On Rock & Roll Style: How Clothes Can Make or Break a Show

Alanna Weissman

In much of pop music, style and songs have gone hand in hand: artists as diverse as Madonna and David Bowie, Katy Perry and KISS, Beyonc?e and Bret Michaels, and, of course, the unforgettable and ubiquitous Lady Gaga have intertwined music and fashion in a manner that has the potential to either enhance or detract from their im-age and live performance. This is true of the rock & roll scene as well. From the style beginnings of punk rock with the British invasion, the look has continued to involve metal, leather, hair dye and body art.

Today, many rock bands express their fashion primarily through their hairstyles, tattoos and piercings, opting on the sartorial front for simplicities such as skinny jeans and tour shirts. While a few newer bands – Black Veil Brides, I’m looking at you – have tried to stand out with their own style, it often comes off as gimmicky. In my opinion, BVB’s obviously KISS-inspired makeup detracts from their music by turning it into a spectacle, when the quality of their songs speaks for itself. When you see a performer wear something that is neither generic (t-shirts and jeans) nor gimmicky (makeup and mohawks), though, it can be a truly memorable experience.

One of my favorite examples of this is the post-hardcore band Emery. When I saw them perform about a year ago, their set sandwiched between leather-happy heavy-metal acts, I, and everyone else for that matter, was shocked to see the entire band come out wearing bright Hawaiian shirts. Feeling that all eyes were upon their attire, the frontman announced that their style was an attempt to prove that musical tastes were more than stereotypical and skin deep, that anyone who looks any way can like any type of music. Whereas their initial entry onto the stage was met with blank stares and even a couple of boos, this statement received deafening cheers.

Going in another direction, some bands really make the effort to class up their appearance, a move which not only puts them in stark contrast with other bands – and, therefore, makes them more favorably memorable – but does actually improve their live show, or at least one aspect of it, anyway.

When I saw AFI on their Crash Love Tour in 2009 and twice again on tour the next year, they had radically changed their image from that of their previous tour. During the “Decemberunderground” years, AFI – and, particularly, frontman Davey Havok – had looked about as stereotypically “emo” as a band could get. And that worked great for that album. For “Crash Love,” though, the band was much older and their sound more mature. In keeping with the album’s artwork color scheme, the microphone and drum-kit were gold, as was Havok’s glimmering suit (see photo or, for more detail, the music video for “Medicate,” in which the same mic and drum kit appear). I’ll admit to being biased; AFI is my all-time favorite band and therefore I’d love their show no matter what, but the atmosphere set by the ethereal golden clothes, instruments and lighting enhanced my enjoyment of the music itself.

The same is true of the several times I’d seen Alesana on tour. Although they usually wore the standard t-shirt-and-jeans combo expected of a band of their style, the show I remember most clearly was the one in which every band member wore a suit. It was surprising and amusing – and, when a band can so effectively set the tone for a show with an audience’s single glance at what the members are wearing, to do otherwise with a tee-and-skinnies cop-out is just silly.

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