Pitchfork recently started does a cool little feature where they ask an artist to identify their favorite songs at the ages of 5, 10, 15, etc. The first in the feature is the incredibly hard-rocking Corin Tucker of Sleater-Kinney fame. I’ve done something like this before, but I wanted to do one of these features for this blog. Of course, I don’t get to interview cool indie rockers. So, you just get me. Feel free to share your own favorites in the comments or write your own post in response.
I turned five in 1980. It’s honestly very hard to remember music when I was five. I do know that my parents were Rolling Stones fans. Mom was a huge fan and my dad saw them in the ’60’s at Dayton’s Hara Arena, the same venue I saw Nirvana many years later. A particular song that resonates throughout my life is “Satisfaction”. It was so raw and powerful. That song was the opposite of sunny, top-40 pop. There’s a direct line from that track to the garage rock-turned-punk of the 1970’s and beyond. Whenever I listen to the Replacements or the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Titus Andronicus, I think of the raw dissatisfaction of that one song. I took special notice when PJ Harvey and Bjork once performed “Satisfaction” together, Cat Power remade the song for a covers records, and even when I found myself singing the song to my infant daughter. That song will stay with me forever.
In the summer of 1984, my brother and I discovered Prince (and his/the Revolution). The little rocker from Minneapolis released a movie, Purple Rain, we were not yet old enough to see. Then, right after my tenth birthday, my mom went on this trip to visit family in California. Dad let us see some rather racy movies. Purple Rain was one of them. We had the LP since September when my brother turned 8 and we quickly gathered as many of his records as Columbia House would allow. Among those purchases was Prince’s classic 1999, another great album loaded with killer track after killer track. Among all the Prince songs we listened to over that two or three year period, I’ve gone back and forth as to which song made the biggest impact, but I’ve somehow landed on “Little Red Corvette”. It had the hook, a story, and well…It was all Prince. From the 1982 album by the same name, this was the hit we played more than any other.
Truth be told, my introduction to indie/alternative music was not Nirvana. That came a year later. No, the shit hit the fan in 1990 with Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual De Lo Habitual. That record came at a time when I was listening to a lot of classic/hard rock. Radio stations had picked up “Been Caught Stealing”, a track I was all over. I mean, it had dogs barking. However, even my gateway track was not the most memorable off the album. “Ain’t No Right” which might not even be the best track on the record touched on a lot of anger I had stewing beneath when I was 15. It was the punkest thing I had at the time. Anything remotely punk was a rare thing in those days in West-Central Ohio. Somehow, Jane’s Addiction combined hippie-like politics, heavy metal heroics, and punk grit to everything they touched. It would be another year before the inaugural Lollapalooza and another three before I’d start even going to shows, but this was the track on the record that sent me on my way.
In 1995, I saw Pavement for the first time. I attended the third of three Lollapalooza’s. It was the middle of my college years, years that were greatly influential in shaping my musical tastes. Although Wowee Zowee was in full rotation for much of the year, I discovered another band on Matador that had been around for a while who was also playing Lolla that year. The band was Yo La Tengo and the album they released in ’95 was Electr-O-Pura. The track that has always given me a tingle was “False Alarm”. I saw the band twice that year and “False Alarm” was easily the highlight of both sets. Ira Kaplan just seemed to fall all over his Hammond B-3 organ, choosing to play with his elbows or chest rather than the more conventional fingers. The song is so loaded with angst and lust and jittery goodness that I didn’t hesitate when I hit my 20th year on this list.
2000 was a strange year for me, musically. Pavement was out of the picture for a year, a reunion a long way off. I struggled to find that groove in the scene within I used to fit so comfortably. Modest Mouse was leaving their indie years behind and fully embracing their major label selves. My music collection needed a swift kick in the ass. Enter The White Stripes. De Stijl was not a wickedly popular album at the time and Jack and Meg were still siblings/married couple. My sister turned me on to them. I still remember picking up the record in a tiny basement record shop in Athens, OH where she was living. “You’re Pretty Good Looking (for a Girl)” was the opening track that pulled me in. Despite the fact that it’s nothing like the rest of the album, the song made the rest, which was the jolt I needed, so much more approachable for me. Anyway, say what you will about Jack White, but he made some pretty amazing music back in those days.
Thirty may have been the year of the greatest change for me. Within a week in July of 2005, I passed a Master’s exam, supported my partner as she successfully defended her dissertation, closed on our first house, married said partner, and moved 500 miles from the only state in which I ever lived. It was stressful to say the least. I needed some music to address this uneasiness.
