When I was fifteen-sixteen years old, the ending to "Invalid Litter Dept." was one of the most intense moments in music that captivated me and forever left a violent influence on the rest of my musical spectrum. But it wasn't intense in the general realm of metal or hard rock or, er, white-belt grindcore - it was something that I heard and felt throughout my nervous system. It was deep belly and snarl of anguish felt in the pit of one's stomach, untouched by anything i had felt prior. Relationship of Command was the first time I heard something that was deemed "hardcore" by the general consensus. Ten years later, and I witnessed At the Drive-In leave anything that would deem them "hardcore" in the past and play what I would be safe to say their best sounding set to date. For some of you who were there Monday night in Austin, or in Dallas last night, I'm sure you'll disagree with me on some level. I walked away after an hour and ten minutes with mixed emotions and a better understanding of out-growing punk rock to an extent.
I never saw At the Drive-In when I was young for two reasons: I lived in suburbia and I rarely went to shows at that age. A lot of us my age or younger never saw At the Drive-In for that same reason. They were one of those bands that some of us missed the boat on or were too young to fully grasp. The truth is, when they were around, the band played to small rooms that would barely sell out in the States. (An older friend of mine said the last time he saw the band, they played off campus here in Austin at a record store to about 20 people.) What about At the Drive-In leaves us all yearning for these reunion shows? Why were they so special? Some will tell you it's because "they changed the face of hardcore music," a genre for which they hated. So many bands can cite their favorite moments of an At the Drive-In record, but none of those moments have ever been re-imagined or challenged on a level worth noting since. Relationship of Command was like the Revolutionary War of hardcore records. It's an impact that forever changed the game, but one few can still recount being a part of when it landed. It's a record on a pedestal in a genre for which it didn't want to be. It took risks, fought the status quo of punk and was tossed aside in an era of nu-metal many of us would like to forget. To those who lived it and saw the spastic showcase of the band's youth would probably be disappointed in the decade of growth that happened Monday night at Red 7 in Austin.
As the band launched into "Arcarsenal," everyone went to ten and the place exploded. But after three songs in, the band decided to move along to the songs that separated them from the pack. When it came to the jam session of an extended version of "Quarantined," I realized that not only did I not care if they played "Invalid Litter Dept." at that point, I also heard the best version ever of a song that lacked the fury of most fan favorites. I thought it was the cornerstone of the set, especially following a tightly executed "Napoleon Solo" at that. I think if I was fifteen or sixteen years old, I would have been disappointed with the set list, but now that I have experienced a larger palette of music to reflect back on, the set was an even mix of perfection. I screamed my lungs out to "Enfilade" and was amazed the guys pulled out "Non Zero Possibility" before "One Armed Scissor" in the mix.
Just last week I went on a These Arms Are Snakes kick. Now, back in the day I always loved the quick spastic hits and larger than life rockers the guys had to offer, but as I was shuffling through songs, I noticed my love in all the slow burners or enormous builds and swells the band offered in their time. It hit me on the afternoon drive to work flipping from "Tracing/Your Pearly Whites" and "Ethric Double" instead of "The Shit Sisters" to "The Blue Rose" that my tastes really had changed. The college years of indie pop and nights falling asleep to post-rock that came after discovering punk and hardcore in my youth evolved my tastes for the better and in that challenge, I grew into a better understanding of what punk rock really can be - defined past what history, elitist crust punks and the general media of "know-it-alls" that we all learned about the term from when we were naive. As At the Drive-In flawlessly strode through "Quarantined," it hit me how over traditional punk rock I truly was. While I thought I was going crazy with emotions of the show walking back to my car, I immediately called my friend, and he shared the same sentiments.
I wasn't crazy. I had grown up. I'm no longer a kid who is searching for what punk rock is or isn't. I've grown to see and experience what it can be and what it grows into as a term. It's not spin kicks. It's not crowd surfing. It's not seeing how many stage dives you can do to one Gorilla Biscuits song (though I would like to know who holds that record). It's not not selling out. The most punk rock thing any band can do, whether they succeed or fail, is to be themselves. That's what's really behind some of the most heralded records - a bunch of youth with nothing to lose and everything to try on their own terms. If that's the idea in the beginning, generally those same artists will continue to push that idea as their career moves on. You either recognize that, or you'll forever be stuck in the past. If you do get held back with mental expectations, you should know that special moments are created, but they are rarely ever re-created. The members of At the Drive-In have long moved on from something special they once gave to the music world who half ignored them, and as my friend said of the more toned down show Monday night: "At least they didn't come out and fake it."
