THE SAME OLD CRACKS
Rock’s latest youth movement finds a friend in Emo
Where do all the Britney fans go when the lip gloss wears off? What happens to young consumers – already used to buying CDs and downloading MP3s from the days of their pre-teen popstar love affairs – when they get old enough to realize Pop isn’t cool, but aren’t knowledgeable enough to do anything about it other than changing the channel to M2?
Superchunk is old enough to appreciate the irony of their support slot on the current Get Up Kids club tour. It has to be a little weird, considering Superchunk released its first 7″ when most of GUK were still in short pants. But how do they take it when most of the audience still is? Last Friday evening, Superchunk bassist Laura Ballance looked out across a house packed with peach fuzz and training bras. “No fancy entrances,” she said with a weary, sarcastic sigh. “We’re going to pick up our instruments and play a few songs for you now.” As Superchunk commenced with the rock, there was a palpable sense of confusion from the throng of teenagers, each one dressed in meticulously arranged Abercrombie wear with various nouveau punk rock accoutrements. “Who is this group of old people on stage?” they seemed to be asking. “Why does the rhythm guitar player look like my old T-ball coach?” Despite the solid rock foundation of Superchunk’s anthemic riffs, they received only a smattering of applause after each song. Polite patronizing, as anticipation continued building for headliners The Get Up Kids – Midwestern phenomenon, certified dreamboats, and Vagrant Records’ #1 act with a bullet. “Yes, I’m making fun of you and your cell phone,” guitarist Jim Wilbur said to a pretty young thing in the front row. “How can you even hear over the racket we’re making?” Ballance chimed in that she was probably calling her mother, “just to check in.”
Parents pounding MGDs in the back bar as their teenagers hop around to the music is nothing new for an all ages show. But over the last year, the music industry has realized that its Pop audience is growing up, and searching around for something other than “Active Rock” histrionics to identify with. Enter Emo. The success of Blink-182 proved that “Alternative Rock” isn’t made exclusively by ugly people. Mark, Tom, and Travis’ heartthrob status paved the way for a new crop of sensitive boy bands that rock – Dashboard Confessional, Jimmy Eat World, and now The Get Up Kids. It’s Meat Loaf in G, Freddie Prinze, Jr with a Les Paul, and Morrissey without the celibacy. It’s a corporatized amalgam of indie rock’s more sensitive side, and it’s the perfect product for the post-Britney demographic.
At the show this past Friday, I asked the girl next to me (who was 6 when Superchunk’s seminal “Slack Motherfucker” was released in 1990) what she likes about The Get Up Kids. “I think Matt [Pryor, lead vocalist] is cute,” Susan said. Musically, she’d heard some GUK tracks on a friend’s Vagrant Records sampler. Then I asked her what she thought of Superchunk’s set, which had just ended with a searing version of Sebadoh’s “Brand New Love.” Susan thought for a second, then explained how she’d missed most of their set waiting in line to buy bottled water. For Susan and so many other kids at the show, history doesn’t matter. Superchunk’s permanent seat in the indie rock Hall of Heroes – not to mention their significant influence on the music of groups like The Get Up Kids – isn’t important, because indie rock doesn’t matter much anymore. Or at least it matters in a different way. During its early 90s heyday, the music was unified by its labels, and a few geographic enclaves like Olympia, WA. This international pop underground survived the corporate workover in the wake of Nirvana, but eventually diversified on its own terms. New labels, new bands, and new scenes sprang up. Something called Math Rock was discovered under a rock. And the seeds for another Alternative Nation were sown.
Nowadays, the industry calls Weezer, The Strokes, and The White Stripes “Retro Alternative,” and it’s the hot format of the moment. The prettyboy rock bands like Get Up Kids or Sensefield get thrown into the mix as Adult Album Alternative or wherever their label positions them, via video, tour, and appearance on M2. It’s a more calculated approach to Alternative than the feeding frenzy that followed Nirvana. But it’s also much more important financially, as the industry is trying desperately to keep the spending power of 12-25 year-olds firmly in its corner. With this new gaggle of good-looking, guitar-toting rockers, they seem to have hit on a formula that will last at least until the majority of Friday night’s teenage riot hits freshman year of college, discovers Mary Jane, and invests in a Jon Belushi ‘College’ poster, a giant blow-up of Jim Morrison, and the entire Phish back-catalog.