Spencer Krug’s “You Are a Runner and I Am My Father’s Son” hit me like a ton of bricks from the first listen. My sister had pushed Wolf Parade on me, citing the fact that Pitchfork loved them and they were from Canada, which at the time was a winning combination. Anyway, that song still gives me goosebumps. Instead of flipping the record on that first go around, I simply moved the needle back to the beginning just so I could here that song with that drum beat, those piano blasts, and those lyrics. Man. Goosebumps.
Oh, that’s now. Well, I’ve decided not to over-think this one. Easily, the song that has it’s stamp all over this year is “I Won’t Lie to You” by Let’s Wrestle. Again, my sister is to blame. She put the track on a CD for my daughter. We played that thing into the ground for most of this year. Then I bought the Let’s Wrestle album and it was all over. The song is still the standout track, but the entire album has captured my longing for days gone by and that giddiness I used to get at rock shows or in record stores. The opening lines say all you need to know about me: “No matter how many records I buy, it still won’t fill this void.”
Those were the most meaningful songs to me every five years of my life. What were/are yours?
1OK. So, it was nothing like this post. That older link is to a post where I picked an album for every year of my life using my current experiences and perspective. This list takes into account what I was into at each age.
2Normally, this would have been a footnoted item. Oh, wait. I did just footnote it.
3Which was OK, but way better than her last covers record, Jukebox.
4In retrospect, might have not been the best move. It wasn’t perverted or anything. We watched Purple Rain, Up the Creek, and Revenge of the Nerds. These films are pretty tame by today’s standards, but they did have an effect on my perspective of sex and women. The good thing my dad did throughout the weekend moviefest was remind us that none of this was real. It was pre-AIDS can infect straight people. It was a simpler time for sure. Where was I going with this footnote?
5I don’t know how many times we joined one of these clubs. It was always a penny plus shipping for something like 10 or 12 records/cassette tapes. We would just stock up, buy a few records over the course of the three year commitment, quit the club, and join another. The best was when one of them started offering Matador albums in the mid-nineties.
6The first was on the second stage at the aforementioned Lollapalooza. The second was a great little show at Stache’s in Columbus, OH.
7However, Modest Mouse did release Building Something Out of Nothing, a collection of rare EP and 7″ tracks from their indie label Up (RIP). I had all these songs on the original EP’s or vinyl, but it was a nice collection all together and helped expose a lot of major label Mouse fans to their earlier work.
8Very popular with the lesbians. I ran around with a lot of lesbians in those days. Of course, I’ve been called a “lesbian” before, but that is another post/footnote for another time.
9It could be argued that Jack White still does make good music, but I’m not the one to make that argument.
10Actually, I had very little to do with her successful defense and possibly less to do with her finishing her book earlier this summer. However, whenever she feels the stresses of the academy, I feel them too and remind myself why I never took that route.
11This does not count the summer I spent in Seattle. Of course, does a summer spent anywhere really count as living there?
12Actually, my siblings and I have influenced each other’s music collection than is normal. I love Swearing at Motorists and other Dayton, OH bands because of my brother. I still remember my sister sneaking my CD’s in high school and college so that she could dub tape-after-tape of her own mixes. Music is a huge connection for the three of us, maybe even more than that whole blood thing.
13Although, the version my sister sent us was from an earlier release which is superior to the one on the proper album. It’s rawer, more immediate, livelier.
14Thanks to Carrie the Wade for setting me straight on this one. Sometimes in my old age I get the facts mixed up or am totally out of the loop as to what all the kids are into these days. Had she not pointed out this grave error I would totally look like an out-of-touch, aging hipster. Just to be clear, Carrie Wade reads the P4k all the time, a pursuit my frail old body cannot handle anymore. For more information I am too old to share with you (I mean, I’m thinking of writing an Arcade Fire review next. What am I? NPR?), go to Carrie’s blog where she covers way cooler music than I do. See you at Pavement, Carrie!
Disclaimer: This is more than a week after Pavement played Pitchfork, but it took forever for me to write in between things like a day job and parenthood. It’s not the perfect sound forever post I originally intended, but it’s a done post and that’s good enough. I hope you’re liking the new footnotes. They certainly make for an easier read. Also, I got no good pictures at the show, which may somehow be appropriate. For more on my Pitchfork experience, click here.
I waited eleven years to see my favorite band play again. And they started off where they left it in 1999. I mean, it was Chicago instead of Cincinnati and July instead of October, but Pavement was the same.
Pavement’s ability to be rather ordinary or even somewhat imperfect both amazed and infuriated the fans around me, 10-15 feet from the stage, but it made me feel right at home. It was amazingly normal for a Pavement show. Some of the kids who stood for hours with me in front of the Aluminum stage Sunday evening were in awe of this while others were pissed it wasn’t better.
