There are lots of exciting details preceding me stepping off of the Green Line at the Boylston stop, however I'll save those for future novels or simply live journal fodder. You should, however, be intrigued my life is a fabulous shabby chic whirlwind of travel, East Village one-room apartments, tent dining, East River urine, and two-stroke smoke. See, you are intrigued.
There was a steady stream of grrls in pants short enough to reveal the anklet socks that poked out from their converse shoes. The majority of these grrls climbed the stairs from the subway, winced at the dim twilight, and scanned the area for a club they'd never been to. The Roxy doesn't see much indie rock, and more importantly the indie rockers don't see much of the Roxy. However, The Roxy is a dance club, and The Faint is, without reason to pause, a dance band. Thus, the club is, without mistake, a better fit than any other in Boston besides the fact that it holds the 1200+ people expected to attend.
A little shop a half block before The Roxy sells pizza by the slice. For $3 you get a quarter of a large pizza. It's New York style, and very greasy. It's also, perhaps, the best buy in Boston. Later, panting in the club, I'd approach the bar for a simple cranberry juice. That would cost me $4. Definitely not one of Boston's better buys, but a steal compared to the ticket situation.
As the Roxy operates no box office, the $12 tickets to see The Faint could only be purchased through Ticket Master for $19. Sure, you could wait, hope the show didn't sell out, and buy them at the door, but few took the risk. When the doors opened, over 900 advance tickets had been sold earning Ticket Master more than any of the evening's bands. Something is terribly wrong with that.
At 7:30 we were a long line of trendy kids wrapping around the front of the club and continuing down the sidewalk. Those in large groups joked and danced in the drizzling rain. I, and the others who came alone, tried to sink into the side of the building and avoid getting damp. When it was our turn to enter the club (or rather the entertainment complex which houses several other posh establishments never before seen by us plebs), our bags were checked, and those over 21 were given a stamp stating exactly that. Another line brought me to the ticket counter where it was verified that I was on the guestlist, but there was no authorization for the promised photo pass. This meant my camera would be just one of the many held wildly above the crowd snapping hopeful photos of the lights and energy on stage.
Rich red carpets, hanging chandeliers, gilded mirrors and marble bars define the illusion of The Roxy, and at first glance the club appears to be a grand opera house. But this isn't the case; it's merely a modern disco for those willing to pay $15 at the door and promise not to wear jeans, hats, or sneakers. The carpets are stained with liquors and the marble is chipped and cigarette-stained. However, it's not the decay that defines the club, but rather the fantasy. The crowd drawn to The Roxy on this night seemed bemused by the décor, but definitely not impressed.
When Germany's Schneider TM walked on stage, the anticipatory portion of the club cheered, the interested moved towards the dance floor, and the rest remained seated in the through-the-looking-glass-proportioned chairs and booths encircling the club and its decadent balcony. At first I saw Schneider TM as three men in lab coats, but soon their collars gave the band away as pastry chefs. I'm not sure what this says about the band's dizzying electronic music, but hopefully I'm come up with some witty poignancy by the end of the next paragraph.
Although the first song, with its traditional arrangement, simple beats, constant guitar, and defining vocal work gave the initial impression of an updated Soup Dragons, the band's darker cuts provided redemption. Quick breaking beats and swirling bleeps often overpowered any melody the vocals could have contributed. In place of melody, a sheer density of noises serve as the focal point, defining the songs. Allowing this miscellany of noises and effects to dominate compositions places Schneider TM in sharp contrast to The Postal Service, Her Space Holiday and others in the American indie meets electronica movement. All of this, it should be noted, has nothing to do with pastry smocks or lab coats.
