Ten years after the perceived heyday of the “Nothing Feels Good” crowd, there is a much-heralded wave of comeback singles and “X artist playing Y album” shows that seek to reunite woebegone groups with an audience that hopefully still exists. Any speculation on the motivation for these new tours is dicey, but it may have to do with the fact that their brand is simply more profitable this decade than last, thanks to Web 2.0’s redemption of the DIY culture and the burgeoning wallet-space of their aging fan base. It was difficult to connect with audiences ten years ago, due to a nascent internet and lack of record label funding for extensive tours or radio play. It’s hard to say that any of these groups were “ahead of their time”, because as time has worn on it has become obvious that quite a few groups mimicked Pavement, Black Flag, Morrissey, My Bloody Valentine, or all of the above. Yet in the current state of mash-ups and remixes these sins aren’t even sins anymore, and whether or not any indie bands of the era were truly groundbreaking is a subjective argument at best. But at the time they exuded an
“almost there” sensation in all phases of the game, and for teenage me, that was precisely what I liked.
As a youngster growing up in the ex-ex-urbs of an already gamma-class American city, exposure to these groups was mostly through the recommendations of a couple of casual friends who always wore Hot Topic shirts and recommended downloading albums of bands with obscure names from KaZaA or god forbid, LimeWire. One could only hope to get a few tracks a night, as downloads averaged 4 kb/s if Al Gore was feeling charitable. And this is if you could even find Texas is the Reason tracks among the ten different versions of Destiny’s Child’s “Bootylicious” and Eastern European porn clips. If you grew up near a legitimate record store, consider yourself fortunate. Years later I still sometimes find out that I had been listening to demo versions of my favorite songs all along.
At first I was quick to label these comebacks as our generations’ version of the yearly grab bag tour of whatever combination of Foreigner/Styx/Foghat/Blue Oyster Cult/Night Ranger, and although that’s a valid approximation, it wasn’t rock radio perpetuity that indoctrinated this generation of listeners. What makes the indie groups of the early 00s unique is that not only did these bands feel like “our bands”, encountering them was a different kind of mythical experience than seeing Whitesnake or the Grateful Dead. No one says “Man, I followed Jets to Brazil around for most of 2001. Greatest summer of my life.” The experience of much of this era of music was done exclusively in private. These bands existed more or less in your personal space. Unless you lived in or near a major city, you likely never got to see many of your favorite groups play at all. Everyone does have their go-to legendary story of seeing Alkaline Trio play in a Jaycee’s Hall or how you didn’t even realize at the time how tremendous that Brand New/Hot Rod Circuit/Eisley lineup was, and it’s no different than your dad’s story about how he drank beers with Ric Ocasek backstage at the ’81 Ohio state fair. In his case, we are talking about a time when the radio routinely played Barry Manilow and Captain and Tenille, so listening to Molly Hatchet was pretty damned cool, so give him a break and let him flirt with disaster while he works on the hot water heater. You’re gonna have to do it someday.
Identifying with an outsider music culture has always included some degree of collecting reputable experiences. At times it becomes an exercise in expression through conglomeration, and there was always the central matter of how amazing and perfect those lyrics were about your exact life situation. When iPods showed up they became the de facto indie-cred litmus test. If you’re gonna let someone else have a look through your library, you’d better have Pinback on there, because people will judge you if you don’t (PS: It’s not too late: they’re currently on tour supporting a great new album).
It’s hard to predict whether these resurrections will be successful or not. Recently I attended Jeff Mangum’s show at the Beacham in Orlando and found it to be just as powerful as it could have been in its original state. Perhaps ten years has been the proper amount of time for Ben, Jimmy and Jenny to make sure that “Nothing Better” will live up to its name. The Postal Service’s tour stands to be the latest battle in the timeless struggle of “Better Late than Never” versus “Is it better to Burn Out, or Fade Away?”, playing out on mid-size stages across the country. Or is it just the live demo version of the battle?
Japandroids have a simple message for their fans: Smoke em if you got em.
