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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Celebrity Moment: Darkest before dawn

Annie is a wonder. What makes her tick? For one thing, she can't seem to take a bad picture. She comes from Norway, where celebrity culture is an oxymoron. Fame is handled with great modesty, she says, or ridicule is sure to follow.

To be fair, ridicule is what she's got. After her six-song set late last month in Montreal, there was also disappointment, disapproval and regret. Maybe her approach was too modest for North American audiences. Maybe the show was too rudimentary to be kicking off the annual POP festival. Maybe she's the type of celeb who is not afraid to risk failure.

...music was so harsh and shattering that the entire audience sat on the floor with their fingers in their ears. A woman who lived up the street came over in her bare feet, shaking, and complained about the din. She was incredulous as to how this was happening unregulated on her block. In tears she pointed to the ear plugged audience watching Lee and David kill. "What the hell is this?" - she was so confused. — Thurston Moore, "Noise Trip: memoriez of Noise Fest" via Banana Nutrament

Kim Gordon once said the best show to see is one where the band falls apart as they play. The band she and Thurston lead may have given shows like that. Some might argue that this is what happened with Annie's show, but that's not why I was reminded of Sonic Youth during her performance. In the middle of "Come Together," Annie started playing an electronic gong. It would punctuate the heart of her song, reverberating as she counted down the lyric: "If we... BASH! If we all... BASH! If we all come... BASH BASH!! If we all come toget... BASH BASH BASH!!!

Confusion, gaping stares, the parts of the audience that were congenially bopping along to the music suddenly stopped. Disco paean to happiness becomes an art-rock jolt. I thought it was great idea. I'm sure she's not a weirdo killjoy (backstage, Annie would later talk about her total admiration of her Seattle fans, who were literally pulling their hair out when she took to the stage). But was it a big flop to the majority of her fans?

Annie never was a pop princess, as she warned us all along. Her record at first deceives, but you can hear a proclamation of her freedom from marketability and the pop format in "Me Plus One," which is, well, poppy and very marketable and which she glaringly omitted from setlist.

A long-time DJ, Annie wants to spin Anniemal for the world. But even though she's given up her turntables for a live microphone and spotlight, she's still spinning it her way.


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