Same band, different shows--a parable.

This story is about a band I saw last week, called Dangers, from California. They played here in Richmond with Graf Orlock and Comadre, and I had never heard of them before I went to the show. They really impressed me, for a variety of reasons. Their singer talked a lot about the lyrics to their songs, and it seemed like he'd put a lot of thought into them, especially one that was about his half-brother becoming a cop, and how it made him feel. The music was based solidly in hardcore, but had original riffs with a good amount of melody underlying the screamed vocals. I found it even more interesting that they were totally willing to write one song that was based around slow, moshy riffs, and follow it up with a fast song that incorporated blast beats. The songs were intricately constructed, too, and therefore kind of hard to predict, but always interesting and enjoyable. I liked them so much, I bought their CD.

The CD was every bit as good as I expected from the live show, and had the added bonus of printing out their lyrics. There is one song towards the beginning of the album ("A Missed Chance For A Meaningful Abortion") which has lyrics that seem a bit too unquestioningly misanthropic for me to get behind, but by the album's last two songs ("(D)anger(s)" and "We Have More Sense Than Lies"), it seems that the singer has himself realized that his anger, unquestioned, is not enough to make the changes he wants to see in the world. From "(D)anger(s)": "I feel fed up every morning and let down every night. And in a world with so much wrong, there must be better things to fight. [...] There's more to fight than big mouth kids like me. Punch my face until your fingers break, but it's not me who's the real enemy." From "We Have More Sense Than Lies": "We need something to say. We need to start to care. And we can't just hold our breath, sit back and sing along. Pretend that it's all okay, when we know we're wrong. We must change ourselves." With those lines, the album ends, and a narrative arc that began with the first song on the album ("We Broke The P.A.", a song warning against hardcore losing its message through overcommercialization) is brought to a conclusion. I often like to find narratives within albums as a whole, even when they aren't necessarily there, but they definitely are in this case. For example, track 6, "My Wonder Years Never Got Cancelled", runs directly into "Break Beat", the next song, as if they'd originally just been one set of lyrics that were later divided across two songs. And "A Missed Chance For A Meaningful Abortion" is connected to "Gashing In" through the use of two different voicemail messages. Which reminds me, I want to say one more thing about "Gashing In." The lyrics, while harsh, express something I myself have felt in plenty of situations, something I'm not generally proud of, and don't generally want to talk about, but is there all the same. So here are the lyrics to this 30-second blast, in their entirety. Maybe I'm not the only one for which this will constitute some sort of insight. "Clits and dicks ruin every night. Hudson jeans and birth control. Perfume and the alcohol. Versus: Marshall stacks and sing-alongs. Myspace, dunks, male chauvinists. Estrogen. Testosterone. My hormones ruin every night, and I've no one to blame but me, myself, and I. Can't stand bars, shows, or my dick. Should have stayed home, read a book instead."

So anyway, I really enjoyed Dangers live, and I really enjoyed their album, so when I found out that some friends of mine who'd been on tour had played with them the next night in DC, I asked what they had thought of them. I was surprised by the response, which basically amounted to "What a bunch of assholes." When I asked for elaboration, my friends told me how, instead of talking about the lyrics to their songs, the singer from Dangers spent most of his time berating the crowd for not dancing, and when that didn't succeed in getting them to dance, running and jumping into the front rows of the crowd, seemingly in order to get revenge for their not moving. Now, I saw Dangers in a small but comfortable space in a restaurant. In DC, though, they were playing in a basement, and at the height of summer. Apparently it was sweltering in that basement, and it was no surprise to my friends who were there that kids watching the band didn't particularly want to move around. Besides, they said, it's lame when bands yell at the crowd for not dancing. And on this point, I couldn't agree more.

