Thursday, March 29, 2007

Geek rock

Mastodon is a metal band that I have been recently introduced to and fallen in love with. I am not, by any real measure, a metal fan, but Mastodon has really grabbed me. They're the kind of metal band that Pitchfork would rave about, even as they make fun of you, indie poseur, for wandering away from your precious Bright Eyes and Decemberists LPs (no, not CDs). How can you not love a band that writes hard-rock songs about Moby Dick?

So, of course, when I heard that they were playing in Portland, I had to go out immediately and buy tickets to the concert. (Don't let me lie to you like that -- it's not nice. My friend Eric (no, not Eric) heard about them, bought the tickets, and invited me along). Of course, four hours of driving on a worknight to see them at the Hawthorne in Portland was but a small price to pay in sacrifice to the rock gods (who hopefully shall soon be opening the Secret Underground Vault). Of course, the concert was amazing and well worth the trip.

I'd never been in a mosh pit before, which was more fun than I thought it would be. I was near the front of the audience (small venue for a Grammy-nominated band), and try as I might to stay on the outskirts, I was repeatedly pulled from my comfortable, horns-throwing position near the stage and shoved, thrown, and bruised until I was able to force my way out again (I'm still sore, three days later). There's a weird sense of etiquette, though -- people were getting punched and shoved and thrown around, but the moment somebody fell over or lost their shoe, everything ground to a halt as people helped them to their feet or they reclothed themselves. Also, a 250-pound, muscular, bald guy grabbed me by the shirt during the last song and proceeded to scream along with the song in my face. Good times, good times.

I also don't think I can imagine another concert whose audience consists of equal parts the lady at the left and the gentleman at the right. There was a continuous spectrum ranging from hipster to metalhead, with all possible variations in between represented. (For most of the concert, there was a tiny woman wearing a Ninja Turtles t-shirt immediately in front of me, and aforementioned bald, tattooed guy to my left). It was neat. Music uniting disjoint social subgroups. Kumbaya and shit. I also saw the cutest little metalhead ever, an eight year old boy who was apparently there on some sort of bonding expedition with his dad.

Should be an interesting contrast with the Decemberists concert I intend to attend in May.


  1. What's funny is that "hipster" and "indie" really aren't musical styles per se. I mean, there are certainly bands that are identifiable as "indie" but it's not like they have signature sounds like, say, "soul" or "blues."
    I think that it has much more to do with emphasizing attitude and abandonment of cliches (or at least trying to). The Decemberist aren't "indie" because they sing eight minute sea chanties- they're indie because they don't rhyme "baby" with "crazy." They do weird shit and have fun with it. They are secure in their "Decemberist-ness."
    Which is why, I think, many of the same people listen both to someone as ephemeral and strange and Joanna Newsome, and as hard and bizarre as Mastadon- They are both rock-influenced acts which are singular, cerebral, original, and interesting.
    It doesn't matter if someone sings long, harp laden songs of animal allegories (like Newsome) or Moby Dick inspired gutbusters (like Mastadon) or Japanese-folktale inspired multipart epics (like the Decemberists).
    What matters is the expansiveness and newness, the originality and the geeky verv. The music, in all cases, does not sound like it came from a major label production house- it carries with it the artist's own ideosyncracies and weirdness, quirks and oddities, thoughts and humor. When such things supplant empty platitudes puntuated by the word "baby," the hipster/indie/geek type salivates with anticipation of something weird and new- I know I do.

  2. "MOSH FOR WORLD PEACE" is almost as catchy as "Bong hits 4 Jesus", I think. You make the bumper stickers, I'll slap one on my car.

    You're right that "Indie" isn't a style, of course. I was just tickled to see this somewhat unique stylistic tendril of an example.

  3. Thank God for Questionable Content, or my understanding of indie music would be so limited! As it is, when I read "Mastadon" I had a frame of reference and everything. I felt so hip! Without QC I'd think Fallout Boy and The Strokes were "totally indie." I do have one issue with that strip and music: it introduced Pete to Mogwai. He likes them, I don't get it. And I don't usually notice when they're on. So every now and then we have a very moody ride home from work and I find myself waiting for the lyrics to start until dinnertime.

  4. I haven't actually heard Mogwai yet, although one of my coworkers really likes 'em. I'll take your post as a vote against, though (on the other hand, Pete does have pretty good taste in music...).

  5. Also have yet to check out Mogwai, but I might give them a listen.

    Jeph (the QC guy) does have excellent taste in music but I've got one big quibble: The man's got no sense of history- I swear that everything he references is from post 1990. I think it's a little odd that the man does a comic about hipsters and there's nary a Ramones t-shirt to be seen.

  6. Dude, he's proud of that! It's like his pride is his excuse (although he'd say explanation, I'm sure) for being completely uneducated, musically. He's like a home schooled kid whose parents felt comfortable with math, science and English, but couldn't be bothered with history or art, so they just left the radio on all the time and called it "music immersion." Hey, home schooling parents! You can use that one! On me! You're welcome!

  7. Awww... I remember my first mosh pit. It was so much smaller than what you describe, in what used to be the Wild Duck (it's a bank now... shame!). Back when I had hair down to my ass. That shot of gold schlager really helped the night along! Hehe.

  8. Aw shucks, now I'm blushing. Before you make any decisions based on my aural proclivities, though, I should point out that the thing I'm most enjoying listening to right now is the singing rabbit in that Skittles commercial.
    As far as Mogwai goes, I got Happy Songs For Happy People first, and initially found it a bit trite, but it grew on me and I like it a fair amount now. Don't expect Radioheadesque boundary-pushing as far as wacky key signatures, progressions etc. and have a thing for geetars (you may recall I seldom notice the meaning of the words in a song, when placed in the order in which they were sung). So I picked up Young Team, which is supposed to be first (or almost first, not sure) and best but I'm not as taken with it as HSFHP. Maybe I needs to listen to it a few more times. Anyway, good stuff for driving or xboxing or walking or makin' it with a robot.
    Also, is the title a Pumpkins reference? 'Cause that song rawks.

  9. No, the title wasn't a Pumpkins reference. I mean, I suppose I thought about the song when I wrote the title, but it wasn't an intentional reference or nothin'. But yes, that song rawks. It rawks hardcore.

    Thanks for the Mogwai pointers. I shall check'emout.