POPOFF! COMMENTARY/REVIEW: Muna Round 2

As I have been doing recently, I offer my little mini get to the point review first. Just for those of you who don’t like to read long stories that take scenic routes.

The Muna show was a blast. It was so great to see young queers in full force singing along and bouncing to every word. Superb pop anthems made for dancing and made for the arena. Someday maybe they will get to the arena stage… Someday.

OK. That’s the gist. Now the full business…

On my way home from the Muna show I saw several people on BART who had been to see Lil Nas X playing this same night. I did not know he was in town but learned a little bit about his show (more on that later). What struck me in a bittersweet way as I rode home was how far the queer community has come to have two fully open and out young queer acts performing at venues of a decent size and even younger queers coming out in full queerness without having to hide or be careful which street they walk down. It was so moving and lovely to think these young people will never know the struggles we in Gen X and before had to go through paving the way for a night like this. And that is great but also I know it often can leave them with little reference or understanding of just how bad it was. And so without any reference point they can feel or act like no progress has been made at all. What to me might seem trivial, for them feels as bad as say, in the 70s somebody setting fire to a gay nightclub with patrons inside.

They will just never have that perspective and that is GLORIOUS. But I bring it up because I think it can and has divided the queer community along generational lines. I’ve personally struggled with how to deal with it. For me it can rise to the surface as a weird kind of jealousy, that they got to have a more openly queer youth and connect with other queers easier thanks to the internet and more awareness and acceptance due to the aforementioned groundwork.

But at some point I decided the best thing I can do is just try to make the world better for queers no matter the generation going forward. It is never going to be perfect but instead of waxing on about past struggles let’s celebrate that the younger set didn’t have to face those specific struggles and focus making the next round of queer youth struggles even less that the current ones. And for me personally it has been a goal to create all ages queer dance events that allow inter-generational mixing of the community to try and curb this tribalism.

I had to remind myself of my own philosophy on Sunday because at the Muna show I felt myself slightly out of place in my own body. I had gone alone, like I did the first time I saw them. This round felt different though. I really noticed just how far the rainbow stretches. And how there was none of this for me and my peers in the 80s and 90s. So in a way I was mourning my younger self who never fit into to the space he was born into. I had a couple queer friends back in the very late 90s but it was still the kind of thing you didn’t really discuss openly because that made it real. And once it was real then people had to deal with it and for many people that was a problem, especially in the white trash suburbs of my youth.

That aside it was pure joy to be among that youthful (and hopeful) energy. The cheering was deafening so it might as well have been an arena. I’ve been to a lot of legacy act shows recently (Roxy Music, Bjork, Elton John) and the audience is older and just doesn’t have the spark anymore for whatever reason. To say nothing of the lack of dancing at these shows. I miss being surrounded by that youthful energy that makes you last until 4AM. And it was good reminder that we all should be hanging with all types of ages. I don’t want to get into some old age echo chamber or mentality or lifestyle. We all have something to offer each other and should be mingling much more than we do.

I also don’t want to be some music fan stuck listening to and playing oldies. Yeah, I do want to educate the youth on what came before but there has to be a balance if you want them to carry the old music on and take it someplace new. And frankly plenty of younger acts are doing the old styles I like so you can mix and match. And certainly my family at SoundwavesTV is bringing to the fore younger acts to keep an eye on.

Thankfully, at the Muna show I did see a few people my age and older singing along and dancing who were not chaperones. I wonder if they too marveled at how far we’ve come.

But this also brought to the fore for me a topic I’ve discussed in other commentary and reviews that sadly some genres are faring better than others. Pop will be fine, I’m pretty sure. But as I witnessed at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass recently, Country and Bluegrass are largely patronized by and older demographic even for the younger artists. Same for blues, jazz, and classical… It saddens me that this is the case… and I do what I can by playing all the genres to expose young people to as many types as I can both legacy acts and new acts. But the legacy genres just don’t seem to have the mainstream pull they once did. And they need to pull younger fans or they will fade away. Maybe the lack of a larger youth fan base has to do with a barrier to entry. Learning to play cello or even blues guitar is not cheap and requires time and dedication that in my youth I spent hanging out and maybe many youths today spend on social media. Whereas not that long ago the mentality of 8 hours of practice was the norm. Now you can do backing tracks at live shows, cut and paste takes in the studio so you only have to sing the chorus once… But that kind of dedication in the past is in part how we got legends like Elton John, who I also saw recently, on his final tour.

