Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Decade in Music, Part 3: Our Band Became Your Life (2005-2006)

With their show at the Bowery Ballroom in July 2004, the Dirtbombs essentially joined the White Stripes, if not went ahead of them, at the top of the heap for my musical tastes. I had gone into the show being a little underwhelmed with the disparate number of mp3's I had picked up the summer before during a pre-home-Internet downloading rush at my friend Eddie’s house (The Dirtbombs material proved to be early singles, noisy stuff from Horndog Fest, and even some of the stuff from Ultraglide in Black if that can be believed – the best song to come of the session that day was “Bandages” by Hot Hot Heat…). But late in 2003, Little Steven played "Motor City Baby" and that kept me interested straight to the July show. By the end of that set (maybe aided slightly by an excessive amount of Wild Turkey but not aided much to be sure), I was enthralled. I scooped up the LP's proper and so it began. The next craze. This one took a more intimate bent, an intimacy that began with the White Stripes. Thanks to small but faithful followings aided and abetted by Internet communication, a network of friends popped up around the popular White Stripes and the lesser-known Stripes-related bands from Detroit. The two Detroit bands that most got my ear were the Dirtbombs and Blanche (in the case of the Dirtbombs, "Stripes-related" proved to be literal: Jack White' s nephew Ben is a drummer in the band). In a way, these two bands represented the two sides of the White Stripes. The Dirtbombs spoke to the duo's loud side (and a predecessor band belonging to Dirtbombs' leader Mick Collins - the Gories - were an influence on Jack White directly, and another Collins band, Blacktop, certainly should have been). Blanche - the band that opened the Stripes/Loretta Lynn gig that I didn't go to in 2003 - spoke to the Stripes' love of country, folk, and blues (and talk about direct influences on Jack White, Blanche's leader Dan Miller had two predecessor bands that Jack himself participated in - Goober & The Peas and Two-Star Tabernacle). The Dirtbombs had an assortment of records - LP's and singles - that were dominating my listening time, but Blanche's one album, If We Can't Trust The Doctors..., on its own merit, with little else to accompany it, made Blanche a major force in my musical life. How one band got so much concentrated traction out of one record I will never quite understand but I will never forget it. And in a way, I still kind of miss it.

My first CMJ Music Marathon - October of 2004 - may have been the pinnacle of my Detroit fandom. Blanche played a charity event for V2 records at Housing Works Used Books Cafe (opener Brendan Benson couldn't catch a flight out of Detroit) and were part of a major night of bands at the Mercury Lounge. The Paybacks headlined and the Sights were on the bill. The Cincinnatti-based Greenhornes - a band I first caught in Philadelphia as part of Mondo Topless' "freakout" shows and who opened for the Dirtbombs at that Bowery show, were there. Their bass player, Jack Lawrence, had just joined Blanche and would later team up with his fellow Greenhorne Patrick Keeler, no show Brendan Benson, and Jack White to form the Raconteurs. Also on this bill were a little duo from Boston called Mr. Airplane Man and from Sweden, the Shout Out Louds. When I think back to what may have been the "coolest" night for me as a scenester, this was it.
That scensterism took some odd twists and turns. Hanukah 2003, I caught a then-unknown Hasidic Reggae Rapper named Matisyahu play for his friends at Southpaw only because I was invited to this event by a friend who was then wrestling between being a scenester and a Lubavitch Jew (he chose the latter). Yet in all those years I never saw the Mooney Suzuki or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. My favorite band from Detroit to never tour, the Come Ons, remained elusive to me. As did other Detroit bands – the Nice Device, the Singles, the Elevations, Troy Gregory’s many projects, the Prime Ministers, Bantam Rooster, the Fondas, etc etc. But I would eventually get to meet, sometimes know and often love other bands from Detroit or related-scenes such as the Detroit Cobras, the Soledad Brothers, the Hard Lessons, Outrageous Cherry, and the Avatars. I saw the Gore Gore Girls twice (once opening for a little band known as the Cramps). And apparently every show I went to had a guy named Matt in the crowd, a guy who would become one of my best friends long after this scene had expired.
2005 was primarily the year of the Dirtbombs (and MySpace - I stared the MySpace page for the band on my birthday in June ‘05) and there was more from Blanche (still based on that one darn album). That White Stripes message board filled in the gaps as a social mechanism in terms of sharing musical interests, even as the White Stripes started to play second fiddle. And though a lot of bands received a little attention for a brief period of time on that board (from the Dresden Dolls to the Kills to No Bunny), the peak for that social experiment came in those months with the Dirtbombs and Blanche. And though it was done by no means on purpose, this all came to a seemingly deliberate head Thanksgiving weekend in 2005 in Cleveland of all places. Two bands with nothing in common other than a hometown 170 miles away and related personal connections - the Dirtbombs and Blanche played together. It made no sense really, but it was a treat for that little web-based community that came together around those two bands and the bigger band responsible for any of us even knowing the existence of these two acts.

