Every once in a while, self-described ”rocker” Bob Lefsetz sees an act other than his tried-and-true 1970s icons on yet another cash-in nostalgia tour and actually has a good time. Who was it this time? Did he see a young band like Dawes, whom he avoided for a year, fell madly in love with them and proceeded to continue ignoring them again? Or did he go to another EDM festival and ogle hot chicks?
Nope. It was Michael Buble.
That’s right. The cuddly Canadian crooner (as opposed to Michael Bubble) has won Bob’s affection after he performed at the Staples Center on Saturday. And I know we just started Mellowmas and it’s only been a few weeks since my last column, but I figured reading this would get my heart rate going enough to sweat off some of the turkey bloat I picked up over Thanksgiving.
Wait, it doesn’t work like that? That son of a bitch Giles lied to me.
On the plus side, now that Lefsetz has become a convert to Buble, he’ll likely never mention him again, if his own history is any indication. Read on.
It was a show. It was entertaining. You got your money’s worth.
I have little doubt Michael Buble knows how to put on an entertaining concert. I also have little doubt Bob didn’t pay for his tickets, so it’s not a question of getting your money’s worth.
I oftentimes don’t want to go anymore.
To quote a dear friend, ”Always go to the show.”
Because it’s an endurance test. Unless you know the songs by heart, it can be positively brutal as you sit there, too often stand there, as the act plays its music at a deafening volume one song after the other.
Why on Earth would anyone go to an arena show to see an act play songs they don’t know, unless you didn’t pay for the tickets? That’s why you go to see new bands in small clubs, to be surprised.
By the way, a week before this appeared, I went to see Houndmouth and the Wheeler Brothers at Schubas. I knew nothing of either band, going only on the recommendation of a couple of friends earlier in the day (unlike Bob, I don’t ignore my friends’ advice and then discover them on the radio). Three hours later I walked out saying I had been to one of the best club shows I’ve seen in years. They were both extremely tight, versatile, energetic as hell, had great songs and an awesome crowd. Go and see them if either of them tour near you.
There’s no show in this show business.
Buble mounted an arena tour on the cheap? Nice.
Or else it’s all show. As in an assault. Believing if you just throw enough production at the audience it will be satiated.
”It’s all show” with ”just enough production.” Bob is now only giving a one-sentence buffer before he contradicts himself.
But Buble is something different.
Wait, there’s something in Bob’s world that’s not either black or white? This is new.
Let’s start with the material. I’m a rocker, who graduated from Broadway musicals. It’s all about the song.
It’s all about the song, but Bob only gives the title of one song Buble sang, even though about half of the the setlist was comprised of songs from the rock era. And he waits until the very end of the piece to say it.
Decades past I would see Buble as middle of the road schlock.
Psst…Buble is middle-of-the-road schlock.
He may also be, as my Popdose colleague Jack Feerick posited, an evil death robot from the future hell-bent on destroying mankind.
Either answer is plausible.
But all these years later, when songcraft has gone out the window, too often replaced by beats sans melody…
Bob’s a rocker, but he just echoed everything my parents ever said about rock.
…it’s positively refreshing to hear Buble sing.
God, can you imagine what will happen to Bob if he ever hears Sinatra?
Without special aural effects on hard drive. Backed up by a big band that went to college to learn how to play.
”Bob strikes a blow for musicianship!” you say. But let’s go back through Bob’s archives from two days prior, when he had this wonderful advice for young musicians.
“So decry Max Martin and Dr. Luke and Katy Perry all you want, they’ve just calculated the percentages and gone where all the action is… Oh, you think Rihanna’s garbage? Well, do you look like her? Are you willing to have your songs written by committee in camps? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it? Oh, I didn’t think so.”
Oh, that’s one of the highlights of the show. When each horn player is paraded on the big screen like the NFL on Fox. With the twirling visage and the stats. In this case, blue chip music schools like Julliard and the Manhattan School of Music.
”Forget the star. I liked it when the tuba player got a close-up on the HD Jumbotron and I learned where he went to college!”
In an era where fame trumps everything, it thrills one to see these dudes with chops who earned their positions over time and can deliver unselfconsciously.
I’m sure they’re excellent musicians and are probably (hopefully, at least) paid pretty well to back Buble, but does anybody think these players, weaned on Basie, Ellington, etc., had childhood dreams of playing the same second-rate charts night after night without variation and only a lone eight-bar solo as a way to express themselves?
Yes, there is a big screen. There is production.
But it doesn’t overwhelm the show. And it enters gradually.
It all starts with Buble.
The guy whose name is on the marquee is the star of the show. Got it.
You know what he did that endeared me to him?
Got you free tickets?
Not even ten minutes into the show he stopped and talked…for what seemed like eons, really, longer than it took to sing the couple of songs he started out with.
”My favorite part of the Michael Buble show was when Michael Buble didn’t sing for a long time.”
I’ve never seen anybody do this at a rock show. They’re afraid. Of losing the audience, of not delivering expectations.
Or they just want to play as many songs as possible.
But a true pro, which Buble is, knows it’s about endearing yourself, creating a bond.
Some musicians bond with their audience by playing music. Michael Buble does it by not playing music.
I can imagine his contract negotiations went something like this.
Spaulding: This is better than exploring! What do you fellows get an hour?
Ravelli: Oh, for playing we getta ten dollars an hour.
Spaulding: I see…What do you get for not playing?
Ravelli: Twelve dollars an hour.
Spaulding: Well, clip me off a piece of that.