Here’s my take on each band member. I feel like I know them after years of following the band in the 90’s and even more years reading everything I can get my hands on. Of course, I don’t really know the members of Pavement personally, but I’ve seen them live enough to make a few observations.
Stephen Malkmus was stationed stage-right as usual. However, never had I noticed him to be so separate from the rest of the band. Maybe it was the size of the stage or all those things I read about how distant he was from his band mates near the end. Malk was situated as if he were playing to the rest of Pavement as they were playing to us. Anyway, he overcame some early voice issues to put on a pretty good show. His guitar playing is so much better than it used to be. I knew this from seeing him several times with the Jicks, but it was rather apparent upon watching his fingers dance along his guitar, improvising throughout the set. The best part may have happened when he forgot to that it was his responsibility to start a song, such is the essence of Pavement.
Mark Ibold was center stage and having a great time there. He constantly turned to different band members for various cues. He too is a better musician than he was eleven years ago. Ibold was always happy on stage, but Sunday he seemed to exude a confidence from his years with Pavement and now as a part of Sonic Youth’s lineup.
Also seemingly having fun was Scott Kannberg, situated opposite of Malk. Looking a little heavier but nonetheless happier, Spiral Stairs dutifully played his parts and enjoyed his time with his mates. He was wearing a conductor’s hat and, oddly enough, a t-shirt that seemed to match Ibold’s. In fact, four of the band members seemed to be wearing similarly bluish-gray t-shirts with Malk wearing a buttoned-up shirt.
The two-headed percussion monster of Steve West and Bob Nastanovich were by far the most active of the group. Westy played well, if not off time periodically throughout the set, but this was to be expected. I’d never noticed before, but it seemed some of the odd phrasing and drawn out chords from Malkmus were often intended to get everyone (especially West) back on track. I just always thought it was part of his shtick. Who knew?
Bob, of course, held down his many spots on stage, keeping time, blasting the Moog, and taking over all the screaming parts for a weary Malkmus. Nasty looked to me to be the one getting the most out of this reunion. Although I believe Kannberg values the band’s perception and legacy the most, it’s Bob whose only musical outlet is Pavement. The others all have their musical projects. Nastanovich was using the entire hour-and-a-half set to get this music bug out of his system. And we were all very grateful.
1. Cut Your Hair – Even with a false start, I was so happy to hear the band’s one “hit”. It made me look forward to returning home where I could sing this song yet again to my daughter.
2. In The Mouth A Desert – A typical mid-tempo Slanted and Enchanted track with a slow build-up to a chaotic ending was a logical place to go next. And when Malk sang “I’m the king of it”, there was little doubt of what “it” was.
3. Silence Kit – Another Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain track took the third slot and carried on the mid-tempo party. This one may have gotten a bigger reception than the opener.
4. Kennel District – You had to know that one of the few Spiral Stairs songs would make it into the set. This one is probably his best and band really brought it home.
5. Shady Lane – The promotional posters the band was selling at the merch booth read “It’s everybody’s God”, leading me to believe that the song would make the list. The pause in the middle was perfectly executed and the pit went about as wild as possible for such a light, mid-tempo song.
6. Frontwards – This song has grown in prominence since the band broke up and for good reason. Besides that it’s a great song, the guitar heroics were particularly crowd-pleasing. One thing the song also does is reminds us of why the band broke up in the first place as Malk sings “Well I’ve got style/Miles and miles/So much style that it’s wasting.”
7. Unfair – This rocker got the pit hopping. It also caused an inordinate amount of kids yelling the lyrics. Of course, we were all spent at this point, that is until…
8. Grounded – This song’s opening plucks cut through the must and dirt drummed up in the pit. When it’s proclaimed that “boys are dying on these streets”, I sort of believed it as I was pressed into my neighbors in the ninety-degree heat.
9. Debris Slide – This one was a chance for Bob to be front and center with the chorus being a shout-along.
10. Spit on a Stranger
11. Range Life – As the band approached the third verse, I wondered if Billy Corgan was in the audience. Malk altered the words slightly to say “Chicago’s Pumpkins: flower kids/ they’ve got no function.”
13. Trigger Cut – Two old-school rockers picked up the set’s pace a bit before…
14. Stereo – A good setlist often has a build-up somewhere in the middle and just bombards you. The pit was absolutely insane at this moment.
15. Two States – What a romp this song was and you wouldn’t expect anything else as the audience screamed “forty million daggers!”
16. Gold Soundz – I still remember singing songs like this as I drove though the Ohio countryside with the windows rolled down. This is where I fell in love with this band 15 or so years ago.
