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No alarms and no surprises please here

Since taking over this newspaper's booze and rock-n-roll beat I find myself spending a lot of time on the Internet researching upcoming acts.

And I always come away with Radiohead's "No Surprises" echoing in my head. Particularly the chorus: "No alarms and no surprises (let me out of here)."

Two Web sites have proven useful for digital reconnaissance: Myspace and YouTube. Each allows you to preview a band before it rolls into town, helping make that decision whether or not to drop that $5 dollar door fee on a Friday night a little easier.

I'm not sure this is a good thing.

When The Mighty Ghosts of Heaven played Johnny B's last week, I found myself calling out song requests during the show. Which was odd, because I had no clue who the hell they were two hours before the show.

All I knew was their song "Billy the Kid" was some of the best bluegrass I've heard since I lived just across the border from the hills and hollers of ol' Kentucky.

Thanks, Myspace.

But what if my first experience with the Mighty Ghosts of Heaven had been just showing up blind to their show and allowing singer Kati Claborn's haunting voice and cause-a-fella's-heart-to-flutter-like-a-wounded-bird smile to catch me off-guard?

Are all-access streaming videos and free downloads taking the power away from the live music?

A few years ago, I scored tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the Chicago Theater. The Bad Seeds have been my favorite band for years, however, opener Neko Case left the deepest impression.

If you haven't heard Neko Case, you're missing out on the most devastating country music voice since Patsy Cline's fateful trip on that plane bound for Nashville.

By the time Case's 30-minute set ended, I — along with everyone else in the house — was ready to weep and beg for her hand in marriage.

Nowadays, I plug an opening act into Myspace and YouTube. Before I get to the venue, I know whether to fight for a good spot near the stage, or hang back by the beer garden until the headliner. A worthwhile strategy at times, but still ... .

Had I done some digital reconnaissance on Neko Case, I would've been robbed of that first impression I carry to this day.

Sure, watching a band on YouTube can't compare to seeing a live set, but there's no denying the power of discovery is slightly compromised.

To be fair, the Web has made it easier to hear obscure music from all over the world and I have gone to see bands I would've ignored otherwise. Plus, the Myspace age preceded the mix-tape revolution, allowing bands such as Metallica to cultivate a large fan base before they signed their first record deal.

The Internet's reach, though, is unprecedented.

Imagine how it must have felt to stumble into CBGB's 30 years ago to see a band called the Ramones without the benefit of watching them on YouTube first. Or peaking into a garage in Houston to watch a madman named GG Allin in the days before Google video.

My hope is that music lovers will continue to scour the Web for interesting noise, but will also allow themselves to take the non-digital plunge once in a while.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471 or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.