- Ian Goodrich
I came mere minutes away from becoming TBA's final performer. And dammit, I wanted to end the thing.
Unfortunately, the timing fell just short. Karaoke was over. Before that it was dead.
And to be quite honest, putting the microphone in my largely unprepared hands would've been every bit as disastrously ill-fated as all those who handled it before in Sunday's final program at The Works, led by Eric Fredericksen and Weekend Leisure.
Theoretically, the idea was fun—a hybrid interactive-monologue/inclusive-performance/history lesson. In practice, however, the flimsy construct fell flatter than so many of the evening's tone-deaf deliveries.
From the onset, Fredericksen and co.'s program had many hurdles to clear: a late Sunday start, rain, and festival fatigue. But the performers too deserve their share of the blame. The production seemed almost totally unrehearsed. Video cues were constantly missed and sometimes the wrong footage was played all together. Sound was either missing or overwhelming Fredericksen, who displayed little of the gravitas or charisma to captivate a six-hundred-seat auditorium (even if it was 80% empty).
Fredericksen's thesis, that karaoke is authentic and, as such, foments society, served more as a bookend to give a stale lecture on rock while involving the audience. (Even as a music critic I couldn't have been more disinterested as Fredericksen connected the Rolling Stones to the Sex Pistols to Nirvana, before circling back to the blues.)
And the idea that karaoke would create a community here somewhat ate itself, if that community is supposed to be about the share of intellectual ideas. Indeed it's hard to pay attention to what Kurt Cobain was trying to say when performed horribly out of key and time. Rather than build anything, the karaoke portion it turned the audience off, shifting focus from Fredericksen's point to the person on stage.
Maybe that was Fredericksen's point on authenticity—that we'd focus on what this new, unknown individual from the audience was doing, or making their own through karaoke. If so, it sure undercut the focus of his lecture. I can't be sure, however, if that part of the lecture went over my head (or straight up my ass) since Fredericksen was often drowned out by the bored and chatty back-half of the audience.
Weekend Leisure, a troupe of creatives from Canada, were no better. As well as blowing most of Fredericken's cues, they provided the karaoke system, and ran it poorly. In the middle of the lecture, rather than in advance, they'd call people to the stage to keep the show going by singing out Fredericksen's examples. Sometimes the supposed performers were outside, or had left, leaving the show dead in its tracks. Weekend Leisure also designed a light stage show (read: cardboard instruments) and a few re-creations of karaoke backing videos (but not even for all the songs pre-scheduled in Fredericksen's essay). Their caricatures of the caricatures that are karaoke videos were meandering and uninspired and might as well have been the things they sought to parody. Worse yet they weren't good singers, which came to bear when Fredericksen didn't have audience members to perform his examples.
The whole thing was a truly disjointed mess, which might help explain this fumbling, flummoxed account. We could look deeper at the supposed meanings and the failings of execution, but to what end? Bottom line was this final program absolutely sucked, which an audience that almost all left before its conclusion can attest to. It gives me absolutely no pleasure to shit on this final performance of TBA, as those involved seemed to approach their subject with earnest hopes. But compared to many of the engaged, thoughtful and well-executed performances that filled the Works, it was truly an affront.
My disdain extends to the schedulers as well; capping a mostly venerable festival with such a throwaway performance—rather than something more contemplative or with surefire punch—is inexcusable.
Around 11:15 the show was over, and karaoke was offered to the remaining audience. For 15 more minutes. I didn't get to sing.