Guilty Non-Pleasures: Bands I Don’t Like, Even Though I Should (by Claire)

“What are the bands you don’t like, but you know you’re supposed to?”

That is my trademark grammatically incorrect, consistently conversation-game-changing question. Steal it immediately. It will liven up your dinner parties, improve your conversations, and win you unexpected friends. It’s magical, and really really fun. Enjoy. And to get you started (P.S. Always introduce your band first. It’s a tiny flick of social bravery, and it’s crucial to make this question work), here are my answers.

(***As I wrote this post, every band I listed below appeared in my mind and shamed me with songs by them that I enjoy. The songs below are my one-offs, the ones that made me almost cut these bands and artists from the list. Almost…until I listened to their other songs.)

Arcade Fire

I ask people this question all the time, and I always get the same answer: Bob Dylan. “What the hell is up with his voice?” people say. “He should’ve been a poet, not a singer” (to which I say you have clearly not read his poetry, and if he heard you and starts sending you chapbooks, no takesies backsies) I like Dylan’s voice, because I like weird, kind of unconventional voices. I like Patti Smith and Jill Sobule, I liked Dave Matthew’s voice in my DMB listening days (we talk about those days on this blog as though they were a shameful musical bender…and that attitude is correct). I like the Jerry Garcia Band and Garcia’s voice is noticably bizarre on a lot of those songs (I’m thinking specifically of their cover of “Accidentally Like a Martyr”) but I appreciate it.

Which is why I was shocked by my reaction to Arcade Fire. They make this big sweeping music, luscious and different, beloved by my co-writer and friends. I want to like it. It sounds like something I like. But then Win Butler’s hollow, whiney voice comes in and I’m done. That voice breaks me out of the experience of the song so quickly that a pail of water poured over my head at that same moment would feel deeply whatever, I’ve already been startled and disappointed, thank you very much.

When we were planning this post, Joshua said “We’re going to fight with people over this post” and I said “I know right? Other people. Totally not each other! Hey no big deal, but Arcade Fire is on my list.”

…we duel at dawn.


Just like everyone answers “Bob Dylan” every time, I answer with the exact same band, and line, every time: “Radiohead. Deduct cool points as necessary.”

They are the reason I came up with this question; I wanted to figure out if there were other people out there like me. Other people who have tried, like every slapdash early teens intellectual and budding music snob, to like Radiohead, and failed. Radiohead’s debut coincided with my own–so for my entire music listening life (excluding early years of Disney soundtracks, and radio dials and record players rendered useless by grubby fingers and early literacy), I’ve been told how much I should like them. I feel like I should have stories about incessantly sporting a baggy Radiohead t-shirt through 7th grade, or poring my allowance into fresh copies of OK Computer and Kid A, because I was definitely that kid, and I had those bands. I tried in high school, I tried again in college, with limited success. I clung to the handful of  songs by them that I liked with a sweaty fervor. But in the end, liking a couple songs is not the same as liking a band.

I don’t like Radiohead…I’ll give you a minute to deduct those cool points.

k.d. lang

I know I’m supposed to like k.d. lang because I have never made a Pandora station where k.d. lang didn’t swoop in, all mellow and Canadian, and edge out the station’s namesake (k.d. lang, you owe Aimee Mann, Brian Eno, and Best Coast apologies) There are songs by k.d. lang that I really like—Miss Chatelaine has run through my head on an incessant, accusatory loop since I decided k.d. belonged on this list. I even dabbled in defensive listening—I played k.d. lang song after k.d. lang song and except for a few old ones that I already knew and loved, they mostly struck me with the same feeling “This is boring. And I would like to turn it off.” And then I did, though not without guilt, because so many of those videos were peppered with interview clips of lang, who appears charming and funny and truly likable. I would have a beer with her in a heartbeat, but I can’t bear the full three minute sitting one of her songs requires.

