A couple totally unconnected friends recommended seeing Tinariwen when they came through town a couple weeks ago. I didn’t really know anything about them, and it was quite expensive for a 9:30 Club show ($40!), but eventually persuaded myself to go check them out. Apparently they have a great back story, and I do have an interest in things like the status of Tuareg tribes, and they get good reviews, so it wasn’t that hard of a decision.
And I don’t regret it or anything — actually they were really good — but they won’t stick in my mind as a legendary performance. Honestly it was the kind of thing that could have benefited from some mind-altering substances, but I liked it even just with some beers.
I think what was most surprising about this show is how, well, non-exotic it seemed. I mean, it isn’t very close to Western pop, but it is deeply infused with modern western experimental music and psychedelic sounds that have been around for decades. (I guess you could say that western psych and experimental stuff was influenced by non-western mystics, but I wouldn’t want to take that argument very far.) Tinariwen wasn’t really that different from some of the music I already listen to. I guess it’s globalization: we are all influencing each other back and forth.
I dug the guitar tones, I liked the percussion. At times I was reminded of psychedelic bands like Spiritualized, at other times I was thinking of bands that delve into mythic terrain like Silver Mt. Zion or even Lungfish. I also found myself pondering the logistics of this band, and the point of having all those extra people on stage who contributed only a few background vocals. No wonder the tickets were expensive.
I think the problem with this slow, druggy music is that it leaves too much time to think. I watched Tinariwen and thought about colonization and globalization, about white guilt and the endless back-and-forth of cultural co-option. I guess in theory you are supposed to be contemplative and willing to be moved to a higher realm, but for me that usually only works with extreme noise or energy, not sparsely picked guitars. Maybe this kind of music is beautiful, but I prefer the sublime? This music is joyful, but I prefer the tragic? That’s my working theory. I appreciate the beautiful, but am really only truly moved by the sublime.
Still and all, good show. Here’s a better review from dcist.