The bastard sons of Bruce Springsteen and the Replacements, Vancouver Canada’s own Japandroids are making their first swing into the sunshine state, and they’re counting on you to show up and sweat out all of the well-earned regrets you’ve accumulated across a life worth living. After a career full of the kind of road-weary pitfalls that would make even the stoniest garage bands blush, Japandroids have emerged as the biggest two-man North-of-the-Border indie rock powerhouse since Death From Above 1979. Their 2012 sophomore effort, Celebration Rock, is an anthemic Roman candle of a record, eight blistering songs that beg the listener to spend one more night drinking til dawn, giving them all hell, and loving with the reckless passion of youth. Hits like “Younger Us” don’t reinvent the punk wheel, but instead put the pedal to the metal, shamelessly milking Marshall stacks dry in the hopes that you’ll fall in love just one more time, morning be damned. The song perhaps most responsible for launching their career, “Young Hearts Spark Fire”, admonishes the listener to “keep tomorrow, after tonight we’re not gonna need it.” This is why you need to be at this show. The world may just end without you.
Japandroids posit that no one thing or person is perfect, but the moments that we create are all we need to transcend experience or judgment and build our own legends one beer at a time, no matter how broken down, forgotten or far out we’ve become. Their raison d’etre is a gospel of shouted oh’s and ah’s, a last-second-of-the-fourth-quarter belief worshiped at the altar of cheap cigarettes, flowing booze and last-call love affairs. Japandroids’ mode of expression is heavy with the honest yet bombastic pith that mainstream rock and roll lost forever when the drummer from Def Leppard got his arm cut off in that car accident. Their records capture the too out of breath to laugh daze of in-the-moment love, the awe of watching distant fireworks, and the satisfaction of finding safety in nothing at all. There’s still time to listen louder, love longer, and burn brighter. Japandroids aren’t life imitating art, or art imitating life, they are sound imitating motion. Tickets are around $15
The Heartless Bastards, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Band
That’s me, sitting there under a cafe umbrella with my girlfriend and her sister, drinking a beer, killing time at the one wet spot we could find on the University of Florida campus. Next to us there are a half dozen tables showcasing the parenthetical Diaspora of college freshmen, multicultural clean-cut kids stressing about finals, French manicures, iPhone apps, Ultimate Frisbee. On our other side there’s a four-top of thirty-somethings looking bored with their 8 oz cups of beer, presumably waiting for the Heartless Bastards show to begin, just as we were. The show was free; some sort of college radio promotion or school newspaper bill-filler for students to cap their Thursday night. At the time, the band was in an early-summer sabbatical, having released The Mountain the year before to excellent reviews, Brasky.org included. That album was an organic, slow moving exercise in Middle American blues-rock, at times almost suspiciously like the Black Keys, at others emotionally twee or self-defeating with a twist of old-timey Billie Holliday-style intrigue. It was a big record that I can’t say I saw coming, and maybe the band didn’t either. At this point the band had reached whatever peak of popularity they have yet seen, whether it be “indie darlings” or “relative obscurity” or “generally favorable reviews on metacritic”. They were still two years away from Arrow, their newest release; it’s a record that could be dismissed as formulaic if the band weren’t so damn clever in the execution.
So there I am in 2010, on beer number two, wondering how many of these kids were here for the show… I could discern that there were seven of us at this point: if you were drinking beer, you were here for the Bastards. At some point a couple of unkempt but plain-looking kids come walking around the corner with something almost too tempered to be purpose. They know who the Bastards are and they want to talk. They make the awkward slow approach to the table, and address the band with the Chris Farley Show-style reverent stutter, and the young dudes are in. With their cover now blown, the table of four next to us spends the next half an hour calmly chatting down their new best friends, seeming as if they just want to go back to being the table of people chatting about somebody’s sister’s wedding before realizing that they have some indie-rock duty to be gamely interested in fan banter and not pull some Roger Waters audience-as-cattle-existential-rockstar-meltdown shit. Eventually they defer the conversation, as they now have to head upstairs and play a tight yet awkward show to a transient, tidal crowd that wandered in and out of this high-ceilinged Reitz Union ballroom straight out of a 1980s prom. The band played old favorites, pushed hard for the finish and gave front-woman Erika Wennerstrom plenty of time to prove why she’s one of the most underrated American songwriters at work today. It was nice and loud, and tracks from the Mountain translated well to live performance. Yet leaving the show I couldn’t quite shake the feeling that, fuck, those folks probably have honest-to-god day jobs.
