Commentary

Dare to compare Glasvegas

What springs to mind when you think about buzz-worthy Scottish rock bands? For Paul Shirley, Glasvegas sparks thoughts of Hard-Fi, white basketball players and European women's breasts.

Updated: January 23, 2009, 2:27 PM ET
By Paul Shirley | Special to ESPN.com

When I go to a concert, I'm always secretly hoping for the same start to the proceedings. I want the stage to be dark. I want the band to come onto that stage. Then I want the band that just came onto that stage to commence rocking. I hate warm-ups, tuning, and mindless banter about how wonderful it is to be in Lawrence or Kansas City or Barcelona. After a few songs, I can handle a break. I can deal with a story from the tour bus or the tale of a band-wide herpes scare.

[+] EnlargeGlasvegas
Hear and see more about Glasvegas.
Imagine that I've played two songs (written two columns). I'm having the guy in the back turn the house lights up, but only slightly. I'm taking a quick break from thrashing the keyboard (computer keyboard, that is) and I'm going to explain myself.

This column is about music. And yes, it can be found on ESPN.com. Don't be alarmed by that development. After all, historically, the E in the acronym does stand for Entertainment. This discussion of music is meant to enhance your using pleasure. No one is going to take away the latest news on (insert NFL player's name) last run-in with a (insert deadly weapon).

Sometimes you'll like the music I discuss, sometimes you won't. Sometimes you'll have heard of the bands I write about; last week it was Guns N' Roses. And sometimes you won't; this week it's Glasvegas. (I realize that some people have heard of Glasvegas. Just not as many.)

People often ask me where I find the music I like. I don't know how to respond except to say that I listen to other people. I have a few friends whose music discovery system is more refined than my own. And I've found some critics whose views I trust. Hopefully, after some time, you'll have an idea about whether or not you can trust mine. If you listen to Glasvegas and agree with my thoughts, you'll be more apt to believe what I say. It will take time to build up a decent relationship, but I think we can get there, as long as I keep feeding you wine and giving you nightly backrubs.

Now, a sip from the bottle of beer placed conveniently next to the mic stand, a strum on the guitar I've had since Sarasota, a nod to the drummer who's been my best friend since we were 8, and the lights go back down ...

It's always difficult to characterize a band by comparing it to groups that came before it. The bands themselves hate it: "We're like nothing else you've ever heard, mate!" (Note: that was a manufactured quote, attributed by me to an English band that exists only in my mind.) But that's never really true. Whether they like it or not, Interpol does sound a little like Depeche Mode. The Strokes bring to mind the Rolling Stones.

THE PORTABLE PAUL SHIRLEY


Paul's basketball adventures are now in paperback.
We often take mental shortcuts when we make these comparisons. We might use gender: "The Sounds remind me of The Pretenders." We might use race: "The lead singer from The Dirtbombs plays like Jimi Hendrix." Often, we use geography: "The Drive-By Truckers sure sound like The Allman Brothers."

It's tempting to marginalize these comparisons. We might think they're too easy. But after trying to come up with a way to describe Glasvegas, I've decided they're OK.

Glasvegas is a Scottish band, a fact that will be less of a surprise after I tell you that their name is a playful combination of a certain city in Nevada plus a notable city in Scotland. They released an album called, imaginatively, "Glasvegas" last year.

"Glasvegas" has been the subject of critical acclaim, mostly in Europe. I read accounts of its greatness and bought the album. My initial reaction was mixed. I liked the tone, and I loved the whimsical approach. Imagine a bunch of Scottish dudes with sensitive hearts given access to an endless supply of beer, electric guitars and a recording studio.

But overall, the album seems thrown together. After some research, I see why. In style typical to the United Kingdom, Glasvegas (the band) was a critical darling before they had recorded a proper album. Their debut is a mash-up of earlier releases and songs they've been playing live for years. Which is exactly what it sounds like, and is probably why there are only eight actual songs on the album.

Glasvegas' music makes me think of the Arctic Monkeys, or Hard-Fi, or The Kaiser Chiefs. In other words, rock 'n' roll with one eye kept open for a clever hook -- something at which those bands excel. I also should mention that those bands excel at something else: being from the British Isles.

When I realized I was going to use bands from the UK to help describe Glasvegas, I was frustrated with myself. I was disappointed that I couldn't come up with an American band. But then I thought about white basketball players.

[+] EnlargeKevin Love
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Love is a little like Luke Walton ... and he probably has no rhythm either.
Whenever a white guy makes it to the NBA, he is inevitably compared to his pale-faced predecessors. I've always found that annoying. But, as I listened to songs like "Geraldine" and "It's My Own Cheating Heart That Makes My Cry," I came to terms with this seemingly short-sighted comparison method. Because, just like the members of Glasvegas have most likely been influenced by their upbringing as a band in the UK, Kevin Love probably has been influenced by his upbringing as a white person playing basketball.

As such, Glasvegas probably sounds more like Hard-Fi than they realize, but they aren't Hard-Fi imitators. They grew up in the same part of the world, dealt with similar authority figures, and got shot down by girls who were mostly sallow-skinned and who all had larger-than-average breasts. (The girls of the United Kingdom have the largest breasts in Europe. I know only because of an argument I had with my girlfriend on the matter. No, she's not British. Or Scottish, for that matter.)

Kevin Love probably plays more like Luke Walton than he'd care to admit. But neither is he a Luke Walton imitator. It's just that he was probably told he couldn't jump as high, run as fast, or advance as far. So he adapted his game accordingly. When people talk about the way he plays, they might use Luke Walton as a touchstone. That's not the only way to describe how Love plays, but it is effective. Just like learning algebra, we start with what we know and build on it.

There are other ways for me to describe Glasvegas, too. I could write about how the rendition of "You Are My Sunshine" late in the song "Flowers and Football Tops" is breathtaking and how it sends chills down my spine each time I hear it. But that isn't enough. We need to relate new concepts to old, whether we're discussing music, math or melanin-challenged basketball players. It's how we learn.

So go forth, listen and then teach. Go to Glasvegas' Web site and decide for yourself who they sound like. Tell a friend about them. Use a different band to describe them -- use someone I haven't even heard yet. But go with your instincts; if you think Glasvegas sounds like the Killers, use the Killers. I'll think you're crazy, but my approval is not your goal. Your goal is to find good music.

And I'm here to help.

Paul Shirley has played for 13 pro basketball teams, including three NBA teams -- the Chicago Bulls, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. He can be found at myspace.com/paulshirley and at mysocalledcareer@gmail.com. His book, now in paperback, "Can I Keep My Jersey?" can be found here. With his brother, he also co-hosts an online radio show, "Off Topic with Matt and Paul Shirley."

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