When I realized I had missed the last Troubled Hubble Milwaukee appearance, I didn’t think anything of it at first. It was an all-ages show, I was out of town, I would just catch them the next time. They’d probably be back in a couple months anyway, no big thing. After I found out this had been their last Milwaukee appearance ever, I realized that I had treated them badly, like an old friend that I always assumed would be around…until they up and moved to California.
Troubled Hubble had been playing local hipster haunts for as long as I could remember, and I couldn’t imagine my musical world without them. One of my earliest memories of seeing them live involved drummer Nate Lanthrum drumming so ferociously and with such abandon that he literally fell out the stage door, which was positioned directly behind the drumkit, and into a bank of snow. Their shows were filled with such exuberance and fun (and onstage gymnastics that at one point led singer/guitarist Chris Otepka to break his ankle) that it didn’t matter how many times I’d seen them, I always wanted one more.
And then, like your friend who had endured one too many nights of this sort of thing, they were just gone. Their official statement cites “reasons both physical and personal” for the breakup. It’s tempting but also useless to speculate how much of a factor their label’s recent financial troubles played in their demise. Lookout Records released their recent full-length, Making Beds In A Burning House in May to little national fanfare, but the general feeling among fans was that this record was another nudge towards the brink of universal greatness.
In general, people who have reviewed Troubled Hubble in the past have felt it sufficient to compare them to a Holy Trinity or Holy Quartet of sorts of indie rock bands—Dismemberment Plan, Built To Spill, Clem Snide, even Modest Mouse—and leave it at that. While it’s sort of impossible to get away with not discussing a band’s influences these days, it also does them a disservice. They are in a category of their own. Ironically, that category could be described as “pop-punk,” or “indie rock with a string quartet,” or “that band with the guy who looks like Eef Barzelay when he sings,” but again, these genres feel limiting. More than anything, Troubled Hubble sings and plays about being caught between adolescence and adulthood—goofy song titles like “The Do The Build The House” and “Even Marathon Runners Need To Nap” belie a richness and depth that was amazing for onlookers and fans to watch evolve. The first track on Making Beds, “14,000 Things To Be Happy About” leaves the listener breathless with its bright, optimistic acoustic guitar, effusive bass line and brash statements like “Tell your mom that you’re not coming home tonight / and you’ve got your youth, your will, and you’re willing to fight.” “Ear Nose And Throat Pt. 1” sounds like what would happen if a poster on Daily Kos was challenged to rewrite Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” both stylistically and with its refrain of “healthy equals wealthy.” Troubled Hubble is the only band that could make a song about fear of airborne pathogens work. They are also the only band I know whose singer can deliberately sing lower than his range (as Otepka does on “Floribraska” and “Jackpot Stampede Deluxe”) and pull it off without sounding ridiculous. “To Be Alive And Alone” is the sound of a nerdy heart alternately breaking, pondering the merits of having “friends with benefits,” and concluding mid-song “Relationships are way too much / Don’t give me your heartbeat ’cause I’ve had enough.” Making Beds In A Burning House is that rare breed of record that makes you long to know what the next five records are going to sound like and want those five records to be released IMMEDIATELY even while being able to be completely immersed in the material you’re listening to. In Troubled Hubble’s case, we’ll never know.
I still haven’t fully accepted the fact that they’re gone. I can’t help but feel slightly guilty that I didn’t give them every second of my full attention, as if I alone could have saved them, or at least enabled them to do some sort of extended goodbye tour. I wonder if this is a common affliction with music geeks, if we all get this invested in one form or another, and whether kids are going to care this deeply about the music they love ten years from now. As painful as it is, I hope that they do.
Troubled Hubble’s final show was at Schubas in Chicago on September 28, 2005. If you don’t own Making Beds In A Burning House, find a copy. It’s the sound of a band doing nearly miraculous things in a medium where it’s cool not to care anymore, to be studied and affected and wear the right pants. Troubled Hubble had no problem with being goofy or wearing their hearts on their sleeves or falling over stuff onstage sometimes. While I wish nothing but health and happiness for them, it shouldn’t have ended this way—not when they could have had so much more. Not when they deserved so much more. They will be sorely missed.
So remember, kids: support your favorite local/regional/independent bands, or else they will stop making music for you. Going to shows and buying records is like voting, and every vote counts. It is your civic duty as a responsible music lover to get out there and support your local music scene. – Ed.
6 thoughts on “Troubled Hubble: A Band Deferred”
Sarah, I feel your pain; there’s been many a boat that I’ve missed regarding bands who decide to throw in the towel before I get a chance to see them. You kick yrslf, but it fires you up to not make the same mistake twice. And also, with time and reflection, you might find yourself saying, “I’m glad as fuck that I got to see ’em as often as I did. Wasn’t that night at Lounge Ax amazing?”
weird…right when I started reading this, an old Jawbreaker song came on that goes “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.”
Nice piece, Sarah. I felt the same thing when Beulah split… well, except I went to their last hometown show. Of course, we had the advantage of knowing it would be their last hometown show. Anyway, well done.
Does anyone know if the rumor is true that Chris Otepka has an ear problem that is causing him to go deaf?
Chris solo project, Heligoats, solo acoustic is playing at blackspot gallery this sunday oct 9 at 7pm- I know he wants to see some fans there.
It makes me happy to see some proper respect for Troubled Hubble. I never knew them well enough to give them their fitting eulogy, but they deserve it. They were good.
Added to the list of bands that not enough heard of…