One of the most important outcomes of that time on the White Stripes message board is my friendship with a Torontonian named Christina, whom I may as well have met in college or a nice working class but scene-enabling urban enclave, if college or said urban enclave was an internet messageboard. By combination of quantity and quality- in terms of bands I got into or individual singles I loved - Christina wins. One of those bands was the Decemberists. Another was the King Khan & BBQ Show. Another was M.O.T.O. Another was the pre-annoying Jay Reatard. There was also some fellow named Nick Cave. Individual tracks of immortality include: "True Patriot Love" by the Joel Plaskett Emergency, "Teenagehead" by Bonerack, "Oh My Bride" by the Deadly Snakes, "Maid of Sugar, Maid of Spice" by Mouse & The Traps, "Dead Fish on the Banks" by Goodnight Loving, "Don't Ring Me Up" by Protex, "Girlfren" by the Modern Lovers and "Too Much for Me" by the Yolks. If that wasn’t enough, she enabled my Ryan Adams fandom with b-sides and an extra like “Cannonball” and has shared a love of Neko Case with me.

There was more going on in the middle of the decade. The other bands from the Detroit scene faded from my consciousness as I discovered a more varied and universal concept of "Indie", chiefly in the form of the Decemberists and their record Picaresque. A little more typical and expected of what an Indie band can sound like (orchestral and lyrically dense, as opposed to all that simplified garage rock), the Decemberists were the first "beautiful sounding" band I got into this decade and another foreshadowing of things to come. In what proved to be something of a pre-emptive changing of the guard, one June night in 2005 saw the White Stripes play the second of two nights at Keyspan Park in Coney Island. Night one had featured that pesky Brendan Benson (to the man’s credit, he did put out some of the decade’s best pop songs – namely “Spill It Out” and “Cold Hands, Warm Heart”). And both nights featured the Shins, who at that time I found rather dull. But on night 2, I decided to go late, choosing instead to watch About Schmidt, and relishing the proximity of the gig to my home. By the time I got to the stadium, the opening act was on his last couple of songs. That act was M. Ward. Matt Ward would soon practically own the second half of the decade in the singer-songwriter department with his understated class and affection for old time rock n’ roll. I still have yet to forgive myself for missing the rump of the set.

2006 proved to be a year of transition. There was a tug from that Internet-based community to stay Detroit-focused even though things in general, and my own tastes included, were moving on. Even the Detroiters themselves were moving on. Jack White was in the process of hightailing it to Nashville and did so in part by starting up the Raconteurs, who put out the highly enjoyable Broken Boy Soldiers. And in the process of doing so, the man brought to a climax the period of my intimacy with his music and the music world fixated around him in general. Lines were crossed as musician and fan alike were confused by what the Internet had established as a band-fan relationship. That all sounds vague and sinister so let’s cut to the chase: that message board got too big for its own good and too close to its reason for existence (and the reason for existence got too close to the board). At some point, the personal affairs of the band, the related bands, and the fans concentrated on that site took prescience over the music for almost everyone involved. It got to where it didn’t even matter that there was music involved in the first place. By the end of 2006, there was almost no music left to discuss. And in a bitter twist, related personal matters in my life began to take a dark turn. But there was more going on and there was light at the end of the tunnel: 2006 as I heard it was the year of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” and Josh Ritter’s The Animal Years. It was the year of Ryan’s semi-trifecta of Cold Roses, Jacksonville City Nights, and 29. It was the year I gave Metric a serious first listen after being blown away by “Monster Hospital”. And it was the year I appreciated TV on the Radio following the incredible arrival of “Wolf Like Me”. It was the year I developed affection (maybe an infection) for music podcasts that began to shape my music tastes anew. It was the year I first heard tracks from The National (“All The Wine” from Alligator became a major player). And towards the end of the year, I recall listening to NPR’s Fall preview podcast and hearing for the first time, the song “Stuck Between Stations” by a band called The Hold Steady.



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