I've been to a bunch of gigs in the past few weeks, and today Fukuzono Yasuhiko from flau asked me to compile a playlist for 2010. I've been thinking a lot about performance and generosity and what makes good music. I saw CAVE, No Means No, Marnie Stern, John Legend and the Roots, Scout Niblett, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M and Filament in quick succession. The most established musicians, the ones playing to the largest crowd in the biggest room – the Legends – were the most humble, the most gracious. The one gig I was most excited about and had to go to the greatest lengths to get a ticket for – Marnie Stern – was the most disappointing.
Stern was playing a small venue above a pub next to where I work, and I was a metre away from the stage – this was no big show. As soon as they came on stage, her bass player – wide-eyed arrogant dude – turned her guitar up so loud it hurt to listen to for the rest of the night. And although I didn't enjoy their between-songs banter about her vagina, it didn't come close to the stupid thought she shared with us all at the end. It didn't shock me – just made me furious, and nauseous. So I walked out. Trying too hard to be both shocking and funny, and succeeding in neither. So unnecessary. I think her self-titled album is up there with the best I've listened to in ages. It's bold and fresh and shockingly exciting. It features Zach Hill – all the more reason to pay attention. For Ash, Cinco de Mayo – I've had days of listening to these tracks on loop, all day long, bowled over by the tension, the energy, the sheer avalanches of sound. She has the attitude and the talent to just stand up on stage and do her thing – no need to do anything else. Pretentious on-stage talk about her sex life does nothing other than make her live up to exactly every hipster cliché in the worst possible way. Have you ever spoken to Lightening Bolt's Brian Chippendale after one of their gigs? Drenched in sweat and visibly spun out, exhausted, he's the most generous guy – sincere, approachable, real. I have so much respect for him. And I wanted to have the same for Stern. For a couple weeks after the gig, every time I listened to her songs, I had images in my head I really could do without, so I just didn't go there. The thing is, it's a brilliant album, so I'm back with it – and it's on my 2010 playlist: "This is me lightened up". Here's to hoping Marnie Stern will grow up.