The Children are our Future, and I Fear For It
On Friday night, in what I thought
was a lame attempt to prove that we're not
lame(1), Girlygirl and I went to the Black Cat nightclub for their 12th anniversary show. Debbie (of Blame It On Debbie Lee, our erstwhile kids' band) had told us that one of the bands was really good, and we wanted to have a little change on Friday night (and we don't have any kids) so we took off downtown to apply a new coat of punk rock paint to our otherwise well-worn and faded hipster exteriors.
We went downtown early, figuring we'd get something to eat in town before the show--the neighborhood near the Black Cat has changed so much since we used to go there that there were actually more than two choices (Polly's and Ben's Chili Bowl back in the day) for us. We chose wrong, of course, selecting some posh-looking Mexican joint (I forget the name--Alero? That's a car, isn't it? Something like that, anyway) right outside the Metro. The food was totally disappointing, and since it was on the high end of two dollar signs, a terrible value. When we sat down, we looked at the menu and remarked how back in the day, a pitcher of margaritas at El Tamarindo (a 24-hour, or nearly so, dive/Salvadoran(2) restaurant, host of many late night feeds) was like $10 or something, and at this new place, they were at least $30, and pretty small too. Turns out that even if you skip the margaritas you'll be wishing for El Tamarindo too. Not only could we have had our meal for about half the price, maybe less, it would have been at least as good.(1)Abe Simpson: "I used to be with it, but then they changed what "it" was. Now, what I'm with isn't it, and what's "it" seems weird and scary to me."
(2)In the DC area, almost everything that claims to be Mexican food is actually more Salvadoran. Girlygirl thinks this is a vast improvement, but I think I like true Mexican better. Salvadoran works, though, and it's dead cheap most of the time.
After getting off on the wrong foot with dinner, we figured we couldn't do too badly with the rock show. I mean come on, we had a good recommendation already for one of the bands, and it's the 12th Anniversary show--for sure they'd be putting on top-notch local acts. We got there, got our hands stamped (ah, nostalgia--except it turns out that the new ink is totally easy to wash off. No more going to work days later with a blue smudge still on the back of your hand) and went on up to the big room for the show. Because we were on time, the place was pretty empty, so we sat down at the bar and had a beer, and steeled ourselves for the inevitable realization that we were old enough to be the parents of every band (and audience) member. The bartender was the same guy who's always worked there, so things were definitely looking up.
Until the bands started. To be brief, I've never heard such a load of unlistenable crap in all my life--and I've played numerous triple-bills at the Grog and Tankard (whose criterion for hiring bands seemed to be whether or not you could get your gear to the venue). We didn't even make it to the last band, even though the second-to-last band was at least competent. Maybe we should have stayed, since the show did follow the bad-to-good progression you expect, though in this case I suspect "good" would have been replaced with merely "didn't make me throw up in my mouth." Since the last band would undoubtedly been a merciful icepick in the ear, it didn't seem worth staying. We could do that at home.
We knew something was up when some guy walked onto the stage all covered in duct tape. He had all kinds of little boxes and stuff taped to himself, including some kind of screen on his chest. He picked up his bass, and some other guy came on and stood behind a table full of guitar effects pedals, tweaking knobs. For a while, there was just the predictable feedback and other awks and brrrks you'd expect from someone trying to get all their gear plugged in while being too stupid to put the amps on standby. After about five minutes of this, we realized this was
the "music." You've gotta be fucking kidding me. Shortly, added to the mix was another guy--I never even saw him come on stage--who was kneeling by one of the monitors, and banging on a length of pipe hanging from a mic stand, then twiddling knobs on what I have to assume were more effect pedals. Then came the drummers. Not one, but two. They proceeded to bash away, the bass "player" continued to hit one note at random every once in a while and then fiddle with his lights and knobs and chest-mounted touchscreen, the pipe guy periodically wiggled the pipe or hit it with something, and then knelt back out of site for more twiddling, and the table guy, well, he "played" the table full of pedals. It got louder and louder, but never more intentional-sounding, and then it ended. It was SO not music.
