Tehee: Rock 'n' roll has to be about more than the show

FresnoJune 26, 2013 

Fake amps for Black Veil Brides? No big deal.


If social media is good at anything, it's making molehills of minutia.

Such is the case with Hollywood rock band Black Veil Brides, who were outed last weekend for using fake amplifiers during their performance on the Vans Warped Tour.

The story made headlines on music blogs and sent several Facebook forums (including the Fresno Area Musician's Exchange, where I saw it) into a frenzy of sharing/commenting.

It all stemmed from a Facebook post that showed a picture of the band, taken from backstage, playing in front of a row of empty speaker cabinets. Along with the photo was this caption from Jorma Vik, drummer of the Los Angeles punk band The Bronx: "This is what the kids are calling 'rock n roll' these days. I'm lighting fire to every drum I have and becoming an investment banker."

Fans of Black Veil Brides quickly took the photo apart like it was Zapruder film, offering their own theories on why the band would play in front of fake amps.

For his part, the band's front man Andy Biersack gave a rational enough response to the whole ordeal. "Hey guys, we use staging in our stage show," he Tweeted, along with the hashtag #uselessnews.

The guy has a point.

Screaming Jay Hawkins used to burst out on stage from a coffin, and AC/DC screamer Brian Johnson has flown over the audience on a giant wrecking ball. Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee played upside down strapped into a rolling drum set. Alice Cooper gets beheaded pretty much every night.

None of that has anything to do with the quality of the music they put out.

This doesn't either.

This isn't some Milli Vanilli scandal.

The band was actually playing, just not out of the amplifiers on stage. Not to spoil the magic, but as many online commenters pointed out, using fake amps is pretty common practice. It's been happening since the 1970s, at least.

There was a time when you needed to stack a dozen Marshall amps to get enough sound to reach the back of the field at Woodstock, let's say. Bands forgo all that now and plug directly into the venue's sound system. It is more efficient for the sound engineers and provides for better sound quality, especially at these large multi-band festivals.

Also: Lugging actual guitar amps is killer on the roadies.

Countless bands use these fake amps, from metal masters like Slayer to hipster indie bands such as Sleigh Bells, which has admitted as much and taken to calling the amps "aesthetic volume."

I'll be the first to say that seeing a wall of amplifiers on stage catches your attention. It just looks cool.

That might be the point of Vik's post — the visual subtext of the picture. The emptiness of the guitar cabinets stand in for the emptiness of the band.

Other than the fact that they borrow heavily from Motley Crue's early aesthetics, I don't know enough about Black Veil Brides to make that kind of judgment.

I do know there is something special about a band that doesn't need those extras, that can hit the stage with little more than monitor speakers and a mic, such as the Rollins Band.

I saw the Rollins Band on its last tour and there were no faux amps. There were no crazy get-ups. There weren't even any lighting cues. It was one of the most engaging performances I've ever witnessed.

That's rock and rock.

That's "a stage show."

If bands want to use fake amps on stage — or get stuffed in a coffin or battle a giant dancing spider a la Alice Cooper — more power to them. But what are they left with when it becomes all about the show, when the curtain is finally pulled away and the man hiding in back doesn't live up to the hype?

That's Vik's point and it still stands.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6479, jtehee@fresnobee.com or @joshuatehee on Twitter. Read his blog at Fresnobeehive.com.

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