ARTS

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October 17, 2006

Evens stay on the level despite indifferent crowd

As soon as I got to the Evens concert last Friday night, I recalled the stories of the earliest Fugazi concerts. Instead of caring about Fugazi, a band that would go on to be one of the purest voices of alternative rock in the 1990s, the fans attended because “that dude from Minor Threat” was playing in the band.

Since the formation of Fugazi, alternative rock has come and gone as the most popular form of pop music in America, and independent rock has changed from a small network of friends to an industry dominated by collectives, twee pop, and a legion of American Apparel–wearing hipsters dripping with irony. Despite this change, Fugazi stayed true to the free-thinking, ethical purism of indie rock’s heyday in the 1980s. Frontman Ian MacKaye was eventually able to shed the reputation gleaned from the hardcore band Minor Threat and create one of the most meaningful bands of a generation.

But now, it’s 2006, Fugazi is on hiatus, and Ian MacKaye has a new band, the folk-rock two-piece Evens, with fellow Washingtonian Amy Farina on drums. MacKaye is still MacKaye, as shown when he released the Evens’ eponymous debut album on his own Dischord label. He also charged $5 for his concert in the unassuming location of the Pulaski Park Auditorium. In many ways, the Evens are better than Fugazi, and their concert was one of the most enthralling I’ve ever been to. It’s just a shame that the crowd was too jaded to care.

The Evens play with melodies only hinted at in later Fugazi releases, and, instead of the shout-singing that characterized Fugazi’s post-hardcore vocals, MacKaye sings with more passion, grace, and a wider range than he ever has before. By no means is the act MacKaye’s alone, as Farina’s drumming uses unusual pacing with impeccable precision. Furthermore, the mixing of male and female voices leads to more fulfilling songs.

The Evens’ lyrics are much more directly political than anything MacKaye has previously released. Since MacKaye fought so rarely against the “Reagan Sucks” mantra of hardcore lyrics while in Minor Threat, I was a bit skeptical before plugging in the album. Yet, I soon discovered the same social, individualistic music that has characterized MacKaye’s lyrics for two decades, only on a larger scale.

All these strengths should have led to a much more fulfilling concert experience, but a rather indifferent crowd ruined an otherwise exceptional experience. I wasn’t sure if the crowd members were expecting to see a Fugazi concert or if they were just trying to earn cred by seeing MacKaye in concert. No one seemed to dance or even react to the music, and when MacKaye asked the crowd to sing along, no one seemed to even know the words.

To be fair, if MacKaye had not been in the band, I probably would not have gone to the concert. But there’s a difference between going to see a musician for the music he performs and going for his reputation. Two women behind me, for instance, talked loudly and incessantly through the entire concert, and when another woman’s cell phone rang in the middle of the concert, she didn’t bother to leave the small, acoustically challenged room to answer it.

Some of the blame should go to the venue. Despite providing MacKaye with a unique place to play music, the park fieldhouse setting only emphasized the crowd’s faults. It’s admirable for MacKaye to disregard the corporate structures of music venues, and it’s easy for him to do so with such a small set (the instruments, a couple of amps, and some lamps). At some level, however, he has to realize that there are limits to what a fieldhouse can provide for a rock band. He doesn’t have to launch a Pearl Jam–like anti-Ticketmaster crusade to find a better place.

Overall, however, the crowd was the most disappointing. At this point, “indie cred” doesn’t need any actual understanding or even appreciation of music; it just requires that the hype surrounding an act be sufficient. Nothing demonstrated this lapse better than the relatively unnoticed appearance of two other giants of indie rock. At the end of the concert, none other than Steve Albini showed up. To his right was Mike Watt, the former bassist of the Minutemen and the current bassist for the newly regrouped Stooges. Watt was in Chicago recording the first new Stooges album in over 30 years, which Albini is producing. I for one spent 10 glorious minutes talking to Watt, and had the time of my life.

Despite Albini and Watt’s mythical status in indie rock, almost no one recognized them, let alone stopped to talk to them. This is the equivalent to a jazz fan being in the same room as Miles Davis and John Coltrane and not recognizing them. While this scenario is inconceivable for any self-respecting jazz fan, for some reason it didn’t surprise me that no one recognized Albini or Watt. What that says about the crowd, not to mention the state of indie rock, is too depressing for me to even begin to contemplate.