VFW

Let’s talk about nostalgia.  We chase it more and more as we age, and this past weekend reminded me of a particular period in life.  I’m not sure if this phenomenon exists outside of the northeast, but I’m going to assume it does not.  I don’t even know if it currently exists!  As this may have been a one shot reunion deal. We are talking about the American Legion/VFW show.  (lets refer to them as VFW)

VFW 1

The band was asked to play a 30th birthday party, at which the birthday haver (new word) would eat a hamburger for the first time in his life.  While this concept is too fantastically mind boggling for me to get into, let’s just say I support the eating of hamburgers.  He rented a VFW hall in central New Jersey, and invited several bands to play.  Everyone there had gone through this routine.  A good portion of our collective childhoods were spent in rooms just like these, filled with sweaty people and half stack amplifiers.  Before we get into specifics, lets cover some history.

Now, this history is mostly assumed, but I’m going to guess most of it is true.  And on the internet, well, that’s as good as any bibliography I’ve ever encountered. This is oddly appropriate, considering it was memorial day weekend.  VFW(Veterans of Foreign Wars) halls are little social organizations for veterans, usually containing a bar and some type of performance area.  They need a place to get together and do what social organizations do, kind of like the mafia.  Come to think of it, it’s exactly like the mafia, only the government recognizes VFWs and doesn’t get mad if they don’t pay taxes.

Perhaps the most unlikely yet signifigant  supporters of independent music.
Perhaps the most unlikely yet significant supporters of independent music.

Somewhere along the line, bands realized these rooms could be rented out, by people less sketchy than promoters and venues, to hold local shows.  Black Flag and Fugazi notably pioneered this cause in the hardcore music scene, a tradition that we hope will continue long into the future.

It was a huge breakthrough.  All you need is a PA, and you’re set.  Contrary to popular belief, kids don’t want to go around fucking things up and ruining everyone’s day. They just want a place to congregate.  Admission is cheap, and you likely know at least a few of the bands or people putting it on.  Everyone has a stake in it, because if it goes well there will be more, if it doesn’t…there won’t.  Where as at a club of some type, you don’t really care at all.  They’re not nice to you, you’re not nice to them.

Where as a previous generation might have been able to play in bars to “cut their teeth” and learn to play live, this is what we had.  Bar owners would make you buy tickets in advance to sell to your friends (a concept known as “Pay To Play”) so really, nothing gets accomplished.  You’re playing for 10 of your friends and maybe some parents, no one from the venue wants you there.   Shows are most likely not curated at all, so any friends of the other bands don’t give a shit about you or your music, Its just not a welcoming environment.

VFW 2

Independently run shows were the polar opposite.  If a kid puts up a few hundred dollars to rent out a hall, they’re going to take great care to put on the best show possible.  Bands are of a similar style, people actually have a good time the entire show.  It’s an incredibly supportive environment, and I genuinely feel band for anyone who did not experience this.  I sometimes attribute my concept of adult responsibility, the fact that I have an income, have not been to rehab, and have no police record, to this era of my life….but then I realize just as many fuck ups were in this scene as well.  There goes my government funding.

Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia
Again, thank you Myspace for early 2000's nostalgia

My first experience at a VFW show was somewhere in Patterson NJ, yes, the one from the Bob Dylan song.  I had gotten my license mere days before, and drove down to sit in with a band I would join later.   The ambitious decision was made to drive there after my bank teller job, with hand written directions and no passengers.  This dear readers, is what we call “Good Decision Making.”

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I got incredibly lost.  Patterson was a frightening area, not the most friendly looking place do a dumbass white kid driving for the first time.  I definitely scraped a concrete wall trying to make a 3 point turn, and arrived just as the last notes were being played, lugging in my 50lb Fender Twin in one hand and a guitar in the other.  That sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happened.

Experiences were far more good than bad though.  I’m trying to think of the worst shows I have ever been a part of, and none of them have been of the VFW type. The PA was always terrible, but somehow you learned to play without monitors. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, a lot of ground was covered at these events.