In the view from 20,000 feet, the Heartless Bastards make lemonade of some of the central tropes of garage rock with a wise-but-not-figured-out understatement that earns them plenty of kitsch credit. Upon closer examination, the band takes that sonic familiarity and bonds it with a mythos-less fervor that bubbles up and out from some inner penchant to sing, with an ease of song that stifles cliche. The music works because it’s honest and it’s easy. It’s not the next sub-genre touchstone, it’s not going to wash out Brooklyn basements with torrents of Tuesday night dance sweat and it’s not going to get a Glee send-up, but it’s quality music with the right kind of subtlety.
On the heels of the aforementioned (and terrific) Arrow come the Heartless Bastards back to Florida, with three dates in the Central Florida Area: Tampa 5/15; Orlando 5/16; and Gainesville 5/17. Go see if you can spot them before the show.
Brasky.org officials found themselves in a unique spot this week. Brasky is offering Tampa denizens an exciting PREVIEW of a well-hyped upcoming show… The Mountain Goats, the indie superstars behind one of the most emboldened and passionate acts in music today, have shows in Central Florida on back to back nights. Brasky staff attended the show in Orlando on Tuesday night and are fully prepared to simultaneously discuss the proceedings and TOTALLY SPOIL the Wednesday night show in Tampa. Read on if you dare…
Part 1 – The Band (Skip to part two if you just want to know the juicy show details)
“Why the heck would I go see a band called the Mountain Goats?” This is a question that all those unfamiliar with the group surely will ask themselves. Newcomers are typically puzzled when confronting the M.G.’s didactic lyricism and hustling compositions; “is this folk, or hastily assembled irish sea shanties, or emo, or all three?” The Mountain Goats, to use an obscure cliche, are like licorice. People that like licorice, seriously like licorice. But most people can’t stand the stuff.
John Darnielle, the longtime frontman of the group, is a journeyman songwriter. He is a man that has lived in all corners of the United States and takes great pleasure in shining a light into the deepest corners of mundane human experience. He has the ability to bring staggering insight and craft musicianship together in a way that ties Neutral Milk Hotel to Bruce Springsteen while daftly stepping over the pitfalls that consumed Dashboard Confessional and Neil Young. The Mountain Goats have never seen full-blown indie success outside of college and XM radio, but their stunning catalog established the band as giants of the genre well before the Decemberists picked up their mandolas and accordions.
The newest album, All Eternal’s Deck, finds the band at their tightest, cleanest, and most incisive. The tunes move along with a confident swagger punctuated by snappy drumming and percussive guitar playing. The real jewel in all of the M.G.’s hard work is the bare-hearted lyrics. Darnielle’s gift is encapsulating the one moment per year when a person feels the most solipsistic; in this reverie the songwriter fashions breathless humanity into something no less stirring than a brutal personal memory, sung in a voice that sounds like a friend standing an arm’s length away, in the most dire of confidence. The narratives are a particularly visceral description of soaring highs and crushing lows that contain cutting conversational humor which evokes John Updike, Virginia Woolf, and, dare I say, David Foster Wallace. From the new album we have gems like “sometimes the sickness howls and I despair of any remedy” and “anyone here mentions Hotel California dies before the first line clears his lips”. If you, as a reader, take one thing to this show with you, it should be this: the lyrics are everything, and more than a few people will know all the words to the songs. And they will sing along. Hard.
Part Two: The Live Show Nurses The Mountain Goats are supported on this tour by Nurses, a Portland indie outfit with solid bass lines and simple Modest Mouse-like flourishes that punctuate relaxed three minute carousals. I must admit that they sound much more thin en vivo than on recordings. Your humble reviewer considers himself a relatively objective critic, yet he is none the less having a hard time not completely dismissing Nurses. I will simply refer back to my notes from the event: “Man, is that guy gonna sing like that the whole time? Inconsequential; nothing discernible to say; an even quieter Vampire Weekend, or better yet, a hipster UB40. The band works hard and sounds pretty good but it’s insanely forgettable. The set ends not with a bang but with a whimper: they just stopped playing what sounded like mid-song and packed up their instruments. About a dozen people really, really liked them.”
