Trends..Musical, Economic, and Whatnot.

I had some interesting experiences last night, why not share?  I believe I’m at the forefront of this new technique called “sharing your personal observations with the internet”  a patent is in the works.

This definable era of bands will soon draw to a close.  How do I know?  Because trends are emerging.  And once a trend emerges, it’s only a matter of time.  “No!” you say.  “The trend of pop punk Emo/Screamo bands with sleeve tattoos and vented snare drums will continue forever!”  Yes, it very well may, but not in the eyes of the general public.  Except that vented snare thing, what was that all about.

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Last night, the band I’m in played a show after a short hiatus.  It was at a downtown Manhattan venue, known for their indie rock type aesthetic.  As we loaded equipment in, this is what the stage looked like

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Notice anything?  Yeah.  That’s without the 3 keyboards we added.  Several years ago, in the aforementioned pop punk era, every guitar player had a half stack with a Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier.  Do they even make those anymore?  Every bass player had an Ampeg SVT 8×10…which is still in use, but only for appropriate occasions, like a venue which requires a bass amp the size of 2 people.  Drummers had elongated cannon type kick drums, toms hanging with RIMS mounts, all sorts of elaborate crap.

Is it ironic this photo came from myspace?
Is it ironic this photo came from myspace?

All of that is gone.  Every band had at least 2 keyboards.  There were 6 Blackface Fender combo amps, every single bass player had a Fender P Bass (it used to be the Musicman Stingray!) There were 3 Fender Jazzmasters between 4 bands, and shit tons of Reverb.

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Gibson Les Paul’s have completely vanished.  This could also be similar to the original Punk era, musicians just buy what’s cheap.  A Gibson Les Paul Standard costs $2,500.  That’s just plain ridiculous.  In this economy, what musician can approach that?  Pre housing bubble, I’ll bet a lot more were sold, perhaps dude to less worry about taking on credit card debt.

You see a ton more of Gibson’s less expensive model, the SG (for a used one, you can spend $800-1000 for a standard!) And Fender Guitars have pretty much taken over.  Jazzmaster prices are on the rise though,  same as the Strat’s in the 6o’s, which Fender used to have to cut prices on repeatedly, until they were popularized by that dude with the bandana/Afro and the British guy who played Layla on Unplugged.

(This concludes my economic report)

When one looks back on this era, it will certainly have a definable sound.  Yes, the lo-fi thing is very present, but it’s a very clear type of lo-fi.  We all got so used to those super balanced, scooped mid, high wattage, predictable giant tube amps, that everyone revolted.  You don’t necessarily know how those low wattage amps will react when you turn them up, but they really do sound so much more natural.  Everyone probably also got tired of carrying a 4×12 speaker cabinet up a flight of steps.

And the reverb….oh the reverb, how we love it!  Think of those late 90’s, early 2000’s vocal sounds.  There was so much compression!  As the gold standard of slightly alternative yet poppy records, think of Jimmy Eat World as an example.  We just don’t want to hear things that clearly anymore!  We’re literally washing it out!

Its not as extreme as Hair Metal to Grunge, but it is similar.  Screaming metal wails…..mumbled hoarse vocals.   Scooped mids wall of Marshall full stacks….whatever old crap you could get your hands on (hence the resurgence of the Jazzmaster!)

It’s just a slight rebellion against what was popular before.  What will come next?  Who knows.  I’m gonna say shit gets stripped down even further.  Back to the economics of it, touring is the #1 source of income for musicians.  If you have to travel constantly, you need to be light on your feet.  More overhead is more money lost…so why carry 3 keyboards, 3 combo amps, and a 4 piece drum kit…..when you can play all acoustic, kick and snare, with just some more focus on the PA effects?

Just throwin’ it out there.  Someone get me a show on CNBC, after Cramer.

We saw Andrew Bird at the Beacon theater earlier this month, and a good portion of the show was the entire band unplugged, with ONE SINGLE MIC at the foot of the stage.  It sounded fantastic.  Its also a rebellion against the over-processed pop music available.  Auto-tune has invaded nearly every recording produced today, we’re dying to hear something natural, without a net.