Quite paradoxically, the dizzying beats of Schneider TM inspired only the most reserved crowd movement. It was the organic rock surge of follower Les Savy Fav that was able to inspire the audience to dance. Taking a page from Gang of Four, Les Savy Fav mix their wiry guitar freak outs with bounding, danceable rhythms, and unconventionally funky bass lines. The "Intelligent Dance Music" of Schneider TM was too heady for the crowd; Les Savy Fav's music is primal. Dancing is often not voluntary at a Les Savy Fav show it's also not organized nor is it generally pretty.
When at a Les Savy Fav show, the audience is actually left with few decisions. Frontman Tim Harrington serves as the benevolent hypnotist guiding the audience through a range of suggested movements and emotions. His interaction with the audience, even in a large venue such as the Roxy, is astounding. Unrehearsed, props are snagged from audience members and soon cell phones or frog-shaped umbrellas are crucial elements of the show. A camera stolen from a photo-passed photographer soon became Harrington's obsession as he commanded the audience to pose, and give him everything they had. The spellbound audience obliged.
Of course while Harrington was clambering about the stage, pilfering from the audience the shiny baubles that momentarily owned his attention, his hoarse, shouted vocals ebbed in proximity to the oh-yeah-that microphone. The rest of the band was much more focused on the rock at hand, creating an uncomfortable juxtaposition. Surely the remainder of the band has come to terms with Harrington's meanderings, else every gig is merely their private Adventures in Babysitting only there are no cute kids, only a large, bearded, balding, shirtless man at the end of his twenties.
Guitarist Seth Jabour seemed particularly separated from the glorious fiasco of his vocalist's performance, staying nearly stationary, pulling at twisted chords and writhing in response to each jagged, quick-stop musical phrase. The rhythm section of bassist Syd Butler and drummer Harrison Hanyes carried the bounce and energy of the songs, and thus their fluidity and jive seemed much more complementary to the antics of the wound Harrington.
Whether the audience was responding to the theatrics of Harrington or the tight, astonishingly danceable flail of music created by the rest of the band didn't matter in the end. Les Savy Fav had satisfied its own jaded fans, and then converted the rest. Even in a club more appropriately described as a hall, Les Savy Fav proved they could own any audience. Could The Faint win them back?
When the members of The Faint stepped onto the dark stage, singer Todd Baechle was met with a fan's scream of "You're so sexy!" Immediately I was reminded of the similar cries of "Conan!" I hear emanating from my television at 12:30am most nights. This is the cry of a spectator trying to connect with something grand. There is a separation between entertainment consumer and entertainment creator. While this is obvious (oh how I hear the cries of "No shit Sherlock" raining down), in the case of The Faint, and specifically The Faint at The Roxy, it's entirely manufactured, maybe even imagined.
After the doors had opened, while the crowd was still filtering in, and before any band had played, the audience was being entertained by a green laser which wrote and re-wrote a teetering "The Faint" on the canvas that served as a backdrop for the stage. The cynical hipsters had already identified it as hokey and were beginning to formulate their scathing criticisms of a band sold-out barbs they'd undoubtedly share on the Lipstick and Cigarettes message board. As I stood debating the origin of this decades-old laser effect with pal Matt Rubin, I spied Todd Baechle milling through the club and decided to take the question to him. He, along with the rest of the band, is simply that approachable. And for the record, he wasn't a fan of the laser either the club, not the band, provided the effect.
So why is it that a man can walk the crowd unnoticed one moment, but when he walks onto stage an hour later he's barraged with Beatlemania-screams? Again, it's the illusion of rock created by flashing lights, high stages, extreme volumes, velvet chairs and decorative ironwork railings. It's disconcerting to see an audience create a rock star to witness an audience build the barriers between the band and themselves which they profess to detest, but secretly require in order to establish a concert as an event.
While I may have worried about Les Savy Fav performing their show on such a large stage, The Faint's show is perfectly suited to the flashing lights and multiple projectors of The Roxy. The audience packed forward such that any movement was virtually impossible. Some, whom professed dance skills earlier in the evening, were surely happy not to have to prove their boasts, but most of the crowd seemed quite irritated by the close quarters. Such a danceable band, playing in a dance club, and no one able to dance? The paradoxes only mounted.