The Mountain Goats As soon as MG hits the stage, expect intimacy with authenticity. As the band picked up their instruments, it felt distinctly like your cool uncle just showed up to Thanksgiving and the day was taking a turn for the better. Darnielle exists at the intersection of John Lennon and Stephen Colbert; unlikely rock star, comfortable demagogue, unrepentant bad boy and a sponge for gratitude. The man is a garrulous host who effortlessly ad libs and tells emphatic stories that wrap up with clever pay-offs and the opening chords of an interesting song. Repeatedly he effortlessly downplayed the hoots and taunts of drunks in the crowd with wit and elegance. The whole show lacked the sensation that the band was on a stage performing for paying guests, yet it was still quite easy to maintain the meek, inner thrill of being entertained. Darnielle is a consummate professional that often requests total silence and IPA’s (Harpoon, but he conceded that he would take a similar product) so that he may work within his comfort zone; keeping the frontman in the right mindset is in everybody’s interest. There were moments of grandeur but also an unsettling amount of errors and misfires. Several times Darnielle asked the audience for help remembering lyrics, and during a couple of new songs he had to consort with his band mates mid-song before he chuckled to himself and muttered things like “BFlat, yes…” and promptly picked up where he left off. Darnielle came very close to losing control more than twice as people began to talk and grow restless, but the songs always wrapped up quickly enough to rekindle interest. The crowd seemed fairly grown-up and difficult to impress. A dense cluster of passionate fans formed an island deep in front of the stage, and Darnielle’s frequent Florida references clearly delighted the faithful. The fact of the matter is that he is a better entertainer than a musician; there are quiet moments where he visibly decides whether to be funny as hell or darkly profound. Darnielle is a self-admitted well of energy that will settle for rambling diatribes that are well received by the crowd so long as they are willing to forgive his frequent lapses of memory; “I feel guilty but I can’t feel ashamed,” he sings in “Prowl Great Cain”. His backing band helps create a full sound but never seems like anything more than veteran practice mates. The musical support works for most of the show but lets Darnielle go solo for a few songs so that he may indulge in mid-set requests, rarities and one-man piano ballads. When they close with “This Year”, the crowd that had been patiently waiting to sing their hearts out released some great cathartic energy that was mitigated by knowing that it was going to be the last song… or was it amplified by the very same sensation? The encore came as a certainty, perhaps due to the fact that each song in their catalog plays like an encore. The Mountain Goats are innocuous yet mature: frightening no one, delighting a few and satisfying all. Verdict: exciting, fun, but not quite worth the bar tab.
The Set List: Yeah Right. Brasky doesn’t remember the names of any songs. Except the two already mentioned above. Okay, and he also played “Jam Eater Blues”, which features the line “Life is too short to spend of the rest of it down here in Tampa…”
PRO-TIP! Yell and scream for them to play The Alphonse Mambo. It’s also about Tampa, fools.
Disclaimer: Don’t take what we say too seriously, just go to the show! Do it! Support excellent music!
The Tampa City Council will be voting on our zoning requests for the new store location, (4500 N. Nebraska Ave.), this Thursday, June 9 at 6:00 in the City Council Chambers, located on the 3rd floor of City Hall, 306 E. Jackson St. Aside from a parking waiver, we have requested zoning allowing us to sell beer, wine and liquor on premise and to go. Our vision behind this is to open a small brewery and winery to compliment our homebrewing and winemaking shop, which will use half of the building. Wine and beer making hobbyists can experience the whole range of the craft by observing a professional brewing and winemaking operation, tasting artisanal beers and wine, interacting with the brewer and winemaker and shopping for equipment and supplies, all under one roof.
Our hopes are also to contribute to the revitalization of Seminole Heights by giving our newly purchased building a face lift and further establishing the neighborhood as a destination point for craft beer and wine enthusiasts.
So please show your support by attending the meeting or by sending an email to the Council members below. And if you are able to support us by attending the meeting, please join us at Tampa Bay Brewing Company afterwards for some great beer and wine.
BRSKY wants to see your magnanimous emails to the elected officials below: