I began publishing Too Much Rock in 1997 with a single stated goal: "document the scene." It's a simple idea, but, as is often the case of the simplest ideas, the realization is much more difficult. My goal was quickly perverted by a belief that if I didn't share my experiences, they meant less. Because of this, Too Much Rock's formative years were littered with unreadable details about my days at all-ages matinees that I thought were conversational and endearing. The truth is my over-share was just as boring then as we find most social media to be today. The only difference is now Too Much Rock's foibles are accepted as the norm.
The apex of this share-to-validate culture is summed up by the phrase "pics or it didn't happen." In fact, the act of capturing the event often places the individual so far outside of the event as to call into question if they were even present at all. Pics and it didn't happen. I worry about this a lot while I adjust my shutter and focus through my tiny viewfinder. 360 degrees of show around me, but my vision is limited by a single 85mm lens. Am I documenting the scene? Am I even at the show?
While I don't intend to draw any grand conclusions, or rage against the social zeitgeist, this notion did roll around in my head as I prepared for this show. Would this experience be different because my earplugs and camera bag were 1,500 miles away in my Boston hotel room? We'll find out.
I arrived at The Riot Room a bit after 9pm, and paid my cover over the sound of Josh Berwanger's soundcheck. The doorman wasn't sure who had already played but he knew someone had already gone on at 8:30. It turns out that I had missed Schwervon. I would latter apologize to the band's guitarist Matt Roth, a comment he dismissed with a hand wave and a dramatic "pshaw" before adding "You've seen enough Schwervon shows."
The single consistency in the Josh Berwanger Band lineup is its namesake. This is by design and the principle reason the band doesn't have a wittier moniker. On this night Berwanger was joined by bassist Brian Klein and drummer Jesse Petas, cementing a trio and omitting the band's typical second guitarist and backing vocalist. The result was a quick set that read as much punk rock as power pop. Each song was faster and tighter; there was no space reserved for oohs and aahs, nor any distractions created by twangy guitar solos. Just Berwanger ripping into an impossibly ugly rocket-powered Gibson Moderne while his rhythm section did their gutsy best to keep up. Berwanger's banter was as confounding and droll as usual, but recounting the specifics never translates to these sorts of write-ups. The set began and ended with crowd favorites ("Oh Bis" and "Baby Loses Her Mind," respectively) with the only real surprises coming from the lighted fog machine geysers that flanked the stage, and the inclusion of new song, "Slutty Skin," which was dedicated to "some sluts."
Up next were DCTV (pronounced "detective"), a touring quartet from Joshua Tree, California. The band is fronted by the petite French import Guylaine Vivarat who sawed away at a cheap electric guitar while her lose ponytail slowly melted down her head. Towering guitarist (and occasional vocalist) James Greer was even more relentless in drawing terrifyingly loud chords from his Gibson SG. The two combined for relatively few solos, some clear moments of pop, and plenty of post-punk chaos. The band's tour-only rhythm section was oddly asymmetrical as hard-hitting drummer Benjamin Miller dominated the supportive (and never note-y) bass work of Michelle Vidal. In the end, DTCV didn't veer far from the '90s Matador catalog, combining both Dinosaur Jr.'s blunt sense of adventure, with early Bettie Serveert's sense of melody. When I later read that Greer spent years playing in Guided by Voices, all loose ends were tied. If this sounds interesting, the band's new album Uptime! will be released next week on Unsatisfied Records.
Headliner Swearing At Motorists began just a bit after 11pm. Hyperactive frontman Dave Doughman seemed pleased by the twenty fans in attendance, possibly expecting even worse on an Easter Sunday. The mustachioed guitarist jumped around the wide-open stage leaving me to wonder which came first – was the guitar and drums duo limited to a two-piece merely to provide Doughman additional room, or was he simply expanding to take advantage of the real estate afforded to him by the band's limited personnel? Whichever the case Doughman moved exceptionally well with his Squier Telecaster, whipping it and himself around without missing a note or adding a stray one. I'm always impressed with guitarists who make their guitar an extension of their own body.
Doughman is a chatty frontman, offering the audience a comedy routine during each mini intermission. And like any baggy-pants comedian, Doughman requires a straight man. That he got in the form of German drummer Martin Boeters. Boeters played the hell out of his kit, with nearly each rhythmic phrase touching every drum and cymbal on his four-piece. His secret weapon? A siren. However this was not triggered to add musical counterpoint, but rather to reel in Doughman when his stories had gone on quite long enough.
So where does this leave us musically? I'm afraid it's hard to say. Doughman's vocals were way up front in the mix, his guitar rang cleanly, and the drumming was certainly propulsive, all adding up to what felt like power pop, but never actually sounding like it. The complexities of indie rock were woven into those drum lines, guitar leads were sinewy and broken at times, and a memory man delay pedal added guitar counterpoint to many of the band's compositions. This is a case of dancing about architecture.
And how about the grander experiment? Was I substantially more engaged in the completeness of the show without worrying about aperture settings and focal lengths? Was I fully present in the performances instead of merely documenting them? Of course not. Even without a camera hanging around my neck, my eye still scanned with the same mission. I still framed shots even knowing there was no shutter to release. Even worse, knowing that I would not have photographs to jog my memory later, I focused intently on microelements of the performance to recall the exact way the leopard print and leather joined together on Josh Berwanger's jacket, or the look of intensity on James Greers face as he pulled away a broken guitar string. But honestly this is how I experience most social situations. I like the crowds and the action and the noise, but I just don't want to be a part of it. Photographing (and writing about) the scene allows me that comfortable space for separation, making most shows more enjoyable for me. Because this is my norm, those rare nights when, despite my intentions to the contrary, the camera is set aside and notes are not taken, are so intensely awesome. I hope it's this mix of passion and insight keeps Too Much Rock interesting.