Ravelli: Now, for rehearsing we make special rate. Thatsa fifteen dollars an hour.
Spaulding: That’s for rehearsing?
Ravelli: Thatsa for rehearsing.
Spaulding: And what do you get for not rehearsing?
Ravelli: You couldn’t afford it…Heh…you see, if we don’t rehearse, we don’t play…And, if we don’t play…That runs into money.
Any excuse to make a Marx Brothers reference.
And Buble does this without pandering, without going lowest common denominator mainstream. Sure, he picks the birthday girl out of the audience, but it’s almost as if…let’s get this out of the way, so we can do the real show.
Buble doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator, except when he panders to the lowest common denominator.
And what a show it is.
This is not rock concert seedy. Nor tweenybopper mindless. It’s like an evening out for something you could never get in.
Except for all the DVDs Buble has put out.
That’s the problem today. With movies and too often concerts.
It’s better at home.
Everything is better for Bob when he doesn’t have to interact with humans.
Sure, you can’t feel the crowd at home, which you oftentimes would not want to, but there’s nothing special about being there other than being there.
Jesus Christ, Bob, you go to a lot of shitty concerts. You’d think bands would step up their game when coming to L.A.
Whereas at a Buble show you get the feeling it’s one moment in time, an escape from the modern day world of too many screens.
”Yes, there is a big screen.”
So you enjoy yourself.
I enjoyed myself.
P.S. Paul Anka told me he owes the success of his book to Howard Stern.
Who gives a crap about Paul Anka or his stupid book?
P.P.S. Buble is nothing without his team.
Buble’s talented and knows how to create a unique bond with his audience. But the real talent is behind the scenes.
Of label, manager, promoter and producer, all of whom were there. David Foster got it started.
He brought on fellow Canadian Bruce Allen as manager. Diarmuid Quinn and his team no longer at Warner, because the acts remain and the execs get fired, pushed the record. And Don Fox sold the tickets. At the first show in Arizona, the count was in the single digits. Barely into doubles in Salt Lake City.
”I know industry people! They’re the ones who comped me!”
You start off slow. And you build. If you believe. If you deliver.
”So decry Max Martin and Dr. Luke and Katy Perry all you want, they’ve just calculated the percentages and gone where all the action is… Oh, you think Rihanna’s garbage? Well, do you look like her? Are you willing to have your songs written by committee in camps? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to make it? Oh, I didn’t think so.”
P.P.P.S. Staples was sold out. And if you go regularly, you know it’s nearly impossible to sell the upper deck, above the three levels of skyboxes. But Buble did. Not instantly. As a matter of fact, the first day numbers were less than half of what they were for the previous tour. But Don said “We’ll get there.” Which they did, via advertising, marketing, promotion. In other words, the job of the promoter is not to rent the hall and pay the act, but SELL THE TICKETS! That’s something the oldsters know how to do and the youngsters, operating behind the corporate wall, too often do not.
”At the first show in Arizona, the count was in the single digits. Barely into doubles in Salt Lake City.”
Phoenix metro area: 4.2 million people.
Salt Lake City metro area: 2.3 million people
Los Angeles metro area: 16.4 million people
So Buble tanked in two mid-tier markets, one of which was mid-week, and needed a massive push to sell out a Saturday night – albeit on a busy travel weekend – in the second-largest city in the country, and Bob thinks this is a triumph. If somebody who didn’t comp his tickets puts up those numbers he’d call it a failure.
P.P.P.P.S. Oldsters… Not the audience, Buble appeals to everybody, but white hair was not predominant.
Lots of bald guys and dye-jobbed women, got it.
But it was backstage. You see everybody involved with building Buble is a lifer.
”I got backstage passes and saw people who are even older than I am!”
Who was bitten by the bug back when music drove the culture, when not only was it the Facebook of its day, but Twitter, iPhone and HBO too.
What the fuck does that mean?
This generation will not live forever.
Credit Bob for being the only Baby Boomer who doesn’t think he’ll live forever.
It’s not sure who their replacements will be. Because too many oldsters have not allowed youngsters to thrive and too many youngsters find other businesses appealing, whereas in the sixties and seventies everybody wanted to work in music. We’re ripe for revolution and reinvention.
”That’s something the oldsters know how to do and the youngsters, operating behind the corporate wall, too often do not.”
And it won’t be about sponsorships and other corporate connections, but the show itself.
Buble’s most recent album has an exclusive edition sold at Target. And there’s a contest on his website sponsored by Delta to win tickets to see a concert in Seattle.
Back to basics.
Coincidentally, ”Back to Basics” is also the name of a line of kitchen appliances available at Target.
P.P.P.P.P.S. Buble is so normal. And he walks a fine line between hip and not so.
There is nothing hip about Michael Buble. Hipsters don’t even like him ironically.
You want to be part of your audience’s life, yet just a little above it. It’s a skill, learned over time.
In just about every Lefschmutz post I’ve written, if not every one, I’ve noted the one valid point Bob makes in his column. This time it comes six sentences from the end.
P.P.P.P.P.P.S. The climax is the end…
That’s when climaxes generally happen.
…when Buble appears in front of the curtain and sings Leon Russell’s “A Song For You” a cappella, without a mic.
Yes, that’s the definition of ”a capella.” That’s two redundancies in one sentence. Amazing.
It’s positively thrilling. My body is shivering as I type. Because that’s what it’s all about. The song and the performance. Everything else is just window dressing.
Except the big screen, the other musicians, the song to the birthday girl…