Each time I head out to a US hi-fi show I fly into LAX a week or so early, grab a rental car and go driving. I want to see more than the hosting hotel(s) and their exhibitors. I love the USA. I love Americans – I really dig their unflagging optimism. (And anyone that claims Americans don’t get irony should go check out Jerry Seinfeld, Trey Parker, Matt Stone, Louis CK and Doug Stanhope…and then get back to me.)
At the core of my driving music experience is my iPhone. Each morning I drop into a McDonalds or Starbucks, grab a ‘coffee’ and tap into their free wifi to download a handful of albums via MOG. This is one of the reasons why I choose MOG over Spotify – its iOS app is knockout. A single click is all that’s required to grab an album – no need to first create a playlist.
Ahead of this year’s T.H.E. Newport Beach show I’ve been firing through California, Nevada and Utah. The smooth, jet-lag soothing sounds of Prefab Sprout’s Andromeda Heights drove me away from Los Angeles and into Yosemite National Park. Steely Dan’s Gaucho eased me out again. Neil Young & Crazy Horse’s Pyschedelic Pill soundtracked a pleasant day in Zion National Park. FSOL’s eerie Lifeforms was totally appropriate for the Bonneville Salt Flats.
The volume went up to eleven on Matthew Sweet’s Altered Beast when tearing up Yolo County. Sacramento’s The Beat Records offers one of the finest second-hand vinyl collections I’ve seen anywhere; I grabbed a few vinyl versions of songs that feature in the playlist below – ready for that Newport Beach show.
I saved an old road-trip favourite for the big open spaces. Thin White Rope stand as one of Davis, CA’s finest musical exports and one of my favourite bands of all time. In the late 80s and early 90s, they made murderous desert rock that howled along a razor’s edge that split the sounds of Television and Crazy Horse. For this trip, Moonhead cut the sea level depths of Death Valley and In A Spanish Cave ran me along the I-80, across the width of central Nevada. To quote TWR: “Interpretation by the music and not by me”.
Thin White rope dissolved in 1992 amid a familiar cloud of critical acclaim coupled with commercial indifference. Lead singer Guy Kyser took a sharp left career turn and became a botanist.
Incidentally, Davis is a charming Californian college town – and the owner of Armadillo Records is a super-friendly fellow.
During this road trip, I’ve been thinking about what music I’ll take to Newport Beach. In my car, I am answerable to only myself. I make selfish music choices and have a blast. At a hi-fi show there are others attendees to consider; Thin White Rope is (obviously) a no go.
Last year, I gave the Newport Beach show’s overall musical flavour a bit of a hard time. To cap it off, one exhibitor yanked my Portishead LP from the turntable after one verse and my (second choice) Bob Dylan fared little better. He was concerned that my selections would drive people from his room. He was thinking about his broader audience and I probably wasn’t.
Anyone can slap together a collection of tunes and call it their hi-fi demo playlist. The real skill in compiling such a list is thinking about your audience. After all, you think about your audience when putting together a playlist for a house party. You think about your audience when DJing; here the key skill is to strike a balance between a) what your audience wants to hear and b) what you want to play them. Pushing too heavily on the latter pedal doesn’t ‘educate’ – it alienates. You need to draw people closer with familiar sounds and then hit them with something different.
This could just as easily apply to hi-fi show music playlists. You aren’t the only person in the room – other attendees have to listen to your choices. I want to take tunes to Newport Beach that I like but tunes that won’t upset exhibitors and drive people from their room. I need a playlist that won’t alienate the Barber-Krall set and/or jazz fans – sorry about Ministry, y’all…
1. David Byrne and St Vincent – The Forest Awakes
2. Donald Fagen – The Nightfly
3. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – The Water’s Edge
4. Tom Waits – Hold On
5. Fluke – Atom Bomb
6. The Notwist – Pilot
7. Neil Young – Crime In The City (Sixty To Zero Part 1)
8. Giant Giant Sand – The Sun Belongs To You
9. Grace Jones – Private Life
10. Ministry – Jesus Built My Hotrod