Sometimes it feels like the true spirit of rock and roll has been dead for quite some time, and the ritual of the ‘club rock show’ amounts to little more than an attempt to perform CPR on a corpse. Sure, the effort is inherently noble, but should we instead be putting our energy into new and exciting activities? If there isn’t anything left to be done, should we move on?
These were the questions that seemed to saturate the air at the Turf Club on another Friday night. Everything was in place. The parking lot was over-full, the bartenders were aloof and impatient. The merch table offered shirt designs with more promise than the music they advertised.
The night started with ‘The Opening Band.’ This one was called Meat Wave. Three rockers in black tee-shirts and jeans hitting their instruments as hard as they cold in fast 4/4 time and yelling into a microphone for half an hour. Perhaps their aim was as simple as the avoidance of day jobs. In that case, I suppose, their set was a success, but any aggression or catharsis they hoped to convey was undermined when they pleasantly thanked everyone for coming out.
After that, the pendulum shifted the other way. If the bland, uninspired hard croon of Meat Wave left the audience hoping for something more interesting, then Montreal band Duchess Says was the monkey’s paw granting of that wish. After a Radiohead inspired intro that fell flat, the members ambled on stage. Then the band managed to successfully creep everyone out.
Imagine if the weirdest girl at the party was given everyone’s undivided attention for 45 minutes and she found the confidence to explain all the awful things going on in her head. You know this girl, the one with the crazy eyes. Her style was a cross between Tiffany, a red fire ant, and the insecure middle child born into a family of overly committed Renaissance Fair sorcerers.
She rode on an audience member’s shoulders before passing out picket signs that declared “No Parking.” She tried to motivate the stunned crowd out of atrophy by shouting staccato gibberish into the microphone. She was loud enough to prompt one of her bandmates to ask for “less vocal in this monitor.” Her overly-aggressive, postured standoff with the stiff Minnesota crowd gave everyone, for good or ill, something to think about on the ride home.
In the audience, all the usual players were present and accounted for. There was the stocky hipster girl with her crochet bag and leather jacket, giving hugs to the Turf Club employees. There were overdressed tourists, simply looking for a fun night out. There were groups of awkward dudes who pre-gamed enough to forget all standing crowd etiquette.
And, of course, there were the genuine fans of Hot Snakes, an indie rock band that truly deserves, if not another ride around the block, at least another spin on the turntable. They have been out of commission for a while after releasing three albums in six years during the early 2000s. Fittingly, their last effort before disbanding in 2006 was a song for a Tony Hawk video game. They have a new album, Jerico Sirens, being released this week that will update their inclusion in a scene that still feels their influence.
As they prepared for their set, Hot Snakes quietly asked for the lights to be turned up just a bit, you know, so they could see. Lead singer Rick Froberg has lost a little of the attack in his vocals, but still rocks it out. I heard one audience member comment that Froberg looked like “a homeless Dana Carvey, you know, Garth from Wayne’s World.” Mean, but not inaccurate.
Guitarist John Reis, who has been running Swami Records in the years since Hot Snakes, is still enthusiastic. He and Froberg have contributed heavily to the post-hardcore movement, both musically and behind the scenes. He is jovial and self-aware, his stage presence akin to a sweaty, poor-man’s Huey Lewis. Likewise, the rhythm section was competent and energetic as they drove the chord changes and locomotive tempos of their youth.
Even if they are a bit worse for wear, Hot Snakes are still a good band. They are loud, simple in execution, but with just enough bite to leave a mark. Again though, the question begs asking, are they still necessary? In an art form that has always thrived on innovation and rebellion, is there any place for nostalgia or the concept of ‘getting the band back together?’ Wasn’t the Blues Brother’s ‘mission from God’ wrapped in a doomed ideology? Has rock and roll become pigeonholed, riddled with standards and expectations, the sort of elite institution it was exposing and rebelling against in the first place?
The answer is: I don’t know. If everyone was having a good time, then the night was worth the effort; and a band with such a clear and sure voice should always have a seat at the table.
Oh yeah, there is also one other element at the show I failed to mention: the jaded, cynical rock critic, contributing little save savage judgment, hoping for the world to show him a story that hasn’t been written and venting his own internal frustration when he fails to see it.
Scott Bryan is a writer and adventurer. He has penned the books This Book Will Make You Go Crazy and Yellowville as well as the script for the independent feature film, Drunk. Now he goes to shows and runs the website getitawayfromme.com.