It's times like these that I thank God I live in a city that boasts a legendary live music scene. Then I remember that it's been ages since I've seen something new that didn't smack of either irony or something worse -- and sadly, even more prevalent -- ennui. The big, hands-on-hips "who cares?"
Each year around the holidays, when countless publications are smacking themselves on the back with arrogant end-of-the-year lists (and this year's even more annoying end of the millennium lists), I find myself thinking about the Northwest's live music scene, what it has produced, and what it will yield in months and years to come. More often than not I'm filled with a sense of pride when it comes to our local music vista. We may -- in the eyes of outsiders -- be a cliché, but it's a cliché that spawns an unruly offspring that constantly tries to set itself apart from its predecessors. And in that lies what has always made this region so musically verdant: a drive to create without simply re-creating.
Well, that formula wasn't really workin' this year, now was it? I'm thinking back and I don't recall too much going on in the way of musical reseeding, and in contemplating the future I'm faced with an even more bleak vision. Have people gotten lazy? Because it sure seems to me like no one's going out of his or her way to seek out or produce something good for goodness' sake. Or has the region's blasted hipster ennui finally gotten the best of our once-thriving scene?
In music, everyone wants what others haven't got. To know about it first is to know about it best, right? But lately, I'm not so sure anyone wants to know about it at all. Show attendance is considerably down, certainly among the regular show-going public who these days have to be pretty devoted in order to leave their house or practice space. Yes, practice space. More and more I'm noticing a distinct absence of local musicians getting off their duffs to check out new bands. A few years ago, it wasn't unusual to see members of Harvey Danger or Sunny Day Real Estate turning out for the debuts of bands with little hype surrounding them. Nowadays they're likely to show up only when it's a friend's band or some heavily connected side project.
And speaking of friend's bands: If you can go see them every single time they play, then why is it so goddamn hard to get out and see something you haven't seen a hundred times before? Oh yeah, I get it -- because you're too busy seeing something you've seen a hundred times before. God forbid someone should play an extra note or improvise a line from a Brian Eno song without you being there to witness it firsthand. Imagine how rewarding it would be if you weren't expecting it already.
What does this say about the state of our scene, when its most vested members don't seem to care about what's new? Aren't these people the ones who are supposed to tell us what's going on? Aren't they the ones setting the scene for the rest of us to view? Ostensibly their life is music, their love is music; yet they spend so little time with music they don't already have something to do with. Some might argue that this narrow view of what's going on in the periphery is necessary to keep the vision pure. And some might call that a simpleton's excuse for being ignorant and lazy. I know I would.
Has it always been this way, or does the pervasive ennui just do it to you? Right now I notice members of Death Cab for Cutie seeking out other talent, but they only recently moved here from Bellingham. Let's check back a year from now -- when Seattle isn't so new -- and see whether their show-going belts are notched like Swiss cheese or are as unblemished as those straight from the shelf at Butch Blume.
Speaking of Death Cab, they and Peter Parker (two bands who until recently often played together, fueling the seeing-each-other-only fire) have said they don't plan to play publicly again until some time next year. Why? Because they fear they've been playing too much? After all, if you get too much exposure, Seattle's gonna hate you for it. Afraid of the ennui, perhaps? Or maybe you're just tired of the same friendly faces in the audience. With all this free time on these two young bands' hands, I expect to see their faces at a lot of shows.
Let's talk about what's out there, and then let's decide what to do about it. Regionally speaking, Marigold are poised to become the next radio sensation, but that's because these four Oregon musicians sound not unlike Oasis, who, as we all know, sound not unlike the Beatles. Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who recently became a father, unashamedly named his new son Lennon. No great originality there, but Oasis did take a significant influence and re-shape it into something a new generation could call its own. The first time I saw Marigold play, I remember the band proudly displayed an Oasis sticker on an amplifier. It's been a long time coming, but once the public hears Marigold's full-length debut, will enough time have passed since Oasis fell into the abyss of ennui? Because last I checked, no one except the clueless editors at Alternative Press seemed particularly anxious to get their hands on an advance copy of the forthcoming Oasis album, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. And please, take a moment to note that it's "shoulder," not "shoulders."
Death Cab for Cutie could be accused of even more impatient revisionism. Listen to them and you're listening to a junior Built to Spill, although they're certainly not to be discounted as a band because of it. Their music is glorious, but, that said, it's hardly singular. Sure, their influences could be traced back to Treepeople, but face it: Same diff.
So what are we to do about this alarming crop of impatient revisionists, and how do we stop them from causing the inevitable, dreaded ennui? The solution is simple, and if you've been paying attention you can't help but know the answer already. See something different! Get out and find things! Make a big deal about something you might not be too sure about! Because if you're not sure about it, then chances are no one else is either.
Several weeks ago, I walked into a bar expecting to see one band and found another playing due to a scheduling foul-up. It was the Now's first show and they were playing to almost no one. I was dumbfounded by their sheer vitality and potential. I hadn't heard word one about the Now (apparently no one had), but I was thankful to have stumbled onto them -- a sentiment that's rare in this reference-heavy, cred-laden local scene. I don't want to believe you've all forgotten what it feels like to discover something new and be revived by it. Maybe you've been slacking, but that's okay. It only costs the price of a cover to be reborn.