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Tales from a Brave Ulysses

XXIX. "The Criteria of a Broken Social Scene: Rock versus Roll"

Two concerts on two nights, as two bands from two different communities work towards one common goal: Good music. Success. Make enough money so you can stop working the day job at the computer company or the law firm or the restaurant or the pet store or the advertising firm. Like-minded musicians crawling towards the goal have made a lot of noise in the music world. Saddle Creek; Arts & Crafts. Nebraska; Canada. Criteria; Broken Social Scene. How long can a mecca indie stay afloat before it churns out some shit?

There is music which rocks, and is satisfactory in its ability to make feet tap and block out the thoughts of typical worry. But then there is music which rocks AND rolls, which takes that affection Rocking has, and carries it beyond just the beat and feel. On two nights, I saw Saddle Creek Records' Criteria and Arts & Crafts' Broken Social Scene. One rocked the house, the other rolled with it.


Criteria

You start your night at home with a vodka martini and copy of the latest New York magazine. The Strokes are on the cover, and the novelist Jay McInerney wrote the article. You enjoyed his latest the book, The Good Life, supposedly about post-9/11 New York but more directly about two Manhattanites having an affair during a distressful time. You flip the pages shut and toss the magazine indiscriminately in a pile of belongings made mosty of laundry. Has it really been five years since Is This It? Crazy.

The show is starting late. You check the microwave clock. Is it fast again? Or slow? You check the radio clock. They're one minute apart. Close enough. You leave for the subway, another subway, you walk, you admire the view of the Manhattan skyline from the western side of Williamsburg, and you see that next door Philip Glass is playing piano, but you don't have a ticket. You enter the unsigned club. The doorman just inside comments on your vertical Washington State ID. You laugh politely.

Criteria isn't up for another few acts. Hi-Life is four dollars, coupled with PBR they're the only beers under five. You order one of each, and go look for something to lean against near the stage.

One of the brutal truths of the rock and roll world is that many very good and enjoyable bands get overlooked. Aberdeen City, for example, from Boston, rockers with an attitude of Music is fun before it's anything else. For someone like you, leaning against the side of a floor to ceiling post near stage right, holding the two cheapest beers and here actually to see the headliners, the Rock of a band like Aberdeen City is so, so sweet. You get into it, you move to the music, you make a note on the back of a receipt to look up their Myspace page later to hear their recordings. They Roll with it, unexpectedly, at moments of guitar and vocal harmony both surprising and delightful.

Then Criteria. The two guitarists have matching fancy guitars of a make you do not recognize. They look made of titanium instead of wood, and the band's attitude is that music is all "anything else" before it is fun.

Riff heavy rock coats the audience like a heavy drape being flung over our faces. It's not bad. It's not good. They are the irrelevant middle ground between their perpetually "on hiatus" labelmates Desaparecidos and Seattle's own, more progressive, Blood Brothers. Talented, yet not interesting. Rocking out, yet not affecting. Boredom consumes you. While the music is not bad, there is no reason to listen to it. The solitary affecting effect it has is to make you wish to go home and listen to the Blood Brothers' "Burn, Piano Island, Burn." Your feet stop tapping. You finish a beer. You order another with the next day's lunch money — you have nothing else to do, but you are not the kind of person to walk out in the middle of someone's set. When it's over, you bolt out into cold Brooklyn and walk towards the Manhattan skyline, fingerin g a receipt in your pocket.

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Saddle Creek Records and Arts & Crafts have both achieved status as hotbeds of independent music &3151 incestuous bands churning out side-projects and guest appearances with hip-hop-like regularity. But both labels as well have their "starting line-ups" of sort. The key band or bands that holds it all together. For Saddle Creek it's Bright Eyes, The Faint, and Cursive. For Arts & Crafts it's Broken Social Scene, which may as well also be the name of the record. Stars, Metric, Apostle of Hustle, and Feist all have some Louisiana bloodline connection.

What these "hotbeds" offer to new projects is an already established following. Jason Collett (one of many guitarists for Broken Social Scene, he just released an excellent solo record) played two shows recently in New York which were highly anticipated amongst the BSS loyal. Likewise, Criteria's anticlimactic show in Brooklyn had received a buzz as "the new Saddle Creek band."

Saddle Creek has a few years on Arts & Crafts when it comes to time in the scene. SC has released many more records and produced many more bands and projects. Their error is there is not much more "new" they can do, yet they continue to release. Son, Ambulance is a somewhat cleverly named yet somewhat unremarkable in every way artist whose two releases have passed as quietly as a falling leaf in a forest in an autumn windstorm, gliding by as part of the overall flow. And Criteria's release is Rock without the Roll. Their set in Brooklyn was Rock with no purpose, with nowhere to go.

Broken Social Scene

Broken Social Scene plays a few days after the Criteria Disappointment. At Webster Hall, a venue much larger, situated near Union Square in Manhattan, there are to be held three shows, three "An Evening with Broken Social Scene" dates appear alongside red "Sold Out!"'s on the Bowery Presents website.

You walk in and stand in the back near the bar. Experience tells you not to drink at the show, for the cheapest beers are 7 dollars, aside from the 5 dollar cans of Budweiser occasionally carried about the crowd as in the bleachers of a summer baseball game. You watch a collection of musicians — 16 people on stage at one point — play music that Rocks and Rolls into new territories. It is affecting, it is interesting, it is an art form. It transcends that glass wall between "enjoyable and fun" and reaches the "truly brilliant" category.

Live, you think, BSS is an entirely different phenomenon than on recorded disc. It is like a terrible catastrophe gone entirely right! As though getting horrible lost in the middle of the night, walking back alleys unrecognizable and averting gazes of men and women terrible in their facial intents, you somehow stumble and fall through a fourth-dimensional gateway into a paragon of bliss and contentedness and bright warm yellow light.

BSS that night was a combination of frontman Kevin Drew, producer Dave Newfeld, various multiinstrumentalists, a member of the Weakerthans, Apostle of Hustle, Emily from Metric, Feist herself, and so many other etceteras. A wonderful set that left everyone not happy or entertained, but affected. It is, you think, exiting the theater and looking for somewhere to buy a cheap beer before catching the subway home, the extraordinary difference between music that simply Rocks, and music that Rocks and Rolls.