with The Red West
Webster Theater, Hartford, CT • February 15, 2004
Emo has become somewhat of an anathema over the years. The very mention of the word makes critics and indie snobs (who I suppose are one in the same) cringe. Emo. E-M-O. I agree, there is a considerable difference between Rites of Spring and the Get Up Kids, The Promise Ring and Saves the Day, Mineral and Dashboard Confessional. Doubtless, the mainstream, looking for the next big thing, has co-opted emo, chewed it up and vomited out something spurious. But emo is basically a word that is used all too often out of laziness. Someone like Will Oldham is just as emotionally wrought (albeit in a somewhat perverse way) as New Found Glory, but he is certainly not considered emo. Similarly, Dinosaur Jr. bears some sonic resemblance to Sunny Day Real Estate, but they are sure as hell not emo. The word is used so arbitrarily (as are the band’s I’ve just juxtaposed), and that’s what frustrates critics •- well, that and the stigma the word has come to signify. But, it’s not my intention to write a treatise on emo here; Christ, there’s already a book on the subject (Nothing Feels Good, Andy Greenwald) -• and, while the author presents a few cogent arguments (e.g. Jawbreaker is the Rosetta Stone of emo), his thesis becomes a bit flaccid when he contends that live journals and blogging have become the contemporary expression of emo.
All of this is to merely say that I recently attended my first “emo” show. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve seen Jawbreaker and Sunny Day Real Estate several times; but, that was long before the word emo was so ubiquitous •- at the time I had only heard the word associated with Falling Forward and Endpoint. The word’s connotations have since been altered forever, thanks largely to TRL and Allmusic.com •- but creating new fades is what keeps both of these outlets in business, after all. Needless to say, I approached going to see Something Corporate with an ironic detachment. If a bad experience was had, then oh well, it would only be time that cannot be retrieved — no big loss. If I enjoyed the performance, well, it would be in a purely ironic (“ha-ha”) way. Right?
The Red West opened, and they were, ahem, bad. And thus, again, I ask, “What’s the point of having an opening band if their sole function is to waste time, thereby deceiving the customer into believing that the $15 cover was money well spent?” I’m quite aware that the American way assumes that the more you get for your money, regardless of the quality, the better you’ll feel about yourself. So, instead of slandering The Red West — being cognizant that their presence during the hour prior to Something Corporate taking the stage wasn’t entirely their fault — I’ll merely suggest that they sounded like a bad Counting Crows cover band, their sound derived from all that was bad about mid-’90s alternative rock. Each song was as uninspired as the prior.
So what’s with the name, anyway? Something Corporate. Are they trying to be ironic, or just plain honest? Then again, is emo itself about being ironic or is it about being honest? I, personally, think both Something Corporate and emo occupy the interstitial space between irony and honesty. But what dumbfounded me more than the band’s name were the kids. Yes the kids; for I am almost certain that, at the mere age of 27, I was the oldest •- probably only -• adult in attendance. This, of course, excludes the three dozen or so parents who were corralled in the 21 plus section, with arms full of winter jackets and newly purchased Something Corporate ephemera. And, let me tell you that it was indeed interesting to watch those without wedding bands (some likely slipped quickly into pant pockets) partake in a mating ritual of their own.
Many of those who came without a parent chaperone had been waiting in the frigid New England air since one that afternoon, hoping to get a glimpse of the band as they exited their tour bus. I must pause to ask, “Where the hell do I sign up?” This whole emo thing has become almost as big as the Beatles. While this observation might be a little hyperbolic, many parallels exist: thousands of screaming girls (and boys), trite lyrics of love and innocent rebellion and music that is simple but somehow infinitely emotive. These kids knew ALL the words to EVERY song! I can’t even remember the words to my few favorite songs. It seemed as if the audience was performing for the band. What the hell is going on here?! The fourth wall has been utterly decimated. And, I thought that this phenomenon happened only in the dingiest basements, where scabrous punks furiously jump up and down to the cacophony of their comrades who have no sense of rhythm because punk ain’t really about having rhythm. To see it on such a grand scale, where Mohawks and leather have been replaced with neatly coifed hair and Abercrombie and Fitch rugby jerseys, was truly incomprehensible.
And the music… does that even matter in the emo world? Isn’t it supposedly more about the connection between the band and their fans? The music was the standard fare: melodic “punk” guitars with lots of hooks, quotidian lyrics about love, heartbreak and growing pains sung by a pretty boy with an even prettier voice and occasional swaths of piano to underline the more poignant moments. Does my description sound generic? Well so too were Something Corporate. But for some reason, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Don’t tell anyone, but I like Something Corporate. There is something inexplicable that sets them apart from all the other Hot Topic-manicured, emotionally tinged, so-called punk rock bands of late.
Most of the songs were culled from the band’s debut album, Leaving Through the Window. “21 and Invincible” has an irony that was beyond the comprehension of most of the fourteen year olds who sang along. “If You C Jordan” is a bitter kiss-off to high school. Yet, a significant percentage of those in attendance must’ve still been in middle school. Is this to imply that Something Corporate are cleverly mocking all those 14 year old girls in the front row? Though, I tend to doubt it, I would like to at least pretend so. And then there was “I Kissed a Drunk Girl.” Who the hell did that one go out to? The parents in the bar — all the dads macking the moms, inspired by the insipid, yet humorous, lyrics of this song? What this all suggests to me is that I can better relate to these guys than their thousands of screaming fans can. Scary thought? Hell yeah! Admittedly, the obligatory love songs, “As You Sleep” and “I Want to Save You,” are a bit too obtuse for this cynic. But the kids devoured them nonetheless, as they sang along with clenched fists pumping in the air •- as an exclamation mark to punctuate each verse.
Ted Leo told me that I should deny myself simple pleasure and hold out for loftier achievements. Conversely, Nick Hornby told me not to be a music snob, and instead like the music that moves you. Okay, so I’ve never actually had a direct conversation with either, rather what I just paraphrased I recently read somewhere. But, juxtaposing these two arguments about the viability of popular culture presents an interesting dichotomy. I fall somewhere in the middle. While being a music snob tends to get old, I don’t know if I’m ready to admit that I like a song or two off Dashboard Confessional’s The Places You’ve Come to Fear the Most, or that after writing off Kelly Rowland’s solo debut as utter dreck last year, I have come to enjoy a few of the tracks that I slammed •- hey, there are some incredible hooks on that record. I mean, isn’t music criticism all about credibility? And about assuming a better than thou attitude? What I’m trying to tip-toe around is that I saw Something Corporate, and they were pretty good •- and not in an ironic “ha-ha” way. If this compromises my credibility, well so be it.
Something Corporate: http://www.somethingcorporate.com/