Just got back from a trek across town to see The Frames. Several people whose taste I tend to share had insisted that this was the best show I’d see all year, so I took their recommendation and went, sight unseen. Here’s what their record label has to say about them:
“You get spiky, nasty pop songs like ‘Fake’ and ‘Underglass’, with its dum-dum bassline worthy of Kim Deal. You get the seraphic boy soprano melodies of ‘Happy’ and ‘Sideways Down’ and the graphic 4am truth-or-dare drinking games of ‘Caution’. And you get epics like ‘Keepsake’, distinguished by the sort of sea change dynamics associated with Mogwai or the Dirty Three. In short, here’s a world where Spector collides with Steve Albini, Arvo Part with Sparklehorse, open-heart surgery songs that deal in love and hate, mourning and ambition, art and blood. “
Note the indie rock name-checking.
Before I go any further, let me say that The Frames sound exactly like a cross between Coldplay and The Dave Matthews Band. If you like those bands, you should make every effort to go see them and buy all their albums. You will love them. I’m not a fan of either of those bands, so I was less thrilled. Admittedly, I was already in a bad mood and I had pretty high expectations for the show. But if I’m going to wander around in the Tenderloin alone at night, where every time I pause to wait for the light to change a potential customer and/or pimp rolls up slowly to the curb, it had better be worth it.
I got there just as the main act was playing their first song, and the place was packed. The show was at the Great American Music Hall, a beautifully ornate venue right next door to one of the more popular strip clubs. The crowd was comprised entirely of what seemed like current and former UCSB students, must have been a long way for them to come for one show but there they were. It’s been a long time since I voluntarily spent an evening in the company of those who think Sting is deep, but I tried very hard to get in the spirit of things and have a good time. I drank a lot of beer, quickly, on an empty stomach. I nodded my head along with the beat. I probed the depths of my cold, dead, blackened heart for any semblance of tender warmth. Nope. I laughed along with the rest when they segued into Pink Floyd or Van Morrison (was it a joke? a tribute? I couldn’t tell) every other song, but the music just wasn’t doing it for me.
So it was with relief that I returned to my side of town, where the closest thing to a Marina girl are the art school grads who think Seven jeans and Dollhouse shoes set them apart. And then it hit me. I had gone to see that band because I thought they were a great-but-obscure band I’d never heard of. The real reason I’ve never heard of them is not because they’re obscure, it’s because they are popular. Popular bands do not penetrate into my world any longer, now that it centers on the internet. Our little online communities are not connected to any commercial channels, and pride themselves on the lack of Clear Channel influence. I don’t read music magazines except the occasional zine, I don’t watch MTV or VH1 or whatever channel is currently showing actual videos, I don’t listen to the radio except as online streaming media. And living in this neighborhood I’m surrounded by people who do the same. There isn’t even a mainstream movie theater here, just arthouse theaters. I’m not saying this to make any claims that I’m indier-than-thou, I’m just amazed at how disconnected from mainstream culture I’ve become, and how effortless it was.