Why I wish I was at Our Concert Could Be Your Life

I’ve seen a lot of good shows. As I noted in an earlier post, I’ve seen Electrelane open for Le Tigre and TV on the Radio open for Zykos. I saw Yoko fucking Ono play with her son and his friends. I’ve seen Erika Anderson play on her own and with Gowns. I have part of a piñata from a Ponytail show that I need to encase. Wanda Jackson plugged in when I heard about Alex Chilton’s death. Os Mutantes closed out the Pitchfork festival. Jean Grae showed up the Roots. Hot Chip covered “You Make Loving Fun” at the Church of the Friendly Ghost before they got signed. The Juan MacLean threatened to cave in the floor to the Parish with their groove. Deerhoof’s Satomi Matsuzaki used plush toys to recreate the Milk Man cover, which would have been charming even I wasn’t stoned at the time. Dizzie Rascal freestyled in a makeshift studio. El Guincho made me forget about Fuck Buttons with just his voice, a floor tom, a sampler, and a woodblock. And on and on. You get the idea. “I was there.” I’m bragging.

But there are plenty of shows I didn’t see and more I’ll miss. I wasn’t there for the Boredoms’ drum circle, Kanye’s rooftop VMA performance, Sleater-Kinney’s final show, LCD Soundsystem’s farewell Madison Square Garden performance, Daft Punk’s light show, the FOC FEST, and plenty of other gigs. I also wish I could’ve been there for Our Concert Could Be Your Life in New York.

Taken from Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, which documented certain “seminal” bands from the American underground music scene and thus sought to answer the question, “what happened between punk and Nirvana?,” the concert paired contemporary indie musicians with those acts. This book meant a lot to me when I first read it. Apart from it being important music history, it was zippy reading. It made me happy, even when folks like J. Mascis, Lou Barlow, Gibby Haynes, and all of the Replacements were demonstrating Herculean displays of dickishness.

Cover to Our Band Could Be Your Life (Little Brown, 2001); image courtesy of brooklynvegan.com

Being happy felt triumphant at the time, as I withdrew from college midway through the first semester. My problems weren’t exactly Julie Taylor’s. I hadn’t slept with a married TA after getting drunk on white wine at a grad school mixer, because I don’t know anyone who did. No, I was just sad. I mean, the “just sad” part was substantial. That was and remains the darkest period of my life. Much like many first-year college students including Taylor, whose dalliances were mere plot contrivance, I was having an existential crisis. A therapist I went to once told me I was a spoiled little girl who was making myself miserable. Partial truth, but fuck off. Sure, we can pin it on loving a guy who didn’t reciprocate or an estranged father or the rapid physical deterioration of a beloved grandfather. But really I just didn’t know who to be. With some moral support, I grew up a little and got through it.

Just before I withdrew, I attended a KVRX meeting because I loved Pump Up the Volume. But I felt too removed to sign up to canvas or whatever. The copy of Our Band I received for Christmas helped get me over the hump. What moved me about Our Band at the time was the its championing of the bands’ DIY spirit. I knew DIY was important to riot grrrl and that punk pretended to value this ethos. I also knew the majority of the bands in Our Band signed with major labels in the 90s. But college radio was an essential supporting player in Our Band, as those stations were (and remain, in however diminished a capacity) a conduit for circulating this music. I was too scared to pick up an instrument and form a band, but I always wanted to have a radio show. I made a promise to get one when I got back to college and after I completed my first semester, I did. This book, my abiding love for KTRU, and my friend Brooke’s KANM show “Weakdays” proved I could. Our Band gave me a larger purpose. If that sounds silly, it probably is. Though shortly after 9/11, in some ways, this was a much more innocent time. The Shins’ Oh, Inverted World was in heavy personal rotation, well before keyboardist Marty Crandall was arrested for beating up his girlfriend.

Our Concert sounded like a helluva lot of fun. Ted Leo taking on Minor Threat is intuitive, but Buke and Gass tapped into Fugazi’s austerity in surprising ways. Yellow Ostrich made Beat Happening anthemic, which they always were. Wye Oak didn’t dazzle with Dinosaur Jr., but I became slightly more receptive to a band that only inspires me to fix my posture and do my laundry. As a fan of the Judgement Night soundtrack, I love a good pairing. Dan Deacon taking on the Butthole Surfers’ psychopathic hedonism is smart. St. Vincent drilling through Big Black’s misanthropy with dexterous guitar noise is even more inspired. It might be my favorite performance.

Annie Clark of St. Vincent, covering Big Black; image courtesy of thefader.com

In context, St. Vincent’s performance sounds like progress. Annie Clark was joined by tUnE-yArDs’ front woman Merrill Garbus, Titus Andronicus’ Amy Klein, Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, Callers’ Sara Lucas, and Buke and Gass’ Arone Dyer. Women’s integration into rock bands is a minor theme in Our Band. Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, Black Flag’s Kira Roessler, and Beat Happening’s Heather Lewis all made vital contributions. I don’t want to dismiss the first two as “just” bassists, because they were integral. However, we’ve clearly moved past the chick bassist stigma. Garbus is a percussionist. Klein wails on guitar and violin. Wasner shreds on lead guitar. Dyer plays a baritone ukulele, providing nuance and texture instead of trading on quirky novelty. And of course Clark is a classically trained musician who politely lashes people with her guitar.

However, if female musicians signal progress, they also connote privilege. College is a hub for indie rock because that’s where many bands form and deejays champion them (though, as liberal arts funding and training is under threat, my generation may have to continue to find new, creative ways to earn a living). Then as now, America’s indie scene and its coverage are both blinded by the white. I’m not sure if Kill Whitey parties are still prevalent in Brooklyn. I sincerely hope they aren’t. But Kreayshawn’s recent ascendance feels like the same thing, which means the Cocker Spaniels’ “The Only Black Guy at the Indie Rock Show” is still relevant to the conversation. Given Our Band‘s optimistic message, I hope indie rock will continue to expand and be more inclusive.

4 comments

  1. Pingback: Two Great Music Blogs | GUITARESTE

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