I've noticed that there are certain scenes within hardcore in which it is accepted to demand movement from an audience, as if the band is entitled to a certain kind of crowd reaction. The tough guy scene, the metalcore scene, the youthcrew scene, these subgenres of hardcore seem to see this sort of thing as OK. It's my theory that the amount of acceptance a particular scene has for this sort of behavior on a band's part is in direct proportion to how pronounced the disconnect between bands and audiences in that particular scene has become. I like basement shows better than big shows in big clubs with 500 other people in attendance, but I definitely go to both kinds, and I've noticed that at the bigger shows, especially in recent years, the line between the community-based subculture of hardcore and the solely music-based subculture of metal has become blurred. It's hard to know if those big shows even count as hardcore anymore. Or at least, it's hard for me, because in my mind hardcore was never so much about a style of music as a way of thinking. And to me, one of the most important tenets of hardcore as a mindset rather than a musical style was the idea that there's no real separation between band members and audience members. The idea of backstage passes and VIP lounges for bands is anathema to my idea of what hardcore is. To me, the band who is playing at the moment is just a smaller group of people who've emerged from the audience to briefly take center stage, in order to share their musical and lyrical ideas with the kids who are still in the crowd. Hopefully everyone will have fun, and everyone will be inspired to think about things they might not otherwise have considered. And then, when that band is done, their members will go back into the crowd and make room for other people in the crowd to come forward and share their musical and lyrical ideas.

It is a fundamental violation of my personal view of hardcore for a band to ever act as if they are entitled to anything from an audience. I'm not going to wage a crusade to kick every band out of hardcore who defies my personal rules for what is or is not kosher, but nonetheless, if a band demands a guarantee or a deli tray or a backstage area where they can hang out separate from the rest of the people at a show, I feel like they are acting in a manner that is inconsistent with the core values of hardcore. And that goes all the way down to a band who will stand on a stage and demand that the crowd dance to their music, as if they are owed that kind of response. This is hardcore, not metal or arena rock or anything else. The crowd doesn't owe you anything.

So where do Dangers fall on this particular continuum? How well do they really embody my personal idea of hardcore? It's an interesting question. If I only knew about the Richmond show, I'd answer one way, and if I only knew about the DC show, I'd answer completely differently. It seems to me that, since I know about both, the answer has to lie somewhere inbetween. Perhaps the only reason I didn't see Dangers act like rockstars is because the Richmond crowd gave them a response they deemed satisfactory. Or on the other hand, perhaps the stresses of touring were taking their toll, and they chose to take out those stresses on the DC crowd. Maybe DC was just an off night. But maybe off nights bring out a band's true colors. I really don't know, in the end. I'm not sorry I enjoyed their set here in Richmond, and I'm not sorry I bought and have been enjoying their album. But after hearing of their behavior in DC, I'm a bit more wary of giving Dangers an unqualified endorsement.

Dangers - A Missed Chance For A Meaningful Abortion
Dangers - Gashing In
Dangers - We Have More Sense Than Lies



The haunting sounds of The Poets.

I don't know if I've discussed it all that much on this blog, but I'm seriously into the music of the 60s garage/psych era, and have been for several years. I'd say at this point in my life that I probably listen to this kind of stuff more than I listen to hardcore. I of course love a lot of the more famous bands of the era, such as The Velvet Underground, The Yardbirds, The Creation, etc., but I am always hunting for buried treasures in the work by more obscure, less well-remembered bands from the same era. This fascination probably dates from my picking up an issue of Ugly Things Magazine in 2002 and reading an article about The Misunderstood that made them sound like the holy grail of garage/psych. From the information supplied in the article, I went hunting on the internet for obscure mp3 downloads, and located the mere half-dozen songs recorded by the definitive Misunderstood lineup (there are many more recordings by other lineups, some of which feature only one original member--all of them sadly inferior). The combination of how truly mindblowing those six songs were, and how quickly they passed by, put me on a hunt for other obscure garage/psych-era tidbits that were equally obscure. If they were even half as great as The Misunderstood turned out to be (that's another entry in itself, one I should really get around to writing one of these days), then they'd be worth the search and then some.

