Something about what Bomb the Music Industry! is doing has been working. At recent Bomb the Music Industry! shows, there's an ever-present, palpable feeling that something is about to happen. The crowds have grown larger, the flashes going off during the show, the amount of people shooting pictures and the collective voice singing along to the songs have all grown exponentially. Meanwhile, the bands that make up the roster of Jeff Rosenstock's Quote Unquote records have gained similar steam, making a proper showcase long overdue.
"I was surprised that we had so many pre-sales," said the woman working the door at Europa. "For this many people to show up for such an early show, and during CMJ, is uncommon. That guy Jeff is really nice though."
The extent of Jeff's niceness, it seems, has become widely recognized amongst bands and audience members to the point it's something of a joke, but perhaps there's more to it than plain niceness. Recently, journalists, social philosophers and economists have started to talk about, "The humanization of business," citing a similar theory along these lines: The leveling of playing fields that the internet has brought to the world has made it so kindness, cordialness and general likability is a bigger factor for one's success than ever before. The idea of Internet mogul Gary Vaynerchuck's forthcoming book, entitled The Thank You Economy, seems to be along these lines. The post-internet world will be hyper-humanist.
What better way to characterize Bomb the Music Industry! and Quote Unquote's ethics and practices than humanistic.
"They put all of there music on their website for free. They burn CDs and spray-paint T-shirts for free. They invite people to join them on stage and play along. They try to keep their shows all ages," I explained to the door person who responded by telling me about how Jeff insisted fervently that the show be all ages. A good thing, considering that about 80% of the crowd looked like they were under 21. Still, it was the afternoon and the dark Brooklyn club was packed.
After a local opener, Let Me Crazy, the first Quote Unquote Records band to go on was Chotto Ghetto. Perhaps the most hard-edged band on the label's roster, Chotto Ghetto throws a number of different musical style on top of a primarily hardcore palate, resulting in a band that hints at everything from Sick of It All to Sublime to 311. CG played songs like "Emergency," from their first Quote Unquote 7-inch, and the more recent "Walk Is Godlike" and "Master Blaster." While some might consider it a feat to get a Brooklyn crowd moving at 4 p.m., Chotto Ghetto took care of business.
The next act, Matt Kurz One, is the first and only categorically one-man punk band that I've ever seen, turning the experience of watching him to something akin to a watching sword-swallower or a fire-eater. Kurz juggles a guitar, a microphone, a drum set and keyboards, generally strumming the guitar with one hand while holding the pick between his thumb and forefinger but also gripping a drumstick with his remaining fingers. While strumming, he simultaneously pounds the drum set as his foot manages the bass drum and he sings, occasionally adding the keyboards in place of the guitar. Somehow, this dude who plays his guitar and drums with the same hand manages to keep a beat that isn't entirely uniform or uninteresting while singing in a garage rock, Nobunny-type style with a depth that evokes Glenn Danzig. Overall, Matt Kurz One writes catchy garage-like pop-punk songs, performing them solo in an impossible feat of multi-tasking. For those who've been unsuccessful throughout our lives at learning guitar because we're unable to keep any kind of rhythm, watching MK1 perform is a great way to remind yourself how badly you've failed.
Carpenter, from Vancouver, were the second non-Quote Unquote band that played the show, donning a number of characteristics the differentiated them from the pack, such as nice equipment and a super tight, seemingly choreographed set. Carpenter, though different from the rest of the bands, went over well, jamming through a set of practiced and polished melodic hardcore songs in the Ramones tradition of minimal stopping in-between. The most predominant thought that I had watching them was how much they reminded me of Piebald. From their seasoned, instrumental chops, to their pop-hardcore song structure and, most of all, the singer's powerful melodic shout, it felt as though I were watching Piebald if they'd written a new album, only heavier on the lead guitar and a different drummer--perhaps Jimmy Eat World's drummer. New Jersey pop-punk band Weston also popped into my head watching these guys and it seemed that Carpenter would likely be able to find a niche amongst the bands like Polar Bear Club that'd have made this formula work.
While Bomb the Music industry!'s growing popularity seems ebullient, if any Quote Unquote Records band has a solid chance of cracking mainstream music, soon, it's probably Laura Stevenson and the Cans. Watching them, there's that sense that sense of privilege, like catching a glimpse of some kind of crypto zoological beast: a punk rock singer songwriter of such high caliber, capable of emanating the emotional strength of Elliott Smith with vocal chops that few, if any punk-associated singer-songwriters could touch. Laura's stage presence is empathic, in that she approaches the mic modestly, bringing the audience along, feeling her slight anxiety as she shyly sings the first few songs. Quickly, though, the band syncs up, the accordion joins the fun and Stevenson's voice turns into a powerhouse of melody, her vibrato buzzing wildly as the band weaves in and out of that wall of sound that makes them so unique. Laura Stevenson and the Cans do "loud quiet loud" in a way that's unlike any other band, but closest to Elephant 6 bands like Beulah or Neutral Milk Hotel, blasting you with every instrument at once after long stretches of soft, quiet music. The band played a number of new songs, featuring song structures seemingly more complicated than past tracks, as well as fan favorites like "Beets Untitled," "Caretaker" and "A Shine to It."
Cheap Girls is a band that's been on all of my playlists for the past year, since My Roaring 20's showed up all over people's "Best of 2009" lists. However, my iPod, in its infinite shuffle wisdom, rarely plays any of the record, so I've remained somewhat unfamiliar with them. Seeing them for the first time, I was surprised to see a three-piece that looked like the cast of one of those geeky high school kid movies with Clark Duke. Once Cheap Girls got going, I quickly decided that my shuffle is no longer to be trusted. Cheap Girls rule. Something about every aspect of what they do works. On the surface, Cheap Girls feel like a transplant from the East Bay punk scene, à la Pinhead Gunpowder, but an influence of mid-'90s pop-rock seems to seep into their sound reminding me of the Lemonheads and differentiating them from their peers. Watching Cheap Girls, I felt fortunate, like I did watching early Ergs! shows at Asbury Lanes, like I knew someday this band would be greatly appreciated.
Then came the Bomb, and instead of dropping to the floor and getting under their desks, the kids took to jumping off the stage, jumping up and down and dancing in circles as they sang along to the catchiest hooks any band is putting out there these days. Having just finished a tour with a lineup they've kept seemingly longer than any other, Bomb seemed tighter than ever before. The set opened with the super early track "Congratulations John on Joining Every Time I Die." Watching Jeff on stage playing songs like "Saddr Weirdr" and "Slumlord" as, what seemed like the entire room sang along, it was clear that what this was especially exuberant and celebratory. He's clearly not entirely comfortable being put on a pedestal and being able to share it with the rest of Quote Unquote was special. "I Don't Love You Anymore," "Even Winning Feels Bad," "Sweet Home Canada," "25" and "The First Time I Met Sanawon" were among the songs played that night, and as the final chorus of "439 Ruth" played out, Jeff passed the instruments through the crowd, and to the back of the room where they were packed away. Watching the keyboard and guitar floating above everybody as the super catchy song was still being shouted by the audience, I felt like I was witnessing one of those moments, like the last Operation Ivy show, the kind that seem to happen more in DIY punk than anywhere else, which people remember as being definitive.
That night, Quote Unquote felt like more than a label and I'm not sure whether it has anything to do with "The Humanization of Business" or the zeitgeist or whatever, but it seemed more worthwhile than the exclusive, badge-flashing circle jerk of CMJ that the rest of city was wrapped up in, and it was a hell of a lot more fun.