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Cheers for the Bland!

by Roger Young / 07.09.2009

Each to their own I say. And to that end I was determined to go see Watershed at the Botanic Gardens, hoping to erase the hate from my heart and try work out why they are so popular, for socio-anthropological purposes. Again I failed. I more than failed, I ran screaming from the enclosure before they even began.

Upon arrival what struck me most about Durban Day was how many people were not facing the stage. Thousands of people and really only about a fifth of them were in any reasonable proximity to be able to see or experience the stage. Durban Day it seems may be an outdoor daytime live music concert, but really, as evidenced by the crowd’s non reaction to The Arrows, it’s more about balloons and boerewors than rocking out.

Until Jason from Idols comes on stage. Man, I totally get how, at an event sponsored by a radio station whose playlist is filled with past radio hits, a guy belting out cover versions of those hits is, well, perfect. I mean, in order for an alternative to exist, there must be a mainstream right? But if this is our mainstream then, well, I’m sad. Anyway the audience are up on their feet and loving it, so that’s good right? My phone rings during the inevitable “Where the Streets have No Name” cover, it’s the friend I left my camera with, I ask her where she is? “Halfway between the stage and hell,” she says.

When John Ellis from Tree63 comes on the crowd gets up. Well the first four rows get up, everyone else continues to eat, look for lost children and throw stones into the goose-free lake. Two things. One I think that the geese have fucked off because they’re not digging the music either, and two it’s not a lake so much as a large pond. Music By The Lake should maybe have a name rethink. So there are a whole lot of people sitting in chairs singing along to the famous Tree63 song and then John Ellis goes into a Mike Sutcliffe joke and I’m struck by how lazy the whole thing is. Sutcliffe gets a laugh, like a monkey slipping on a banana, no need for actual social commentary. I’m there to poke fun at Watershed, another easy target, the people are there for a day in the sun, the line up isn’t really a concern, so the organisers have booked the easiest bands for this environment. And it’s not like they don’t know about music, being that this gig was organised by Oppikoppi. Maybe it’s because I get to see a lot of really good bands that I wonder why these totally average bands, John Ellis segueing into a “Wonderwall” cover, should even be allowed on stage. But the audience is digging it in a non-involved way, so what do I know?

As Watershed’s setup begins I have to leave, because in the golden sunset, with all these people enjoying themselves because they are there and there is music they don’t have to engage with fully, I just find it a little sad that there are all these amazing bands in South Africa right now, who are pushing the boundaries and struggling in small apartments, in lousy jobs, who play better music, who could do with the kind of pay cheque that a gig like this warrants. I can see all sorts of people having a good time around me, and maybe that’s as it should be, but somehow the knowledge that one of the best bands in the country right now is sitting in the park on the other side of the fence, sharing quarts and wondering about their rent makes me just hate the flashy jewelry ridden Watershed types even more. So the running screaming was more metaphorical, it was just a lazy way to get you to read this story.

Picture supplied by East Coast Radio

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