If our generation loves one thing, it’s being cynical.  But the optimist in me fully believes, that we love being proven wrong, and amazed by artistic endeavors.  When the next round of independent bands begins touring the land with solely a guitar case each, I will be first in line at the show.

Well, maybe a guitar case, and one of these…..GRAIL

Andrew Bird – Useless Creatures – At The Bell House 2/25/2012

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Let me throw out a theory about The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It might be emerging as one of the best venues in the NY area. Yes, its incredibly far out there. The closest subway stop is not operational, you have to walk through a sketchy industrial area in the middle of the night uphill both ways in the snow to get there. There’s really not much close to it as far as bars and restaurants go. All of these factors only increase the quality of shows there.

Lets say you go to a show at the Bowery Ballroom, a time tested fantastic venue. You get all sorts of people. The drunk girls who are just stopping by on the way to their night out culminating in someone throwing up in a cab. The Bro Dudes who don’t really care about the show, but it’s easy to get to and there are hipster girls there, so they talk the whole time.  The group of friends who spends the quiet songs discussing who should get the coats from coat check.  The list goes on. At the Bell House, everyone in attendance legitimately wants to be there. They have made the trek. They have crossed the rivers or they have walked the miles. And if they want to just hang out and talk before throwing up in a cab, there’s a front bar for that with plenty of seating.

This became apparent on Saturday night when Andrew Bird performed a secret show at the venue under the name “Useless Creatures.” I thought about it….and I’ve never really seen a bad show at the venue. Every crowd has been respectful, the sound was always good, it was never a problem to get a drink, the douche factor was incredibly low. I also live a quick mile walk from the venue now….but that didn’t really play in, or at least I won’t let it for professional purposes. But now, onto the show.

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Andrew Bird is a unique character. Here’s an example. At the Tribecca Film Festival this year, they screened a film called “Andrew Bird Fever Year” about his year long tour for his previous album, in which he basically had the flu the entire time. His theory was, that in order to perform every night, his body had to conserve enough energy during the day, increasing the temperature until it was time to play. It was a beautiful film, visually, sonically, narrative wise, everything. It screened twice. It will never be released, no DVD, it will not tour the festival circuit, that’s it. He just wanted to document his live band at the time, because he thought they had achieved the absolute perfect sound for the music hall venue. That’s the kind of musician he is.

In the film, we see him working on several new songs in his barn. Beautiful melancholy type tunes, spacey violin loops, simple arrangements. Rumor had it that many of these songs would appear on his new album. His new album is coming out next week, so when an email went out to his mailing list saying a band called the “Useless creatures (wink wink)” would be playing the Bell House, I was in. They announced it Friday, the show was Saturday, and sold out quickly.

The show opened with Bird playing solo, and announced they would be playing the entire new record, start to finish, beginning with the last song, then starting over (yep.) This was the first show with his new band, basically the same as the old band, except his former bass player is now on tour with Indie Monster Juggernaut Bon Iver. Martin Dosh is still on drums, Jeremy Ylvisaker is still on guitar. I don’t know the new bass player’s name, but he played very well.

Overall, the new album keeps to the vibe of the few songs that had been floating around for the past few months. More slow than fast, lots of harmony, lots of low octave swirling violin loops. His band seems to perform like another limb of his. The drums don’t sound like typical rock drums, the extra guitar plays fast picked tremolo lines, the bass sounds like his pizzicato violin bass during solo sets, only bigger.

I would say the standout track is called “Lusitania” with a catchy hook, nice groove, all those things we love about folky pop tunes. I believe St Vincent sings a verse on the record. (which is now streaming at NPR)

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At the end of the set, they came back and played a few hits, including my personal favorite “Tables and Chairs”  particularly for the line “There will be snacks….all kinds of snacks.”  and a few others.  They closed with several Handsome Family covers, all acoustic, just one mic at the foot of the stage.  Bird commented that this might be the perfect venue to do such a thing.  I would have to agree.