Aside from the complementary ear plugs and requisite volume, the recent My Bloody Valentine show in Toronto was notable in that it featured two of the most seemingly-bored musicians on the planet.
MBV frontman Kevin Shields looked completely disengaged during the performance. Fellow cooer/guitarist Bilinda Butcher looked even bored-er. Speakers blared. Visuals were set to “seizure“. But reactions, energy, pulse? Nope. Just another day at the office for these two.
Why do we necessarily need our musicians to look “into it”? IMHO, effort is a nice-to-have in a live setting but it’s perhaps even more impressive to see somebody create epic art with a degree of nonchalance. As was the case with MBV in Toronto. And the entire history of J Mascis playing guitar.
Aside: seeing a band look awesomely bored on-stage while making an incredible racket is another example of how contrast is an underappreciated aspect in music. For more on this genius theory, read this.
Many outfits get tagged with the “they’re awesome live” label. This can help in terms of selling tickets and moving merchandise. However, it can also act as a distraction from the actual music (i.e. art) being created. Thusly, there are some “awesome live” acts who may not get the full artistic credit they deserve based on their on-stage antics (Fucked Up, the Jesus Lizard). The end game is they may get pigeonholed by some observers alongside other acts who exist primarily as a “spectacle” rather than “recording artist” (Gwar, Monotonix) in the traditional sense.
Google nets 18,000+ results for the expression “they’re boring live” so clearly, boredom is a concern for many, many music fans. But really, it should come down to a question of expectations. It’s not really fair to the artist to expect any random concert to provide the same brand of entertainment across the board (bored?). In the case of a band like My Bloody Valentine who took a two decade break between albums, I’d be really surprised if they did appear into it. Why would anybody think otherwise? If they really wanted to play these concerts, they wouldn’t have sat out 1993-2007.
I’d argue that the only problematically “boring” concerts are when a young-ish band get massive in a hurry (i.e. the Strokes, MGMT), focus on the substances or other distractions and start mailing in performances while they’re still in the ascension phase. This seriously is the worst but these outfits are pretty easy to spot via YouTube or Reddit or countless other outlets. Do your research and buyer beware, I guess.
So My Bloody Valentine looked half asleep. I thought the concert was beyond fantastic. Fucked Up insight CONSIDERABLE moshing while their singer strangles himself with the mic cord. It’s delightful; I’ve seen them maybe 4-5 times. Again, it’s all a matter of expectations and with a slew of online resources available to give your concert going experience an anticipatory litmus test, it’s now easier that ever to vet your “entertainment” options in advance. If you have concerns…
Bonus! 10 photos of artists who are/were really good at looking bored and being awesome.
1. Bernard Sumner, New Order
2. Charlie Watts, Rolling Stones
3. Doug Martsch, Built to Spill
4. Jamie xx, the xx
5. John Entwistle, the Who
6. John Hassall, the Libertines
7. Mark Smith, Explosions in the Sky (accepting on behalf of his band’s unjust “they’re boring live” stigma)
9. Nate Dogg
10. Neil Tennant, Pet Shot Boys (mildly related, the track “Being Boring” is completely underrated)