A night of indie-rock bands from Chicago on April 25 in the 'Sco lead me to a musical revelation and, after talking to some other people about the show, it appears that their minds fell open to similar ideas.
This revelation was the concept that the way a band presents itself is almost as important as the sort of music they make. This is why labelling music and people is a really life-narrowing bad thing; if a group is dressed a certain way and is on a particular label, there is a specific draw group. For example, when someone hears the label name Equal Vision, they are conditioned to think, "Oh, nothing but Krishna hardcore," when in fact that is far too simple as Equal Vision spans past that with bands such as Shift.The walls are coming down, so expectations can give you some ideas, but they can also shatter in your face and make you look foolish. The three bands producing my revelation were 5ive Style, the Sea and Cake, and Tortoise, and although they are on indie labels (Thrill Jockey, Sub Pop) their appeal shoots out past just indie kids.
Take the first band to play, Chicago's 5ive Style. This band was a no-singing, all-wanking, avant-soul-funk band whose synths provided an at-times superfly crossover from a more jazzy sound and whose twist of bizarreness ensured them a spot on an indie-rock label. It was distorted funk with very keen tempo changes. It was repetitive in a rhythmic way, and like most funk, it was music very centered around a beat. But the point here is that if this band grew beards and sported some Guatamalan threads they could easily play on one of the stages at the H.O.R.D.E. festival. I bet even Phish kids would like this band. But because of the way the band packages and markets itself (the other bands they play with, drab thrift store-ish clothing, minor angst) they draw in more avant garde/indie rock crowds and they tend to get grouped into that certain catagory. This band had no wah-wah pedal but I think that was a major tease, and they should have. They passed and people danced, although a student said they made him feel edgy.
The Sea and Cake seemed to have hit the bottle a bit much before they went on stage and they continued to as they played. Their movements appeared in slow motion and they sounded as if someone clapped chalkboard erasers all around the band as they played. Their sound sort of lingered underneath the suffocating dust and haze. They had twangle jangle wankie-wank indie guitars, although one song had nice effects producing a sort of NASA Space Camp sound. Overall they had a very gentle sound musically and vocally except when lead singer Sam Prekop would sporadically weave in a Steve Tyler-esque roar which was superfluous, if not offensively distracting to say the least. These vocals were placed with care around long instrumental sections. Their set ended as one of the guitar players had too many guitar and amp problems, and they were sort of like "fuck it - let's go" and pretty much left things hanging, comparable to the end of most of their songs. A few days after the show I heard The Sea and Cake play on WOBC and the stuff sounded a lot better than the live stuff, which is odd because supposedly most of their recorded stuff is drawn from live stuff.
Tortoise fits into my original revelation. If these cats weren't on Thrill Jockey I could see the drum circle crowd representing to this band. They had xylophones, Jimbe and standard drums, synths and two basses, but no guitar. Beauty in music does count for something, and I will give them that they were sighable and the all-instrumental music had an almost mind-picture-like quality to it. Rhythms were engrossing in such a way that the songs did not have a strangling lulling quality, yet this is not a band to dance to; the music floats over you and all you can do is sway in a dream-like state.Voice samples in between songs were reviving and added to this bands "postrock" edge. This band was easy to listen to - their sound was light and encompassed a certain newness in combinations.
A fine experience for indie kids, hippies and everyone in between. And, this is why "labeling" of types of music and people is bad - this is a new age and the musical barriers are being broken.
Five Alive:5ive Style, an indie rock band from Chicago, played the 'Sco April 25 with the Sea and Cake and Tortoise, two other Chicago bands. All three bands showed their music had a wider appeal than just indie listeners, even though the audience was mostly the avant garde-indie crowd.
Copyright © 1996, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 124, Number 23; May 3, 1996
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