Tuesday, September 18, 2007

All the Young Dudes

I went to a show Saturday night with my wife and daughter, my daughter's bands. I hadn't been to an all ages show in a very long time, and the energy level in the place was remarkable, as was the interaction between the bands and the audience. It was certainly a more visceral and exciting experience than I typically experience at any of the hip midtown Kansas City clubs.

At the same time, much of it was a mystery to me. It's a little overwhelming to me how many young bands there are right now who have devoted young audiences networked through MySpace, mix CDs and word of mouth. Aiden was the only one of these four bands I was even a little aware of, and yet each one was greeted by the crowd like a headliner--fans singing along and moshing through frequent climaxes of emotion.

The show opened with a set by a band called 1997, with 6 members, including one harmonica and one tambourine, who bounced and charged across the stage with a relentless mix of hippie freedom and postpunk exuberance. They were followed by a band called Still Remains that came on like some kind of mix of Genesis and Roxy Music but managed to ignite and fuel the most intense mosh pit of the evening. They were followed by an amiable trainwreck of Korn-like dirges from the band Drop Dead Gorgeous, that managed to surprise with unusually melodic and displaced sounding vocal refrains and keyboard work.

Though they were the biggest band with the bestselling album, the crowd seemed to have thinned a little by the time headliner Aiden hit the stage. Still, the audience that was left were clearly devoted fans and thronged the stage with enough energy to fuel an ecstatic rock show.
The band's instrumentalists played with a speed metal precision and energy that was very engaging, and the singer, wiL Francis, added a disarming 80s blitz band melodicism to the mix. All of the bands were very engaged with working the crowd, but Francis took it the farthest (probably too far) talking about the community formed by the band and the audience and how much they needed each other in both inspiring and, sometimes, overly romantic ways.

And that's the thing that's got me writing. There's definitely a romanticism to these young bands that is necessary and real, a need to assert their own story and their fans' stories centerstage despite living in a culture that continuously tells them everything's played out. True, they are drawing on an old playbook, sometimes fighting windmills that their elders have grown beyond or may not understand themselves.

But they are also charting brand new territory, and that's what interests me. For one thing, every one of these bands, as with most of the bands my daughter plays for me, seem actively to be exploring hybrids of emo, death metal and more mainstream styles of rock. It might even be argued that they take a tip from hip hop in the way they weave their songs out of collage like mixes of stylistic fragments.

What I have found myself wondering about, and what inspired me to even write about this is the question of how they see their story in this fragmented universe of narrow formats and half a century of rock and roll history. While my generation was more or less the second or third rock generation, we were the ones--with punk and hip hop in particular--to see ourselves as being part of a rebirth after the original storyline had begun to play itself out. Today, the story is much more complicated, and I'm not sure there is any way for the kids to see themselves as a part of the great story arch we could grasp.

And yet, they are the revolutionary generation. This world is changing on their watch in a way we could only dream about before. Because of this, it seems the responsibility of those of us who have a sense of our role in a great story arch of cultural revolution to try to meet this younger generation in the middle somewhere and begin to construct a story that incorporates both of our stories. I think the key is that thing that's always hardest to do but absolutely necessary for any conversation--we must listen. We must listen harder and more openly than ever before.

Dylan got it right long ago--

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin