The effect of non-musical influences

Categories: Columns
blitzen_thackeray.jpg
photo by Aaron Thackeray
Blitzen Trapper last year at Monolith
Ever find yourself disliking a band for reasons that have nothing to do with the music? Maybe you heard that the frontman eats meat. Maybe you saw an interview in which the drummer referred to herself in the third person. Maybe the artwork on the band's latest CD included unicorns. Regardless, you find yourself judging the group based on completely non-musical aspects. Music critics should probably be immune to the effect of non-musical influences, but that just ain't so.

Last week, I found myself very excited to be one of the privileged folks going to the sold-out Alela Diane / Blitzen Trapper show at the hi-dive. My excitement, however, had nothing to do with the music. To be honest, I'd heard records by both acts and they'd sort of washed over me like a tepid shower -- nice and wet, but forgettable, and neither as bracing as a cold shower, nor as searing as a hot one. No, I wasn't that turned on by the music, but the mere fact that all the tickets to this show had been snatched up piqued my curiosity and made me feel like the hi-dive was the place to be that night. I rushed over there with a friend who actually was excited about the music. Boy, was I disappointed. And, once again, it had nothing to do with the music.

Upon entering the packed venue, another friend approached me and said, "I didn't know you were a hippie." I was puzzled by this greeting, until I looked around and noticed that the crowd was, well, slightly more hippified than the hi-dive's usual crowd. I laughed it off and delighted in the fact that a crowd I hadn't yet seen was embracing live music on a school night at one of Denver's best small rock clubs. As Alela Diane took the stage, I settled in near the back and looked forward to the set.

Alela Diane plays very pretty music, but within five minutes, I found myself unpleasantly distracted, not only by loud conversations around me, but also by the crowd. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something just didn't feel right. It seemed like a lot of folks were there because they felt they were supposed to be there -- just like me. And the more right I didn't feel, the more the music started to bug me. Still pretty, it also seemed loose, unstructured and aimless. As I began to disengage, I decided to duck next door to Sputnik to take a little break.

Once I found a spot at the bar at Sputnik, I relaxed again. Several friends were there, and I had some great conversations that will make their way into this column eventually. Before I knew it, an hour had passed. I decided I'd better get back to check in with the friend who'd accompanied me and see what Blitzen Trapper had to offer.

As I walked in, I was immediately turned off by the sounds coming from the band. Because the place was so packed, I took a spot by the window that abutts the stage and tried to get into the performance. The members of Blitzen Trapper are all clearly talented and can play very well, but I just wasn't feeling their sound. One friend compared them to early-'70s Grateful Dead and Kiss. Another said there were moments that reminded him of Thin Lizzy. Among those comparisons, Kiss is the only one I really don't like, but perhaps the combination is what turned me off. Perhaps -- as much as I hate to admit it -- it was the unfamiliar crowd that made me uncomfortable. Or perhaps I was just embarrassed and disappointed in myself for believing the hype. In all likelihood, it had nothing to do with the music.


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