Friday, October 19, 2007

In the Vein of Conundrua and Concerts

On the heels of probably the second-best concert I've had the pleasure of seeing come two more that have slight (but non-negligible) chances of surpassing it. Now I have to decide where (if anywhere) best to put my $20. Both are at the Tabernacle, a fine place to see a show, so no hiding behind venue: these two will have to duke it out on strength of musicianship alone.

The first features Mae, Anberlin, and a headlining Motion City Soundtrack. Most concerts I've been to have had a warm-up act or two, lesser bands to get everyone pumped for the big event. Not so with this one: while Motion City Soundtrack might get top billing, Mae and Anberlin stand to bring as much to the concert as Motion City. Personally, I see Mae as a much bigger draw than Motion City Soundtrack anyway. And what of Anberlin?

I have virtually no familiarity with their music. I see them often enough linked to Mae and Motion City Soundtrack and The Academy Is. Post-punk, some might say, or pop-rock; the sort of music that, a hundred bands over, defined my generation's high school years. Now most of them are losing ground, ensuring that one the very best remain. (Mae, interestingly, has become this sort of band; more on that in a bit.) So at first glance, this is the sort of band that I should probably like.

The trick here, as any apostle of social music (be it, Pandora, or another) is loath to admit is that connection does not imply similarity. This Web 2.0 reinterpretation of the statistician's mantra "correlation does not imply causation" holds true across IPv4. This applies whether it's books, other works of art, or even friends. Just because you share 26 friends with someone on Facebook doesn't mean you're going to like the guy at all. And with music? Put the Decemberists, Death Cab, the Shins, and Rilo Kiley into your chosen social music amalgamator, and out pop the Postal Service, Neutral Milk Hotel, and Bright Eyes as sure as night follows the day.

The Postal Service, certainly. Death Cab and the Postal Service are always related, inextricably so, by their same lead singer. Neutral Milk Hotel works too, for sheer power of off-kilter intellectuality. Bright Eyes? By this point, we've gone from a strong base of indie rock with touches of folk sprinkled throughout, to some guy who emos it up, half-enunciating and half-whining in a high pitched voice. (It's almost as bad as Radiohead, but a lot less popular.) Moral of the story regarding Anberlin, they may be in the same vein as other bands I enjoy, or they may be an elaborate musical doppelganger. I won't have time to ascertain which in the next two weeks.

Saving ostensibly-the-best for last, let's talk about Motion City Soundtrack next. Motion City is what I think of as a second-tier band. Perhaps I've gotten a little engineery being at Georgia Tech for so long, but I've got a descriptive and hopefully useful way of quantifying band preference. (This is not my first foray into quantification.)

First tier bands are ones that, for lack of a less cheesy way of saying it, define your aesthetics. For these bands, you hear a song, and immediately identify the artist, the album, the title, and the melody if not all of the words. You call these bands your "favorite bands" when prompts you for favorite music, and your playlist data backs up that claim. You wouldn't miss a concert from these guys for the world. Except for maybe lack of money or opportunity. It's the thought that counts.

Second tier bands are ones that you like and own some of their music, though it's unlikely their playcounts have broken through to triple digits yet. Maybe you put them on for a nice change of pace, maybe you used to be a lot more into them and are keeping some nostalgia around. Either way, you wouldn't be averse to seeing these guys in concert, but are also unwilling to shell out $20 for the privilege.

Then there are things like third tier, which you only tolerate because of convenience. You roommate volunteers to take out the trash more if you play this band, or your cute lab partner is into them and besides, you need some music to "study" by. They're probably way overrated. You would do a concert, only if it were free, or if the cute lab partner dragged you along.

And like I said, Motion City Sountrack is not on that upper tier for me. The biggest reason, I think, is that all of their music sounds the same. It's not a bad all the same, to be sure. Before Even if it Kills Me came out, I couldn't distinguish between their two albums. Now, I can't distinguish between three. And not much has changed. Mae, however, has.

Two years ago, I would have jumped, probably literally, at the chance to see Mae live. "Suspension"? "Anything"? "Someone Else's Arms"? To be fair to Destination: Beautiful, "Sun"? "All Deliberate Speed"? Any and all of that would make for a downright fabulous concert. But it's clear that is not an Everglow concert or a Destination: Beautiful concert. It's a Singularity concert, through and through.

Now Singularity and I have our differences. Some of them are legitimate weaknesses; some of them are my fault for thinking this album could possibly approach The Everglow in sheer brilliance. To review, I didn't dislike Singularity. It's far from an awful CD when judged on its own merit rather than by association with my favorite CD ever. Recall that I even made a comparison to none other than Motion City Soundtrack, a band that I have a generally (if mildly) positive opinion of.

Oh, wait.

My biggest criticism of Motion City Soundtrack is that all of their music is basically the same. And if this is a Mae tour showcasing their CD that sounds like Motion City Soundtrack, it's like hearing the same stuff over and over again for an hour.

What it comes down to is this: everything else being essentially neutral, my decision is whether to spend $20 for the possibility (granted, a reasonably good one for most of them) of seeing about five songs.

And the second? This is Mute Math and Eisley. Mute Math for me is like Anberlin: probably reasonably similar to bands I like. Bit of a different niche: Copeland, Lovedrug, etc. But the same issue: I have no idea if they're a Postal Service, or a Bright Eyes. So this concert's merit is sitting entirely on Eisley.

Eisley is, of course, my New Favorite Band. You know the indie kids in high school, how they'd proclaim a New Favorite Band every week? First it was Ben Folds Five, the the Juliana Theory, then Death Cab for Cutie, and so on. (Some people still do this.) I'm in the infatuation stage right now, where seeing them live would mean more to me now than it might ever again. (It also doesn't hurt that I have a crush on the entire female half of the band.) Mmm, Sherri DuPree singing "Invasion" live.

In the end, can I turn toward the over-simple and call it "Someone Else's Arms" versus "Invasion"? Maybe I could get grandiloquent and claim it was the old versus the new, memories from late high school against experiments and discoveries from college? Nah. It's more "who wants to go see Mae with me?" versus "who wants to go see Eisley with me?".

Anyone have any input?

Currently listening: Parachute, Guster

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