The Faint's quick set was a blur of lights, sounds, and sweat. Without the ability to jot down the band's setlist, or notes of any type, what the band played was a blur of the first album, the (first) remix album, and the second album. While an upcoming remix album for Astralworks was mentioned, it was not exhibited; nor were previous mainstays such as OMD's "Enola Gay."
After the newly expanded five-piece (the band now includes fulltime members on guitar, bass, keyboards, drums/triggers, and vocals/keyboards) ended the short set with "Worked Up So Sexual" (featuring the still smocked members of Schneider TM), the lights went dark and the audience began its requisite chant. Quickly Todd Baechle returned to a dimly lit stage and performed a (mostly) unaccompanied song I probably should have recognized but didn't. Baechle's private return was then followed by several songs featuring the full quintet. And while the audience had called for the encore (who wouldn't after only five or six songs), the band never seemed to rekindle the fanaticism that marked the beginning of its set. Due to the frantic flashing of my camera, I was unable to gauge the cause of the audience's lack-luster response. When I was able to readdress this concern after the show with various fans, those who did express some disappointment each seemed to do so for their own singular reason.
When the final noisy explosion had died down, most of the band hurried off the stage and into a back hallway. Those who stayed to shutdown equipment were suddenly bathed in a white exposing light. This light of day (as it were) immediately transformed the sexy rockers into tired and dirty peers who would soon be packing up their own gear, loading it into their own van, returning home to a temporary job not unlike their audience's. Instead of embracing this newly exposed egalitarianism, the audience quickly turned their backs and headed out to the club. No one would shout "You're so sexy!" at a man bending down to remove patch cords from a sequencer. All of this leads to certain conclusions about the myth of The Faint.
While I initially didn't understand why an audience would build up a band only to complain when they perceived the band to play the part given to them, I later learned there are two separate, somewhat opposing, forces at work. The first, coming from the blasé indie rockers, and the second provided by spellbound concertgoers.
The first crowd was unified in their response to the show nearly every person interviewed proclaimed the band has gotten too big. Certainly calls of "sell out" plague any band willing to play a venue bigger than their own basement, or accept any payment for its art this is old news and status quo for the entire punk sub-culture. However, Indie Rock fans bring the snobbery of elitism to great new heights. Even a band true to its irreproachable morals (such as Fugazi or The Poster Children) can be discounted simply with a "too popular." These were the comments of fans who had come to the show with the knowledge the band had toured with No Doubt. Certainly the most hardcore of the discounting crowds couldn't be found within miles of the over-priced venue on Boston's theatre row. Nothing the band has done, or could do, could placate this crowd.
Thankfully, the band's second fan base could care less about such issues. In fact, this second demographic would be entirely out of place at the basement shows professedly preferred by the former. This crowd had come for a show of epic proportions. To them, the $19 ticket price was a non-issue compared to the money spent on past performances by The Cure and Moby. One audience member summed this demographic up by confessing, "I only like The Faint because they sound like Depeche Mode." While this audience may not be concerned with indie cred, they are obsessed with the image and experience. While most of this crowd only groused over the band's notoriously short sets, a few seemed disappointed in the show itself. Compared to the light shows of their other favourite bands (bands which haven't ridden with their own equipment, much less packed their own van, in years), The Faint wasn't an extravaganza for the senses at all. It's all a matter of perspective. Of expectation.
While I like to think I'm above the simple classifications of indie rock snobbery, I do find myself longing for the days when I could sit quietly on the side of the stage and take pictures of a pleasant crew of guys returning fun and exhibition to independent music. It seemed so fresh at the time. It seemed like an ideal that couldn't fail, and so I wanted every brand to embrace the performance aspect of their shows. Maybe I got what I wanted. Maybe I should be more careful what I wish for.