I got an email yesterday from someone very close to Neva Dinova saying that the band’s Dec. 27 show at Slowdown would be their last show ever. So I called Jake Bellows, who called me back and said no, Neva Dinova isn’t breaking up. Instead, the band is going on an extended hiatus. Who knows when they’ll play again, but it may not be for a very long time. So, if you’ve been itching to see Neva, better take advantage of that Slowdown gig, which also will feature Ladyfinger, McCarthy Trenching and the return of The ’89 Chicago Cubs. Slowdown’s website currently doesn’t list the $7 show as being held in the “front room,” which I guess means it’ll be in the big room, where it belongs.
It’s been a pretty gloomy last couple of weeks news-wise, what with bands going on hiatus and clubs closing down. What’s happening to our music scene? Is it really the economy (stupid)? That’s as good of a transition as I can think of to this week’s column — a recasting of the Criteria show review from earlier in the week. It’s a retread (that also will be the case for next week’s column), so skip over it if you’re bored and head to this weekend’s shows.
Column 203: If Not Criteria…
Just before they started, a young local musician with dreams of making a living from his music leaned over and asked what the deal was with Criteria. My answer: They did the right things, they did what they needed to do, they went on the road for 18 months and it just didn’t happen. They never “broke,” so to speak.
But you wouldn’t know that by looking at the crowd at The Waiting Room Saturday night. I don’t know the official number, but it had to be a technical sell-out. It was jam-packed; as packed as I’ve ever seen that place.
Criteria’s Stephen Pedersen strolled onto the stage wearing a plain white V-neck T-shirt and carrying his trademark Travis Bean guitar and proceeded to play as good a set — maybe the best set — that he and his band has ever played. The Waiting Room’s sound system is tailored made for them, more so than Slowdown’s (TWR has become defined as a rock club, while Slowdown has become known as a singer-songwriter venue that hosts the occasional rock show). The room was hot, figuratively and literally, and loud loud loud. Painfully so, but it was a good pain.
Whenever I see Criteria, I marvel at the band’s rhythm section, which to me is the core reason behind how they can do what they do. Bassist AJ Mogis and Drummer Mike Sweeney keep it together; they hold the leash that holds the mad-dog buzz saw from spinning out of control. Sweeney is an animal, a dynamic wonder-being, the throttle that drives this speedy, shiny black Camaro along all those hair-pin turns. Their enormous sound is wave upon wave of guitar pressed to a sonic red line and topped off by Pedersen’s mid-range croon that cuts through the roar, bright and clean. Pedersen is the epitome of the indie rock frontman – just flashy enough to keep the crowd’s attention, until he holds his guitar above his head and turns into a modern-day Rick Springfield.
The set was impressive. It was as good as anything I’ve seen on any stage this year. I still think they have — or had — whatever it takes to break through. But it’s too late for that now. The band has moved onto other things, and though Pedersen didn’t use this word, Criteria has become more of a hobby for these guys, who now have more important things to occupy their lives — things like wives and children and money-making careers that rightfully have taken precedent. Still…
I stand by what I’ve always said. Criteria is (or was) the best full-out rock band on Saddle Creek. Bright Eyes may be the most relevant (and popular); The Faint, the funnest; The Good Life had the best songs. But Criteria, well, they rocked the hardest, harder than Cursive. And the fact is, it took way more than 18 months for Creek’s former “big three” to break. One has to believe it would have taken Criteria another year or two of constant touring and releasing records before it took hold, before they inevitably caught the attention of a larger audience and got their shot at performing on Conan — and man what a performance that would have been.
They played for about 40 minutes, then came back on stage and did a two-song encore, then after the crowd chanted “One more song,” they did exactly that. It felt like a swan-song instead of a welcome-back gig. There is a cliché that says that bands play their best at CD release shows and farewell gigs. It’s a cliché that happens to be true. Maybe it’s the adrenaline. Maybe it’s because in both instances, bands figure they have nothing to lose. And maybe that was the reason why Criteria never sounded better Saturday night.
But this was no swan-song. In fact, this was only the beginning, or so Pedersen said. No, they’ll never tour again, but the band has written new material and plans to record… eventually. Whether their CD comes out on Saddle Creek remains to be seen, though the label has never not embraced its alumni regardless of what they’ve sold in the past, and that includes Son Ambulance, who put out an album last year, and Ladyfinger and Beep Beep, who have new albums coming out in early ’09. None of those bands’ last records sold as well as Criteria’s last album.
So how does a band “break” in an age of downloads and X-Box-Wii’s and audiences with 30-second attention spans who only follow bands for one album? How does a band get to that next level? It seems like Tokyo Police Club — Saddle Creek’s most successful recent acquisition — is slowly getting there. But it also seems like even the Creek-related bands that have broken through are struggling, whether it’s Tilly or The Faint or even Cursive. Oberst isn’t the last one standing, but he’s the only one standing on top of a big pile of money.
These days, right now, the dream of making a living by being in a band — and not having to live on Ramen noodles — is over. The ones that are making it and who haven’t sold their souls are very few. Like The Faint’s Todd Fink said, I don’t know how anyone makes money by selling CDs anymore. Unless you’re a legacy band or you’re willing to pump out meaningless pap to lifeless masses, you’re chances of being anything more than four guys in a van seem hopeless.
After Criteria’s last triumphant encore, I knew what the musician with the dreams standing next to me was thinking: If Criteria couldn’t make it happen with everything they did and everything that they had going for them, what hope does anyone have?
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This weekend is all about The Faint at Sokol Auditorium. Tonight’s show, with The Show Is the Rainbow and Brimstone Howl opening, has been sold out almost from the moment tickets went on sale. Tickets are still available for tomorrow night’s show, with Capgun Coup and Son Ambulance, but for how long? If you want to go, get your tickets now, $18. Both shows start at 8 p.m.
Sunday night is dedicated to Oui Bandits‘ album release show at Slowdown Jr. with adamroberthauG, Jesse McKelvey, The Contrails. $6, 9 p.m.
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