I'm not writing this to tell you that At the Drive-In's reunion was a bust, because it wasn't whatsoever. If you have a ticket or a way to see this, go see it and sing your heart out. Just know that you're not seeing young musicians deconstructing a genre of music. You're going to see a band play their work better than it was ever recorded since recording and writing pieces of music well removed from their young career. Monday night I saw At the Drive-In play the set I believe they always wanted to play. They performed their songs the way they were intended from the moment they were pieced together, but never came into fruition because the musicians didn't have a decade of experience and practice at their craft behind them. There's a part of me that's disappointed I never got to see what some will deem as the "glory days," but there's a bigger part of me that's glad he saw a group of musicians perfect the chops they fought hard to at least bring attention to so long ago. Take that statement as you will, leave your expectations of the past at the venue door and enjoy the moment until the station is no longer operational once again.
When does one person exceed the rest of the unit that makes up a team or a band or a company? With the unfortunate loss of the genius that was Steve Jobs, will Apple just level off like a consistent plain when it comes to new technology - never overly exciting us, but always keeping us attentive? Why is there so much press about a back-up quarterback last week? Why do publications with niches outside sports care about Tim Tebow in the Big Apple? Regimes change like fantasy drafts most every year, CEOs will always step down or be forced out of companies and if you've been following Chiodos over the past few years - you're familiar with the fact that bands also rotate members here and there, it's nothing new and has been going on in the punk rock scene for years. In the hype of whether Craig Owens will or won't return to front the band with the departure of Brandon Bolmer, I begin to wonder what makes one person's abilities outweigh the rest, and on what grounds - theirs or our own?
The additions, subtractions and multiplications and plain divisions of bands past and present is nothing new to any of us. Sometimes it's as positive and understanding as family, work or school. Sometimes it's about girls and drugs and going to jail - you know, tabloid shit we seem to care about more than that of the music. But I guess that's really a fuel to the industry fire of their old "no bad publicity," right? Honestly, what doesn't kill you can sometimes make you stronger depending on how you feel about a certain band's style. Depending on what album and at what age you've discovered said band - the whole damn thing is relative anyway. I'm sure, somewhere out there, there are a collective of people who agree that Chiodos' last album, Illuminaudio, is the best. Then there's the set of fans who've been there since All's Well That Ends Well. Those fans have probably taken their convictions with them in hearing both D.R.U.G.S. and Chiodos' most recent line-up.
What truly makes a band their strongest thought? Is it one person, or the collective of individual talents, and where does the majority put their focus on? I guess that depends on what you're into. From an outside view, the majority tend to think it's the vocal and lyricist end. Kids will follow Anthony Green anywhere. Some (unfortunately) have done the same with Jonny Craig in his move to Emarosa and back with Dance Gavin Dance. Others gave Aaron Gillespie a chance with The Almost. What we tend to forget is that a different band is a DIFFERENT band. It contains different members whose summary parts are different from the whole that you're familiar with when comparing them to their other bands. It would be dumb to compare Narrows to Botch or These Arms Are Snakes. There's a significant difference between the fun of Lifetime and the force of Paint it Black or Kid Dynamite. D.R.U.G.S. won't ever be Chiodos or Matchbook Romance or From First to Last or any of its members' pasts.
I also understand the longing for the original group of artists who presented you with something you continue to deem as special among the rest. The creation of anything still follows a timeline and each move defines generations to come. What if Keith Morris stuck with Black Flag, would Henry Rollins be an icon and would Circle Jerks not be another great edition to early '80s hardcore? If it were not for Milo walking away from The Descendants for a bit, we would not have another great band like ALL. At some point people accepted the past, but there will always be those who lived those initial moments of "glory" who will never get over it. When we found out that Taking Back Sunday was getting back together with its original line-up, we began to stack all our expectations like a thick structure of fortified brick and stubbornness. It led some people to be disappointed that five guys didn't write the same album they wrote when they were teenagers, but instead wrote an album from who they had become. Where does the subjective fault lie, in the band or in our degree of never letting go of a moment that many of us have sort of grown out of, but some will never admit and others will forever deny.