And Elton John is an elder of the queer community filling sports arenas… Isn’t that also staggering? I suppose. But Elton John came on the scene when the public could live in willful denial about stars being queer and those queers often never openly declared their status. They called people like Liberace and Paul Lynde, “eternal bachelors”. Elton got by largely because his talent and the songs were too good to ignore. And so everything else could be simply labeled as eccentric. It was the same with Bowie and Freddie. It wasn’t until the 80s we saw a lot of music artists just being openly queer; Boy George, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Grace Jones etc. and of course not long before them Sylvester. But even they never explicitly stated their queer status in songs nor did they make it a focal point of their image and brand like say, Lil Nas X has. They just went about being queer without any advertising it. Whereas I feel Lil Nas X uses his brand of queerness as part advertising, part defiance, part self actualization, and to piss people off. Meanwhile, Muna seems to being going more old school using the angle of music first and uniting the clans through great music with messages about loving the person in the mirror as they are. And, frankly, dancing your ass off all night. But that doesn’t mean they have no lyrics explicitly about the queer female experience it’s just not dressed in costumes with backup dancers.

I read some reviews of the Lil Nas X show and it appears his show was treated as almost literal “one man” theater with a playbill & three acts… about an hour long show and DJ opening to fill out a second hour. The concept sounded very cool and very much like something I do with my poetry, telling a life story. So to me it sounded more Broadyway than rock ‘n’ roll. But apparently an entertaining show.

Muna was, as they were the first time I saw them, a band playing bangers and everyone singing along and dancing. No theatrics except for some colored lights. In fact thinking on it now it wasn’t just a fandom going crazy.  It felt like a family of queers finally having a night out where they didn’t have to “watch out” for some bigot or uses coded language. It was just a jam packed space for them to be free. It’s a shame Muna isn’t bigger.  Every song they record is pretty much an arena anthem and the lead singer, Katie Gavin, has serious power vocals. But I think what keeps them from Lil Nax X heights in the media is there is no theater either on stage or on social media. They are not meme worthy. They don’t have the classic “eccentric” or “spectacle” angle to lean on like many queers from Lil Nas X to Liberace to Little Richard use and have used to soften the “blow” (no pun intended).

But I do think the grassroots approach serves them well and lends them a dedicated fan base that is clearly proud to have been there from the beginning. And a number of those fans arrived three hours early to stand/sit in line before the show, which amused me as I hung out in Japantown. I know some people like to get right up front but in this day and age Late Kate’s usually just show up and push there way to the front anyway so what’s the point. To my surprise I did not witness any Late Kate’s at this show. But really at the Fillmore you are more or less right upfront not matter how far back you are. And for me being in the back allows one more room to move, which is what the music of Muna requires.

The other interesting thing I noticed was fans hitting the merch table before the show began. Clearly this was so they could just up and get out. But Sunday night was sold out, so when the packed room was in full swing I just pictured all the crushed posters and vinyl and drink soiled shirts. Personally I don’t want to be holding anything at a concert that will keep me from doing my best to add to the energy on stage which had all three members flying about the stage, spinning jumping, grinding… and if the sold out Monday show was like Sunday well, that’s back to back queer block party business.

On the technical side I felt sound was not as clean as I remember it from their Great American Music Hall show. The vocals felt more muddled than I remember from the previous show. And there was now roof raising moment like the note Katie Gavin hit on the song, “Never” when I saw them the first time. I suppose the biggest roof raising moment of the night came when Muna covered The Killer’s, “Mr. Brightside”. If anyone was not singing along before, they were now. Even so, the cheers were almost deafening at all times. Rivaling even the noise I heard at Levi’s Stadium for Elton John so clearly the whole affair was roof raising for the crowd bouncing up and down.

In terms of the evolution of a band… it was more of the same musically, aside from a couple new “acoustic” songs near the end. Some may harp on a lack of “evolution” as a bad thing for we do seem to be in the era of pop music where musicians are expected to have “eras” to stay viable. But pfffttt… a band that can pick a lane and stay in it and do it well is actually not an easy skill. Tom Waits picked his lane, AC/DC has stayed in their lane their entire career, Pet Shop Boys stayed true to the synthpop that made them the biggest selling duo of all time. I have nothing against experimenting and evolving but again there is something to be said for mastering your domain as opposed to blowing with the winds of pop tastes that could be gone in a month. And if Muna stays steady in their course as they seem to be doing they will have quite the catalog of dance anthems to draw from when the mainstream finally catches on. And if that never happens so be it, the hardcore fans know what’s up and will show up and show out to party like it’s pride weekend every weekend.

WHAT YOU WITNESSED OR WHAT YOU MISSED:

What I Want
Number One Fan
Solid
Stayaway
Runner’s High
No Idea
Pink Light
Loose Garment
Navy Blue
Kind Of Girl
Taken
Home By Now
Anything But Me
Mr. Brightside (The Killers Cover)
I Know A Place
Shooting Star
Silk Chiffon

FAVORITES OF SET
I Know A Place
Shooting Star
Pink Light
Runner’s High

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