Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mad Is the Story I Tell

Greetings and salutations.

So after weeks of complaining about having a hectic schedule, I got 5 straight days of complete monotony – and I loved every minute of it. Getting to bed by 7 on a week night, I found myself energized and awake. I greeted my day with a smile, and headed out into the world with a renewed vigor.

It was the best 20 minutes of my life.

Some jack*** cut me off in the morning commute, the attendants at the gas station have finally started holding me up at gunpoint to pay for my fuel, and my cell phone will NOT stop ringing. There wasn’t one original insult in this week’s hate mail, and some of the most useless news I could hope for - Britney Spears is reportedly pregnant again? Ashlee Simpson is going on tour this summer! Somebody I don’t care about lost on "American Idol"?! Aren’t there other blogs out there for that sort of thing?

So my attitude remains intact. After all, how much fun would be if I turned complimentary and started sucking up to everyone because of how “gifted” they are? That guy in Burning Bridges would still be wearing those sweaters, or breaking out the corresponding Magnum P.I. tank top for the warmer weather. But thanks to me, his friends and family have gotten up the courage and made an intervention. The guitarist in Cobalt Media might still be doing his Dave Mustaine impression on the mic, but now they’re letting their singer sing – rumor has it, he might even know the words this time. Or consider the great advice I gave Madrone – why else would they be one of the most requested bands on WROV’s Homegrown Show? The guys in Venus Transit have invested in equipment that lets you actually hear what they’re playing. Insert your own joke here.

My point is, I’m all about helping people - advice so honest, they’ll wish I lied. For this week’s slice of tough love, I ventured out to see Chinese Fire Drill. Made up of members from some of the area’s most well-known bands (and the Pop Rivets!), CFD are the musical equivalent to an inside joke. Playing a mix of college-radio covers and offbeat originals, the only real defining characteristic of the group is how serious they are about not being serious. Their time as hardworking musicians in other acts has culminated in an almost enlightened understanding about what it means to be in a band. It’s the kind of knowledge most young acts don’t get until late in their career; wisdom coupled together from struggles and failures that ground out your ego and force you to look at where you are in relation to everything else, whether you want to or not. It is at this point, when confronted with such truth, that many become jaded. From there, insight is all that separates the relevant from the useless. The worthwhile from the wastes of time. The people like me, from the people like you.

In the case of Chinese Fire Drill, they’ve chosen the former over the latter, slamming through punk power chords and striking the rock star poses, all while laughing at themselves the entire time. They know what’s going on, and don’t actually care. Instead, their songs are a series of puns and stories strewn together from the funny things you talk about when you’re drunk, delivered with the frat boy pacing of a "Jackass" episode. Taken at that, one might write them off as a group of hacks using humor to compensate for a lack of talent. It wouldn’t be the first time I’d seen a local group go that route, but CFD’s members are actually known to be accomplished players (one of them might be a Berklee graduate). Behind every inane thing they do, you’ll find the punch line – we can make good music. By now, CFD have figured out where the line exists between talent and entertainment.

Consider this. When making music, you reach a point where, no matter how good you are, someone who isn’t as good as you is going to hear you play. When they reach their limits of understanding, they’ll conclude that you’re “really good” and lump you in with everyone else they’ve heard who’s ever exceeded that threshold. To the bottom 50% of that group, it means getting categorized alongside the greats. To the top 50% it means no one short of yourself can possibly appreciate you.

Chinese Fire Drill are aware of the fact that you might not actually be paying close attention to everything they can do, and so they’re going to amuse themselves in the process. They switch instruments frequently throughout the show, and seem to lose nothing in the process. Most of their original sound is a combination of punk’s sing-a-long pop hooks, vintage rock guitar, funky bass, and a groove that alternates between 50’s rock ‘n roll (think “That Thing You Do”) and mid-90’s ska/reggae/rock (think 311). Their covers are usually variants of any of these given elements, and it’s all entertaining.

In the end, there are two types of people in their crowd. There are those who enjoy listening to the upbeat music, and will have fun laughing at how funny these guys are. They’re there because they want to have a good time, but not by picking apart a masterpiece. They just want to listen, shout, and drink. And then are those who get the joke, and enjoy laughing at the people who don’t. It’s only two types of people, but it’s the two types of people – which is one type more than most bands ever get.

So there you have it. Another week, another review. A reminder about the TK interview coming up, plus an announcement about the next band to be interviewed. We’ll also start discussing band vs. band fisticuffs. I want your opinions! Thanks for writing in, and thanks for reading. Until next we meet…

- The Phantom