The exciting thing about change-ups is the product without expectation. Expectation is something we somehow can't seem to shake as listeners and fans. Everyone from the casual listener to the most die-hard has such expectations based on the music that meant a revolution per minute to them in the past. What we have to remind ourselves is that by taking different talents and rearranging them, we are continuing to challenge ourselves and to test the waters of our own pallet of tastes. Sure, it's not going to work all the time, but there's a layer of subjectivity in even saying that as well. What doesn't work for you, may be the greatest thing to others. Maybe those people didn't like band X or Y like you did, but the collaboration of members from both into band Z is exciting to them.
I could go on a whole other tangent about the consistency of line-ups and how it's worked for some bands and how they've evolved nicely among the original line-up - but that's another 1200 words off the subject of change. We have to learn to look at each band and each collective as something new and take it with that grain of salt first, without the expectations of our past getting in the way. If the past somehow reshapes itself into a familiar form - then what? Well, we need to still take it as a clean palette. A person writing something in their bedroom with no expectation at 17-years-old is not the same one under years of personal growth, artistic growth - hopefully - or even the everyday wonders of life we all face as humans.
Hypothetically, if tomorrow, Craig Owens announces he's been writing new material for Chiodos and will rejoin the band. Record in four months. Early next year there will be a release. What if it comes out the success you so want to see? Happy, right? What if it doesn't click? What if there's a loose connection? Ask yourself why that may be - is it the music itself or the fact you'll never be able to let go of something you continue to hold onto in the past? My bet is that it's the latter. Even I've found myself guilty of that more than once.
In 1998, Refused released a record that would revolutionize the hardcore scene for some time. Some still herald it as some of the most revolutionary work since Fugazi, and others saw it as a rip-off of the United States' own Nation of Ulysses, releasing 13 Point Program to Destroy America in 1991. Whether one album and/or band is held higher on your elitist food chain, they're both important notches in the punk scene as a whole. Then there's At the Drive-In, known for their Fugazi work ethic and equally unhinged sound and insane live shows, they ended their career shortly after releasing one of punk rock and hardcore's opuses, Relationship of Command. It didn't destroy the workings of 3OneG or Revelation Records or even Ebullition, but at the same time it was on a spectrum all its own. It stood out like a sore thumb pushing the self destruct button and herald a revolution for all to wake up and attempt to just be creative while maintaining the aggression and political nature hardcore was built on. Like Refused shortly after the release of The Shape of Punk to Come, At the Drive-In called it a day after releasing a record that didn't just resonate throughout the punk rock community, it left a permanent mark on most bands wanting to create some sort of noise in the hardcore and post-hardcore scene alike.
Somewhat seen as two reunions that would never happen in a million years, Monday we were all floored by the fact that both bands would be reuniting, and that both bands would be playing this year's Coachella festival out in the dessert of California. The social networking feeds, our site and many other publications exploded with the news of this. Honestly, I think some people will be selling their property to go out to the festival just to see both of these bands reunite. It's understandable. Even Refused said it in their statement Monday night, "We never did "The shape of punk to come" justice back when it came out, too tangled up in petty internal bickering to really focus on the job. And suddenly there's this possibility to do it like it was intended. We wanna do it over, do it right. For the people who've kept the music alive through the years, but also for our own sakes."
That statement always makes me wonder about why bands even reunite. Money? Boredom? Settling old debt and differences amongst personal tension? Whatever it may be, most of us are happy that it happens. In the past three years I got to see The Get Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Jesus Lizard, HUM, Hot Snakes, Wire and Olivia Tremor Control. All of these bands I never got to see at their prime, and thankfully they pulled it off years after creating some of the most memorable music for the respective scenes to date. But even watching David Yow stage dive during the opening song of The Jesus Lizard's set will never compare to people seeing that band in the worst of club settings at their prime. Do you think seeing At the Drive In play in a fucking classroom will even compare to a sea of people watching the band on the main stage of one of the largest music festivals in the world? It just won't. To those people in the basement at Refused's last show - they witnessed something that any reunion at 10,000+ person event won't begin to recreate.
