August 2, 2002

Fire Show extinguished

The Fire Show

@The Spaceland

Los Angeles

July 25

The Fire Show stopped in Los Angeles this past Thursday night for one of the final dates on their farewell tour. One of the band's two members, Olias Nil, will be moving to England to attend Oxford in the fall, thereby ending this Chicago group's brief run. But apparently, the band is a bit short on well-wishers. A crowd of no more than thirty people assembled at the Spaceland to witness this duo eek out some of the last notes of their career.

But then again, the turnout shouldn't come as too much of a surprise to anyone who's at least vaguely familiar with the Fire Show and their rigid, anti-corporate stance. This is a band that has fiercely shunned the spotlight since its inception, and bandleader M. Resplendent wasted no opportunity to remind the select few in the crowd of their holier-than-thou indie principles. He chastised The Clash for recently allowing one of their songs to be used in a commercial. He also had some choice words for Sting, the prince of commercial soundtrackers, second only to Moby. But he saved his strongest condemnation for the large corporations that have, in his view, commodified art by plugging their products with familiar songs. The Fire Show direct all their pent-up aggression and rage at these multi-national behemoths. So goes the gospel of the Fire Show.

I didn't come for the Marxist lecture, however. I wanted to hear some moving, intelligently constructed music. Sadly, the Fire Show delivered the antithesis: music that was abrasive and that mistook pretension for smarts. I actually don't mind prog-rock. In fact, I have been known to enjoy it on occasion. Yet the Fire Show made sure to drain any hint of melody from their compositions—whether through hyperactive power-chording or by shoving a drum stick between the guitar strings. (Yes, they did that.) And their songs frequently lasted well past the seven or eight minute mark, leaving many wandering eyes and pained expressions as they battered their instruments.

I do feel obliged to mention that, technically speaking, the show was quite demanding and impressive. Resplendent and Nil had a difficult task in trying to split the drum, bass, guitar, and random electronic gurgles between two people. But they acquitted themselves nicely by utilizing loops. The songs would begin with Resplendent carving out a drumbeat while Nil constructed a bass line. They would then loop the result and grab their guitars to fill in the blanks. And it was rare for a song to pass without one of the musicians having to quickly change instruments to alter the tempo or add a layer. There's no question these guys earned their cash this particular evening—all $20 of it. And they get bonus points for the encore, which featured an unlikely rendition of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down."

Yet despite all the honest effort, I couldn't help but feel that it was wasted. Was this merciless cacophony really worth the energy? I suppose the music is meant to mirror their convictions, their tireless commitment to remaining independent and outside the corporate system. But their refusal to adhere to melody or even tunefulness just struck me as being unnecessarily difficult. If anything, their turgid racket made me yearn for my corporate-financed CDs. That couldn't have been the band's intended effect. Maybe I just don't get the Fire Show; however, if the turnout at the venue was any indication, not a lot of other people have gotten it either. Guess it just makes breaking up that much easier.