Continuing on a bit from last week’s introductory column, I’d like to start this time around with a comment from a friend over on ILX:
man at this point if I had to choose between a magic spell that got boomers to stfu about the beatles or people from my gen to stfu about loveless it’d be a real coin-flipper
And who could blame him? It was a comment prompted in part by a jokey mention of said MBV album and me following up on that; as I noted years back, it’s the album that’s the “cartoonish representation of myself,” the fallback.
But in part that’s why I wrote the article, to sum up my feelings and move on. Which is one of many reasons why I loved last night’s show in my neck of the woods by the amazing School of Seven Bells. This is the third time through I’ve seen the band in eighteen months, and each time the performance has been different in equally enjoyable ways. Last night’s variation was prompted by circumstance in part – Claudia Deheza was apparently under the weather so the performance was done as a trio – and in part by recent changes with the band overall (it was a trio because they’ve expanded to being a quartet due to their new drummer, who did a fantastic job).
Another friend, having seen a show by the band earlier in the year, commented afterwards:
They’ve tapped into a big vein of Something New, and for the first time ever a band has finally superseded all that nuGaze nonsense and used Loveless as a jumping off point into the unknown rather than as some sort of cosmic ideal to strive for.
Which is the real point of creation – that it is creation and not simply re-creation, an eternal tribute-band approach. Now I say this having a fondness for tribute bands in their own way – not the actual cover bands out there pretending they’re a famous group or performer all over again, I mean more the bands who love a sound to death and put out variations on it time and again. It’s a classic case of loving not too wisely but too well, to being so dedicated to the synthesis that another band or series of bands created by impulse and accident that these later acts can do nothing more but codify it, making it more of a straitjacket.
As my friend noted above, it’s more important to jump off, to surprise yourself and those who might be listening, to make that step beyond simple reverence. School of Seven Bells have already done that and if anything are stepping ever closer to being their own specific reference point for others, but the larger point is the one to dwell on – especially in the context of Claudia’s absence, given that the band could have just as easily decided to call it a night.
Reinvention, taking on a challenge out of the blue, responding to circumstances, going the road not travelled, call it what you like – if we did not, as creative artists and as individuals, find some way to make sure we were not always in our comfort zones, we could give in too easily to the temptation to remain there for the rest of our days. A canard, granted, but too often the response given out to this warning is macho nonsense, some sort of “be your inner caveman” foolishness dressed up in self-help garbage. The point is not to upend mindlessly but to expand thoughtfully, to incorporate and construct.
This then becomes that gift of the unexpected, that surprise that, if you’re lucky, is just as much of a revelation to the self as it is to the others who might encounter your work – and by work, that can be everything from the meal you make for someone to the debut of a new song before a worldwide audience or the step you take at your day job that helps clients and coworkers alike have a better time of it. The point lies in the protean nature of this gift you can both give and receive, that it is not solely applicable to one circumstance in one’s existence.
This brings me to another point of the previous evening – one of the opening acts, Active Child. One way I keep things fresh for me at shows is to not go and dig up everything about a band before I see them for the first time, if I’ve never heard from them before. Let them surprise me! So all I knew about them was that one guy played a harp, and that immediately made me think this would be some sort of Joanna Newsom-style approach (or perhaps Baby Dee).
But that’s the danger of stereotyping, of potentially shutting yourself off from the really unexpected. As it turns out, the duo had a fluid, never-quite-easily pinned down set drawing on everything from the soaring harmonies of a-ha and Alphaville’s synth rock melodrama to the overt nod to New Order vis-a-vis a surprising and excellent cover of “Ceremony” to, indeed, fragile harp parts over shuddering electronic beats. The point lies less in this collection of references I’ve just thrown out there – I could also mention Supercollider, early Butterfly Child, late ’80s 4AD – than it does in being surprised, allowing oneself to be surprised, and enjoying the work of a band or performer who doubtless surprised themselves a few times as they went.
Which is why I’m listening to their Curtis Lane EP right now and there’s a new T-shirt in my collection and I’ll be very intrigued to see what they (and School of Seven Bells as well!) do next. Not to mention wondering what will catch me off guard next – for that is a true gift.
I’m happy to hear from anyone about anything as it happens, and that includes music if you’d like some thoughts on what you’ve done. I can be busy at times though, so I ask your patience in general! Find me on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or just drop me an e-mail.