“There are two categories of great rock’n’roll performers: visceral and mysterious. Visceral musicians let it all hang out—their performances are cathartic, unwieldy, and intensely personal. Bob Seger is a visceral guy; when Eddie Vedder climbs the balcony during ‘Even Flow’, he is displaying his visceral tendencies. Mysterious musicians refuse access to their inner lives. They shield their work from direct interpretation, shy away from on-stage histrionics, and swap out identities as quickly as some people change outfits. Bob Dylan is mysterious.”
– Aaron Leitko, from “No Tomorrow,” his recent Pitchfork piece on Ty Segall
When I think of great performers, they are mostly the visceral type in Aaron’s schema: Elvis, James Brown, Zach de la Rocha. I wish I could be, but I know I’m not. I’m mysterious (in this, limited, sense). Do you know which you are? Do you wish you were the other?
Visceral or mysterious maps pretty straightforwardly onto extroverted/introverted, I think. Do you find yourself with the crowd, or do you become vulnerable to the crowd?
Drew, while he can swing his guitar around and dance, is still mysterious. He’s always inward-facing, toward the band, when he rocks out. Tim, on the other hand, is completely visceral, of course! Scottie’s mysterious. Cory is visceral.
Being mysterious can work, though. It can draw people in. In Five Star Crush, I set my keyboard up far stage right, facing the rest of the band, turned ninety degrees away from the audience (i.e., my side was to the crowd). It helped me lose myself in the set, it helped me communicate with the rhythm section, and it focused attention on Joel. I’d play, stomp, jump, sometimes pound my chest, and sort of do this two-step rocking motion that felt pretty good. Regularly, after the show, someone would come up and say something like “You looked like you were really into the music, and it got me into it, too!”
Theatricality is as important to effective mystery as it is to being visceral effectively.