Radio rock failed fans

It’s been said by some that the recording industry as we know it is not long for this world—crumbling from the inside out, a victim of its own greed and inability to adapt. It’s not my job to root for this or help it along, but Friday night I had the opportunity to witness a little piece of it.
The Tulsa Convention Center was host to three of the biggest names currently circling through the playlists on “active rock” and “mainstream rock” radio: hard rock/nu metal outfits Papa Roach, Seether and Staind.  The concert was not particularly entertaining, but it was a moment of insight into what’s happening with the music industry and why more and more musical acts are eschewing it altogether.
Sitting in the audience, I was treated to forty or so of the least interesting rock songs ever written.  There were, evidently, three different bands that played that night, but every song was essentially the same three-chord dirge, played with the same down-tuned power chords, and (for the most part) about the same standard-issue angst.

These are the bands we ask to fill arenas? These are the bands we give countless hours of radio airtime to? Is this really the best that American music has to offer? Well no, of course it’s not – as anyone reasonably familiar with independent music will tell you – and yet, this is the material that the industry chooses to market to the masses so aggressively.
After a brief performance from little-known band Red, Papa Roach opened the evening, taking the stage in an arena that was barely half-full.  “What the f— is up, Tulsa?  Get out of your f—ing seats, this is a f—ing rock show!” screamed lead singer Jacoby Shaddix, proving that he’s one of the more obnoxious people currently working in rock music (though Fred Durst probably still has him beat).

The band then played through a dozen or so of their three-chord songs, including {mosimage}“Scars” (which features the bewilderingly amateur chorus “I tear my heart open / I sew myself shut / My weakness is / That I care too much”), “Forever” (which Shaddix said was “going out to all the little dirty girls in the audience here”) and “Last Resort”, also introducing new songs like “Hollywood Whore” (“Is anyone else sick of b–ches like Britney Spears?”—well yeah, we were—five years ago).  Then Shaddix finished out the set with a “Thank you! We are—Papa Roach! Papa Roach!” – essentially begging the crowd to start chanting their name (they did).  Really, guys?  Really?

Things improved a bit when South African band Seether took the stage, and things were allowed to be a bit more fun (their drum was covered in Christmas lights—tell me that’s not cool).  Unfortunately, without the abrasiveness of Roach, the show just became plain dull, and dragged from there on.  The only interesting moment was arguably when they played their radio hit “Fake It,” which is probably one of their more creative songs, in that the usual plodding thump has been replaced by a catchy swing beat; for the live performance, guitarist Troy McLawhorn even attempted a solo. (It fell flat, but I had to appreciate the effort.)
The evening was rounded out by the Massachusetts-based outfit Staind, who asked us yet again “What the f— [was] up” (do people really think the so-called f-bomb actually still has shock value? seriously?).  Fortunately, Staind was a band that wasn’t afraid to play an acoustic number or two, and we were able to enjoy our three-chord nuggets sans screaming feedback for a few minutes.  Staind is also a band that understands a bit of subtlety, and there were a few introspective moments during songs like “Outside” and “It’s Been a While,” even as the light show exploded to seizure-inducing proportions.  Then with a pleasant “Have a great rest of your evening” from lead singer Aaron Lewis, the show was over.
There’s something jarring about being hard-sold teen rebellion for three hours, only to have lights come up and be reminded that the whole time you were sitting in an arena financed by government money, and surrounded by security guards and people munching nachos mass-produced by some faceless corporation.  Therein lies the problem: the whole evening was about being sold a product.  The songs sounded identical to their album counterparts (perhaps because they had to time them perfectly with the light show), and every jump, flail and f-word was preplanned and timed exactly.
It’s not that I expected more; this was, after all, an evening of what can only be called “radio rock”—i.e., heavy metal and grunge distilled down to their least interesting elements so that they can be mass-produced and marketed directly to an undiscriminating demographic. The point, though, is that no amount of marketing can make bad music good. Everything gets old eventually, and a bunch of white guys playing three chords on their guitars in front of a flashy light show was pretty much played out 20 years ago.  This is why the arena was nowhere near full, despite the presence of three bands that have sold millions.  They sell so well due to aggressive marketing, not quality, and while a handful of teens might currently be content to go to the concerts, crowd surf, and pretend to be rebellious – there’s no way they’ll tune into these songs on oldies radio 30 years from now.

About the author:
A graduate of the University of Nebraska, Luke Harrington currently resides in Tulsa and works in the {mosimage}aerospace industry–but, at any given moment, would probably rather be reviewing movies and music.  In his spare time, he’s off playing blues piano, pretending to be Assistant Editor for, or reviewing the many musical events in Northeastern Oklahoma for Tulsa Today.

Edit note: 
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