Every so often, stagnation settles into areas of our lives that were once vibrant. Let’s use a pond as a metaphor for my own excitement over music (or hipster trash, if you want to call it that).
Now that’s what it usually looks like. Nice and pristine, a fine place to sit by and read a book, and by extension, a pretty harmonious flow of solid quality music. Now, there have been some good tunes to come out this year (Cymbals Eat Guitars’ debut album “Why There Are Mountains” being exhibit A) but most of the other releases haven’t captured any sort of imaginative spirit, either being enjoyable but ultimately unfulfilled retreads of previous work (a la Wilco and Phoenix) or irritatingly praised dreck (-cough- Animal Collective and Waaves).
From a personal standpoint, it seems as though much of the scene is focused on just that, being a scene and keeping up appearances, whether it be by old standbys shrinking from a deluge of creativity or the scene’s gatekeepers are so swept up in their belief that anything that’s likeable and that has become popular immediately devolves into scum (just look at the rise and fall of Vampire Weekend). It’s vacuous, increasingly uninteresting and disappointingly heartless. The pond has vanished! All that’s left are the occasional puddles here and there.
This post is brought about by a show I went to on Saturday at Cat’s Cradle in Carborro (I know, this is quickly descending into hipster/hippie territory, just give it some time). Now, during the summer the venue has been rather quiet, the lineup lacks instantly recognizable acts (unless you know Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band better than I do) but during the show, it worked fabulously
The lineup for the Club is Open Festival was as follows…
-Nathan Oliver (a typical guitar-indie band with a bit of awkwardness but some promise in their choruses)
-Filthybird (the result of Karen O’s twin being raised in the south and forming a band)
-The Future Kings of Nowhere (playful pop-punk that forces its way through snotty cynicism)
-American Aquarium (tears in your beers, drawl-driven, frontman-centric Southern rock ‘n roll)
And it was all fantastic. I’ll highlight American Aquarium in particular, not to the discredit to everyone else, but because they drew in the crowd like I haven’t seen out of a semi-popular band for quite some time. The banter between songs wasn’t the typical rehearsed dribble that seems significant the first time you hear it and then loses all significance the next three times you’re subject to it (Craig Finn, you know what you’ve done). I now know more about singer BJ Barham’s life than most people would ever really want to know, but it was so witty, so honest and so off-the-cuff that it was either a testament to the honesty of a small band or the inspirational abilities of PBR.
There weren’t many people at the show, and the whole thing was the finale to a series of benefit concerts for cancer treatment, but as the night turned into the morning, and then the morning turned into even later (earlier?) in the morning, American Aquarium kept it going and made everyone still in attendance feel like they were the most important listeners in the world.
Of course, it’s a small venue, it’s a small crowd, of course it was easier to grasp the crowd on an entirely personal level (American Aquarium isn’t the best band ever, but they may be one of the most purely enjoyable) but when it seems as though every single concert devolves into the same motions, the same predictable setlists and practiced charm, and when the trend escalates with a band’s popularity, Saturday’s show was impeccably refreshing.
So while the rest of the indie community seems to be concerned with the tawdry gossip and personal tiffs that steal the headlines, and as the big headliners are replaced by scene-stealing, unlikeable bores, count me out, man. I’ll keep my Converses though, they’re comfy.