Starless and Bible Black
Okay. So we got talked into it. Laura and I went to see a big X-Factor concert, featuring the 2009 winner Alexandra Burke and one of the runner-ups Jamie Archer along with the most recent Britain’s Got Talent winners Diversity, the dance group. The line-up was rounded off by a host of other lesser-known acts, among them a new girl group called The Scarletz. For those of you who don’t know, X-Factor is for the Brits what American Idol is for the Americans.
Just before we arrived at the venue a sudden suspicion overcome me. “Alexandra Burke will be backed by a band, right? She won’t just be doing a karaoke gig?” I asked Laura. “I wouldn’t be too sure,” she said.
The place was only about a third-full, which would make it around 3,500 people, mostly teens and folks in their early 20′s. The sound was huge and the light show was quite impressive. It was promising to be a good show. And there was even a drum kit set up, so I was beginning to relax. Yes! There’s gonna be some live music here. That would make sense. You win a karaoke contest like X-Factor in order to go on to bigger and better things. Like having your own band, for starters. Just to show that you’re actually a credible artist. Right?
But then, unexpectedly, after a few minor acts, the headliner Alexandra Burke went on stage. In the middle of the show and not at the end of the night as you would expect. Just her and a couple of male dancers. And a blaring karaoke track. The crowd went wild. Almost as wild as when they played “Me No Speak Americano” during the break. “What?!” I was really disappointed. “No band? Isn’t she the headline act?”
“This is just a glorified karaoke gig,” said Laura knowingly.
I was incredulous. “You mean to say that Jamie Archer is the real headline act here? Or the total unknowns The Scarletz? Are THEY what everyone’s waiting for? Whose drum kit is it?” But Laura was as puzzled as I was. “Who the heck knows,” she said, “I hear that these X-Factor concerts can be pretty strange.”
After more in-between-act music (to which the crowd responded MUCH better than to any of the feature acts), The Scarletz were announced. Four nice girls, good little voices, great vibe – backed by a three-piece white-reggae band with young but good players. “Now that’s gonna be more like it!” I exclaimed hoping to finally be entertained. “I didn’t realize they brought their own band with them!” We had the Scarletz in our studio the night before doing some impromptu a capella stuff for Laura and Ashton’s radio show, so we knew they could hold their own and had some really good songs. I was sure they were going to wipe the floor with Alexandra Burke and most certainly with Jamie Archer. And I didn’t realize that it was them who brought their own band with them. When we talked in the studio the night before, this just didn’t come up.
But the instant the band started playing… I knew they were in serious trouble. The drums sounded woolly, the bass was booming and the guitar was all but inaudible. The four lead singers were set to different levels so that when one was blaring, the others were barely audible. “Oh no!” I exclaimed, “I hope the engineer wakes up in there! He’s KILLING them!” And they actually played very well. But you wouldn’t know!
Halfway through the first song some people in the crowd started booing… First only a few, later more and more joined in. The girls on the stage were quite unaware of that and continued their set. “WHERE THE F is the engineer?!” I yelled. By the fourth song, half the audience was booing and howling in derision. But the sound didn’t change. I watched the soundman incredulously from where I was sitting. He just sat there and did NOTHING at all to correct this atrocious sound, sipping a beer. That’s what happens when all you know is how to mix a karaoke act. All you have to worry about are two faders plus the vocal. You’d think that an X-Factor concert could afford professionals…!
After their fifth track the girls went off the stage accompanied by boos, which they (as we later found out) were totally unaware of. They thought they went down a storm! Well, they SHOULD have. They were tight, had a live band – NO KARAOKE – they were all singing live and in pitch, and had good original songs. But what was coming out (courtesy of this amateur, the soundman) was a cacophony of unbalanced sound, the likes of which I don’t recall even at amateur gigs from days long gone by.
I was really heartbroken. So was Laura. How could the – potentially – best act be allowed to bomb like that?
And then the MC asked the audience if they also thought the Scarletz were crap…
Is THIS what an MC is expected to say? Even if they WERE crap? And particularly because it wasn’t THEIR fault? My blood was boiling, and Laura was beside herself.
And then the (unexepected) “main attraction” of the night, Jamie Archer. This is a guy who never won the X-Factor coming in 4th or 5th. Or lower. Doesn’t have original music, and while definitely a nice fellow with a good stage energy, he’s also quite definitely just an average karaoke singer. Not too bad, but also nothing you’d remember for more than an hour.
And yet… the crowd went WILD.
