e>Rock music is under siege and nearly dead. Melody-free hip-hop — dark — with its relentless sixteenth-note vocal phrasing and manic pitch-correction, offers zero innovation. But certainly rock has been a bit short on innovation. For every Radiohead, there are 1000 Fall Out Boys.
OK GO is so innovative they are nearly a genre unto themselves. Entering their third decade, it seems like they are just getting going.
In the 80s, during MTV mania, a thought occurred to me that recording artists should make their videos as important as their songs. Friends in the record business guffawed. Music videos were strictly a function of marketing, and an excuse to hire ‘models’ to get the band laid. Video directors, paid the big bucks for meaningless scenarios and a dearth of ideas, spent their giant budgets on blow. Who wants to argue this?
So finally in the 21st century my wish comes true. OK GO is a band whose music captures my heart, and makes imaginative, inventive, physics-defying movies. Their videos, like the best art, invite questions. On their current retrospective tour, they answer these questions. On stage.
But here’s the most daring innovation: they are a family band. Rock is certainly not noted for family values. But going to my first OK GO show, I was unprepared to revisit the meaning of an all-ages show. There were the 3-year-old kids, there were the 70-year-old kids, and there was a genuine effort to model responsible behavior. Of course, they freely admit the videos themselves can be dangerous to produce. Which makes their risks somehow more sincere than disingenuous. How can you have fun if you aren’t willing to skin your knee?
Conveying Joy is Hard
Just ask Bono of U2: the most difficult emotion to convey in music is joy. OK GO is joyful with abandon. Giving priority to children in answering questions from the audience, everything about their performance is about childlike glee. They emphasize dancing. The videos are designed with a point of view (I would have said ‘sensibility,’ but I detest that overused word) that says, “If I were five I would love this.”
Lead singer Damian Kulash is a father, and he emanates the desire to be a great parent. This is not in the least off-putting, but disarming. It’s the undercurrent of their music. As opposed to sex and drugs and rock and roll (I’m certain even Ian Dury would agree).
Speaking of innovation, guitarist/keyboardist Andy Ross designed an app for their concerts. Before you groan, know that his creation enables the audience to participate musically with OK Go’s performance. It is harmonically designed so that no one hits a bad note. Clever. Toward the end of the number, the audience cracked up as the musical demands increased to a comic degree. Playful and childlike.
Their audience knows they are nerds. Hearing a security briefing before the show, their road manager delicately explained this relative lack of risk to the Soraya staff. The OK GO audience shows up to laugh and play. No one was disappointed.
One band cannot bring rock back from the brink and make it relevant. But if OK Go insightfulness catches on, it just might.
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