Monday, August 10, 2009

Przystanek Woodstock 2009 Last Weekend: The Performers

The ideals of Woodstock—a weekend of love, art, good times, good people, good music—lives on today, even if the hippy spirit has mostly wafted away like oh-so-many puffs of peyote. The counter-culture culture became mainstream; they were no longer the oppressed youth seeking free love and mind-liberating drugs. Most of them grew old and got jobs and families; some grew old and still live as grubby old men you don't want to sit next to on the bus. Every new generation still has its 'hippies', and festivals like Burning Man and Bonnaroo are huge draws. Phish was immensely popular despite not being very good (let's face it: Phish sucked. Good riddance.)
It is in these the concerts where we come closest to the hippy culture (those, and some communes still eking out an existence.) But the culture is corrupted. These concerts, psychedelic colors and all the puke, piss, and mud you could ever want, are dominated by the mainstream bands of the day. Woodstock '94 was more about Nine Inch Nails' climb to fame than about Jimi wailing on his guitar. Megadeath, Snoop Dogg, and Metallica—all three are decisively 'anti-hippy'—were just a flavor of Woodstock 1999. What happened?
Well, hippies got old and their kids didn't really want to be like them. The bands of the hippy era either broke up acrimoniously, or had multiple members die from a druggie-lifestyle that would have killed a lesser life form years earlier. The music of love and peace isn't exactly topping the charts (that honor goes to music about drive-bys, blowjobs, and why you're such a ho.) So, to capture today's youth, you have to push out a bunch of corporate-sponsored acts whose ideologies are in direct conflict of the original Woodstock.

With all this preamble, I will now bring our attention to Przystanek Woodstock. There were many acts, some foreign, most were Polish. I don't feel like addressing each act individually, since most of it is a matter of taste (plus, I'd probably be reduced to just writing "was good", "was shit" comments after about five reviews.)
Instead, I'll focus on one of the main features of the festival: The Special Anniversary Concert for the Years of Woodstock. Performed half-way through the festival, it sought to bring together all the music of the world and spew it out in a concert of classic covers. The set list included numbers like: The Beatles' With a Little Help From My Friends, Janis Joplin's Cry Baby, and Green Day's When I Come Around. Surprisingly, only one of those songs was sung at the original Woodstock (Richie Havens sang With a Little Help From My Friends and some other Beatles tunes; The Beatles were not at the original Woodstock. Janis Joplin didn't perform Cry Baby.)
Actually, there was a much larger set list, which had several songs that were played at Woodstock, (including the National Anthem (both Poland's and the US') on electric guitar.) The entire set was accompanied by a full orchestra.
The whole idea behind these numbers is that they would meld together different music types from different eras in one big celebration. Sometimes it worked—like in the case of Ewelina Flinta's entirely capable rendition of Cry Baby—and other times it crashed in burned: the operatic singers singing in With a Little Help From My Friends, and the lead singer of When I Come Around.

Ewelina Flinta, a contestant from some Polish Idol show, belts out a throaty song, losing any sort of accent, and proving she can do folk rock/blues/jazz as good as any American crooner. Her outfit, I guess meant to evoke the hippy roots, seems entirely in place; almost as if the psychedelic facade of the stage was actually in the right time and place.
Not bad for an almost-winner of an Idol TV show.

With a Little Help From My Friends is an entirely different story. The leader singer, Piotr Cugowski, isn't so bad. He actually manages to do quite well. The two warblers behind him, however, are so horrifically awful, so terribly shitty, that nothing can save this performance. Their screeching, off-tune 'singing' threatens to drown out the entire ensemble, replacing a very nice song with the equivalent of operatic mayhem. I hear tell, that the rest of the performers (the choir and orchestra) found the entire thing comedic to the effect that they had to stifle their laughter.
Brings new meaning to the words "What would you do if I sang out of tune/ Would you stand up and walk out on me?" —Yes.

The creme de la creme of crap performances (and terrible management in booking performers) is Maciek Januszko's hilariously bad When I Come Around. It's just so, so bad. Watch for yourself to see where his flaws are.
This song is supposed to sound like it's sung by an angsty fifteen-year-old, not a wasted fifty-five-year old wash up.

The finality is the inevitable song together of all the celebrities and performers.

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