• Axl Rosenberg

b000mguzra01_aa240_sclzzzzzzz_v43428546_.jpgHere’s a confession for you: I was at a Ben Folds concert once (don’t ask). In the middle of the show, preparing to play his hit “Rockin’ The Suburbs” (featuring guitars by a pre-GN’R Richard Fortus), Folds explained that he’d written the song after reading an interview in Spin magazine with Korn’s Jonathan Davis in which Davis, for no apparent reason, accused Folds of making “shitty Cheers music.” In retaliation, Folds then went into the studio to try and write and record a mock-Korn song, but decided it was too tedious; he discovered how reliant Korn were on computers and modern production techniques. Thus, the line in the song that goes “Some producer with computers fixes all my shitty tracks.”

Unfortunately for Korn fans, the band’s recent MTV Unplugged performance only bolsters Folds’ stance. Korn’s music doesn’t lend itself easily to an acoustic performance, and not because it’s fast and distortion heavy (HIM’s Ville Valo once asserted that Slayer’s songs could be performed acoustically and still sound good, but I’m fairly certain that’s not correct); rather, because, as this performance proves, most members of the band don’t actually do very much during the songs.

Jonathan Davis has surrounded his band with an orchestra playing everything from traditional strings and horns to non-traditional instruments like saws and some crazy shit I don’t even know what to call, and the effect is overpowering on the band itself. Nu-metal is so heavily reliant on weird noises and computer effects that the band is incapable of following the traditional Unplugged convention of doing a small, intimate performance (Alice in Chains, Nirvana, etc.), so the band goes the other way, turning the performance into occasion for an epic rock n’ roll circus. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, except that guitarist Munky and bassist Fieldy never find a way to stand out amongst the crowd; they’re completely overwhelmed by their surroundings.

They have no one to blame but themselves. Not skilled enough a musician for solos or guitar hero pyrotechnics, Munky plays second fiddle to a series of guest vocalists (The Cure’s Robert Smith, Evansuckence’s Amy Lee) and his own back-up band. Making said back-up band wear masks backfires terribly as well; presumably, it’s an act intended to make the real members of Korn (or what’s left of them, anyway- second guitarist head and drummer David Silveria are conspicuously absent from the proceedings) stand out, but it actually just emphasizes how untalented the members of Korn seem to be when denied their sampling machines; you keep wondering “Why is that dude in the rabbit mask doing so much more than Fieldy?” No wonder the bassist looks so bored the whole time.

Nine Inch Nails are just as reliant, if not more so, on computers as Korn, but their own acoustic album, Still has Trent Reznor and his band members playing all their own instruments (live, no less- no overdubs here) for gorgeous, haunting, stripped-down versions of NIN classics; and when Metallica did the whole rock-orchestra thing on S&M, they found ways to make sure the band and the symphony complimented one another. That’s because guys like James Hetfield and Trent Reznor, for all their faults, are real musicians, not Korny nu-metallers more interested in the perks of stardom than the rewards of creating real art.

The result is a glorified Jonathan Davis solo performance. Even when the songs re-arrangements kinda work, as on the final track, “Throw Me Away” (oh, the irony of that title!), it’s because of the skill of the cellists, percussionists, and various other real musicians standing on stage, not because of Fieldy or Munky (who hits so many sour notes during a cover of Radiohead’s “Creep” he sounds like a pubescent performer at a 7th grade guitar recital). In “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” Folds singles out Bon Jovi as being more talented, if no less schmaltzy, than Korn; that Jon Bon and Richie Sambora’s vastly superior acoustic performance at an MTV Video Music Awards provided the spark for the idea of doing the Unplugged series in the first place provides Folds with his perfect closing argument for why Korn are such a joke.


(one out of five horns)