17. Conduit For Sale! – The first four or so times I saw Pavement, they never played this song. Now, I’ve seen them play two times in a row. Of course, before Sunday, it had been eleven years ago.
18. Stop Breathin‘
19. Here – These two somewhat somber songs started the slow wind-down to the end.
20. The Hexx – Almost any track from Terror Twilight would have been a good one with which to conclude. Of course, “Carrot Rope” may have been a bit too heavy.
After a long weekend with 18,000 new friends, I quickly assessed that the crowd up front at each stage was young, or younger than me anyway. Pavement’s set was no different. I did find a few fans in my age group, though. I met some guys from Iowa who were also attending the KC show I’m going to in September. There was one guy who had listened to Pavement since ’92 and had never seen them in person. Other than that, it was a lot of kids.
While it’s good that my favorite band’s legacy will live on with all these young fans, it’s bittersweet as these kids had little context with which to judge what they were seeing. For one, there was a freaking mosh pit. I thought those had died out a long time ago, but I saw a lot of moshing throughout the weekend and Pavement’s set had its share as well. There was also a lot of shouting the lyrics. My siblings and I used to love to play around with the delivery of Malkmus lyrics much the way SM does on stage. Shouting is more Bob’s territory, but the majority of Pavement songs should be sung, not yelled. I’ve since dismissed the moshing and shouting as youthful exuberance. There actually isn’t anything wrong with that.
The other thing I observed in the audience was the extreme emotions some of the kids demonstrated. These two kids next to me were in this blissful daze as if they were seeing god. Now, I love Pavement, but part of their charm is how ordinary they actually are. The music they make is remarkable, but it’s also attainable.
An issue that caused some terrible suffering was the bass levels. Positioned right in front of the stage, we were blasted by a ton of Mark Ibold’s bass. My suspicion is that everyone else in Union Park thought it sounded fine as the majority of the sound system is directed at them. Sometimes when you’re right in front, the sound is shittier than if you’re all the way in the back. Nonetheless, a few fans were losing their shit over the bass being too loud. Sure, it was a little bass-heavy (not exactly a cornerstone of the Pavement sound), but that’s the trade-off when you get that close to such a large stage. I was cool with it since I knew what the songs sounded like. I certainly feel like the kid who was screaming and pleading for the band to turn down the bass just had no perspective on the whole thing. He seemed really hurt that they wouldn’t fix the bass levels for his listening experience.
Then the show ended abruptly without an encore. Malk encouraged people to head out to a club to see label mates Times New Viking. Several young fans around me were infuriated. The band didn’t play “Summer Babe“. They didn’t do an encore and they wanted everyone to end the night at a gig for some unknown band in a shitty little club. I thought it was perfect, myself. They played a great set, leaving everyone wanting more. The set was incredibly varied and loaded with fan favorites. And Malk’s encouragement to see TNV demonstrated how these guys don’t see themselves as the legends everyone else does. They’re just another band on Matador.
Did Pavement live up to my expectations? Surprisingly, yes. I was prepared that they wouldn’t be able to match the anticipation I’ve had for this reunion since the Central Park shows were announced almost a year ago. I figured they could never live up to that lofty position they’ve held in my indie rock hierarchy, but they did. Pavement is imperfectly perfect in every way. It’s hard not to meet that kind of expectation.
1It happened to be their last North American gig, a fact not completely apparent to us at that moment.
2I don’t mean this in a creepy super-fan kind of way. I am not a stalker. I promise.
3Which is left to the audience.
4Although, I honestly never thought he was a terrible bass player. Ibold isn’t the best musician ever, but he’s a solid groove-provider.
5She refers to it as the “monkey song” as the ooh-ooh-ooh’s sound more like monkeys than some dudes from Stockton.
6Regardless of which bands left the fest with the most buzz, it’s pretty undeniable where music would be without Pavement’s influence. If not aesthetics, then the ethics of the band have been copied by many an indie band. It’s hard to deny the footprint of a band like Pavement after a weekend at Pitchfork.
7I could have lived without any Kannberg songs, but I understood why there was room for one.
8Of course, I also figured the setlist would only consist of songs from their greatest hits record. I was wrong about that one. Cynics don’t always win.
9Let me explain. Malk is the reason Pavement was any good. That’s been proven by the collective output of the band members. By far the best and most remarkable work has come from SM. Kannberg’s some recording as has West, but I wouldn’t begin to compare the quality of their work with Stephen Malkmus. His talents were nearly wasted in Pavement. I think they got all they could out of that lineup.
10You do know that Corgan has his issues with Pavement, right? They made fun of the Smashing Pumpkins in the aforementioned line. Corgan proceeded to boot Pavement from the ’94 Lollapalooza lineup for such a transgression.
