Photos by Rebecca Reed
Rock 'n' roll is an ephemeral art form. Since the first rolls of electric thunder from the Mississippi delta, it's always been about the moment; about being there for that one instant when the world shifted on its axis a little, when some kind of supernatural connection was established between notes, words, chords, musicians, and listeners. This new sound wasn't really meant for museums and hushed concert halls, for glass cases, and Smithsonian collections. It's about that visceral, untamable and unrepeatable sliver of time when everything comes together and becomes more than the sum of its parts.
All of which is a pretentious way of saying that I love live music, over and above the recorded artifact. That's not to put records down—my whole life has been soundtracked and affirmed by music captured on tape, disc, vinyl, and computer. But given the choice, I'd rather be in the front row, ears ringing, sweat streaming, singing along at the top of my voice.
Unfortunately, time is a linear thing, and some of my favorite records were made by bands that had been dead and gone by time I was aware of who they were. It's a shame to know I'll never see the Band, or Nirvana, or Black Flag (in any meaningful sense), but such is life, and to return to my initial point, I think I should probably get over it. This music wasn't meant to be pinned down in a butterfly case, to be permanently on display. You missed that band when they were around? Tough. Go find new ones, current ones, that have the same fire. They're out there, if you look hard enough. Endlessly claiming that they're not is the most boring form of musical conservatism.
So I'm an iconoclast, or at least I try to be, when it comes to my own music taste. And I guess I'm not very good at it. When a friend of mine emailed a few months back to say that Twitter and Facebook accounts had gone live for long-dead Austin emo band Mineral, I pretty much completely lost my mind. Mineral are one of my foundation bands, one of the defining groups for my taste in and understanding of music. I never saw them live because they broke up in 1997, a year or more before I stumbled across their second (and near-perfect) album, Endserenading. Over the following years, I tracked down their every recorded note and learned them by rote (I can even remember where the vinyl warps the sound a little on the copied cassette version of the "February" / "MD" seven-inch that I had).
Soon enough, a reunion tour was announced. I'm as guilty of any of being casually dismissive of the whole reunion phenomenon, but when it came to a band I loved that I'd missed, I was unashamedly ecstatic, and immediately booked flights from London to catch the first two shows at the Bowery Ballroom in New York. That makes it by far and away the most expensive gig-going experience of my life, but fuck it, (spoiler alert) it was worth it.
Shortly thereafter, the band announced a secret (ish) warm-up gig at St. Vitus in Brooklyn. Arty, one of the co-owners of the bar, is an old road friend (he used to play in Gay For Johnny Depp) and called me to ask if I'd be interested in opening the show. I said yes, of course, and got even more excited about the trip.
But this is a live review, and not a diary piece, and I'm reviewing Mineral, so I'll just say that I made it to NYC (with my friend Rob in tow) and played a set of new songs, which was OK, but marred by me having a cold. Ah well. Next up was Into It. Over It., a band I toured with (as a solo act—just the singer, Evan) in 2011. They sounded fantastic with the full band line-up—tight and crisp mathy emo rock. Nevertheless they (and I) suffered from the weight of expectation hovering over the headliners.
The 200-or-so folks in the room were not perhaps the most diverse bunch in the world. Most were in their mid-30s at least, mostly white, mostly obvious music nerds (I fit all these categories myself, incidentally, this isn't a dig). The central divide seemed to be between those who had seen the band the first time around (a minority) and those who had caught wind of them after their disappointing implosion.
When the band finally wandered casually onto the stage, there was a weirdly appropriate sense of anti-climax. There wasn't a clap of thunder, a divine epiphany, just four scruffy indie guys on the cusp of 40 picking up guitars and drumsticks. But that's exactly what it should have been. This is underground, unpretentious music, a pure, unrelenting dedication to sound and the song; this is, in a quiet way, punk rock.
They opened with "Five, Eight & Ten", the opening track on their debut record, The Power Of Failing. The sound was impressively good, powerful, loud, and clear. I couldn't quite believe what I was seeing or hearing, especially as they then followed it up with the next song on the album, "Gloria," one of their best cuts. Chris' voice was in form, the band had obviously rehearsed, and despite the occasional fluff or cobweb, they sounded as tight and on-point as most other current gigging bands I see live.
It's difficult to review a show like this because objectivity is thin on the ground. I've already explained my adoration of the band, and most people in the room seemed to feel the same way; perhaps they could have shambled through any half-decent rendition of their back catalogue and been heralded as transcendent by me and my ilk. But I genuinely think they were great. My friend Erin, who'd never seen or heard the band before and had been put off by their association with the word "emo," remarked as much, saying they were heavier, more intense, and even more progressive in their song structuring than she had expected. Two thumbs up from the first-time listener.
See if you can spot Frank.
But in the end, this show was always going to have more of a religious revival feel to it than your average Brooklyn band night, and I'm not going to waste any more time pretending I wasn't on the verge of crying with happiness to finally see them play. With one or two exceptions, they played everything I wanted to hear. "ForIvadell" drove hard, "Unfinished" crawled slowly to a roaring climax, and they finished the main set with "&Seranading," the song that initially made me fall for them.
A quick three-song encore saw them fill some obvious gaps in the playlist, and they finished predictably but perfectly with "Parking Lot." As Chris and the crowd together sang, "It's got to start someplace, and it might as well be here" with breaking voices, I had one of those rock 'n' roll moments I was talking about. It all came together, the room, the band, the audience, my memories of years passed in bedrooms, headphones in, listening to every detail, and it was all that and so much more. It was a nostalgia fest, for sure, and not a start of anything particularly, but it was a near-perfect evening. It had to end someplace, and here was as good as any.
Frank Turner is a musician and noted Mineral superfan. Follow him on Twitter - @frankturner
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