Now, I don't say the following things because I'm bitter or an elitist or know that I, in no way in hell, can afford to make it out to Coachella this year. I'm just trying to make a point that reunions will never compare to the actual experience of the moment we all long to have been a part of. Seeing Portugal. The Man five years ago with 100 people is something special to me. Seeing Pygmy Lush thrash around at a house show is probably the closest I will ever see pg.99. Seeing a kid rip Drew Speziale to the ground in the middle of a song the first time I saw Circle Takes the Square with 50 kids is indescribable. Unless you lived that moment - or was even that kid screaming back in Spezlale's face as he was gripping his shirt in angst and passion, pulling him off the stage - it's a moment like no other to be a part of something that real at a young age, or at the very least, in the same room witnessing it first hand when you're going "Oh fuck, what is this?" over and over again in the back of your mind.
I've been working on a book for three years now, interviewing a lot of my favorite bands about some of the best records that redefined the punk and hardcore scene of the late '90s and early millennium. One sort of unsaid point that lays across every interview I transcribe is that a lot of these bands either (a) were attempting something new for the hell of it or (b) creating something out of a disdain for what was going on in the scene at the time. That's a point that resonates all too well today. Want to know why the punk and hardcore community is getting bigger? Kids are tired of being lied to. No one can manufacture that moment and put it on a stage for a summer to call it the next best thing. The greatest things to come out of punk rock were generally more organic than you think they were. Kids are going to basement shows and intentionally seeking out new and exciting music. They feel close to it because they are close to it. While some will call what's happening now a bit of idol worship to peers of the Midwestern scene and angst Northeast screamo of the day, at least there are a few doing it justice at the moment.
Let us rejoice for today that we finally get to see something like this go down. But know that history never repeats itself often. I'm not denouncing any of these reunions, or any reunions that have or will ever happen. I'm just saying, if you're excited about a particular band (subjectivity be damned) and that band makes you rethink what you know about music thus far in your life - go see them. Buy their limited vinyl and with technology today, film and archive as much of it as possible. Have you seen the Fugazi documentary Instrument? I think those gymnasiums and those VFW halls would be way more packed if more kids knew then, what we know now. You never know who is going to churn out the next important history notch in punk rock - that's why this scene is so exciting to be a part of. Heed this: If you feel it, reach out and experience something 10,000+ people wish they were a part of a decade earlier.
The last three days have been quite interesting. On Tuesday, I finally was a proud owner of a copy of Botch's We Are the Romans on vinyl. An album - as I've been spinning in my car and at home on wax in the last couple of days - has stood the test of at least a decade of being not only relevant, but untouched. Listening to some of things going on in "Frequency Ass Bandits" not only still sound fresh, but it makes the entire metalcore scene look like a bigger joke than whatever that witchhouse fad was for a few months.
Yesterday, I finally sat down with Ben Weinman of The Dillinger Escape Plan to discuss Calculating Infinity and the scene for which he was a part of at one time for the book I'm "slowly" putting together. A lot of the bands that have already been interviewed have talked about being young, trying things for the sake of it and having influence in others. Weinman brought up something new to the conversation of the later '90s hardcore scene: attitude. It's not the attitude that we've come to know as make-up or a certain choreographed stage set-up, but more of an attitude to (a) do something different to turn heads and (b) never reaching for anything bigger than the bands that you looked up to that still had part-time to full-time jobs and played shows on the weekend. There was no agenda past that. The scene was constantly made up of kids who didn't fit in and formed bands and fed off their societal (ab)norms and the shitty regions and areas they grew up in.
We talked about the introduction of technology. Not just in playing music, but getting your music out there and being your own PR at times. Weinman certainly didn't discredit the new age of the digital medium, but we did talk about how it can ruin the mystique of things in way. Is the excitement lost in seeing a band when you watch x-number of live videos on YouTube? How good does your promo picture have to look to reach a certain demographic? Are there any questions as to how a record is made anymore because of countless studio videos being cock-teases and ruining a bit of the surprise in the slightest? Of course. The big one. Leaks.
Then there's the bit of afternoon news we got today. Two reunion shows for seminal hardcore band American Nightmare/Give Up the Ghost. Now, I'm not going to sit here and bullshit you that I'm a huge American Nightmare fan - but I do know who they are, I know their albums and I know why people will be trekking across the United States (possibly overseas) to see this band. The one important thing you must understand about American Nightmare is the sheer force that flows from Wes Eisold's lyrics through a band that was heavy without any sort of bullshit or gimmick. The band was part of a greater scene made up by many talented acts that surrounded them (and some that have continued to make music with a larger catalog and thriving legacy), but something has to be said about a band with only two proper full-lengths under their belt which has transferred a legacy into a technological "trend" not even thought of at the time of their inception/reception.