11Who hasn’t fallen in love with a band and/or album this way? Well, driving through the countryside with the windows down, not necessarily the Ohio part.
12As “Carrot Rope” has generally been cited as the Pavement break up song despite it’s upbeat tempo.
13I am totally generalizing the audience here. I do realize there are some rather sophisticated music fans under 30, even under 20. The audience was loaded with kids who would be just as happy attending Bonaroo or Lollapalooza as Pitchfork. They may even have more Phish, Lady Gaga, or Green Day MP3’s than Pavement. That’s OK, but it explains some of the reactions to Pavement’s set.
14I don’t completely understand this phenomena, but I think it has to do with the source of the sound and overall acoustics. Those up front in any venue get mostly the blast from the band’s speakers and amps. The rest of the audience gets a mix that is more balanced as the house speakers often send sound past the front of the stage. The best sound at a show is rarely right up front. I’ve been to shows where the only way I was going to hear the singing was to be close enough to hear it straight from the performer’s mouth or even through the monitors. Otherwise, I believe it’s better to be further back.
15Well, the set did last around 90 minutes. No encore was needed.
16Along with psychedelic horseshit, both Columbus, OH bands. That was my old stomping grounds, but I left before these two shit-gaze troupes took off.
17This is common for Pavement. Just look at the band’s demise in ’99. For an example of not knowing when to stop in order for fans to want more, see Pixies and/or Guided By Voices.
18Or perfectly imperfect. I couldn’t decide which one was more apt.
I recently read this and decided I should do my own Pitchfork preview. It’s three days of indie rock in a park in Chicago not called “Lollapalooza”1. I originally bought a pass to insure at least one Pavement reunion show this year2 and thought it would be nice to take in the whole weekend while I’m there.
Honestly, I’ve never been to anything like this, so it’ll be new to me. I’m not sure what to expect. My biggest goal is to not land on Look at this Fucking Hipster or Hipster Runoff as the novel aging hipster. Luckily, my aesthetic (mid-nineties indie geek) is not highly photographic at the moment. So, that means I won’t be flaunting my vintage Pavement, Modest Mouse, and Jon Spencer t-shirts next weekend3.
Below are the ten must-see bands (for me) at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival. I am purposely not including Wolf Parade, Broken Social Scene, Modest Mouse, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Pavement since these bands are no-brainers for me4. I didn’t include St. Vincent and Girls as I have seen those acts before and were mildly impressed at best. I’m also not mentioning anything remotely connected to Chillwave as I still believe it to be a made-up genre, one I don’t have time to explore5. Anyway, on with the list…
Liars – The darkest, most sinister album I’ve heard this year has been Sisterworld. I want to see how this record translates live. The only problem is that it will happen outside at 5:30 in the middle of July. That isn’t a very dark or sinister time of day. Hopefully, Liars will wear suits and sweat through the agony.
The Tallest Man on Earth – I might actually miss this one. Amtrak will get me there – assuming they’re on time – at 3:10. That will leave me 50 minutes to check into my hotel and make it to Union Park. It’s possible if I opt for cabs. Either way, TTMOE’s album, The Wild Hunt, is one of my favorite discoveries this year. That and I’ve always wanted to see Bob Dylan live, in his prime.
Titus Andronicus – These guys have to put on an amazing live show. I don’t think it’s possible to record the albums they’ve put out over the last year or two without being complete maniacs on stage. This should be a balls-to-the-walls highlight for sure.
Kurt Vile – I don’t really know Vile very well. What I do know is that critics love him and some folks I respect think he’s pretty great. His latest EP just arrived today. I’m looking forward to getting to know Kurt Vile. This set will be my introduction.
Netherfriends – This is a shameless plug. These Chicagoans record for Emergency Umbrella, a local label run by friends of the Coalition. So, I feel I have to mention them. Of course, they’re pretty dynamic live. I’ll be interested to see how this set compares to the last time I saw them a year ago6.
Beach House – I liked Beach House’s first record. The second is getting rave reviews. I have yet to buy it. I want this duo to sell it to me via a moving performance at 3:20 on Sunday afternoon7.
Surfer Blood – Some days I like this band’s record. Some days I don’t. Regardless of the uneven character of the recording, something tells me they put on a great live show. I suspect I’ll get the record once I see them on stage.
Lightning Bolt – Here’s a band whose recordings don’t interest me enough to buy them. What I want to see is this.
Here We Go Magic – Another album that just arrived today is their Pigeons. I know very little about this band. A friend or two suggested them and they’re on Secretly Canadian. All that and I like their name.
Local Natives – They’re coming to town this fall, but I’ll get a preview at P4k. They have a ton of buzz and I’m interested to see what all the fuss is about.