Him alone on the stage, accompanied by a loud backing track. Jamie was just about in tune (some of the time) and just about holding his own. Were those people DEAF?! After a couple of poor cover tracks Jamie switched to his guitar and did the rest of the set acoustically. Covers as well. The crowd loved it all – and sung along nicely…
But I just had to leave. I don’t recall being at a concert where I was so sucked dry of energy. Not a SINGLE moment where the heart could soar. Everything was average, already aimed at people with the lowest IQs but dumbed-down even further from there. Overall, appallingly low quality entertainment. The featured signers were average at best, and yes, that goes for Alexandra Burke as well, who is not “bad” to be sure, it’s just that she’s just not that great either. Maybe with a band things would come across differently… I know Laura can sign circles around her even without warm up. As for Jamie… Nice guy with positive energy. And let’s just leave it at that.
Before we left (early), Laura snuck backstage, courtesy of Richard Diaz, the promoter who’s also a friend of the house. She felt she just had to speak to the girls (The Scarletz) to give them a boost and to let them know that we thought they were great, but that they were just completely let down by the soundman.
She ran into Katya, one of the four Scarletz. “How was it?” Katya asked.
“You didn’t hear the crowd…?” Laura asked somewhat incredulously.
“Sure did,” said Katya, “sounded like they loved it!”
Aw m’gawd. Laura couldn’t help herself. She thought about this quickly. Should she tell Katya the truth? Or should she lie and say that everything went great. And then what? As soon as they’d get out on the town they’d hear the truth from everybody else! Should she just be straight?
Well, Laura’s nothing if not straight. “The sound sucked and the people booed…” she said.
“What??” Katya exploded. “Girls, did you hear that?”
Moments later, an unfamiliar girl ran up to Laura, possibly a member of the Scarletz entourage, “you’re full of shit!” she exclaimed. “I was there, it sounded great! NOBODY booed!” She was ready to attack Laura physically.
Laura didn’t let that phase her. She spoke to Katya and the other girls and gave them one pearl of wisdom any artist on the road should know. “No matter what you do, you must always insist to have your own soundman on the road with you. Even if they’re only gonna be there to watch. They will be the only person standing between you and disaster on stage.”
The next day, Facebook was full of comments from the people who went to see that show. “The Scarletz SUCKED!” said most of the posts. And, to add insult to injury, “Jamie Archer was AWESOME and saved the night.”
Two days later, I still can’t shake the bad vibe. To top it all off, a new season of X-Factor just started on TV and I made the mistake of watching the full 90 minutes of it. I always used to watch with morbid fascination – sometimes actually enjoying it, I will confess. But this year… I felt slimed.
After the show was over Laura actually had tears in her eyes. “THIS is what people support. This is the SHIT they PREFER to real music!” she exclaimed. “We have spent years slugging our guts out, promoting the best independent music on the face of the earth, using Fame Games as a vehicle – and we encountered nothing but fierce opposition. Meanwhile… people go out and pay money to watch AVERAGE singers who barely sing in tune, and who won’t even bother to put on a proper show! And won’t even bother showing up with a band… And when a band does show up, the show’s very organizers SABOTAGE it deliberately as if to say ‘see, I told ya live music sucks!’”
I couldn’t disagree. Yeah, I know there’s a lot more to this than that. I know there are layers within layers, there’s politics and economies to think about.
But there’s also “right” and “wrong.”
I was always very tolerant of all this American Idol and X-Factor thing. Heck, we even befriended Tony Cowell (Simon’s older brother) and brought him in on the Fame Games show to provide a sort of a “bridge” between these two worlds. But I must say this: I’m fed up with karaoke as a form of MAINSTREAM entertainment. If this is what audiences today are weaned on, they won’t EVER have a CLUE what REAL music and live concerts are all about!
This must stop before it’s too late!
And then it hit me. It IS stopping. The music industry has created a VACUUM which sucks itself in – and loses its sales and even its live audiences. But bring back a REAL act, properly rehearsed (backed by professional sound people, please) and with good songs… and modern audiences will go back to buying music and attending concerts. It’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t they? And here on Fame Games we have literally thousands of such world-class acts…!
And it’s young bands like the Scarletz who are going to lead the way. If they don’t lose heart. And it’s AWESOME artists like the ones we host on Fame Games who are going to “inherit the earth” – if we can prevent the industry from sabotaging us…!
Somebody – please tell me that I’m not just deluding myself…
Old friend charity
Cruel twisted smile
And the smile signals emptiness for me
Starless and Bible Black