Thursday, November 1, 2007

Image is Everything

Last night my band attempted to dress up as Thomas Magnum (aka Magnum PI) for our Halloween show at Trash.

But the fake moustaches didn't have adhesive on the back, so we ended up looking more like the house band on a cruise ship. The costume malfunction was a sign of things to come, as our show was far less than stellar and the "crowd" (as usual) was mostly my small but wonderfully loyal group of friends (big up to Jake, Tony, Amani, Ali, Pei Pei, Rachel, Lauren and Ms. Tang.) I left the stage pissy, looking to pimp out two gin and tonics from my one drink ticket. My friends have tried to assure me it was a decent performance. Agghhh. a different intersection of image and music, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings

have a new video for the song, "100 Days, 100 Nights." Now before I get to the video, let me just say that Ms. Jones is a great singer. She has one those classic soul voices whose tone and delivery imply experiences with profound love, gut-punching heartbreak, tearful tragedy and epic redemption. But Ms. Jones's popularity seems partially derived by the inversion of the typical formula of a "soulful" white singer fronting a black band. In her case, Ms. Jones has some "hep" (as in jazz/funk/hip-hop heads with goatees, see Soulive) and mostly white dudes in vintage suits doing an admirable impression of the Funk Brothers (i.e. the in-house musicians for Motown Records in the 60's and 70’s.) Despite these contrived circumstances, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings have generally shown an aptitude for strong songwriting and delivering legit-sounding 60's soul. But this clever video is an uninspired product of that aesthetic.

By the first shaky frame of the digitally "handmade" titles, I knew what was unfolding: the re-creation of a 1960's variety show musical number. The acts from shows like The Ed Sullivan Show and Shindig! often performed in front of a blank wall accented by a few set pieces. The video for "100 Days, 100 Nights" really captures not only this design style, but the look of the actual film/video stock and corresponding use of sloppy dissolves in the editing. But after the first minute or so, I got the joke. And to a certain extent, the video takes away from the music because the antiquated format reinforces the artifice of the band. The suspension of disbelief required to enjoy Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings is maintained through the quality of the songwriting and Ms. Jones's voice. By overly emphasizing the "retro" element of their sound, Ms. Jones and the Dap Kings reduce themselves to a novelty act, like those jump swing bands from the 90's. They are better than that and could have at least done something with a theme, like this video for Dionne Warwick's "Walk on By."

Perhaps I'm being too critical of a group whose purpose is to play inside a genre, which extends to all aspects of its image. The semblance of authenticity is their objective. But neither the song nor the act is given any more layers of meaning or association by this video. And besides the obvious purpose of commerce, isn't that what a video is supposed to do?

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