Bonus: Comedians – Eugene Mirman, Michael Showalter, Wyatt Cenac8, and Hannibal Buress are occupying a stage Friday night. If I’m not into some of the bands, I can turn to the comedy stage for an alternative. This lineup is as good as it gets in the alternative comedy scene9.
There’s the list. Peruse the lineup and tell me who I’m missing. My projected agenda is below. I hope there’s time to eat and check out some of the merch. It looks like Saturday will be the early night as I plan to hit a bar or two.
Friday – The Tallest Man on Earth, Liars, Wyatt Cenac, Broken Social Scene, Eugene Mirman10, and Modest Mouse
Saturday – Netherfriends, Real Estate/Sonny & the Sunsets11, Kurt Vile, Titus Andronicus, Raekwon12, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, and Wolf Parade13
Sunday14 – Cave, Best Coast, Girls, Beach House/Local Natives, Lightning Bolt, Surfer Blood, St. Vincent, Here We Go Magic, and Pavement
1I did Lollapalooza from ’93-’95. I got to see grunge’s last stand, Bob Pollard forget lyrics to his own song, and Pavement virtually destroy the traveling altfest. I’ve had my fill. Thank you very much.
2I have another in September and am working on one for October.
3Oh, I’ll wear them, but I just won’t flaunt them.
4I’ve seen them all except Wolf Parade who I missed due to parental and spousal duties.
5Meaning that I’ll wait for the truly good acts in the genre to survive and all the posers to quit playing instruments. The remains of a dead genre are usually the only worthwhile material. See Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana, and Kimya Dawson.
6It was a good but somewhat uneven set.
7Where the Liars’ slot feels so wrong, this one seems just right. Dreamy indie pop on a Sunday afternoon? Yes, please.
8Yes, the bearded black dude from The Daily Show.
9Unless you prefer Zach Galifianakis, David Cross, or Neil Hamburger.
10Assuming BSS don’t go long. Ha! Who am I kidding?
11Bands divided by a “/” mean that I will either split time or pick the one that impresses me more.
12I am not much of a hip-hop guy, but I sort of want to see a member of the Wu Tang Clan.
13If you check the actual lineup for Saturday, this indicates I will skip Panda Bear and LCD Soundsystem. Neither excites me. LCD downright annoyed me when I saw them open for Arcade Fire. I figure why push it at a time I might be tired of bands. This will be my opportunity to get a beer.
14This day is ridiculously crowded and will mean ten minutes here, ten minutes there, but it will all culminate in my first Pavement show in over a decade.
In case you haven’t figured it out, I am perpetually living in the nineties. I obsess over bands who did all their best work over ten years ago; my politic is mired in the discovery of some post-something-or-other during my college days1; and I sometimes think that I’m still 22. Maybe this is what every one goes through. We all sort of stick to that time period when life was fresh and exciting, when we experienced the most as adults2.
So, when it was rumored then announced that Pavement was getting back together, I have to admit that the 22-year-old in me got a little excited3. The band that defined a decade of independent music and much of my coming-of-age years was getting back together for what seems like the unlikeliest of reunion tours4. It was as unlikely as a Pixies reunion or Slint getting back together5. They started out scheduling and promptly selling out a few dates in NYC’s Central Park a year in advance and have slowly added Australia, New Zealand, Europe, nearly every American rock festival, and a handful of US cities. To boot, they’ve even released a best-of LP as an intro to younger audiences6. It’s been a full-on media onslaught ever since.
I first saw Pavement in the summer of ’95. In fact, I saw them twice that year. They were a favorite of mine since late ’93 or early ’94, but I was hooked after seeing them live7. Over the next few years, I would see them play maybe five or six times8. The last time was their final North American date at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s. They didn’t travel through Ohio9 often, so I had to jump on every chance I got.
Honestly, I was a bit slow to the Pavement bandwagon10. I wore out a dubbed cassette copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but I didn’t fully appreciate what I was hearing. Grunge bands dominated my CD collection more than anything else in those days11. It wasn’t until Wowee Zowee and the soon-to-follow shows in Cleveland and at Lollapalooza12 that I finally got what Pavement was all about.
Anyway, they’re still my favorite band. Their albums are littered among my lists of all-time favorites and I still listen to them regularly. I really haven’t moved far beyond the original lo-fi slackers of indie rock13 or their brethren. At least every other album I receive in the mail is by a band from that era or heavily influenced by SM and the boys. I like to think I’ve grown, but my taste in music suggests otherwise.