I don't know if you know how hard it is to find a drummer when you have a band. Let me tell you it's tough. These fuckers had TWO, for their shitty band that didn't even need a second guy after the duct tape robot bass player.
The next band, well, they were pretty much the same. All I need to tell you is that their guitar "player" knelt on the floor or sat on a very low chair the whole time (sound familiar) and that two of the members of the "band" seemed to be preoccupied with a laptop. More electronic noise, punctuated at one point by human screams emanating either from the laptop or the audience (it was hard to tell).
The third band at least had singing and actual music, though there was plenty of pointless electronic noise. These guys, well, I sort of got it. I didn't like a much of it, but at least it was music (though if they'd have scrapped 90 percent of the electronic feedback and delay-repeat stuff it would have been 100 percent better). Hey--punk rock ain't pretty sometimes. Much slack was cut for them, since they'd at least interacted with the audience once or twice, and they had more than one "song." I didn't like it, but it was an effort, and I think I got most of what they were trying to do.
Where does this shit come from? It's impossibly self-indulgent. It required no skill or talent whatsoever (except from the drummers, and for shame--they should be in real bands that play music and need drummers). It sounds like what kids who have money for gear but no talent or motivation to learn to play them might do. "Hey, these pedals make weird noises. Let's plug them all into each other!" When the first band started, we were joking that maybe this is what the kids are doing these days. By the end of the third band, I became sure that this IS was the kids are doing these days, and I was embarrassed for them.
The fourth band? This was the "they're great" Eyes of the Killer Robot (great name), much hyped by Debbie. Since I know Debbie isn't on crack, I'll have to assume they were having a bad night. A really
bad night. Like such an impossibly bad night as might be caused by, oh, maybe your entire town being flooded. With battery acid.
I had a pretty heavy sense of foreboding when what passed for a drum kit was a bass tom, a snare and a cymbal. Pretty "Stray Cats" I guess, but the floor tom was a dead giveaway that their drummer would suck (using the floor tom instead of the kick drum is the last refuge of non-drummers who are trying to hold a beat). When the rest of the band showed up on stage and no bass was to be seen, I nearly cracked. Shattering was complete when I realized that one of the guitar players and the singer (who looked to be sisters) were both simulating smoking. I like to call it "mouth smoking," where the smoke never gets past the mouth, and they can burn through a pack an hour. I can't think of anything stupider than paying five bucks a pack for tobacco flavored incense and breath "freshener."
So anyway, they sucked. No electronic noise, but terrible amp sounds, like broken glass pushed into my inner ear, and abominable tuneless singing for abominable tuneless songs. Hey, bring back the guys who made the noised of robot indigestion--at least their drummer was good! I'll give them some props for actually trying to write songs and play music. They failed, but they tried.
The last band played proper instruments properly, spoke to the crowd (such as it was) and played three punk rock covers. They were all about my age, pushing 40, or at least appeared to be. They even managed to smoke right.
But by this point I was so beaten down by the terribleness of the bands, my amazement that the mighty Black Cat would choose to celebrate its existence by proving that maybe it shouldn't exist anymore if this is what kids are doing "musically" these days, my continuing mental picture of my eight dollar entry fee as a single bill with wings on it, flying uselessly away, and my intense desire to not be in the presence of one more shitty band, that we left before the last band and caught the Metro home. Sober (this, plus the fact that we were going home early enough to catch the Metro, was as embarassing as having been fleeced out of $8 by Dante, owner of the club).
So what did we take away from the show? We now know why punk rock is asleep at the wheel during this fascist reich we are enduring (it can't play, and thinks it should get a show anyway). We now know that we could probably get a show at the Black Cat with just our 10-minute kids' set, standards being what they are. And we now know that things haven't changed all that much--we can go out to a rock show anytime we want and rag on the shitty bands. Just like we used to.