NQC 07: Final Thoughts
NQC is struggling. The good news is, there’s evidence (as I noted Thursday night) of an attempt to think differently. This being sg, the innovations are often too nearsighted to have much of a felt impact right away, but the innovative impulse is essential if NQC wants to save itself from obsolescence. The bad news, way too much of the music just stinks. NQC could shake itself up pretty usefully if it would cut about a third of the fat on any given evening’s schedule – I’m thinking here of groups like the Pfiefers, DMB, Down East, Rick Webb trio, Specks, Chuck Wagon Gang (you could actually HEAR people snoring where I was sitting during the CWG’s set), Primitives, Skyline Boys, Naomi and the Segos, Palmetto and Freemans. Give these people a showcase and use the time these cuts free up to let groups that people really hang around for have more time: the Booths, Hoppers, Mark Lowry, Doves, Gold City, L5, GV, and yes, even (or especially) the Inspirations.
This kind of move would also make it more feasible to use a LIVE BAND for all performances. I know, pie in the sky. But hear me out. So much of even the good music (Talley Trio and Booths for instance) is robbed of its felt immediacy and emotional relevance by the reliance on canned band tracks. Virtually no spontaneity (though the Booths and GV and others recognize this problem to some extent by using a hired gun at the piano for NQC week). No sense of something comprehensively beautiful being assembled before your eyes and ears. No margin for mistakes and – more important – the often magnificent recoveries that mistaken moves make possible. It makes me tingly and twitterpated just thinking about how exciting it’d be to hear a full live band behind the Booths or the Talleys or the Perrys (my God, can you imagine a live band behind the Perrys?!).
This is not just about personal tastes, though it is that to a large extent. It’s about artistry and craft. Because it’s starting to feel like many of these groups – I’m thinking of groups like Greater Vision and maybe L5 and the like – are succumbing to a certain artistic inertia after years and years of singing with tracks. With every measure perfectly predictable, ever phrase and modulation expertly timed and tracked down to the nanosecond, every tag and turnaround programmed and planned, the edges get duller and the line goes slack as fewer and fewer variables in the live performance are left to the serendipity of the here and now, the lived moment, the unlooked-for epiphany or shout or screw up or burst of genius insight.
It’s probably an unfair example, but L5’s impromptu attempt to stage “Boundless Love” with McCray Dove at the songwriter’s showcase strikes me as a decent example of the certain something that’s lost in the over-reliance on tracks. Tim Parton keyed the song too high and everyone noticeably struggled under the pressure of a pick up quartet. Instead of enjoying the freedom to explore a new dynamic, the vocalists chafed and strained and plodded through and the song, which got the idn’t-that-spayshul applause we reserve for the good sportsmanship award or “most improved” at the junior high talent contest.
For the love of a trapset and bass guitar, somebody leave your digitrax at home and trust yourself to get by without “our band leader, Mr. Sony” and sky high stack in the mix. Perhaps NQC could start small: partner with the SN and make Thursday night “Trackless Thursday” or “Live Music Night” (ok, so I’m not a PR branding expert). The awards show would become infinitely more musical with a live band and then NQC could stage groups in the concerts that followed who were capable of putting on their set without tracks. It’s a thought. But no matter, something’s gotta give. I can count on one hand the number of moments in three days worth of music that I heard something that sounded genuinely live and not just a replay of what I can hear any average cd for sale at our table out in front. Blech.
What is up with the classlessness from groups that Joel Lindsey blogs about here (make sure to read the comments too)? Note to group owners: snubbing writers and/or asking for their ID before giving them a copy of the album their music is on is NOT the way to get good music in the future.
Enough with faux clever names: Greater Love, Heavenly Reign, Higher Hope, Perfect Peace. Yeah yeah yeah. Fun with homophones and alliteration. The rest of us know about hooked on phonics too. Now can you please go away.
Souvenirs: How funny that Larry Craig, the not gay, nor have I ever been singing senator from Idaho, shows up in both the SN and the 50th Anniversary NQC Commemorative program all in the same month. Well, on the bright side, at least it wasn’t Alberto Gonzales or Donald Rumsfeld.
Someone mentioned this in the comments somewhere and because I intended to mention it and forgot, I’m gonna do so here: but honestly, Stan Whitmire just sets me free. Ok, that wasn’t exactly what the commenter said; I’m embellishing. But here’s the deal: on Friday, Mark Lowry was on with Whitmire at the piano and Lowry moves into Chris Rice’s “Untitled Hymn (Come to Jesus)” (which is my New Favorite Flavor of the Month) and after the first verse Lowry realizes it’s keyed too high if he wants to live through the series of upward modulations that are coming. So he asks Whitmire to drop it down a key or two. And presto change-o … down a step or so. This is not nearly as simple as raising up a half or whole step or a perfect fourth or whatever. At least it’s not easy to do with kind of reflexive ease and grace with which Whitmire executed the command. Inconspicuous descending modulations require a fairly sophisticated theoretical sense of where you are, where you need to be, and how you want to get there (listen, for instance, to the descending modulation in “It’s Time” from the Hoppers’ Live in the Greenville). I don’t have anywhere to go with this other than to say these are some of my favorite inside-baseball moments, the kind that simply don’t happen with canned tracks, and that infinitely enrich the experience of the music in way that only gifted musicians working in concert together can create. Whitmire/LordSong ’08.
Walk it off: What is up with the endless kavetching over the “long walk” to the exhibit hall. From my nosebleed seat to the exhibit hall entrance, it was a 4 minute walk in the worst traffic. Last year, things were admittedly a bit more inconvenient, what with that makeshift mineshaft we all had to tunnel through to get past construction and over to the new South Wing. But still. Even then it was a five- or six-minute hike for the averagely healthy, and this year the walk let you get outside in the beautiful Kentucky weather. I realize a lot of fans are older and afflicted with various infirmities, but then I also see A LOT of Lil’ Rascals and scooters and wheelchairs and walkers, so that means the real complainers are the able bodied for whom a tenth-of-a-mile walk is unreasonably demanding. Maybe we should all step away from the Erhlers line and the Fried Ding-Dongs stand and the Double Deep Battered Country Fried FishDogs and get back in touch with the old daily “constitutional” of yore.Email this Post