One of my opportunities to see the reunited Pavement is at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and the bands that have me most interested are bands from…you guessed it…the nineties. Modest Mouse, who I first saw in the fall of ’9614, open the fest on Friday night before an also-reunited Jon Spencer Blues Explosion15 takes over Saturday. Pavement headlines the Sunday lineup. Sure, there are other bands16 playing the weekend-long fest in Chicago, but I am most excited about the three bands with ties to last century.
What is wrong with me? It’s not like all my living happened between 1990 and 1999. I grew up in the ’80’s. I don’t want to look like the eighties or dwell on music from that decade17, but it is a big part of me. The aughts are even more wrought with life-altering experiences. The last decade has seen me switch jobs and careers, get married, move nine-hours from my home, and become a parent18. It’s as if the Y2K bug went off in my head, making everything since seem like a hallucination.
Maybe we just stick with what we know best. It gets harder and harder to expand our knowledge base or interests as we grow older. Some of us slow more than others, but we all quit trying to some extent as our responsibilities mount and youthful exuberance fades.
Then again, I think we gravitate to what comforts us the most. It may also be what we know best, but we return for that solace and control of a well-worn pair of jeans, ratty old couch, or warped and scratched LP quicker than learning something new. Is there anything wrong with that?
The trouble happens when we try to force the “good ole days” on everyone else. We reminisce ad nauseum about how things were better back then, completely discounting the experiences of those who are not of our generation19 but, more importantly, our own experiences before and since. Pavement and other nineties’ indie bands meant a lot to me, but that doesn’t mean a Titus Andronicus20 shouldn’t be meaningful to you or me.
Our heads begin to swell at some point with knowledge and experience, good and bad. We no longer have any room for new information, so it pours out in an effort to keep anything new from entering our consciousness.
So, I will probably continue to live in the nineties. LeBron is no Jordan. Riot Grrrls are the new face of feminism. We’d right this country’s course if Bill were in charge again. Pavement is still the best band in the world…
Don’t give up on me, though. I still have room for something new. Hell, I am in for a whole lotta new as my daughter ages. That and I still follow music, read, and generally pay attention. I may be perpetually living in the nineties, but I do have the capacity to learn and grow.
1…and cooch-flavored cigars. Sorry. Apparently my humor is also stuck in the nineties. Who could resist a Clinton/Lewingsky reference? Not this guy.
2Perceived or otherwise.
3Let’s face it. The 18-35 year old in me was excited. Still is.
4This was meant to come off as sarcastic, cynical even. The trend seems to be start a band, record one or more memorable albums, release them on an indie, create some buzz, break up, reunite once all the “money” is spent, and make some major bank.
5First, see above. Second, these two represent the two extremes of the reunited indie band. The Pixies pieced together several classic records and toured the shit out of their livers and waistlines. Then, they reunited…twice. Slint, on the other hand, really only recorded one great album. Sure, it was Spiderland, but it was only one album and a smattering of shows. They were able to garner a lot of fame and cash from that one release. Of course, it was Spiderland.
6And, in all honesty, for pathetic losers like me who will buy said greatest hits collection even though I own a copy of every track on that comp.
7Despite the stories of terrible live shows which often featured sub-par drumming and SM chastising other band members for not playing their parts correctly, a Pavement set was a memorable rock show.
8I’m never quite sure of the number. I do know that I didn’t see them ten or more times and it was certainly no less than five. Similarly, I saw Guided By Voices well over ten, twelve times, but I’m not sure how many. It’s also like that for Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. I told you that I was stuck in the nineties.
9This explains the number of GBV shows in my pocket.
10So slow that I remember turning down a chance to see them in an art gallery in the spring of ’94. I either didn’t have any money (maybe a $4 cover) or was with a girl or a combination of the two.
11Remember, it was the nineties. Grunge cannot be held against me. That and the number of flannel shirts I wore.
12This was the Lollapalooza that they were blamed for destroying. However, I seem to remember a pregnant Sinead O’Connor playing either just before or right after Pavement. Just sayin’.
13Sorry. Somewhere it is written that the words “slacker” and “lo-fi” must accompany everything said on the Internet and/or glossy magazines concerning Pavement. I believe Spin proclaimed this in 1994.
14Completely by accident. A local band I liked was opening for this “mouse band” at Bernie’s. At a friend’s urging, I hung around to stand behind a pole, completely unaware of what was about to be unleashed. I know that it is hard for folks to imagine a time when Modest Mouse was edgy and punk, but I assure you, dearest reader, it happened.
15The Hipsters have no idea what’s about to happen to them. Jon Spencer will make them submit to his every whim. Judah Bauer will strike fear into every dude with a mustache and Russel Simmons will induce migraines with every blow to his kit. You’ve been warned, Chicago…in a footnote of a blog no one reads, but you’ve been warned.
