It was a fun night at Sokol Underground Saturday. Interesting in that none of the bands on the bill had a speck of merch for sale. Nothing. And yet, these bands have been around for quite awhile. In the case of Third Men and Virgasound, for over a year.
The Third Men are trying to make up for that lack of merch by releasing a full-length on Speed! Nebraska this year. I can never quite put my finger on what these guys (and gal) sound like. One minute I’m thinking summer of love, the next, ’90s college/indie followed by ’70s cock rock. They seem dead-set on bringing back the guitar solo, and that alone separates them from the herd of local indie bands. I think I’ve seen these guys at least a half-dozen times, and every time I end up comparing them to Matthew Sweet. A more accurate comparison might be to ’80s-’90s college band The dBs, another act that seems clearly influenced by Big Star and The Kinks, and that also had a similar dependence on upbeat hooks. Bottom line: The Third Men are the kind of band that would play in the background of a Jonathan Demme film — the scene where the protagonist is looking for his girlfriend at the club — that’s The Third Men up there on stage playing the role of the house band — cool and unobtrusive, but with enough umph to make you wait through the film’s closing credits to find out who the hell they were. They finished their set with a serviceable cover of Mott the Hoople’s/David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes,” complete with one of the most recognizable intro guitar solos in the history of rock, supplied this time by Matt Rutledge.
Virgasound has turned into a showcase for drummer Jeff Heater. He is impossible not to watch during the set, fiercely flailing in his throaty, muscular style — no one in town plays with quite the same intensity, except for maybe Cursive’s Clint Schnase or The Box Elders’ Dave Goldberg. No, Heater is in a league of his own, and has been for the past decade. The rest of Virgasound is good, too, but Heater is the guy that takes them to the next level.
Finally, there was The Filter Kings, a new group headed by former Cactus Nerve Thang and current Bad Luck Charm frontman Lee Meyerpeter. They bill themselves as sort of a country band, but I don’t think you’ll ever see them invited over to Bushwackers for a weekend gig. While there’ s a distinctive twang to their trot, don’t let the cowboy hats fool ya — they’re pure rock. Look under the sleeves of those western-cut shirts and you’ll find plenty of tats. More than country, there’s a punk aesthetic to what they’re doing. Whenever Lee was singing up front, I was reminded of Social Distortion, maybe because his voice and vocal mannerisms so closely resemble Mike Ness’. Add a groovy stand-up bass, some shit-kicker drums and songs about drinking and women, and you’ve got yourself a comfortable hybrid of punk and western swing. About a third of the 60 or so on hand were doing some sort of improvised punk/country dancing. All were a-grinnin’ and all were throwing down the booze — this is drinking music pure and simple. Like how The Jazzwholes are the house band at Shag on Sunday nights, the One Percent guys may want to consider making The Filter Kings their weekly house band at The Waiting Room. It’s just smart business.
Finally, unlike the smarter among you who didn’t, I did sit through The Grammy’s last night. My take on this year’s awards: Today’s pop music industry (radio music industry?) has become obsessed with performers – not artists, not songwriters, not musicians — probably because every last ounce of creativity has been leached out of their Hollywood high rise offices. When American Idol is your farm team — when even AI losers are honored as genius — there’s something gainfully wrong with your industry. So addicted have they become to AI, this year’s awards show even incorporated its own version of the lame talent search, selecting a faceless nobody to sing alongside Justin Timberlake (and you, the viewer at home, got to pick who it was!). One assumes that the “winner” had a recording contract by the time she left the stage, and we’ll be graced by her cookie-cutter vocal stylings for years to come.
It’s pretty sad when the evening’s highlight is a performance of a song that’s almost 30 years old by a band that’s decided to cash in with a reunion tour. Oh, The Police looked and sounded great, but after attending The Who concert, I’ll probably skip this retro tour when it comes to The Qwest unless they release some new material. Been there. Done that.
I’m not sure I understand the obsession with John Mayer – a mediocre vocalist who apes all of Clapton’s easiest guitar licks. As a lyricist, he blows. But then again, all the lyricists honored last night blew. The most relevant lyricists were probably the Dixie Chicks, whose totality of message is “quit picking on us for hating Bush.” Trite? You make the call. At least Mayer didn’t win Best Rock Album. That honor went to one of the most over-congratulated, least-talented, over-exposed bands in the history of rock music. It is unfortunate when the winner of the Best Rock Album category is a band that peaked 16 years ago — and even back then, wasn’t very good. They’ve managed to make a career out of rehashing the same two or three songs over and over again. Someday your children will go online and view some of RHCP’s live performances and ask, “Did you guys know back then that the naked guy can’t sing?” Yes, dear, we did.
Last night’s big winner, if you didn’t already know, was the Dixie Chicks. What the media seems to be missing in the story is how their current success was propelled by one of the better music documentaries I’ve seen since that Metallica flick a few years ago — Shut Up and Sing. I didn’t give two shits about them before I saw the flick a few months ago. Afterward I became a reluctant fan. The other part of their story that everyone seems to be missing is how Dan Wilson, formerly of Semisonic and Trip Shakespeare, helped them redefine their songwriting style. His influence on the band is much more obvious than Rick Rubin’s.
Missing, of course, was any mention of indie music. A couple indie bands did win Grammy’s (they just weren’t televised). OK Go’s “Here It Goes Again,” won for best shortform video, while The Flaming Lips’ won for best engineered album (nonclassical), and best rock instrumental performance (waitaminit, the Lips aren’t indie anymore, are they?). Maybe next year, eh? Not likely.
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