I've been to exactly one show at the UW's HUB Ballroom—it was seven years ago, when some enterprising genius booked my late-teenage dream show: Modest Mouse, 764-HERO, and Red Stars Theory. I was psyched.
Here's the thing, though: As noble as it is to try to bring rock out of its natural habitat and plunk it down in a massive college's student-union hall, it's also a struggle. The minimal amount of effort required to leave campus helps weed out less-interested showgoers—the ones who care more about grabbing a beer and hanging out with their buddies than they do about the music. At the Modest Mouse show I attended, Red Stars Theory's sublimely quiet instrumentals could barely be heard for all the student-body chatter. 764-HERO and Modest Mouse fared better—they used distortion—but overall I was left feeling like I'd attended a coed mixer.
But if it was a struggle, I was perhaps wrong about the nobility involved. In the long run, indie rock and frat boys have learned to get along swimmingly, so long as indie rock sticks to fairly innocuous and relatable subjects such as loneliness, heartache, existential angst, and/or the desolate emotional landscape of suburbia. The real struggle would be to introduce to the enrolled masses music that was not only sonically or aesthetically challenging, but also radical in content.
That is what makes the upcoming Hidden Cameras show at the HUB such an exciting prospect. They can be every bit as restrained and orchestral as Red Stars Theory, but, unlike that band, they aren't content to play background music. The Hidden Cameras demand an audience's attention, and often interaction—at a Sonic Boom in-store the band turned the usually mellow preshow warm-up routine into an energetic affair replete with a grand entrance, audience participation, and modest choreography. And while the Hidden Cameras tackle some of the same universal themes as the bands that have graced the HUB before them, they do so with a wickedly bent sense of humor (and they handle some sticky subject matters that those bands just don't touch).
What this means is that, given good attendance, several hundred college students will be at this show tapping their toes and bobbing their heads to chamber-pop songs about the joys of gay sex, club drugs, piss games, and the abolition of marriage, at the HUB, in the land of Hugh Foskett Republicans and the not-at-all homoerotic Greek system. This is fantastic, hilarious news.
Of course, it would all merely be a stunt if the Hidden Cameras didn't have some serious musical skill to back up their potty mouths, but the band—especially singer/songwriter Joel Gibb—exhibit tremendous classical talent. Gibb's voice is clear and nimble, whether yodeling in falsetto or singing in his slightly nasal Canadian drawl. The band's arrangements are unimpeachably well crafted, with Gibb backed by layers of folksy instruments—acoustic guitars, church organs, tambourines—and a chorus of joyous voices.
If you didn't tell your mom what the songs were about, you could have probably listened to the Hidden Cameras at Thanksgiving dinner.
But then, maybe your mom would understand. The Hidden Cameras' lyrics aren't single-mindedly smutty—God and heaven both make awkward appearances—and the taboos aren't broken for shock value but rather to serve larger emotional and artistic aims. Gibb isn't flaunting gayness, he's just not ignoring it by incorporating it into his songwriting as an everyday part of life. Weirdly, that's still shocking in the world of indie rock.
The Hidden Cameras' latest album, Awoo, is perhaps their cleanest record yet. It's full of pleasantly baroque pop without the gloriously gay dirtiness of The Smell of Our Own or, to a lesser extent, Mississauga Goddam. Gibbs's best songs ("Ban Marriage," "Smells Like Happiness," and "Golden Streams") have a kind of giddy catchiness to them, but they also have wonderfully frank content. Awoo displays some of that catchiness, but where is the filth?
Oh, well. Even if it has mellowed a bit over the years, the Hidden Cameras' evil agenda is coming to the UW with a filthy song in its heart—and it's going to be a gay old time.