Cerebral Decanting

Music Reviews every Wednesday .....

Art/Lit (& Politics) other days......

by Jason Gubbels

Opening Acts And Tough Audiences

1.  Do you remember Miller Miller Miller & Sloane? I doubt it. Miller Miller Miller & Sloane was a band from my high school — the old Music & Art, on the City College campus in Harlem. Three brothers and a bassist named Sloane, they played white funk and rap as early as anyone, in 1979, when the Beasties were still punky thrashers and Girls Against Boys were probably in second grade. C.B. Miller was the rapper and guitarist, his brother Mikey the falsetto crooner and preadolescent love-god, a sort of Michael Jackson of the Upper West Side. Their “Funky Family” single (Meaningful Records, 1980) is terrific, if you can find it. But here’s the point about Miller Miller Miller & Sloane: they were my friends and they once opened for the Clash.

This you’re likelier to remember: in 1981 the Clash played a seven-night stand at Bonds International Casino at Times Square (now the Virgin Megastore, if you’re curious). In one of those acts of passionately awkward idealism which characterized the Clash’s career, they booked opening acts against punk type: rappers Grandmaster Flash and the Treacherous Three, Texan bard Joe Ely, and a forgotten horn-section-and-skinny-tie band called the Nitecaps. And, plucked fresh off the stage of CBGB’s, Miller Miller Miller & Sloane.

The Clash was ahead of its audience, of course. The crowds of white teenage punks booed the rap acts and chased Flash from the stage by pelting him with paper cups, just as Rolling Stones fans were booing opening-act Prince on larger stages at around the same time. In a predictable paradox, on their night in the spotlight my homeboys played their set of Aretha Franklin covers and disco-ey funk to fond acclaim from the crowd — they were white kids in short haircuts, after all. And they came home heroes, high school gods. The energy surrounding that weeklong stand was intense enough that the police shut down a show for overcrowding and the result was a riot — supposedly the first such in Times Square since bobbysoxers stormed barricades in chase of Frank Sinatra in the ‘40’s.

— Jonathan Lethem, “The Clash,” New York Observer, 2000


2.   I first saw the Stones when they played the Los Angeles Coliseum on October 11th, 1981. It was an infamous concert because Prince was one of their opening acts. I will get to that in a bit. That particular concert was stadium seating, which means you get a ticket but not a seat. My boyfriend at the time (not Hubby) would have been happy to get out on the field and stand for hours and hours. I made it clear that wasn’t going to happen and we sat in the stands, about 2/3 of the way back. Even though it wasn’t a particularly hot day they kept spraying the crowd on the field because the people were so packed together they had to be cooled off so no one would faint from the heat. Fun times!

At that concert the Stones had three opening acts: J. Geils Band, Prince, and George Throughgood. I have absolutely no idea why those three were picked. but at the time Prince was still fairly unknown, at least to those of us in the Coliseum that day. That was back in the days before giant screens were ubiquitous at concerts so we, of course, had a pair of binoculars with us, standard equipment for large concerts back then.

I still remember when that tiny little man who was Prince came out on stage and started singing. I looked at my boyfriend and asked “Who is that?” But he didn’t know either. After a song or two I finally grabbed the binoculars and looked at the singer. I couldn’t believe what I saw! I told my boyfriend, “He is wearing thigh high black boots, a long black leather coat, and a black leather g-string!” At that point I was done. In these days of Lady Gaga, that outfit may seem tame but in 1981 I (and many others in the audience) were not impressed with the little guy in the g-string! Some people started booing and then the whole audience began booing. Prince eventually ran off the stage and the promoter came on to chastise us, saying something about “What if that was your friend?” I remember telling the boyfriend, “The guy in the g-string would not be my friend!” And that is the story of the time I helped boo Prince off the stage!

— Woman In The Middle, “Rolling With The Stones,” womaninthemid.com



“An actual twerk team is opening for The Postal Service.  I don’t know what’s going on.”

“Why in the hell is Big Freedia opening for Postal Service?  What, are you’re gonna bounce/twerk your ass, then guilty cry about it afterward?”

Well, crying to the Postal Service is for teenagers a decade ago.  But these are just a few of many tweets from fans at a handful of recent Postal Service concerts who told the world they were “so confused,” and in many cases pretty displeased, by the opening act, sissy bounce artist Big Freedia. For some reason, audience members reacted as if they had no advance knowledge of who would be playing, and attendees in Vancouver, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and especially Seattle thought perhaps they’d been “pranked” by the unlikely pairing of hypersexual New Orleans dance-rap with the light-synthy lily-white lullabies of the Postal Service.  The presence of Big Freedia and her dancers was said to be “inexplicable,” “awkward” and the result of a decision made by someone “on crack.”

A fan in L.A. wondered if the main act was “trolling hipsters” — the same question posed by Uproxx, in a post headlined in part, “Exceedingly White Postal Service Fans Are Confused.”  Uproxx picked up the story from the Seattle Times, where blogger Andrew Matson reported,  “In the normally neutral space of KeyArena, audience members were irritated, seemed to be uncomfortable with Freedia’s brand of sexual expression and questioned whether the performance was ‘real music.’”

Most people, including most Postal Service fans, are familiar with bounce sounds from crossover hits like Juvenile’s 1999 No. 1 “Back That Azz Up” or Beyoncé’s 2007 “Get Me Bodied.”  But still reaction to Big Freedia’s set spiraled from baffled to outright racist: The show was said to be “ghetto” and “hoodrat,” while multiple pissed attendees echoed Twitter user @vangrafics: “I thought that I came for The Postal Service, and not a twerk show.”

Probably plenty of these uncomfortable attendees consider themselves queer-friendly: This is Seattle, after all.  But transgressing the theoretical space of accepted culture is different from transgressing into a physical room of whiteness, or in this case, an arena — a place of expected sameness.  Apparently, the latter can even be received as a type of trespass.

Preferring “your music” is fine and good.  But sticking stiffly to the stance you arrived in, claiming the territory of your tastes, and leaving unchanged, isn’t what live music is for.  American studies scholar Charles Keil has written that “music is our last and best source of participatory consciousness,” containing the “capacity not just to model but maybe to enact some ideal communities.”  Art is our imaginative space, and live music a communal one.  If we can’t welcome difference there, something is deeply.

—  Katie Ryder, “White Music Fans Are Afraid Of Difference,” Salon, August 1 2013





  1. decanting-cerebral posted this