Some things just don’t look cool. And they never will.
As a case in point, I flipped by Metal Mania on VH-1 last weekend, catching something I had not seen in many moons: Europe’s “The Final Countdown.”
Something struck me about the video for this 1988 tune, with its central, defining synthesizer sound. You rarely see the keyboards or their accompanying musician. Even during the parts of the song dominated by the whining keys, the images highlight the band’s perfectly coiffed Nordic guitarists—the guys you can barely even hear in the background, even if you try.
Metal-heads say that not showing the guilty player is irrelevant, that “The Final Countdown” still sucks simply because it has a synthesizer in it.
I see the point, but there is more than a little hypocrisy here. Black Sabbath—arguably the foundation of heavy metal—used keyboards often. To a lesser or greater extent, so did Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osborne, Rush, Van Halen, Mötley Crüe, and dozens of other solid hard rock acts.
Even though some of these performances were amazing—think of Geddy Lee’s synthesized atmospherics in the late 1970s Rush albums, or Eddie Van Halen’s remarkable keyboard solo on “Jump”—most fans hated them. Why?
Quite simply, nobody can look cool playing a keyboard.
Thank about it. Unless you’re really, really into Liberace or Harry Connick, you can’t watch a dude at a piano (electronic or otherwise) and say “Wow, that ROCKS!” Even if you are inclined toward enjoying the ivories, no less a source than Elton John has said that playing a piano can never be attractive.
Don’t get me wrong. Some keyboardists have created works of art, even in the rock world. Tony Banks of Genesis, Rick Wakeman of Yes, Keith Emerson of ELP, and Jordan Rudess of Dream Theater have mastered the instrument, giving us musical magic.
But not one of them looks cool while playing. Or ever did.
That’s why I don’t mind when a keyboardist like Tony Banks, for example, becomes a virtual mannequin when Genesis performs live. He plays his half-dozen keyed instruments without any unnecessary motion--or any emotion, for that matter. There’s no swagger, rarely a look at the crowd, almost never even a smile.
It makes for one of the lamest concert performances I’ve ever seen.
And it’s orders of magnitude better than a keyboardist trying to look cool.