen Years on the Erie Canal (aka Low Bridge, Everybody Down)", written in 1905 by Thomas S. Allen. Side note for anyone who likes to compile Zak Claxton trivia: the oldest song I play occasionally is the substantially newer "Blue Skies" by Irving Berlin, written in 1926. But Matthew's choice to do that song made me think about something that has to do with a much broader observance regarding music performance in general.
Why We Choose What We Play
In any environment, virtual or otherwise, there are going to be a lot of different categories of musicians. Some differences are based on obvious factors like musical genres. Some people pick the genre that they like, and perform songs that are only in that genre. It's easy for those people to find an audience of like-minded people, if the artist is any good at what he or she does. So, you have those artists. Maybe they focus on soft rock hits of the 1980s. Maybe they do gangsta rap of the '90s. Maybe they do classic country songs. And then, there are those who try and stay within what they consider to be current hits that people hear on the radio, regardless on genre. I think of these artists as the "American Idol" types. Perhaps they genuinely love the music that is considered popular at the moment. Perhaps they're smart... people gravitate toward familiarity, and enjoy hearing live performances of the songs they currently know. Those artists tend to draw the largest crowds in an environment like Second Life, and it's not surprising in any way.
Artists like Matthew and I do things a little differently from those folks, and we pay a price for it. At any given show, I might do a song from 1967, followed by a song from 2015, and then one from 1993. I've done a Neil Young song, and then completely alienated the fans of that tune by playing a cover of Snoop Dogg next. Even more often, I'm playing songs by other independent artists that 90% of the crowds have never even heard of, along with my own original music that even less people know. Am I not aware of what I'm doing? Of course I am. But my priority is never to make a lot of tips, or bring in a lot of people, and I do apologize to those venues who mistakenly hire me for those reasons.
Why, then, do people like Matthew and I do what we do? There's no clear-cut answer. We both have a great appreciation for people who do come to our shows; I know that much. But we don't ever tailor our shows to what we feel that audiences might want. Instead, we do what we want. I'm not sure about Matthew, but I don't even take requests. There's no song list to pass around. I play what I want, when I feel like playing it, for whatever reason I have on that day at that venue at that moment in time. If one were of a poetic nature, you could say that my musical choices are dictated by the Muse, and I respond accordingly. Does that make me selfish? You betcha. But it also creates an environment that is perhaps a little more exciting and unexpected than being a musical jukebox, where people put in a coin and hear the song they want. And perhaps, some people have discovered and come to appreciate songs and artists to whom they'd never have been exposed if I hadn't played their stuff live. I hope that's the case, anyway.
I'm not going to keep making these comparisons and analogies, but I'm also willing to bet that Matthew doesn't pay much attention to what style of men's hair is popular this year, or how other guys are wearing various cuts of jeans or shoes, and so on. It's not that people like us begrudge others for following trends. But we also tend to find things that we like, and go with those things rather than abandoning our own vibe to adopt that of others. I also find that a good portion of the people who I consider close friends -- people like my bandmates Bunny and Christina in They Stole My Crayon, for instance -- have a similar attitude. So now you might have a better idea of why I do what I do. If not, well... I'm just going to keep doing it anyway, heh heh.
All that having been said, let's talk about last night's show at Panorama. As I mentioned to the folks who attended the show, when I'm playing at a place that is focused on creativity (i.e., an art gallery), my reluctance to play my lesser-known originals and covers is lessened considerably. In fact, I find that in places like that, I will go out of my way to avoid playing the songs that many other people perform regularly. We didn't have a big crowd there, but those who hung out seemed to be enjoying themselves, and I tend to take quality over quantity.
Panorama set list...
Shame Chamber (Kurt Vile)
*When I'm Gone (They Stole My Crayon)
Things Behind the Sun (Nick Drake)
The Arrangement (Joni Mitchell)
Avalon (Roxy Music)
How Soon Is Now? (The Smiths)
*Got Guilt (They Stole My Crayon)
Swing Low Magellan (Dirty Projectors)
Longing On (They Stole My Crayon)
Big Bad Bill (Van Halen)
Man On the Moon (R.E.M.)
I Am the Walrus (Beatles)
*Indicates the first time I've performed this song in SL.
Big thanks to all who came out to see my show at Panorama, including the following who helped support it!
Triana Caldera, Nova West, Kat Claxton, Gigglefits Resident, Aurelie Chenaux, CB Axel, Cicadetta Stillwater, Niki Andel, Matthew Perreault, my great manager Maali Beck, Panorama hostess Ursula Cinquetti, and the rest of the Panormama team!
Posted by Zak Claxton at 11:51 AM