Death By Audio in Williamsburg
Death By Audio in Williamsburg

It’s hard to have these places in cities, especially in NY, but Death By Audio in Brooklyn certainly captures that aesthetic.  Most likely a fire hazard, not the best sound, but you feel like you’re truly flying under the radar.  There is that VFW in Hoboken that you walk by on the way to Maxwells on Washington Street, with a giant deer head hanging, but they’re probably wise to the real estate, and no punk ass kids can afford it.

Our experience this past weekend may not have been exactly as we remembered it…the music of this band is a lot quieter than previous projects, none of the amps have a distorted channel…people just kind of sat on the perimeter on folding chairs.  There was very enthusiastic applause though, much more so than at a random bar show.  Maybe its true that you can’t relive your childhood, even you buy a giant ranch with an amusement park or trade bodies with Judge Reinhold.

Not a Moch Trial.
Not a Moch Trial.

I really do wonder if these shows are as present today.  The youth of America has far surpassed anyone in their late twenties when it comes to using technology, they probably have entire shows just made up of status updates.  I’d like to hope though, that somewhere out in the sketchy backwoods of Southern NJ, there are some dudes loading a half stack Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier and a 9 Piece Orange County Drum Kit into a partially dilapidated shed, with no mid range in sight.

‘Merican Pride

American-Patriot

Let me get all patriotic on you.

What’s made in America that we can all get behind?  Apple designs in California…but manufactures overseas, which is true of most major technology.  Cars?  We all know how that turned out.  Even the high quality denim market has been taken over by Japan, ironically after they mass purchased the antique American denim producing machinery!

I’m not the most patriotic of people.  I do not read the declaration of independence aloud on national holidays.  My main political news intake comes from Gawker and The Daily Show.  But I do try to buy American made goods.

We still do 2 things very well in this country when it comes to goods.  Clothing and Music.  Go ahead, think of another actual good.  When budget allows, I take part in the recent revival of American made clothes.

I bought one pair of jeans made in New York, and according to instructions, have not washed them in nearly a year.  Yep, that’s what you’re supposed to do.  You know what?  They haven’t worn out at all.  Far better than any cheap pair of Levis (I believe only their super top line is made here.)

American instruments continue to reign supreme though.  Ask someone what type of car they would have, if money were no object, it would likely be Italian or German.  Ask the same question about a guitar, it would be a Gibson or Fender, made here.

It does feel good to support the homeland in these efforts.  I’m frankly surprised that Obama hasn’t picked up on this.  Even Romney!!  They’re all about being job creators, American ingenuity, and these are products people take pride in, partially because of where they’re made.

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The Nashville Gibson Factory

As far as the top “rock” type instruments are concerned, their heritage begins in America, and has remained here.  Gibson is built in Montana and Nashville (formerly Michigan) Fender’s top line is built in California, Martin is built in Pennsylvania (after their earliest origins in Manhattan, in what is now Tribecca.)  The original Williamsburg factory of Gretsch, still bears the logo on the building, yet it is now luxury condos.

The Actual Face Of Electro Harmonix
The Actual Face Of Electro Harmonix

This doesn’t even touch on the boutique brands, which are nearly all centered here.  As far as Effects, Electro Harmonix is in Long Island City, NY.  Zvex is somewhere in an underground lair, but still within US soil.  Analogman, Strymon, Death By Audio in BK, countless others.  In Amp Land, Swart, Victoria, Carr, Bogner, Mesa, they’re all local.

Yes, many of the larger companies produce their more budget gear overseas, or in Mexico.  But the highly sought after equipment remains in the US.  These are certainly luxury goods, but functional/technical/artistic luxuries.

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Musicians are an odd bunch.  Quick to speak out against “The Man” …or whatever….trying not to sell out, don’t trust the government….or whatever…but it’s an oddly patriotic bunch.  Ask which parts of a musician’s arsenal are made in America, and they are likely to be able to tell you.  Just something to think about.

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

Keyboards

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