Last year, I bought a copy of Richie Unterberger's "Urban Spacemen And Wayfaring Strangers", a book that profiled 19 varyingly obscure artists from the psychedelic 60s era. Some, like Tim Buckley and The Electric Prunes, I already knew quite well from a musical standpoint, and was more interested in their biographies than finding out anything about their actual music. Others, though, were completely new to me. One of those stood out more than most--Scotland's The Poets, who'd existed from 1964 to 1967 and released only six singles during that time period. Unterberger described their minor-key melodies and reverb-drenched singles in such a way that made them seem fascinating, and the CD included with the book, which featured the Poets track "Some Things I Can't Forget", backed up that description. In the weeks that followed my purchase of the book, I couldn't get enough of that Poets track, which was brilliant but even more frustrating than it could have been, due to its brevity: the song was a mere minute and 46 seconds long! Nonetheless, in that time, vocalist George Gallacher created an evocative atmosphere with his gloomy, plaintive vocals that was further enhanced by Hume Paton's chiming 12-string guitar. But even more than the atmosphere, what caught my attention was Gallacher and Paton's gift for complex and catchy song structure. The chorus would get stuck in my head for entire days, and playing the song could only provide so much relief, considering the fact that it was over almost as soon as it really got going.

Unterberger's book made note of the fact that an official collection of Poets material had never been released, and that unless I was willing to track down a bootleg or pay through the nose for original singles, I'd have a lot of difficulty obtaining their material. Nonetheless, I was able to find one more Poets track--"That's The Way It's Got To Be", the A-side of their second single, was buried halfway through the second of four discs in the "Nuggets II" box set (the one devoted to UK and other non-American-based groups). This song wasn't quite as striking as "Some Things I Can't Forget", but it was close, especially due to its rumbling bass hook, which contrasted nicely with Paton's guitar and Gallacher's vocals.

I didn't really hit the motherlode, though, until I discovered this post on the mp3 blog Lost In Tyme, which devotes itself to presenting full albums by obscure and forgotten groups of the psychedelic era. I check several blogs like this on a regular basis, looking for gems just like this, but I'm often disappointed by albums that are too obscure to have registered on my radar. Either I download them all (at which point I invariably find 80% to be below my standard of quality) or I wait for something I have heard about before to appear (which doesn't actually happen all that often). I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw this post of a comprehensive Poets compilation. I'm not sure how legitimate this compilation is, and it definitely uses some material that I'd consider not worth releasing--in fact, it unfortunately begins with 5 1964 demos that predate the Poets signing with Andrew Loog Oldham. These demos are of such poor quality that the tape seems to have stretched in many places, making them sound like they're phase-shifting almost constantly. I was afraid at first that the whole CD would sound this bad, but soon I made it past the demo tracks and into the material from their singles, at which point the sound quality improved markedly.

It seems that the songs I knew by The Poets were some of their more uptempo tracks--at least, relatively speaking. Not much of their material reaches the tempo of "That's The Way It's Got To Be", and while "Some Things I Can't Forget" is pretty mournful, it is backed by a driving rhythm that keeps things from drifting into the realm of gothic pop. That term is the only one I could justifiably use to describe a song like "I'll Cry At The Moon" (B-side of "That's The Way It's Got To Be") or "I Am So Blue", which was in my opinion a bad choice for the A-side of their third single--its B-side, "I Love Her Still", is a much stronger song. That said, there's plenty of strong material here, and when heard as a unified work rather than in isolated two-song snatches, the way it was originally released, the music of The Poets is strong enough to carry me through the more quiet, downtempo moments. As I said earlier, this is very evocative stuff--listening to it often makes me think of Roger Corman's mid-60s Poe movies, with their foggy, dreary settings. Even though The Poets do use electrical instrumentation (and, in fact, get some of their more essential textures from it), their music sounds like it's come to us from a much earlier era, one brought to life in publicity photos of the band by their black and white Pilgrim-style clothing. It seems ironic that a band with such a stark, gloomy image would come to be associated with the psychedelic era, an irony noted by Gallacher in Unterberger's profile of The Poets. Nonetheless, listening to the music of The Poets, it's obvious why the connection was made. Their dark, haunting pop and chiming, echoing guitars would sound very natural placed alongside things like The Zombies' "Odessey And Oracle" album. And despite the fact that they are far less known, The Poets are every bit as good.

The Poets - That's The Way It's Got To Be
The Poets - Some Things I Can't Forget
The Poets - I Love Her Still

(or you can download the entire album from that Lost In Tyme link above)