was the main attraction for the tween-age demographic at this year’s New York State Fair Mohegan Sun Grandstand, and on Aug. 27 she delivered plenty of pleasant pop for the estimated 10,000 in attendance, which consisted mostly of young girls accompanied by their dot- ing moms. The stage setup echoed other kid-geared acts of recent years, including staircases that flanked a crack ensemble of musicians who helped make the songs sound a zillion times punchier than anything transcribed to a CD, while the occasional shoutouts and costume changes were right on cue.
Gomez, the current Disney Channel sitcom princess (she stars in The Wizards of Waverly Place), has enough show-biz savvy at her tender age of 19 to command a crowd that’s already firmly on her side. (Gomez is also familiar with our Grandstand, since she had special seating during the spectacular 2008 Jonas Brothers concert.) Her bouncy music is on the friendly and flossy side, flavored with dollops of girl power and just-be-yourself mantras.
Late in the show Gomez launched into a reverie concerning her first concert at age 11 when she sat in the cheap seats to see Britney Spears, which triggered a medley of that now grizzled veteran’s biggest hits. Gomez said, “Hi to all the people in the very back,” and she sounded pretty genuine to yours truly sitting in Row DDD to review the show, just a few bleacher seats away from a nest of baby eagles calling for their mother. (I would have sent my sherpa to investigate but I had already given him the night off.) Gomez encored with an enthusiastic cover “Magic,” the old Pilot pop song from 1974, and probably the kitschiest song yet to merit a revival, at least until Mouth & Mac- Neal’s “How Do You Do” gets redone.
As these annual State Fair teen-beat shows go, Gomez’s gig was about on par with the previous squeaky-clean acts of yesteryear, which means a professionally packaged and neatly choreographed affair that hints at Vegas for the Clearasil set—and that’s not a knock, either. Alas, on a personal level, my 15-year-old daughter Amy was unable to attend because of her part-time job commitments. We’ve been going every year since the 2000 Britney Spears concert (Amy was then closing in on age 5) and have since witnessed Aaron Carter, Vanessa Hudgens, Corbin Bleu, Cheetah Girls and too many others, not to mention being coerced at the merchandise tables for tchotchkes, posters, glow sticks and T-shirts. I miss those days already. And I need a hug.
Doors of Perception
Throughout the past decade of rock history, a sort of nebulous, ineffable genre of bands largely placed under the umbrella of modern rock by radio deejays formed a new, isolated branch on the tree which had planted its roots firmly in blues, counterculture and unapologetic performance art during the previous 50 years of rock history. A band that has sprung from that branch and has in part defined that genre, 3 Doors Down brought about a third of a stadium’s worth of fans who have supported “modern rock” to the Grandstand on Aug. 28.
The band’s performance did little to dismiss the detractors of that genre, a line of criticism that shares much in common with everything with which you could slam Creed, Godsmack and other commercially inclined, artistically irrelevant rockers. But none of that kind of criticism has mattered much to the genre’s fans who have made 3 Doors Down a multiplatinum selling outfit for nearly a decade.
Although the concert was to feature two openers, SafetySuit was a no-show, thus leaving hard rockers Saving Abel to pick up the slack with its Buckcherryinspired tunes from Miss America (Virgin).
“Hell of a Ride” stood out for its fun, arena-rocking guitar licks, while “New Tattoo,” the call-and-response opening track of the band’s 2008 eponymous album (Virgin), got the crowd’s blood pumping. Unfortunately the combination of chilly weather and a long, unexpected delay prior to 3 Doors Down’s 9:45 p.m. tee-off killed the buzz Saving Abel brought on with its fist-pumping set.
The headliner got things going with predictable tracks like “The Better Life” and “Loser” from its 2000 moneymaking spinner The Better Life (Republic). The tunes are crowd-pleasers, and among the “classics” that brought the band into the modern rock fold in the first place, but musically they didn’t come across as anything more or less exciting than their radio-friendly recorded versions.
Contrasting the blasé melodies, yawninducing minor chords and uninspired guitar work, at least credit lead vocalist Brad Arnold for his energetic stage presence. Even bassist Todd Harrell, who dressed for the evening in blue-collar, white-trash, Kid Rock-esque threads, was full of vivacity and movement on the stage. It was fun to watch despite the whiny, teenage-angst-filled lyrics that accompanied the band’s performance.
But while the parade of mediocre songwriting continued, as in the tortured-soul “Round and Round” from the band’s latest disc, Time of My Life (Universal Republic), and the Billboard chart-topper “Behind Those Eyes,” the reality of the band’s merit remained clear: It’s hard to even damn these guys with faint praise. There’s simply nothing juicy to note about them at all. After a solid hour the tunes blended together into an icky sonic mess of emotional tripe akin to mixing a bunch of pastel watercolors into a brown smudge of vapid goo, each song echoing a consistent, drawling tempo, each droning on annoyingly simplistic guitar work, each all the more easily ignorable than the last.
Encores included—you guessed it!—“Kryptonite” and “When I’m Gone.” The crowd, being sufficiently pleased, was then released into the night to dwell upon whatever pleasure they got out of the inane entertainment of these hits. But who can blame the handful of thousands who braved the residual weather of Hurricane Irene. 3 Doors Down is just one of those bands that you’ll either get something out of or won’t.
Buckethead: Everything Pails in Comparison.
If there were puddles of facial features scattered around the Upstateshows.com Stage on the morning of Sept. 2, it’s probably because the strange, but incredible Buckethead melted every face in the crowd right off on Sept. 1. The scheduled 7:30 p.m. show started a little late as Buckethead rolled up to the stage right around the expected start time. A few fans donning KFC buckets were pressed against the stage and one child was in full attire, with black curls falling out around his expressionless facemask. He and Buckethead matched.
About 20 minutes after ducking out of a black mini-tour bus with darkened windows, the masked virtuoso mounted the stage in his typical mask and bucket with black chucks, baggy dark blue jumpsuit pants (he had turned down the top of the jumpsuit so it laid around his waist and didn’t go up and over his shoulders) and tight, long-sleeved thermal with a frayed shirt hanging out of the bottom. Very grunge.
He didn’t waste any time digging right into what everyone wanted to see: some obscenely disgusting, sick, nasty guitar playing. With shoulders hunched and gut out, he picked up his signature Gibson Buckethead Les Paul, bigger than a standard Les Paul and complete with two killswitches that enable the crazy sound effects that make Buckethead…Buckethead, and immediately began ripping it.
Aided only by a skinny guy with a head full of dreads and a medical face mask covering his nose and mouth, Buckethead jumped right into making layered masterpieces of metal, funk and rock using his long line of effects pedals, sound board and guitar. The only vocals throughout the performance didn’t come from Buckethead (he doesn’t speak), but a few prerecorded vocal additions which crop up in his songs, especially those on his 1996 album, Giant Robot (Sony Japan/ CyberOctave), which he drew heavily from throughout the show.When Buckethead performs it’s like watching a kid in his basement playing with all his musical toys. Except he’s the best kid you’ve ever seen play anything. And he’s not a kid. And he’s wearing a face mask. And a bucket. The performance is totally stripped down to include only the bare necessities of musicmaking, with the exception of a “Caution: Children At Play” neon sign in the shape of a child and a few children’s toys on top of some of the equipment. Unlike the 1980s-era flashback acts at the Fair earlier in the week, Buckethead was a breath of fresh air.
At times his long, skinny fingers flew so fast up and down the guitar neck, the camera couldn’t even catch the shot. At other points, he let the sound settle into a super-funky groove, looping in drums and bass and throwing in wawa and other effects, sometimes imitating spaceships or laser guns or whatever else he thought to throw in.
After blowing the audience’s minds for about an hour, Buckethead took another turn toward the weird and fantastic with his typical, and actually really good, robot dance moves, as he broke out his nunchucks while techno bumped in the background. He traded the nunchucks for two big “#1” fingers – the kind you put on at sports games and wave around – except Buckethead used the accessories to accentuate his robot dancing.
Then the show took one more unexpected turn when “Come on and slam / and welcome to the jam” of Quad City DJs’ title song from the 1996 cartoon-live action movie Space Jam came blasting out and Buckethead walked around like Santa Claus with a massive bag of random toys that he handed to members of the audience. A few fans knew the drill and handed him something back.
Then, before “Space Jam” could finish, Buckethead picked up his bass and broke into the fastest, wildest slap bass I’ve ever seen. The 90’s jam quickly became about 7,000 times cooler. After slapping furiously, again too fast for film to catch, he slowed it back down to a funk that would have made George Clinton jealous.
He dabbled on the bass for a bit and when he felt fit to switch back to guitar, he broke right back into the groove he left off with, not skipping a beat. He tapped up and down arpeggios at break-neck speed and allowed some kids who had been more excited than the 13-year-olds at Bruno Mars the day before to tap a few notes out too.
The show went for more than an hour and a half, nearly non-stop and drew a crowd that otherwise may never have come to the Fair and spilled over on either side of the bleachers.
Toys, robot dancing, nunchucks and all, Buckethead might be one of the weirdest shows I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the best. However, I would like my face back.