So sorry for pointing out the possibly obvious, but is it me or is Saturday Night Live got their shit together as of late? From solid skits to stellar musical guests that define genres across the board, Lorne Michaels and crew are doing some things right. Consider in the last few months we've seen artists such as Foster The People, Florence & the Machine, The Black Keys, Lana Del Rey, Bon Iver, Karmin, Sleigh Bells and most recently Jack White. Not to mention, upcoming artists that include the reincarnated Shins.
For the sake of argument, let's leave out the less than potent Lana Del Rey performance (let's be honest she just wasn't ready). I won't leave out Kristen Wiig's incredible parody of Del Rey because it deserves our accolades. Other than that setback we're left with renditions by some of indie music's best or at least more defining artists. Not everyone will agree with me on which performances warrant merit but I don't think anyone can deny that at least SNL is bringing music from the seeming outlying areas to the masses. For better or for worse.
Bon Iver's interesting choice of slow burner "Holocene" (instead of perhaps "Towers" or better yet "Perth") could easily be construed as a poor choice. I won't disagree, despite it being my favorite song on that album, that a different track might have "moved" the masses more to understand why the Wisconsin native won Best New Artist at this year's Grammys. That said, letting him define his sound-- the sound that reaches those people lumped into the mass-- should be his own, right? I applaud Michaels' ability to step back and let a band make or break themselves. It's fine that not two weeks later SNL parodied the very group they championed before. Timberlake's "homage" was classic. I can live with that.
Karmin's songs were interesting to say the least. I'm not sure the people that voted for the Berklee grads (and soon to be wed) YouTube sensation to rap their way into our hearts really thought it through. However, their sound is unique and given some polish, they may come to propel a new sound, whether it be through their backers at Reddit or by their own validation. I was intrigued enough by their performance on SNL to explore their background and back catalog. I would say SNL (along with Reddit) did their job, wouldn't you?
Sleigh Bells brought their interesting dichotomy to the stage and tore through their newest single "Comeback Kid" (and later, "End of the Line"). The sound they pummeled us with on their debut album remains firmly intact. Alexis Krauss and Derek Miller effectively showcased the thunderous guitars and soft, almost pixie-ish (note not Pixie-ish) vocals that have defined their sound from the beginning and arguably gave America a solid glimpse at the next great lead singer. Thank you SNL.
Most recent guest Jack White brought genuine rock god status to the stage and didn't waste the opportunity to play to the masses. The White Stripes gave Jack constraints that produced some of the most defining guitar work in the last decade. Unfettered, Mr. White is just as compelling, but in an entirely different manner. Leaving out Jack's interesting choice of playing one song with an all girl band and one song with an all guy band, he displayed a more accessible side that the good ol' USA needs to full on embrace as soon as possible. "Love Interruption" played as a fully realized soulful, country-tinged rocker (props to the slide guitarist) while "Sixteen Saltines" allowed White to take the Stripes stripped down approach and add a full band sound (accolades for the organ this time). World take note, the solo album is called Blunderbuss
and its out on April 24th. You should get it. I will.
I won't critique every performance by the most recent guests. There were highs and there were lows. In my humble opinion, some artists stepped up and delivered while other floundered in the spotlight. It is clearly undeniable that Saturday Night Live remains a defining performance for a young (or established for that matter) musician. Their reach is large, their credibility remains intact. I remain riveted to the next live performance by the next artist to change my musical perspective.