on wednesday erin and i went to a concert i’ve been looking forward to for months: saul williams’ the tar spangled banner tour.
this is a big deal for several reasons:
- we don’t leave the house. ever. (well except for shopping, takeout, and work)
- we rarely have a night off. let alone a night out.
- what, no kids? what madness you speak.
- oh yeah — saul williams kicks a lot of ass and is, i think, one of the most interesting, underrated, amazing poets and musicians today who also happens to be black.
listening to saul’s lyrics feels like going to an african american literature seminar. at least, it does for me. it’s thick with not only genuine emotion and reactions to growing up in the ghetto as a black teenager, but also genuine emotion and reactions to growing up period. “black stacey” is a song about prejudice about the darkness of his skin but it’s also about being awkward and self-conscious and learning to love who you are.
saul williams is also vehemently political. he’s outspoken about the war. in fact, the first song i ever heard was “not in our name”; an anti-pledge of allegiance which begins:
“we believe that as people living in the united states it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government in our names. not in our name will you wage endless war. there can be no more deaths. no more transfusions of blood for oil.”
the show was in kilby court, the tiny shack amidst a residential area that nevertheless hosts some of the most interesting indie acts that come through utah…okay, the most interesting indie acts. i think i remember something about shows having to end by 11pm due to being in a residential zone, which suits us with kids fine, and i think also makes the site better for an all-ages venue.
it’s tiny, hot, sweaty and close. we get there, see a dry erase board saying “SOLD OUT” and start walking away, lamenting missing saul williams when erin gets a text from her sister saying “where are you guys?” we find out they aren’t in fact sold out and 180 it back to the show and get inside the grounds about 5 minutes before the band comes on — long enough to hit the stuff booth and listen to a very dumb conversation between a hipster and saul’s booth girl (“where are you guys from?” “well, all over. saul’s from brooklyn, his dj is from ny. the guitarist is from long beach…”). i have time to notice that amethyst rock star is missing from the stuff when people start charging into the building (the stuff booth is located in a little hut-like gallery outside of the main building, which appears to be a large studio-sized gutted house).
we follow and end up in the back, behind many large people. the music starts (“break” from Niggy Tardust) and the crowd goes nuts. saul comes out and the music changes (this becomes a recurring theme — starting out in one song and then breaking into another). i’m able to snap off this shot on my phone which i still don’t know what it is (well i know what it’s supposed to be, but that’s not what it looks like) but i still think is pretty badass:
the show was awesome (even from the back of the room). saul seemed to really enjoy the closeness of the venue — there really isn’t a stage in this place; it’s more of a 4″ platform that is only separated from the audience by the speakers and a large support beam on one corner. he frequently climbed on speakers (which resulted in us being able to actually see him) and walked into the audience to start a pogo/mosh pit. he played much of his first, self-titled album, and the NiggyTardust material, and ventured a couple times into amethyst rock star.
a couple times he took a break from rocking out to talk to the audience about the NiggyTardust moniker. About the call and response from the title track (“When I say Niggy, you say nuthin’. Niggy. (silence) Niggy. (silence)/When I say Niggy, you say nuthin’. Niggy. Nothing! Shutup!”), he said “I can say ‘Niggy Tardust’ and y’all think ‘wow, what a clever name,’ but when I say ‘nigger’ the room goes silent…but the truth is we’re all one…hybrids. Let’s bring it down to the lowest common denominator. Like Yoko Ono said, ‘women are the nigger of the world…’ We’re all niggers; we’re all limited by our experience.” much applause from the all white Salt Lake audience in which the only black member(s) left much earlier, saying “this guy is crazy.”
now’s the part where i get into my music rant:
so after the show, which was awesome, i head over to the “stuff booth,” as i usually do, and picked up his first album. and told the people around me: “support the artist, buy his stuff.” trent reznor, who produced NiggyTardust and also footed the bill for production, talked a while ago about the financial success/failures of the album. Of course I don’t remember the exact figures off the top of my head but he said that there were something like 150,000 downloads, so much that the server couldn’t handle the load. However, only about 30,000 people footed the $5 bill for the cd quality files and pdf booklet. which didn’t cover the $250,000 spent on making the record (which, trent admits, may have been partially his own fault having gone all out with it). still, that’s over a million ipods that are now home to saul williams which, if nothing else, gets his name out there on a scale that he never would have accomplished otherwise. trent said that he hoped that means that saul could recoup some of that cash by touring since now he’s a much more common name. and 30,000 copies (or whatever) is still more than his previous 2 records ever sold.
i am against giving money to big record companies because i know that the artist — especially indie artists just getting started — rarely see anything from those sales. but i am all for going to the show and buying the same cd there. because that money pretty much goes to the gas tank, food, and/or whatever else they may be doing while on the road. i mean, the $10 i spent on his cd is not even going to fill the tank of the tour bus these days, but that goes to him, and is not filtered through marketing, pr, production, and whatever other cuts come out of a regular cd sale of which the artist generally gets something like $0.40.
so, the conclusion:
support the artists you love by going to their shows. if you really love them, buy their stuff. but if you have a choice, buy it from them, from their website directly or from the show as opposed to amazon or best buy. that way you know the money is going where it should — to the artist you love.
thank you, and goodnight.