Widespread Panic

Based on my Deadhead upbringing, this next statement could be summed up as “Hi, I’m Alex P. Keaton.” Here it is: I don’t like jam bands. Meandering solos bore me to tears, songs that last for 20 minutes plus feel like a psychic abomination on par with standing in line at the MVA, and the general middle aged dude-ness of it all makes my eyes glaze over. I’ve seen a lot of jam bands. I’ve listened not only to all the albums you’ve heard (you fuming jam band fans, you), but bootlegs you couldn’t imagine, tours you can’t believe you missed, shows that you were at that you repeat in your mind with the ardor of a little kid replaying their birthday party on a manic mental loop. I was there, and I was bored.

I love the Grateful Dead with the same soft, child’s love that I have for Sesame Street and hopscotch. And out of all those bands I’ve heard, there are songs here and there that I like, that I listen to sometimes. And there have been shows that were fun, mostly, with songs I went home and played again. But I’ve never had any of those feelings about Widespread Panic. They live in this realm in my mind with Galactic and all the other tertiary jam bands I can’t stand. If someone asked a question as straight and clean as “So what kind of music don’t you like?” I could point at them and say “Right there” and they would sum it all up.

Rilo Kiley

A few weeks ago, I talked about how I avoided Tegan and Sara for years, then fell hopelessly, song-repeatingly in love with them. This is part two to that story.

So I did it, I opened my ears up to Tegan and Sara, and they in turn opened me up to loads of artists who became the soundtrack to my early 20s: The Weepies, Regina Spektor, Kate Nash, Santigold, Laura Viers, The Sounds, the list goes on. And like I mentioned with Tegan and Sara, all that time I had spent avoiding Tegan and Sara had been made difficult by a boss and a roommate who adored them. Once I took the good advice of those two wise ladies, I thought I would keep taking that good advice and listen to Rilo Kiley. They both liked Rilo Kiley, and “Silver Lining” had spent a year on my blast-it-while-driving soundtrack, so I was sure this would be another musical homerun.

It wasn’t. I find Rilo Kiley really, really boring. Part of me thinks it’s an exposure thing—did I get to the band too late? Did I listen to the wrong things? I love The White Stripes, but if I’d been fed a diet straight off of their darker, noisier tracks, I think I would’ve bolted. Is that what happened here? I don’t know. All I know is that when they come on, I tune out.

First Show/Worst Show: Andrew Luttrell

(Claire: Andrew Luttrell—friend, co-worker from my music memorabilia days, and most importantly, Baltimore born and based musician with a new album, “Paint By Numbers.” Click here to check out the short film on the making of “Paint by Numbers,” and pick up your copy of the album here.)

First Show: In April of 1986, my older brother took me to see Rush at the Baltimore Civic Center. I hadn’t quite turned 13 yet, so my parents thought I was a little young to be going to an arena rock concert downtown without adult supervision, but I begged. I think Blue Oyster Cult opened. I don’t remember if we even caught any of the opening band because we were late.

I heard a lot of Rush music through the early & mid 80’s because my brother Bill was a huge fan – one of the only things we had in common – but it was a major thing. Years of hearing “2112”, “All The World’s A Stage”, “Permanent Waves”, and “Exit Stage Left” pouring out of Bill’s little Sanyo boom-box in my family’s very small two bedroom apartment had prepared me for this show. Having not yet been bitten by the Zeppelin bug till the following year, the jury was still out for me on Geddy’s voice – but I was so mesmerized by the tight, intricate, complex compositions those three guys were playing & writing, I quickly dismissed any uncertainties I had about the singing.

I also loved the narrative quality to Neil’s lyrics, especially in their late 70’s albums. Musically, I found their diverse and inventive time-signature changes to be extremely creative. I’d never heard anything like it. They had just released the “Power Windows” album, and the petite Civic Center seemed like a 70,000 seat stadium to me. The Three Stooges theme song into “The Spirit of Radio,” ” The Big Money,” a theatrical drum solo, a “2112” encore in the company of 8,000 other nerds, and I was hooked. I saw them again every tour for the next 4 years, including once with my friend and bandmate Flynn – the other guitar player from my first rock band in high school. That 1986 concert opened my eyes to a whole new world of composed music. At the time, it made Rush my favorite band. However, they opened the door to so much other music for me – by 1987 they were no longer my favorite band, and for that, I owe them a great deal of gratitude. I still have a warm place in my heart for Rush and their music to this day.

