The lights dimmed, a voice began to sing, and then a dainty dental dish was set before the scene: while three of the members of "Awesome" performed the opening dirge, the rest came onstage as pallbearers carrying a small, smashed guitar that was swung like a censer and coffin-shaped light box covered in tooth x-rays, both glowing softly in the darkened theater. Then the coffin was placed in the front as a visual reminder of the reason we were all gathered that evening: a "Funeral for Indie Rock."
During the first half of the show, music numbers were interspersed with acting sketches involving some of or the entire band. My favorite had the lead singer miming to a verbalized internal monologue that was happening during and after a funeral, with the rest of his band mates acting out mental jabs and torments as he spiraled down into an abyss of insomnia and nightmares.
The theme of the night, "Funeral for Indie Rock," drew a local guest artist for the performances last weekend. "Awesome" has a history of working with Harvey Danger's Sean Nelson on various projects, and they asked him to help with such somber task. Every time Nelson introduced the band's Mailbag, a short skit akin to the Peewee Herman show's mail time, "Awesome" broke out in a kitschy, fast-paced squirrely little orchestral ditty involving the whole band singing/shouting "Mailbag, mailbag, mail mail mail mail mailbag!" The fan letters in the mailbag sketch were used to introduce the next number in the musical. Sean Nelson wasn't just a post man, though. He also broke out a several-page eulogy for indie rock, which read as if it had been his best friend and like it was written by someone who had actually paid attention to the hey days of indie rock.
Interestingly, in the eulogy one of the many reasons attributed to the death of indie rock was music blogs. Part of the indie rock craze was defined by a certain quality of elitism, of being snug in the knowledge that you knew about a band that nobody else did; the eulogy declaimed that music blogs democratized indie rock by bringing it all, big and small, to their readers.
One of the best numbers that combined acting and music in this performance was an iPod-like obituary chant, where recorded indie rock band deaths were spewed out in a mono-toned note to make an uncanny harmony not unlike something you'd hear at St. Mark's Complin service. What made it comedic? The obituaries ran something along the lines of "This is for the death of The Shins, who fell off a bulkhead and smashed their head underneath the spinning tires of a bouncing baby carriage" (not a direct quote, but you get the idea). While each obituary chant activated, a band member would raise the iPod playing the obituary up and down, acting like automatronic levers in a slowly dying machine.
In the later half of the show, "Awesome" did a live soundtrack to their music video of "What They Do:".
Sean Nelson came back out and did his own musical tribute to the death of indie rock, introducing the second song with the intriguing line, "I am probably the only one in the room who makes a connection between indie rock and The Monkees…" Nelson proceeded to dust off Porpoise Song with "Awesome" members singing "Goodbye, goodbye, goodbyeeeeeee" in those beautiful harmonics that they always seem to pull off so seamlessly.
Overall, "Awesome's" musical was a bit like watching an improv comedy show with a theme. Throughout the night, each band member tossed off gallows-humor advertisements to a sponser, Bonney Watson Funeral Services. Some of the sketches and songs were related to the indie rock funeral theme. Other songs simply displayed "Awesome" as a multi-talented group, with genre- and label-defying music that only proves how very much alive indie rock is, in niche bands like theirs.