To Have or Not to Have…

May 21, 2017

Back-up singers or dancers.

There was this YouTube video I watched literally every day from the later part of 2012 through about mid-2013. The video gave me strength, but that’s an entirely different conversation. The video is of a small-venue concert of Ellie Goulding, a show at the Troubadour in October 2012 to be exact. It’s Ellie with her original musicians, this guy Chris on guitar, she talks to him by name, and her original fans literally talking out to her from the audience. At one point, she says “I feel like in my living room”, the words somehow made extra special with her British accent and a tribute to her beginning core original fans and their little concert vibe they had going on. I didn’t go that show; I would have had I known about it. Indeed, as much as people think the Internet makes us find out about concerts, somehow, these concerts don’t seem to get publicized, outside of following the artist’s Twitter feeds, but that’s the subject below. But I did see Ellie early on, a concert in a larger-sized venue than the Troubadour, but still small enough to make you feel like you’ve happened upon the beginning. And the beginning is special because that’s when an artist is their most organic, their most pure.

In Ellie’s case, and even when I saw her (2014 at the Fox Theater, 2,000 capacity in Pomona, California), she had a huge radio hit in the song Burn. I mean I had to have a Les Paul after I saw her with her black one strumming along to the last chords of Burn in the encore. She was huge then, the last date in a small venue, completely sold out. I saw Ellie last year, late March or early April 2016, at the Staples Center. I had just had surgery and had to sit in my seat. No jumping. But really, that show was nothing compared to the one I saw at the Fox, and certainly lacking as compared to the show at the Troubadour I wished I’d seen, but for which I have every word and movement memorized. Ellie’s Staples Center show was a production. Her voice is good now, much stronger than when she started, but she added … everything, back-up singers, three people who ‘ooo and ahhh’ and sing along to choruses, and a huge troop of back up dancers doing all sorts of choreography around her. By the time I saw her my first time, she had those back-up singers, and that was the core of my disappointment. I wanted Ellie, sure Ellie with “Chris”, the guitar player, but just Ellie’s voice, just Ellie’s dancing… or jumping, or whatever she does.

Then there’s Lana del Rey, and the reason for my thoughts of today. Lana’s early footage isn’t always strong on vocals. I think she has interesting songs, but her live footage was sometimes … scary. Seriously, I think Lana was literally scared. I like her though. Lana, for all her sultry act, to me, seems like a shy dork who made herself into what she is. Perhaps it takes one to see one. Still, for her faults, I prefer Lana without backup as well. Indeed, Lana’s back-up singer/dancers – two similarly dressed girls who are to each side of her, are often in the forefront. I think if a back-up is used, they should be physically behind or somewhere that is not center stage. Now, having a choreography background, I can appreciate the moves, and little moves always look good with others doing it, but still, to have or not to have…

Back-up singers. I’m voting no, I think, except I really do like cute little dance sequences, so I’m not sure. I do like it organic though. Perhaps it’s the fact that I’ve been listening to a ton of rock (shocker there), the Soundgarden footage, the Metallica footage, and rock is something that is often best in its raw organic state, but even for other music, I think I prefer it simple, just the singer singing. I get it, the show is important, so they have their purpose, but honestly, I think the show can detract from the energy of the music. Or perhaps I should make sure I see the small-venue shows where it needs to be organic and simple to even fit on the stage.

Speaking of… Lana did a show when I was in Texas, the South by Southwest festival in Austin on March 17 on a very small stage, her guitar player who she called out to, his name I couldn’t understand, right next to her. Mind you, I’m sure I couldn’t have gone, but I never heard any publicity about that show either. I’m seriously wondering how to remove the rock that I appear to be living under, and I have the answer. Twitter.

Twitter. I have this love-hate thought about Twitter. We have a President who “tweets”; that thought makes me cringe. I don’t know what I think about performers putting up snippets of their work. On the one hand, it’s communication with fans; it builds excitement. On the other hand, it can seem forced, almost like ambulance chasing, removing the fun of listening to the album the first time through. Then again, who does that? People don’t even buy albums.

Lana’s Twitter page is my foray into the whole Twitter thing being something I’ll even consider. I looked this week, prompted by my surprise that she had a show I didn’t know about until I did a search that revealed she had a practice video on Twitter (Instagram too). Crossing over to the other part of this article, the video was of a dance sequence with her foreground back-up dancers-singers.

The practice video featured almost a minute from a soon-to-be released song from her soon-to-be-released album, a song likely titled “Cherry”. I do a lot of searches on artists and bands I like. Lana has been all over the place in the last month or two, pre-releasing about three songs. One of those songs, she recorded in about a week, after tweeting (and posting to Instagram) a video of her singing the beginnings of the song next to some trees. Turns out, she made that song all the way through, and then tweeted that too. I really liked hearing her first words of that song, Coachella, then hearing the fully-finished song. I liked reading her thanks to her engineer and producer for getting her song done. Perhaps, however, she should stop trying to get songs on that album, and actually get the album out.

So I don’t know; is Twitter a have or not to have? I have to tell you, I think it works; I think it works to draw in fans. It worked on me. I looked up Lana’s Twitter page only to see if she posted about these shows I missed hearing about. She did. Then I read many of her tweets. I watched her little videos of her processes. I appreciated her little snippets saying she was working, appreciated her thanks to her professional people and fans. As for the shows, I saw she was only given about a month, sometimes a week, max, about being on these line-ups, answering my question about the publicity – festivals add artists as they get the artists, so she was a late-addition to both. I think. I saw another cool thing too. She posted links to NASA tweets, news releases about other Earth-sized planets having been discovered, news releases about the potential of other life. I realize we don’t actually know these artists we follow, save for what they put out there for us to interpret, but I took her NASA re-tweets as confirmation that she really is a dork, a self-identifying wonderful moment for me. Okay, yes, she has some fashion sense, but she is a dork. And frankly, these little tweets lets us get to know the artists a bit better, and that’s fun.

So Twitter. I think I’m warming up to it. I think it’s a have if only because I get to find out when the very elusive Lana will play next. I doubt I’ll ever tweet, but stranger things have happened. I’m not sure about older artists and whether they can or should use Twitter in the same way, but I think it’s fun to see the artists’ process. I would like to see a practice session by my favorite guitarist, to be followed by a release of a song. So, yes, I think Twitter is a have!

Perhaps I could even warm up to the President tweeting. I mean if Vladamir Putin can put up a tweet of himself playing a Lana del Rey song on piano, anything is possible, right?

(Link below)

By the way, I really need to understand that these concerts I want to see seem to get streamed. This morning, when I signed on to find footage of yesterday’s Lana del Rey set that was part of the radio station festival, I saw the link to stream. I could have streamed the entire set! Live and learn on this technology thing. I’ll get there.

Link to Putin playing Lana song: