Harry Griffiths had flown home from China on a Russian airline and his bags had been lost. His parents weren’t thrilled that he’d taken this option, but Harry had made it home safely, yet he now had to go shopping for clothes for his visit to Glastonbury, the following day, on the train, it’s a right of passage for British youth.
As passionate about music as his father Richard, it was thrilling to discuss bands with Harry. Although he was interested in the commercial success of his favorite acts, first and foremost he was interested in the sound, the music.
I stumbled into the kitchen on a late summer morning and laid out on the table was a giant printout, a daunting collection of dates and times and musical acts. Harry was studying it like a blueprint, analyzing… They say the younger generation has a short attention span, that’s b.s., if they’re interested in something there’s no limit to the amount of time they’ll spend studying it. Harry was studying his Glastonbury clashfinder.
Yes, going to a festival like Glastonbury requires planning, you need to know when your favorite acts are performing, you have to make choices in advance, to ensure that you aren’t disappointed.
Maybe they exist under a different moniker in the U.S., but I’d never experienced a clashfinder before, Harry started to explain it to me.
He started pointing out bands and set times.
He wanted to see the National, his favorite new act.
He wanted to see the oldster, Ray Davies.
And, of course, he had to see Muse, "the best live band in the world right now."
They say that Obama’s economic stimulus is a joke, but all I know is it’s really screwing up traffic in Los Angeles. The 405 is a disaster. And downtown, an enigma to most Angelenos, is a mess of open and closed ramps and streets. But time was not of the essence, I was going to the gig early, to have dinner with Tony DiCioccio, Q Prime’s touring guru.
I probably would have gone to the show anyway, just to visit with my friends, but I’d been to see Muse half a decade earlier, at the Mayan, and they’d put on a stadium level show in the theatre. It was clear that this band needed it. And that’s the number one requirement for musical success, desire, it even eclipses talent. How bad do you want to make it? All I know is Muse had already made it in the U.K. and Europe, and they now wanted to make it over here.
But usually, they worked over there.
Then Stephenie Meyer said they were her favorite act and Muse was included in the "Twilight" soundtrack. You might be rolling your eyes now, saying it’s all about placement, that’s how you break, but Muse had been working for years before Ms. Meyer discovered them, "Twilight" was a lucky break. The key is to be in the game long enough to experience your lucky break. Most people give up too soon. Or expect it to come too early. Success comes to those who wait. And want it.
Dialing Tony at the security checkpoint, I ended up running into Brian Murphy, who gave me Michael Rapino’s pass and escorted me down the ramp. Rapino never showed, rumor had it he was out of town, but when we met in catering, Tony exchanged a new laminate for that of the vaunted one and we sat down for dinner.
Well, at first, just me and Brian and his wife Judy Stakee, who’d first worked with Katy Perry. Back when she sang songs instead of the beat-driven material that will have her playing clubs or small theatres at best. Judy’s no longer at Warner Chappell, she’s coaching acts on her own, no longer under the auspices of the corporation, she’s going by her gut, and that’s the only way to succeed today.
Eventually, Tony and I caught up, and then when he had to rise to take care of some old friends, Cliff Burnstein sat down.
Cliff looks like a homeless person. I know, because it takes one to know one. We’re both lost in the sixties, when what went on in your brain was more important than your exterior. Cliff always wears a t-shirt, his flowing white hair would make the uninitiated believe he’s a madman, but there’s not a clearer thinker about music and the industry today.
Cliff has started a label. He’s investing his own money. Sure, he’s still got acts on majors, but he can’t rely solely on them. He’s got deals with Sleigh Bells and Ingrid Michaelson and…he’s as excited about music as he’s ever been. Not whining, just marching forward.
And Cliff and his partner Peter Mensch are not about world domination, they’re not about empire, they’re about the music. First and foremost, Cliff is a music fan, you should have seen him twirling to the tunes on the arena floor, eyes closed, arms in the air, like he’d been transported overnight from the Fillmore to here and was very happy about it.
Yes, at about nine, the band went on.
You want to deliver an experience that not only satiates the audience, but leaves it on a high, telling everybody about the show for not only days, but hopefully months thereafter, to the point where they’re going to drag their friends to the next gig.
Yes, the music should be enough.
But if you’re going to do production, it should be state of the art plus one, visuals the audience could not conceive of until they experience them.
The three members of Muse were ensconced in these towers, built of hi-def video screens. When the lights came on, they were atop platforms, in the middle, like they were playing on the fortieth floor of a hundred story building.
How did they come up with this? You were blown away!
But one of the curtains was not blown away and tearing it down a guitar was knocked over, the band had to be lowered to the stage early, there was a glitch. Not that the audience knew, but Cliff and Tony told me. They said Matt was pissed. That’s why he vamped so long in the encore, to expend his anger. I don’t know, worked for me… I like it when people embrace their emotions.
And although the sound was modern, there were references to the past. The extended Zeppelin riff at the end of one of the songs. The instrumental version of "House Of The Rising Sun" that had the whole audience singing the words… Who knew people this young had even heard the Animals’ arrangement!
Yes, the audience was young. Not Taylor Swift young, but no one hassled me as I walked backstage, they figured if a guy this old was in attendance, he had to be working.
So, you can sit here and say Muse and its show are not a breakthrough. But they are for the audience.
But even more important is that Muse is not a household name.
No, let me change that. Muse is not a mainstream media staple. We hear about Katy Perry every day, but it’s Muse that can sell out multiple arena dates. As it once was and as it should be. Music is an insider’s game. It’s not for everybody, it’s for those in the know. There was a mainstream driven by MTV in the last century, now that’s kaput. Now it’s like the sixties and seventies all over again. Your folks don’t know, but the little girls understand.
IN THE BELLY OF THE BEAST
L.A. is not a late night town. You say your goodbyes and move on, exiting the building when you figure traffic has died down enough to make it to the freeway without experiencing road rage.
That is, of course, if you don’t leave early to avoid the teeming masses. I saw Rick Rubin on the floor, but he was nowhere to be found after the show.
But it was stunning who was. And how long they stayed.
David Foster? What brings David Foster to see Muse? I mean sure, he produced the Tubes and…
Foster told me his favorite show ever was Yes. The "Fragile" tour.
People surprise you every day.
And the new Warner team was there. I didn’t connect with Rob Cavallo, but I had a long conversation with Lyor. Who told me, yes, he was going to be in Los Angeles from Sunday through Thursday for three months making sure the new Warner got off on the right foot. Lyor had just gotten in from Teddy Forstmann’s conference in Aspen. He was thrilled with some of the speakers he heard, like the gentleman who had decoded Alzheimers. And he played golf at 8,000 feet, which led to the story of playing Shinnecock with Roger Waters and hitting a hole-in-one.
This was when Peter Paterno had joined the conversation, when we were discussing how far the ball traveled at that altitude.
And Peter was busy talking to Tom Morello.
And Rob McDermott was smiling despite no longer working with Linkin Park.
Now you can talk shit about these people, but it’s always more interesting to hear the story from the horse’s mouth, those who are truly making the decisions.
But maybe you don’t care. And you don’t need to. You no longer need to go through Lyor and Foster and even Cliff Burnstein in order to make it. Live Nation only cares if you can sell tickets. Press is interesting, but that doesn’t get everybody to lay down their hard-earned cash for a night on the town. No, in order to achieve that, you need to touch souls, you need to change lives.
And that’s what Muse does.
Doesn’t matter if Muse touches you, if it changes your life, a zillion people have already drunk the kool-aid, they need to go to the show more than they need to go to school or work. Can you instill that level of passion in your audience? Tweeting might help. Lyor might invest in you. Cliff can certainly give you guidance, assuming he’s willing to work with you. But it truly comes down to the music. Without it, you’ve got nothing. It’s like the solar system without the sun. It’s like a BMW without an engine. It’s like a flat screen with no cable access. The music drives the enterprise. And that’s where you come in. Sure, you can buy insurance from Dr. Luke, but then everybody knows it’s not you, you’re reliant on hits, you’re Ke$ha. You want to be Muse. You want Harry Griffiths saying that you’re the best live band in the world right now.