"Where'd all the rock bands go?" your ding-dong of a friend'll ask you as he pulls the ghost of Jimmy Page's peen out of his mouth and climbs across the recliner to crank up the stereo and get the Led out a little louder. You'll put down your vape and answer, patiently, "There's one called Priests and they're from Washington, D.C., and they played the Ottobar last Saturday. And there's one called Sleater-Kinney that, dude, you should totally know and they have a new album out, 'No Cities To Love,' and it's their first since 2005 and it really does solidify them as rock heroes. And there's a Baltimore band, Wildhoney, who played the Crown last Friday and their new album 'Sleep Through It' breathes sugar-rush energy into the pretty-much-played-out and lazy shoegaze subgenre and oh boy, these are all bands doing big serious rock things with their music even though they kinda look and dress like us and if you'd only just listen, friend, if you'd only listen!"
And by that point, your bro'll have dozed off because he didn't actually want an answer to that question, he just wanted you to nod and agree because of course, there aren't any rock bands anymore, let alone rock stars. Now it's all pop music and rappity rappin' and stoopid dance music, no matter that EDM's laptop bros look and act like rock stars (straight down the line to their dirtbag misogyny) and that Kanye West is working with Paul McCartney right now, because yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, there are no rock bands anymore, which is just a way of saying there are no rock bands that make you feel comfortable listening to or looking at anymore because shit keeps changing. Still, I sympathize. The slacker chic of the '90s pervades, and while it was once a kind of revolutionary act almost 30 years ago to shrug and stare at your sneakers and not give a shit, it now seems, in its own way, as contrived as sex faces while you solo and all the rest of classic rock's tics, and some bands showing some ambition and ego would be refreshing.
After Saturday's Ottobar show, Priests (full disclosure: I'm quasi-friends with the band) looked to me like they could be superstars if they feel like it. They were a punk band using the cheap thrills of surf and pogo-punk basslines to make confounding, ambitious (and hard-to-write-about!) anthems, but now they are something else altogether. Singer Katie Alice Greer paced the stage and made eerie eye contact and it looked like the venue couldn't contain her (not to mention a few weeks ago when Priests performed on "The Chris Gethard Show" and Greer wore a Sharpie-scrawled "BLACK LIVES MATTER" shirt; it was the kind of onstage political statement from a musician people are always whining don't exist anymore).
Priests played plenty of new songs on Saturday and the new ones scowled and seethed and had little punk-proggy diversions; it felt like a storm cloud swept across the Ottobar while they were onstage. Everything had more menace to it. And when Priests performed 'And Breeding,' the closer on last year's "Bodies and Control and Money and Power," Greer howled, "Barack Obama killed something in me," and it had even more punch than usual and became a kind of Rorschach test of political discontent. Hearing it back in the fall when our president was woefully quiet over the murder of unarmed black men, it felt like the real talk we needed, and now it sounds like an admission of guilt, in part because the president has been doing overtime on being a badass as of late, which is invigorating but also shows how bullshit American politics remain even when it becomes clear when and how "your guy" is allowed to do what he should've been doing all along.
Now, this wouldn't be a No-Trivia-leaves-the-house-and-goes-to-a-show column without some whining about the crowd, now would it? This crowd deserved it, though. The music between sets was straight-up classic rock (seriously, The Who's 'Baba O'Riley' played) and it seemed like the cool-guy contingent of the Canton-through-Federal Hill douche corridor of the city were all there and I knew nobody there save for the people I came with, which is odd at show like this. Many seemed transfixed by Horse Lords, because the bands has chops, I assume, not because of their masterful, experimental musical miscegenation which matches Afro-beat with Krautrock ("This is like jazz but, like, not gay." That's my impression of most dudes there watching Horse Lords) and the closers were, well, who are Parquet Courts? Who cares? I left by then, because I was creeped out and uncomfortable and a friend was apparently crazy creeped on by some dude, so thanks. It's a testament to Priests that all of this didn't matter when they performed.
Earlier that same day, I walked over to Soundgarden (if you want to resurrect the thrill of old media in a "when I was your age we walked blah blah miles to get a new record we couldn't just download it" kind of way, I'd recommend walking from Charles Village to Fells Point in the cold to buy records) and Soundgarden seemed temporarily out of copies of Sleater-Kinney's "No Cities To Love," which meant plenty of people in the city were spending money on this big-deal record and that's great. "No Cities To Love" is a platonically killer rock 'n' roll album, which actually means it isn't all that enjoyable to me, someone who finds the strut and swagger of rock to be tedious, but there's a hammy, glammy quality to it that picks up where St. Vincent's 2014 self-titled record left off and hits all of its marks in a way that feels new but familiar and unafraid of tightness and professionalism. If rock music even needs to exist anymore, then Sleater-Kinney should be our American rock band.
Finally, there's Wildhoney, who played the Crown last Friday night and whose new album "Sleep Through It," as Theo Salem-Mackall suggested in his City Paper feature a couple of weeks ago, codes as shoegaze, but it is for all intents and purposes a pop record. Opening track 'Fall In' is its statement of intent. A burst of rushing guitars suddenly stop for vocalist Lauren Shusterich, as if the tradition the band ostensibly mines just got bopped in the nose by some prettiness. Here, Wildhoney is a band staring through its influences. And "Sleep Through It" suggests Wildhoney is a couple of tours away from being indefatigable like Priests. This Baltimore band too might have a gnarly, decadent LP like "No Cities To Love" in it soon enough.
Finally, my favorite songs and albums for January.
- Bjork, 'Black Lake'
- DJ Poet feat. Paris Hilton, 'Never Be Alone' (listen)
- Meek Mill, 'Ice Cream Freestyle' (listen)
- Wet Brain, 'Waitress' (listen)
- Wildhoney, 'Boys From Out of Town' (listen)