Last night at the Staples Center, I saw the future of the music industry and it is a giant glowing phallus. Or was it cartoons singing backup for former prog metal innovators? Or maybe grunge rockers singing solo to mini-orchestras, or aging punk rockers sleep walking through songs from two decades ago? On the expansive penis-shaped stage at Activision's E3 Staples Center extravaganza last night, tech enthusiasts and video game aficionados decided what was best for the music industry. Their solution: Old ideas.
The belle of this business casual ball was Activision, the mega video game company that has been reaping serious financial gain while other entertainment industries have been failing (see also: the music industry). Their two main games on the block were the Guitar/DJ Hero series and the Call of Duty 6: Black Ops, the popularity of both indicate what young people are doing during these tough financial times: staying home or going to war (at home).
But Activision's extravaganza had another agenda other than selling video games. With over-the-top pyrotechnics and big name mashups, (Yes, that's an Eminem, Rihanna, and Travis Barker collaboration) the $6 million spectacle (according to the drunk woman* next to me), broadcast the message Activision wanted their investors to hear: we got the cash.
And by the look of the uninspired performances, the musicians got the cash too for this outsized bar mitzvah party thrown for an industry coming of age. Or so it seemed as the cavalcade of nineties superstars put in their time on stage.
Chris Cornell sang Soundgarden hits (quite well actually) to a half-orchestra, Jane's Addiction posed onstage with Gun's "n" Roses' Duff McKagan on bass, Tool/Perfect Circle/Puscifer's Maynard James Keenan half-heartedly sang "Bohemian Rhapsody" with a choir (by far the largest contingent of African Americans in the house), Eminem mumbled through his newer, unpopular catalog as the audience waited for his show closing blow out, "Lose Yourself." In the late nineties, this would have been a hell of a lineup, but in 2010, this was musical meatloaf, composed as last ditch efforts by the music industry to reassert their validity in the digital world.
Most of these acts started as musicians, but now are just brands. They are entrepreneurs whose music careers are just now side projects for their other businesses. There's Pharrell, he's got a clothing line. There's Maynard, he runs a vineyard. Perry Ferrell's got festivals and whatever else he does. There's Chris Cornell, he's got his own line of ultra-hydrating detangler. Ok, he doesn't have that, but he should really use some.
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The only interesting new sound was Rusko, who wasn't even there, but whose tracks were played numerous times by DJ extraordinare, Z-Trip. Deadmau5 would have gotten the crowd moving if they weren't so preoccupied with Tweeting or watching the show a tiny iPhone screen, uploading videos, to make their friends jealous.
Like the concert experience Activision seeks to replicate on the small screen, the Staples Center performances were two dimensional. It was a commercial, or a half-time show for a non-existent Superbowl.
I've seen the future, and it's cross-promotion.
* who also declared a bag of Fritos "awesome"