Worst Show: The Spin Doctors. How I sat through that set without throwing up remains a mystery to me. This thing came to Merriweather summer of 1992 called the HORDE tour. It was a bunch of jam bands lumped together into a show. The Spin Doctors were in the lineup.

Here’s the deal: I had seen the Grateful Dead many times already since 1989, and I had just seen Phish for the first time in ’91 and again twice in ’92, so I guess I figured a concert at Merriweather called the HORDE featuring a bunch of jam bands I’d never heard of would be a good thing to do. I was wrong.

Here was the problem: Phish was really, really, really good back then. They wrote imaginative lyrics and very interesting musical compositions which intrigued me. So, naturally, I thought the whole wave of these new jam bands would be good too. Nope. That’s what happens when you assume. When the Spin Doctors hit the stage, I quickly learned the difference between a good show and a bad show. Sure, we could all say: “Ok, yeah, maybe the Spin Doctors had an off night”, but you know damn well we’d be lying to one another. Every now and then, I’ll be in a supermarket or somewhere and that awful pocket fulla kryptonite tune will play through the speakers. Ugh. It makes me itch.

It seemed like a ton of new, young, jam bands were coming out of the woodwork around that time, and many of them were just pop-bubble gum trash with no substance or depth to their music or songwriting, but people were “supposed” to like them because they thought they sounded like the Dead or something. That Spin Doctors Merriweather set actually made me question if ALL jam bands were that bad. A month after that show, I went back and saw Phish again just to make sure they were still good. And they were. They were still good.

Want to see your First Show/Worst Show on the Charm City Jukebox? Click here.

More First Show/Worst Shows:

First Show/Worst Show: Rahnia Mersereau

(Claire: More musical memories, this time from friend-of-the-blog Rahnia Mersereau! Interested in seeing your First Show/Worst Show on the Charm City Jukebox? Click here.)

First: My dad is a musician, so it’s difficult to remember the details of my first show. The first live music I ever saw was probably one of his bands, and I would’ve been too young to remember. I have vague memories of shows seen as a child at house parties & at venues I was too young to be in, but the first big live music event I remember is seeing the Grateful Dead.

It would’ve been the summer of ’91 or 92, in Northern California, if my child’s memory serves. I saw them, to be fair, from a great distance. My parents were too poor/cheap to buy tickets to the actual show, so we hung out in the village outside. I remember certain moments very clearly — throwing up from dehydration, climbing a huge mound of dirt that allowed us to see over the fence and towards the faraway stage, meeting my uncle Ronnie for the first (and last) time, having an odd conversation with a young boy who thought girls should be able to wander around with their shirts off when it was hot, like he did — and the Grateful Dead playing in the background. I am, to this day, of the firm opinion that the Grateful Dead catalog is best deployed as background music. It reminds me of sunny breezes and warm green grass, ripe hippies and wafting marijuana. It conjures a nostalgia that is pleasant, not painful, which is more than can be said for much of my childhood.

Worst: My sister asked me to go a show with her at Wonder Ballroom in NE Portland. She presented it as me going with her to see We The Kings and whoever might be opening for them. I figured sure, why not, I could use a night out of the house. Upon arriving, I found that I’d been duped into a large line-up of terrible pop-post-punk bands. Here’s the line-up. If you can stand it, here are some videos from that night:

It was truly some of the most trite, uninventive music I’ve ever allowed to assail my ears. If that weren’t bad enough, the entire audience seemed to be 13 to 16 years old, plus their parents. I amused myself by watching the boy near the stairs who seemed glued to his father, but wanting to join the adolescent mosh pit forming near the stage. My sister and I pushed ourselves up and in, got carried away by the moving mass of bodies, moist with sweat and water tossed on the crowd. Normally, this sort of thing is utterly cathartic. I’d leave shows feeling relaxed, my ears pleasantly buzzing with new hearing damage. But for that sort of release, the Dionysian link to the sublime, you need something that taps into that part of you, that will let you surrender. This night left me frustrated, my ears ringing with terrible chord progressions and questionable musicianship.