All right, I’ve had a good chunk of time to ruminate on this concert, and I’m confident with my opinion. So my girlfriend loves the soundtrack to Amelie. You know, that French flick about the cute girl putting ripped pictures together or something… I don’t really remember. Anyway, the soundtrack is composed of delicate, quasi-eerie piano-heavy tunes done by one Yann Tiersen. It’s not the heaviest or most complicated stuff, but admittedly there is an ethereal draw to it. When I saw he was playing at the Wonder Ballroom here in Portland last month, I jumped on the opportunity to go to a concert that my girl would adore. Now I have a fairly geeky knowledge of most pop and rock music, but I had never heard Tiersen’s name outside of the Amelie context. In fact, asking around…I realized nobody else did either. Thus I thought it was a little odd when I read an interview with Yann where he said his rock band sometimes shocks people with their music, and he always sees a few couples get up and leave during the show because they were expecting Amelie. Uh-oh.
So I prepped my girl for the upcoming let-down. Yet as we had already purchased $20 tickets, and we did both appreciate the music of his that we knew, we decided to give it a shot. 3 songs in…it wasn’t bad. It reminded me of some band that if they tried real hard, might be able to get an opening slot on a tour with Yo La Tengo. But here’s the thing – there were 500 people at this show. 500! At 20 bucks a pop! And looking around the room, you could tell NOBODY was familiar with this music. In fact, I’d guarantee that 99% of the building only knew him from Amelie. And here in a Mecca of hipsters, nobody wants to admit that that were confused as to what the actual music was, so EVERYBODY hung around. It was a solid 2 hours of people standing there with half-smirks on their face – pretending like they knew and enjoyed the music, when you know that every single person there was waiting for a simple tune from Amelie. My sweet girlfriend, bless her heart, held out faith even through the encore that maybe he would play something remotely similar to the music he was known for.
But he never did. Instead it was one of the most fake “elephant in the room” concert experiences I had ever seen. Imagine going to see Jim Hendrix and he just played a penny-whistle the whole time – that’s how vastly different Tiersen’s band was to the music that made him popular. The thing is… he either is completely oblivious to what the crowd is expecting, or else he is just raking in the dough with this false impression. The rock shit wasn’t bad – it just wasn’t worth $20. Maybe I would have thrown down $5. I’m gonna guess that of the 500 people that went, probably 20 of them would go the next time he’s in town. But perhaps there’ll be another 500 people that just recently saw Amelie, so they’ll fall into his trap.
I wouldn’t have been so upset by the whole situation if Tiersen didn’t have this odd sense of confused pride emitting from himself. After every round of applause, he gave this smile or French accented mumbling about how everybody loves that tune. Yo Yann! Nobody knows any of this shit buddy! They’re all just clapping politely so they don’t feel like they’re the only ones who made a mistake in coming to see you! So this made me realize that Tiersen is succeeding on this model of the reverse sell-out. He started his career by becoming popular for a specific sound that I guess wasn’t really his bag, and now he tours successfully by people anticipating that shit and instead playing the music he wants to. I suppose I have to admire him for that, but I’d much more prefer to have my $40 back. If this show is free, then go check out 20 minutes of it. Otherwise I’d recommend your couch, popcorn, and a Director’s Cut of Amelie if you really want to hear Tiersen shine.
You will hear none of this at his concert: