Monday June 30th, 2003 at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA
Jets to Brazil, Retisonic, & The Love Scene

Jets to Brazil Jets to Brazil Retisonic The Love Scene [more]

I’m not actually a Jets to Brazil fan. I mean I was, but only because I had to be. Everyone had to be. Jets to Brazil and Burning Airlines right? We had to love them; we had to celebrate the rebirth of our culture’s icons. It was like some triumph of the independent culture over the major labels. Like a satisfied parent, we supported our children after their failed experiments on major labels and the culture “out there.” “That’ll teach you,” we all secretly thought. And we so smugly purchased our tickets to see Jets to Brazil and listened passively to the debut album.

Now, that has all faded into history. I hear the band has even generated fans on their own merit. I, however, have a very long memory and I added this show to my calendar on the same autopilot that inspired me five years ago. I continue to celebrate Jets to Brazil; however, at the same time, I’m certain the second album sits on my shelf unheard.

A different sort of unconscious support manifests itself when I think of opening bands. It’s the same ideology that requires me to always root for the underdog I suppose. I spent a good deal of the late 80s walking the parking lot outside VFW halls, begging kids to come inside early and check out my opening band. Most would eventually amble in, but no one was ever really interested. As a result, I never miss an opening band, always stand up front, and my support, at least outwardly, is generally unwavering.

Its decades later and the story only repeats as opener The Love Scene works to capture the attention of an audience that is only interested in the headliner. I, of course, stood up front, camera in hand. The Love Scene delivers that loose blending of indie rock and Americana that was hinted at by Graham Parker and handfuls of bands with names we never learned. The Mekons later gifted it to our underground culture before Chamberlain ultimately packaged it for indie rock consumption. While often misguided, comparisons are entirely in order with the The Love Scene’s deliberate revivalism. And, if searching, The Love Scene’s New Jersey roots may allude to the serious intensity of THE famous Garden Stater. However, any New Jersey connection is flawed as the gripping emotion and obvious directness of Springsteen is never communicated in The Love Scene’s music.

In fact, since hindsight comparisons are in order, vocalist/guitarist John Herguth is most reminiscent of Jim Morrison. Herguth’s eyes are generally shut as he tilts his head back and cocks it toward his right shoulder, allowing the microphone to guard his charismatic face. His long, wavy tresses hide what the microphone does not conceal. With soft, serpentine motions he hypnotically guides his guitar and body close to the microphone stand. There is a poetry to his motion, and while that doesn’t allow him a direct connection with his audience, his aloof nature is still compelling.

Herguth’s voice is full and enveloping, and, along with the accomplished guitar (a tasteful Exile on Mainstreet era Mick Taylor) of Mike Strallow, create a powerful image. While the band as a whole was pleasant, the intimate duo of Herguth on acoustic guitar accompanied by Strallow on slide guitar made a much stronger impact. I imagine this duo is similar to Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush – stark, lonely, haunting, and overwhelmingly raw.

Although the band already has a few years under its belt and has just released a new EP for Boston’s Fenway Recordings, listeners might want to give the band more time to refine its sound and to discover its songcraft. The band may have similarities to many greats now, but its material just can’t climb out of the shadows of its influences.

The evening’s lineup then shifted from a band owing much to the early 70s to a band comprised of players owed by the mid 90s. At that time there was a post-hardcore meltdown where suddenly dozens of bands of note turned into hundreds. Emo was born, and what was once a manageable scene that allowed good bands to rise to the top became a tangled, over-populated mess. For the first time, marketing and advertising (and worse) were required to bring great bands to a national stage. In that climate, handfuls of bands released great albums that were lost in the shuffle, and subsequently broke up. Two such bands were Bluetip and Garden Variety. Although today the climate is still similarly confusing (if not simply dismissible), the forgotten are trying again. Enter Retisonic consisting of Bluetips’s guitarist Jason Farrell, Garden Variety’s drummer Joe Gorelick and bassist Jim Kimball (from J Majesty and others).

While appropriately placing the players’ histories is important, it's much more vital to set the band in the current scene. It’s paramount that players this good receive all the accolades due to them. While other bands in the surrounding genres have looked to infuse their hardcore roots with elements of pop and rock, Retisonic seems content to build their post-hardcore daggers from tools we’ve seen before. For a band to stand out without inventing something new is difficult; this can only be done by doing it better than everyone else. Retisonic succeeds on that front.

Jason Farrell’s guitar lines are alternatively jagged and buzzinatelain. He stops short, lunges forward and then repeats the pattern until you think you know what’s coming next. Expectedly, his guitar charges are accompanied by physical ones that send him flying across the stage. His vocals are expelled into the microphone, then he quickly falls back towards his amplifier. Without hyperbole, I’ve never seen a player more at home with the physicality of his guitar. Even with his large hollowbody guitar (a vintage Gibson Trini Lopez Standard), Farrell was able to move effortlessly, his guitar seemingly attached to his thigh, as if an extension of his own body.

While it would be hard for any event to steal focus from Farrell, the drumming of Joe Gorelick manages. Gorelick is a busy drummer whose playing often forsakes a song’s rhythm in an effort to provide tension or release. These tangents require bassist Jim Kimball to play a traditional role supporting the other players. However, rather than playing simple runs consisting of notes whole steps from one another, Kimball’s fingers run up and down the fretboard in an effort to backup the ever-shifting Farrell. The result is perfection – an interesting delivery in the very tired post-hardcore genre. Place this band on its pedestal right next to Les Savy Fav.

Although Retisonic presented a jaw-dropping set, the audience stood unimpressed. Anything that was not headliner Jets to Brazil was sure to receive low marks for simply delaying the expected release of endorphins. I’ve seen this before from a fan at a John Vanderslice show who bashfully admitted he had booed Vanderslice when MK Ultra opened for Sunny Day Real Estate just a year previous. Although there was no booing, I do expect similar recant from future Retisonic fans next year.

The audience was, however, primed for only one man – a man whom they, evidentially, needed to see up close. For while an overzealous stage crew prepared for Jets to Brazil, my comfy vantage point at the front of the stage began to shrink. By the time the band played the first note I was packed shoulder to shoulder with a mass of expectant fans – all of us trapped in a very hot basement with cooling water 20 unreachable feet away.

While it was evident the fans were there to see Blake Schwarzenbach, they weren’t necessarily there to see Jets to Brazil. It was shouts for Jawbreaker songs that actually welcomed the band onto the stage. Although it’s been years since Schwarzenbach led that seminal band, its ghost manifested itself throughout the show.

It first appeared quietly as “Jawbreaker” sharpie-scrawled onto the mailbags and satchels of young kids with reluctant Xs on their hands. Soon it grew louder as the older, beer-fortified fans shouted for Jawbreaker songs throughout the set. While the members of Jets to Brazil are obviously accustomed to this behavior, Schwarzenbach attempted to discourage it by retorting, “You’re having your own show out there, and it’s got nothing to do with this one.”

Since Jets to Brazil’s creation, the band has been on an obvious, linear path building not only on Blake Schwarzenbach’s endearing songs-which have always unified an army of disillusioned yet romantic kids- but also upon their own Americana aesthetic. The band’s latest release pushes into territory previously reserved for the wizened singer/songwriter set, far from Jawbreakers pop-punk roots.

Soon into Jets to Brazil’s set, the haze of smoke and heat began to affect me. The rest of the audience, however, seemed lost in the plodding poetry. Like an aged Dashboard Confessional audience, the inhabitants of the Middle East held their hands to their chests, closed their eyes, and, with swaying heads, sang along to every word. Similarly, Schwarzenbach sang with eyes squinted shut, but where his fans remained spellbound, his muscles tensed with an anguish so intense one wondered if the show might ought to be called.

Schwarzenbach’s guitar work, like his piano forays, is, at times, expressive, although generally it simply provides a foundation for his forced, raspy voice. The interesting guitar work is left to Brian Maryansky. It’s his aggressive attack and bona fide leads that keep Schwarzenbach’s Jets to Brazil from becoming a stagnant mournfest. Imagine Maryansky as the Tommy Shaw to Schwarzenbach’s Dennis DeYoung. Neither, to my knowledge, is able to write songs about robots.

The band worked through an hour set without the use of a setlist before ceremoniously exiting the stage. Although I can’t tell you what was played, I will confess my favourite song was neglected. Soon Maryansky and Schwarzenbach answered the growing whistles and applause and returned to the piano and acoustic guitar for the intimate “Rocket Boy” – a song that also serves as the closer on the band’s latest release.

As I walked out of the club and into the comparatively cool air, I wondered about Jets to Brazil and Jawbreaker and the song the band chose to end their set with. It’s probably safe to say that Blake Schwarzenbach outgrew Jawbreaker and its confines. That band was so entrenched and so high profile that it became brittle, and was unable to give into the musical exploration Schwarzenbach imagined for himself. Interestingly, Jets to Brazil seems to be following a similar path, one that, despite its independent alliances, is just as public. The band’s three albums are a roadmap of where the band is going, and the newest songs already show signs of Schwarzenbach outgrowing the band’s current incarnation.

This might be entirely conjecture, but I found it particularly telling that an unnamed musician sat at the back of the stage, obscured behind the guitar and bass cabinets, providing additional percussion and keyboard parts throughout the set. Who was he, and why can’t he sit on stage and be a part of Jets to Brazil? Is this band, too, already etched in stone and headed for disaster?