Agony Shorthand

Thursday, February 19, 2004
THE CORPORATE RUBBER CHICKEN CIRCUIT….One of the best-kept secrets in the mainstream music biz is a hidden underworld of gigs that enable otherwise washed-up, downward-trending or uncomfortable-with-retirement musical acts to still get a nice fat paycheck. It’s what I like to call the “corporate rubber chicken circuit”, and I’ve been fortunate enough in my line of work to have attended a few doozies over the past decade. If you live in an American city with its own large-sized convention center and a steady stream of corporate trade shows blowing through it, chances are you’ve been mere miles from performances by heavyweights like Jimmy Buffet & the Coral Reefer Band, Kenny Rogers, Tower of Power and Cyndi Lauper, and not even known it. See, these shows always have a big-night “gala event” featuring an act that a.) the folks underwriting the show can afford, and b.) that caters to such a low, boogie-friendly common denominator that practically nobody in attendance would be offended or upset by the choice. Bob Dylan’s even been known to shill at these things from time to time, though he qualifies as downright shocking compared to the usual blandies these things get.

Things loosen up a little when it’s an individual company puttin’ on the ritz for its employees and potential customers – you’ll often see bold risk-takers from the “new wave” era or something with a little funk or soul instead of the usual middle-America apple pie. It all depends on how hip and/or clueless the person in marketing making the booking decision is. For instance, in 2000 I attended the CTIA Wireless expo in New Orleans. Search as I did for a Meters/Alex Chilton/Preservation Hall Jazz Band party, the best I could do was wrangle an invite to an open-bar, outdoor show sponsored by some now-defunct “wireless web” company. Check out this kick-ass lineup: A Flock of Seagulls, Missing Persons, Berlin, AND the English Beat!! Did I mention it was open bar?? Oh, and to answer the question that I know has leapt to your lips: yep, Flock of Seagulls still employ “the guy with the hair” on keyboards and vocals. He kicked out the space rock jams for a totally underwhelming crowd of about 55 people, and managed to keep from insulting the listless attendees. Another thing about these shows that underlines how pathetic they must be for the performers: they are almost always severely under-attended, and those who are in attendance are usually looking for free drinks and could give a shit about the band (and usually leave early, as I always do). In 2002 I went to CTIA Wireless in Orlando, Florida (party town!!!) and was treated by Ericsson, Swedish makers of wireless telecommunications networking equipment, to an open-bar, open-plate performance by the NEVILLE BROTHERS. Food was great, drinks were free, and they even played a couple of Meters tunes (and, sadly, Aaron Neville’s hit 1980s MOR duet with Linda Ronstadt, which Neville sang in a touching duet with himself). Buzzed, overweight white people shook their khaki-clad rumps to the funky funky beats, and by the time I cleared out of there, I’ll bet maybe 30 people were left in the room. Next month is the big CTIA show in Atlanta – I’ll let you know if I catch a killer Marshall Tucker Band or Atlanta Rhythm Section gig.