Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Sad State of The Awesome Rock in My Hometown

So I discovered the other day though facebook that Stars are playing Club One in St John's this November. The venue is a spacious club that can fit several hundred people comfortably, and the show should be pretty awesome. Club One has become the main venue in St John's that hosts Canadian indie artists who are reasonably mainstream in Canada, but without the appeal in America outside the Pitchfork set to have really hit the big time, and without the appeal to people over 35 to play the larger concert arenas like the city's money-hemorrhaging white elephant, Mile One Stadium.

Two previous acts I saw at Mile One over the year before I left Newfoundland were Metric and Buck 65. None of the city's local rappers are really good enough to open for Buck. The closest the St John's rap scene has no genuine talent that could break beyond generic hip hop stereotypes other than the novelty act Gazeebow Unit.

Anyway, the local rock band opening up for Stars is the same one that opened for Metric: Hey Rosetta. They have quite a fan following in St John's, and probably an equal number of people who find their music treacly, saccharine, and derivative. You can probably tell that I'm in this latter group. Think Coldplay, only much whinier, and they have yet to write a song whose lyrics are not pathetically over-clichéd.

I got to thinking that this is perhaps all that Newfoundland bands will ever be able to accomplish: opening up for the bigger Canadian bands that play here. It's easy to survive as a working band making good quality music when you can play shows at dozens of popular venues within a hour's drive of your home base. Toronto, Montréal, and Halifax are all hubs of this kind. But St John's, despite the dreams of Danny Williams to make the island a global transportation hub, is just not conducive to musical success. The population of the island is small, and St John's is the only city within convenient driving distance of anything that has reasonable venues to play, even just considering bars with stages.

Assorted bits of Mark Bragg, playing the Ship, of course.

If a band stays in St John's, it won't take long before they just end up playing to the same fairly small group of people over and over again. This happens to Mark Bragg, who always plays to the same crowd of people at the Ship. It happens to the punk bands who always play to the same crowd of people at Distortion. The Satans and the other crust bands hardly ever leave Turner's Tavern anymore. And if they don't leave town, the Gramercy Riffs and their associated acts Texas Chainsaw and The Late Greats are always going to play to the same crowds of people at CBTGs and the Ship. This even though Gramercy is probably the best band in St John's I've heard since the Discounts in their prime in my entire ten years of living in St John's and going to shows there.

The bands in my hometown have the potential to become gigantic in Canada. I'd say Gramercy has the potential for success on the scale of Arcade Fire. When you live in Montréal, Toronto, or Halifax, it's easy to pile into a van and take a day trip to another city to play a show for people who have never heard you before. But when you live in St John's, going on tour on the mainland is a huge event and a huge investment. Most bands can't afford to do it more than once a year. The rest of the time, they work their terrible day jobs, and play to the same hundred or so people every week. Then they'll eventually get tired of this repetitive grind, and wonder why they aren't as successful as the bands they admire, even though they are just as good as these bands. So they'll split up, and play a reunion show in ten years when they're middle class and suburban with a pile of kids, that all their old fans will nostalgically love. And everyone will wonder why they weren't more successful when they were so good. And everyone will love Newfoundland so much that they will never say that it's because they never left Newfoundland, so no one ever heard them outside St John's.

Potatobug was a brilliant old rock band that gained a huge following in St John's in the early 1990s, who had a reunion show at the start of August. They played the type of music that actually could have brought them pretty far in the rock music scene of Canada. But they stayed in Newfoundland. So the best they ever got was a big following in the city and good turnout for their reunion show at Distortion. And bands that stay in Newfoundland as their home base are always going to have this as the apogee of their musical career. That other very awesome St John's band, the Discounts, had a reunion show this summer too that was the climax of their career.

Isolation kills ambition.
Now some awesome news! This link takes you to the first new song to be released from TV on the Radio's upcoming album Dear Science, called "Dancing Choose." Get over the fact that the song title is a really hideous pun, play it, and rock out. The first few comments on the song are fairly negative, and I am slightly hesitant about Tunde Adebimpe rapping instead of singing, as his singing voice is utterly astounding. But I think this song is alright, and bodes well for the album. Maybe not as good as Cookie Mountain, but certainly good quality, I hope.

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