16I’m most excited/interested to hear/see Broken Social Scene, Bear in Heaven, Titus Andronicus, Panda Bear, CAVE, Sleigh Bells, Here We Go Magic, Cass McCombs, Girls, Lightning Bolt, and St. Vincent.
17I’m not counting anything from the hardcore scene or Manchester, England. Those are things I discovered much later and still enjoy. My musical tastes were limited to whatever Casey Kasem brought me on Sunday mornings.
18All long stories which will more than likely not be discussed on this blog.
19That’s X for those of you who are keeping score. Technically, I’m on the tail-end of GenX, like my parents are barely Boomers.
20I am loving their new record. A review will follow shortly. Hopefully.
This is a sentiment that has had a long, slow growth over the past couple of decades. While mainly a hippie thing in the sixties and early seventies, punks (and not just the mohawked, rocker types) have adopted the DIY ethic as their own. Creating their own music, style and politic.
DIY has manifested itself in nearly every industry or craft. It’s spread beyond economies and has seeped into our daily lives. We build meat cart beds, sew our own clothes, build our own web presence without giving any real money to giant corporations making these products for us. Sure, the end results are often rough around the edges, but that’s what gives our things, our lives character.
In no other industry or craft has DIY had a greater effect than indie rock and craft beer.
Yesterday’s garage band playing the prom is today’s Lollapalooza headliner. These bands have moved from cheap cassette tapes of their songs to small runs of 7″ vinyl to full albums available online and created on their MacBooks. They didn’t like what the mass producers were mass producing, so they made their own. Some of it good, a lot of it unlistenable, but all of it original.
Take Pavement, for example. A couple of college kids from Stockton, CA decide they want to record some songs and put it to vinyl. A scary hippie with a makeshift recording studio and an uncanny ability to not keep a beat helps them out and you have Slay Tracks. The rest is history. Had SM and Spiral Stairs (pseudonyms) never worked up the nerve to record their own songs, Pitchfork would have nothing to pine over this year.
And Pavement is just a small piece of the indie-DIY puzzle. They sounded like they were doing it themselves (good thing). I haven’t even mentioned Sonic Youth making their own path through the major labels when so many 80’s indie bands had failed. Those old codgers even rebuild their own instruments. Folks at Merge (as well as countless other indies) started a record label just to release records by themselves and their friends. Indie rock is littered with DIY success stories.
Beer had a similar rise. About the same time punk rock was blowing up – making way for the hardcore and indie movements – Jimmy Carter signed a bill into law declaring homebrewing legal. No other development has had more of an impact on the beer market than this one bill. Soon after, a dude named Maytag brewed some steam beers in San Francisco and another guy started a brewery in Chico, CA. Charlie Papazian founded the Association of Brewers. It all took off from there.
It’s this DIY attitude that provides all the innovation for both of these trades to flourish. In the midst of these economically hard times, indie labels and craft brewers are a few of the folks still making money. Major labels have been losing money for almost two decades. The big mega-breweries are experiencing something they never thought breweries would feel: a pinch from a down economy. Folks are willing to pay good money for quality music on vinyl or extremely hoppy imperial IPA’s or sour beers brewed in wine barrels.
Instead of waiting for someone to make something they liked, these indie rockers and craft brewers did it for themselves. And they’re finding that other people wanted the same things they did. So, they’re able to make a living doing what they love.
Even I’ve done some things for myself. I can’t play an instrument and I didn’t have the capital to front a label, but I’ve done what I can to promote and support these DIY bands. Even better, I’ve taken up homebrewing in the last year. Three out of four batches made it to bottles. The first was drinkable; the second was a huge success; and the third gets better every time I try it. These things and various DIY projects litter my life with meaning and accomplishment.
By trade, I’m a teacher. There is maybe no other profession that uses DIY as much as teaching in public schools. There is often nothing in the way of appropriate materials available on a daily basis. We make our own. Now with all this Web 2.0 stuff, we really make our own all over the place.
The point of celebrating the DIY ethic is to call attention to the capabilities we all hold inside. We can do and make whatever we want or need. There is no more waiting for governmental or private enterprises to make what we want. We have to do it for ourselves.
So, build your meat cart bed. Learn to knit. Take a guitar lesson. Plant a garden. Do it for yourself. Don’t wait for someone else. “Yes we can” was not just a campaign slogan. Believe in it. Believe that you can do it for yourself.
This is just the first in a series on my manifesto for life. I feel most strongly about DIY. You should too. Let me know what you plan to do or are doing that fits the DIY lifestyle.
(*Note: This is not some lame-ass hipster, holier-than-thou diatribe. You should really give this a try.)