The past 3 days revealed 3 different ways of being a lifer in the music scene.
On Friday, I was lucky enough to hear a preview of the whole upcoming Rancid record, "Let The Dominos Fall." Rancid, as everyone reading this knows, has been a band since 1992, constantly touring & releasing new records. Two of them had been playing in bands together almost continuously since 1985 or so, including Operation Ivy.
The new record was cohesive sounding, even though- like many Rancid records- it skipped from genre to genre. There seemed to be a unified sound & attitude throughout the record, and the band sounded confident & solid in this, their first record with their new drummer.
On Saturday I saw a new band play at Gilman Street. It was Classics Of Love and- speaking of Operation Ivy- is led by that band's singer, Jesse Michaels. While the band covered 2 songs from Jesse's earlier bands (Common Rider & Operation Ivy), the main punch to the stunning show was the new songs. Fast & mid-tempo punk, sometimes with an Agent Orange "Living In Darkness" feel, with a couple of ska-tinged songs thrown in.
It was really great to see an old friend belt out new songs with new heart and new band mates.
Tonight, Sunday, I saw the New York Dolls play in San Francisco. The 2 original Dolls, David Johansen & Sylvain Sylvain, are backed by 3 young Trash N Vaudeville types with solid chops. Always a rock and roll band first, they were loose & moderately raucous, though lead singer Johansen seemed subdued at times, kind of like he was pacing himself. They made silly Rock Faces, pointed at each other in mock amazement during solos, and introduced each other about every other song. Yes, they meant it, or at least most of it, & some of the stuff would've been ridiculous if Ratt or Motley Crue did it, but what are you gonna do? They're the frickin' surviving members of the New York Dolls!
And speaking of that, I was at one of Joshua Ploeg The Traveling Chef's dinners before the show & mentioned to a buddy that I was going to see the band. He responded with a list of the dead members- Arthur Kane, Jerry Nolan, & Johnny Thunders. I thought, "Yes, I can name the dead members too, but so what?" Watching the band kick out their songs (some more successfully than others), I realized that if I wasn't worried about "authenticity" it was a really fun show. In other words, if this was some band I just stumbled in to see, I would've been astonished at how rockin' they were. But because of the context & the history, I wasn't letting myself enjoy it too much.
Don't get me wrong, my first NY Dolls-related love is Johnny Thunders, his guitar tone, & the Heartbreakers. And I'm not saying that the 2009 version of the band was incredible- they had a bad habit of throwing in momentum-killing breakdowns in the middle of high energy classics like "Pills" & "Trash." They did NOT want to get off the stage- in fact Sylvain Sylvain stayed on stage between the set & the encore encouraging the crowd to chant "New-York-Dolls," as if that wasn't going to happen anyway.
In the end, they pulled it off, in spite of - or because of- the ridiculousness & grandiosity of their show. They believed in The Rock and they Sold it to us. If I had a dollar for every band who thought they could smirk their way through "The Rock" & ended up stinking, I'd be pretty fucking rich.
To recap: one set of lifers stuck together & stayed consistent, changing or expanding its musical horizons throughout. Another lifer started near the bottom again, with a new band name, new band members, new songs, and just a couple of nods to his long history. A third set of lifers came back together after 3 decades & picked up the pieces/found new pieces and started their engines again. They kept a lot of their history intact- including the band name- but added new songs, new records, & new band members.
We can all identify lifers who have failed in any or all of these 3 situations- heck, music is littered with the bloated walking corpses of bands or lifers who just won't stop doing a bad thing. But these 3 lifers give me & the rest of us hope that yeah, there's always a chance to get back onto the stage, go back into the studio, and keep on creating noise beautiful noise!
P.S.- Check out Josh Ploeg's new band Warm Streams!