Surrealness has and will come in many forms throughout the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, and this afternoon, one of its forms was the on-stage house band. As one might expect, the band—anchored by longtime utility guitarist and former Saturday Night Live musical director G.E. Smith—mostly stuck to the kinds of songs that belong in ads for Jeep Grand Cherokees. But occasionally the setlist inched into more unusual territory, as when the band played some Rush, and especially when it performed a truncated version of the title track from David Bowie’s notoriously drug-addled 1976 album Station to Station, a song whose lyrics might lead one to wonder whether Smith & Co. were trying to test whether the assembled Republican delegates were really paying attention. I’m thinking specifically of this line:
It’s not the side-effects of the cocaine
I’m thinking that it must be love
It’s too late to be grateful
And sure enough, the band sang it.
Rather than point out the obvious dissonance here, I would register two quick comments: that it’s a shame the band excised the song’s slow and snaky build-up, instead jumping ahead to its mid-run climax, but I get that this is a crowd that wants to party; and that if I were to compare this year’s RNC to a narcotic experience, I’d go with mescaline trip, not cocaine binge.
Anyway, let us not call Smith and his fellow musicians anything but pros. As he put it to Guitar World in 2013, a year after playing the 2012 RNC, “I’m a professional musician and this is what I’ve always done. I’ve been a professional musician since I was 11 years old. It’s what I do: work.”