The life of a musician is not an easy one if you want to be something. You either die and are remembered only to do a few one-offs since you had to conform to society, you create a new band that's shun by your close-minded "core" fans, you make it big and slowdive around album three or four or you live so fast in becoming a trend that you end up barreling into a joke or "Why did I ever listen to that band?" heard from the thousands of fans you once had.
Sometimes you thrive. Last night I saw The Dillinger Escape Plan for the third time this year. Yet again they proved not only that they've earned the respect of the rest of the hardcore and metal community, but they also never give a half-assed show. Weinman said one of their first shows was to three people and if they play a show today to a thousand or those same three people - it would be the same thing. The Dillinger Escape Plan is one of the few bands that survived the small dream and crossed over into the bigger one of making it the career of music while holding the same integrity they've always showed.
Why do these albums, ten years plus later, sound like they've never aged? Why are all these bands that left a mark with one generation continuing to resonate years later with another? Is it because there are slumps that create times to go back and hear what influenced the best of the decade? Is it because people who really want to understand the nature of what they're listening to will yearn to know the history behind it? By knowing that history, does that mean that those surveyors of any genre (from hardcore to harsh noise to bluegrass and country) will be the necessary 1% needed to continue a good fight against 99% of the undying pop scene that continues to sprout up like mold in a new form every couple of years?
I think the thing we must all remember is this: We as consumers, listeners, concert attendees and even illegal downloaders are the ones that hold the most power when passing down the torch of what a minority of us will consider great music that may or may not have hit close to the masses. If you want the bands you admire to last (outside of any sort of internal strife) you have to continue to support them both financially and verbally - and what better time than using the new technology we have to do that.
A friend of mine once said that he's not much about seeing reunion shows. His favorite band is The Smiths, and he wouldn't pay to see that band now - ever! He said the time that the band existed and made an impact can't be recreated years later. As much as I'm stoked about seeing HUM, Cave In, Murder City Devils and Hot Snakes next weekend - my friend makes a point. There's nothing like the moment you're watching a great band blossom and play at their most buzzed about time in their career. Before you say, "I'm glad I get to catch them since I missed out years earlier," cherish the moment you see those artists at their truly brightest time in history. Cherish the fact that those moments you're a part of are few and far between these days.
Today's site news may be our biggest of the year thus far. For some us, it's a welcome home. It teeters on nostalgia in the wake of reunions from Something Corporate and last year's Get Up Kids stint. For others, some are weary of what this all means. While the idea of harboring memories in a bay of the past is great, is it outweighed by growth beyond the original product?
Honestly, this could all mean a few reunion shows and nothing more.
Then there's the argument of certain member songwriting and direction after certain roads were taken. There's the argument of who was in it for the job and who was in it for the craft. There's the argument for many things in this twisted web of member in's and out's. We can all go back and take quotes from articles and interviews and hold people to their words. In the end, are we not human, and change with the course of each day?
We have to remember that growth is an essential part of our psychology. What we felt a few years ago is different from what we feel about a situation only minutes before we make future decisions. Our actions shape our respective knowledge intakes, and we either learn to harbor grudges, or learn from our mistakes and faults and move to brighter terrain.
What we have in the end are memories though. We have the times that are forever burned in our long term. We also have the music that goes along with it. It's a powerful thing. A discussion I was in today brought up the question of "creativity versus power." What is more important, the structure a song takes on a scholarly level or the impact a song's blunt force has on any listener? As a critic (and one it seems people listen to?), I look at both ends. A record may be a positive hit because of its blunt message, or it could be a cryptic paradox outside any musical expectancy.
I'm not sure where I'm going with all of this at this point. Wait. I know - expectancy! We expect to be given that which we know and once felt as opposed to embracing a new confide - a new notch in the ladder we climb to the moon. We love what we know, and we hate what we quickly don't wish to understand. We're all guilty of this. Even when something looks familiar and comforting, it can take us for a turn because Father time has nested itself a new home in it. As someone who is ready to tell all his friends, I'm just trying to tell myself to take it as it comes.
I mean, come on, I thought Refused are fucking dead....