Filed Under (Reviews and Interviews) by Jason on November-14-2010

It’s hip nowadays to grieve for the vanished social and political consciousness reflected in pop music. The folk revival, and to a lesser extent the rock which emerged in part from it, established musicians as influential voices for political protest and social change. But in the last two or three decades, the argument goes, musicians have voluntarily relinquished their platform.

This idea is bunk. Massive concert-fundraisers such as Live Earth and Farm Aid raise awareness and millions of dollars annually to alleviate the plight of American farmers, to slow the advance of global warming, and to support other popular and important causes. Organized benefits on this scale and with this level of sophistication did not exist in the world of music during the over-romanticized folk-revival and classic rock era.

The source of this mistaken notion seems to be the massive popularity of radio- and MTV-friendly, auto-tuned, and often talentless “pop artists” who are mistakenly thought of as the musicians of the 21st century, as if there were no real musicians left at all.

In fact, there are still plenty of musical artists around, and some of them feel a responsibility to use their public (or semi-public) status to affect society in some way. The difference, then, between these musicians and their predecessors of a generation ago is that contemporary artists are being drowned out by vacuous, hyper-produced, image-obsessed pop-stars, many of whom have no concerns whatsoever outside their own reputations and wallets.

But are the socially-conscious musicians of our day really so noble?

The irony of huge spectacles like the Live Earth concert has always thrown me. Here we have a massive fundraiser – to benefit efforts to slow climate change – which consumes massive amounts of energy both through the power-requirements of the event itself, and because it puts thousands of attendees into their carbon-farting cars and onto the road. In fact, Live Earth representatives have acknowledged that it is only realistic for them to cut the 3-4,000 tons of carbon emissions typically produced by a concert of that size by 25%. (4,000 tons is approximately the amount of carbon emitted by 200 people over the course of a year.)

Now, is this completely hypocritical and wrong? Probably not. There is a cost of doing business, even when the business is not-for-profit. On balance, it’s clear that Live Earth does more to combat climate change than to exacerbate it.

All the same, it seems disingenuous, even if just in a symbolic way. Where is the demonstration – not just the rhetoric – from these artists that it’s high time we sacrifice some of our bells and whistles and do ourselves and future generations of this planet’s inhabitants a solid by accepting a little bit of simplicity in our lives? Or if that’s too much to ask, where is the technology that can allow us to do what we’ve become accustomed to doing, but at a lower cost to the environment?

Fortunately, there are some (though not many) people – and companies – concerned with these questions. One notable not-for-profit organization which seeks to paint rock n’ roll green, founded by Guster guitarist Adam Gardner and his wife, is called Reverb. And one concerned company, it appears, is the massive Fortune 500 electronics manufacturer, Sanyo.

Sanyo, as of late 2009 a subsidiary of Panasonic, recently released their “Pedal Juice,” a rechargeable 9V battery designed to power guitar effects pedals. Sanyo advertises their product as an opportunity to act both economically and ethically: “save money and the environment at the same time,” they say.

And they have a point. As Gardner observes, “you go through 50 [9V batteries] a week, but they’re only half-used.” And for good reason – as any gigging guitarist knows, the worst conceivable on-stage mishap would be a battery cutting out mid-performance and killing the connection between guitar and amplifier. The Pedal Juice, by removing the need for batteries, provides a solution for that colossal waste.

But practically speaking, if it’s to catch on enough to have a significant impact, it has to be a quality piece of equipment. It has to do what it says it will do, and do it well. It has to serve the purposes of the musician. Does it?

For the most part, yes. The Pedal Juice, which charges in about 3 hours, provides up to 50 hours of continuous power to a single device, and up to 20 to three. Of course, it wouldn’t last that long powering more than that, but 3 is more than enough for the majority of gigging acoustic guitarists. And you’ll know when it’s almost time to recharge – the 3 stage LED power indicator leaves the guesswork out of the equation.

The main drawback here is the price. At $200, this is probably not a good investment for an occasional performer or one who generally prefers a clean sound. If you’re thinking about making the purchase, think about how frequently you go through batteries, how much you spend on them, and how many you throw out before they’re really depleted. Does the Pedal Juice make economic – and environmental – sense for you?

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