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Wednesday, November 18,2009

Yo! Bum rush the show

Musician’s BYOBand request nets few contributors

by Adam Molner
Backed by an iPod and an open invitation for fans to take up instruments and join him on stage, touring musician Jeff Rosenstock belted some of his fans’ favorite tunes from the stage at Mac’s Bar in Lansing last Friday.

The show was part of a tour by Rosenstock’s musical project, Bomb the Music Industry!, which sometimes includes an actual band. But for this run of shows, dubbed the “Bring Your Own Band Tour,” audience members are encouraged to supply their own instruments to play onstage with Rosenstock, making for something of an open-source rock concert, in which the audience is allowed to contribute to the performance. The concept was inspired by pop-punk mega stars Green Day, who at various times, have invited fans onstage to play with them.


The New York-based musician has been using this format off and on since the band’s inception in 2004. Earlier this year, he toured the UK with just his iPod accompanist. “I’ve always thought that the line between the performer and the audience should really be blurred, and it should be really just kind of like one good time instead of like a good time up here and you’re having a good time down here,” he said.


Rosenstock is known for taking the music business in new directions. For instance, all the distribution for his label, Quote Unquote Records, is done digitally. There is no physical product, hence the name. Before Radiohead made headlines with its “pay-what-you-want” digital download release of 2007’s “In Rainbows,” Rosenstock started making music available for free download on his Web site, with the option for fans to make a donation to the label. Other record companies release LPs of the albums for fans who want a physical product.


In an interesting twist, the music that is available for free on the Web site is also available to purchase through iTunes. In spite of the fact that it is available for free, some people still buy the music from iTunes, which confounds Rosenstock.


Bomb the Music Industry! also doesn’t offer commercial merchandise, such as shirts or posters. If someone really wants a shirt, Rosenstock will spray paint the bands logo onto a plain shirt for him or her.


Rosenstock continues his streak of iconoclasm with the “Bring Your Own Band” tour, which tests the limits of the live show as a medium, pushing it to be an interactive experience rather than yet another opportunity to passively consume.


Lately, Rosenstock said participation has been sparse. “I think it’s a little weird,” he said. “It takes a lot of balls to go up to a rock band and be like, ‘Hey man, can I play this song with you?’ ‘Cause most of the time they’ll just be like, ‘No. Get away from me.’ I think just because it’s not common place is probably why more people haven’t participated.”


Looking around the bar before the show, it seemed no one had brought instruments, and I wondered if anyone was going to help make this a shared experience or if it would be just like every other rock show.


It seemed like the latter would win out. Throughout most of the show it was just Rosenstock in front of the microphone surrounded by a stage bereft of supporting musicians, his iPod resting on the drum kit left by the previous band.


My hopes for witnessing a truly opensource rock show manifested when Douglas Wozniak and Jordan Berry, both 18, hopped up on stage, one brandishing his guitar, the other sitting down at the abandoned drum kit, in order to join Rosenstock for “Saddr Weirdr.”


After, the song, I gave the guys a chance to calm down before I asked them why they chose to participate. “Because they’re my favorite band ever,” said Jordan Berry, 18, still pumped.


Berry has his own band and often covers Bomb the Music Industry Songs! songs, so he already knew the material. But was he star struck? “It was pretty intimidating,” Berry said. But that didn’t stop him from joining in.


I found another musician in the crowd who opted not to join in. “I got a little celebrity shock there,” admitted Peter Koenigsknecht, 19. “And I don’t know the songs. That’s a part of it too.”

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