Indie Rock is Dead.
Lest you think I'm one of those "destroy-everything" critics,
I'll confess up front: I believe in music. It gives me hope;
it gives me meaning. Yet, when I go to a show like this one,
I have to admit that I want to sob with frustration and disillusionment
because my beliefs and hopes are destroyed. Yes, I'm probably
going to give a band more significance than they deserve, but
bear with me, 'cause I have a point to make (even though you'll
have to wait a couple of paragraphs for it).
Before I can explain my reaction, let me step back a bit. This
is a show that had every sign of being good. Both The
Dismemberment Plan and Death Cab For Cutie are critically
acclaimed; even EvilSponge gave their last releases 7
and 6 sponges,
respectively. The times I've seen The Plan previously, I've
been more or less floored by the energy and talent displayed.
And every report I've seen suggests that Death Cab For Cutie
are a phenomenal live band.
Yeah, sure, this concert was at The Cotton Club (a mainstream
alterna-venue) and sure, the opening act was unknown to me.
But this show was pretty much a sure thing -- so much so that
we bought advance tickets.
When the other Minions and I got to the club, we quickly determined
that the show was sold out. "Great!" I thought, "It's about
time these two bands got all the local recognition they deserve."
Unfortunately, the first opening act Cex had already begun.
I say unfortunately in this case because we hadn't managed to
miss Cex's entire "white rapper w/ goggles" shtick. I understand
that rap is the wave of the future, and I can see certain virtues
in the musical form. However, it's not something that really
connects with me, so I don't feel qualified to review it coherently.
All I can say is that I didn't like this guy, and I was particularly
happy when he left the stage.
At 9:19 PM, Death Cab For Cutie took the stage and launched
into a set composed primarily of material from their last two
albums. By 9:30 PM, I looked around me, grabbed a pen, and began
to write something like this:
Death Cab For Cutie are a good band. I know this. They play
well. The songs are catchy. It's clear they connect with their
audience. And I swear it sounds like everything else I could
hear on either college or even alternative radio. I listen to
the music and I want to scream, "Where is your passion? Your
angst? Your emotion?" Yeah sure, I know these indie rock darlings
are theoretically wearing their hearts on their sleeve. But
the problem is, it's the same thrift store sleeve that every
other emotionally sensitive indiebopper is wearing these days.
And the only reason all these plaid-wearing people like this
music and think it's inherently superior to anything else is
simply the fact that it's played on college radio as opposed
to commercial radio. In other words, it's "indie rock" so we're
all good, noble, and unconcerned with audience appeal. And yet,
when I listen to Death Cab For Cutie, I wonder how the hell
is this different from The Dave Matthews Band or even (god forbid!)
Creed? It's all there: the smooth vocals, the precise chords,
the calculated "my heart is broken, so love me" lyrics. How
is this any different than commercial radio?
Most likely Death Cab themselves wouldn't claim any distinction;
however, I would argue that many of their fans would, just like
they would turn up their noses at any popular artists. Still,
the music itself sounds good. And I bounced along with it like
everyone else, although I'm not hanging on Ben Gibbard's every
gesture. Why? Because deep in my soul, I know that -- despite
his heartbroken pretense -- Gibbard's girlfriend didn't dump
him yesterday. And I can just feel that these songs are emotive,
without being emotionally wrenching. It's all fake calculated
emotion….and that's going to break my heart. It's enough to
make me want to go home and listen to The Smiths and scream
out, "The music they constantly play says nothing to me about
When Death Cab For Cutie left the stage around 10 PM, I felt
drained. So when The Dismemberment Plan came on just a few minutes
later, there was nothing left for me to invest in their show.
I suppose this is a good thing because, for once, I could sit
back and really observe the band as opposed to being wrapped
up in their music. With my newfound suspicion, I could easily
recognize all the little breaks in their show. I could explain
to you how the band as a whole did not have the complete interplay
they had shown in previous shows.
And yet, they still had this magic about them: they clearly
were enjoying themselves on the stage. More importantly they
were enjoying interacting with the audience, who responded eagerly.
It didn't seem to matter if the band members got a little out
of time with each other? And so what if singer Travis Morrison's
vocals sometimes lacked the resonance they can have? These imperfections
made their performance more real and somehow less rehearsed.
But, like so many shows I've seen recently, I'm not sure that
the audience caught the nuance; they were in the mood to see
the highly praised Dismemberment Plan. That band could have
messed up royally, but as long as they played Ice of Boston,
everyone would tell you it was a good show.
This show left me frustrated and disappointed in many of the
people who surround me at these concerts. As an uncritical,
and yet conservative audience, bands feel the need to stay the
same musically, lest they anger fans. And its not surprising
that Indie Rock has slowly started to genericize in order to
reach the lowest common denominator. Sure there are bands out
there who try to challenge their audience, but I'm starting
to believe that most fan are too busy watching the spectacle