Friday, September 19, 2003

Rock Shows of Note LXXVII

Last Saturday night was the final evening of live music at the House of Blues in Cambridge. Local singer-songwriter Ryan Montbleau helped give up the ghost, performing with his full band following an evening of live gospel singing.

I've never been a big fan of the House of Blues, much less a regular, but I admit feeling a twinge of loss upon its closing. It's funny, even though the House of Blues' Cambridge location tried to replicate a down-home blues bar, it's only been in operation since 1992 and -- despite a friendly, long-time staff (some of whom worked there 10 years, and one of which goes by the nickname "Wily Giraffe") -- it's not as though the Boston area has lost anything that's authentic. If anything, the House of Blues was fauxthentic.

In Hermenaut #15, editor Joshua Glenn explores the concept of fake authenticity, and contributor Slotcar Hatebath considers whether beer tastes better in fake Irish pubs. Both are wonderful introductions to fauxthenticity and context for my experiences at the House of Blues early last week.

Founded by Isaac Tigrett in 1992, the House of Blues attracted the interest -- and investment -- of Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, and Paul Schaffer. That should be clue one that the organization would be hard pressed to make good on its promise to celebrate the African-American cultural contributions of blues music and folk art. Despite feeding the homeless on Thanksgiving before opening -- and the quirky hand, feet, and buttock imprints of the surviving members of the Blues Brothers in the venue's driveway -- we must remember that Aykroyd also brought us Blues Brothers 2000, a shallow rehash of the original movie.

That said, I strangely mourn the House of Blues' passing and -- thanks to Heather at Victory Records -- I was able to participate in some of the closing closeness. Seeing that Spitalfield would play at the House of Blues with Fall Out Boy, whose record I'd recently reviewed, I called Heather to see if I could get on the guest list. She came through, and I found myself at the House of Blues on its final Monday night for the Radio Takeover Tour.

While I don't know whether Pabst Blue Ribbon tastes better at the House of Blues, I do know that I was one of the older people in the audience -- and one of very few drinking given the age and possible straight edge-ness of the average audience member. Because I'd left the house without a pen in my pocket, I had to bum a Bic from the merch guy, and I settled in near the rear of the room to check out the assembled bands: Trouble Is, Spitalfield, Acceptance, and Fall Out Boy.

Trouble Is opened with a set of melodic hardcore and pop punk not dissimilar to Fall Out Boy. "Mad at the World" has a good melodic chorus, and despite some early trouble with the mics, the hatted band settled into the stage quite nicely. Unfortunately, following a disappointing chorus to the second song, "Nonstop," I was struck by the crowd's tweener fauxthenticity. As the band played a Blink 182-wannabe lust song to the largely passionless audience, I wondered whether this was going to be a night of watered-down third-generation punk rock. The band vacillated between out-of-tune falsetto and moments of catchy clarity, but "Graduation" opened extremely well and included a subtle breakdown that I quite liked. Out of tune overall, the band played a thankfully short set, earning them some points for punctuality.

Next up, Spitalfield. The sound problems with the mics continued, but the band stepped up with a tight set of excellent choruses and choreography. There were some interesting vocal tradeoffs and a brief, lame reggae break before a fun Rick Springfield-like section that could've lasted longer. While I'm not overly familiar with their recordings, one song struck me because of its repetitive chorus and ooh's that didn't quite work. Some of their songs were quite strong, but all in all, I felt that they played too long. End sooner, end more strongly, and leave the audience wanting more. The yelling in the last song solely irritated instead of adding energy. But then again, I'm slowly but surely becoming quite the sad old man.

Acceptance was the first band of the night to break the four-piece mold, and at first I thought they were local because it seemed the band's parents had come out. Opening with a bizarre recorded introduction, Acceptance played largely generic emo, which seemed to go over well with the Boston University students that made up much of the audience. I stepped outside for some fresh air, taking a last look at the hand, feet, and buttock imprints in the driveway -- I hope the new owners don't tear that out when they take over the place -- before heading back in for Fall Out Boy, so I didn't catch all of Acceptance's set.

Even though I didn't quite agree with the music the House of Blues chose to play over the PA before Fall Out Boy's set, the band opened with one of my favorite songs from their record. Everyone knew the words to "Grand Theft Autumn/Where Is Your Boy," and the show suddenly caught its stride as the night turned into one long singalong. Fall Out Boy has their stage antics down pat, and it was funny to watch members repeatedly sling their guitars around over their shoulders. Once, it's surprising. Continually, it's comic. Near the end of the show, the singer from Spitalfield joined Fall Out Boy onstage for some enjoyable band interaction, capping what was definitely the best set of the show.

All in all, the closing of the House of Blues still saddens me. I'm not sure whether it saddens me that my last experience there was four melodic hardcore and emo bands playing to the tweener set, but I'm glad I could be a part of the venue's final week despite the irony of the final days' fauxthenticity. One bartender who'd worked there for just under a year told me that he'd miss the other people working there the most. And my friend who worked there 10 years said it was the staff that kept him coming back. I suppose that's the way it works. And I suppose that despite the House of Blues' commercial history, financiers, and booking, the place is real enough. Because it made people feel at home. At least for awhile.

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