Nights like last night will save rock and roll. One obviously unique thing about rock music right now is that there have to be more bands than ever before. Even in 1998, you couldn’t just pour your musical heart out into a computer like you can today. Fans only heard music if the band had a record or cd, and logistically, not as many bands could record an actual, physical record as can make MP3s. Either way, rock music is a lowbrow art form. You don’t need to be a virtuoso to write a great rock song. It’s a lot more about having the guts or the groin to make something worthwhile (which is probably more difficult than only being virtuosic anyways). The nature of the form and our current state of affairs obviously means that a lot more people can buy a $100 guitar and start making music now. A lot of the bands I write about on here fall into that category. They certainly don’t have big (or most likely, any) record deals now and probably wouldn’t have ten, twenty, thirty years ago. They probably wouldn’t have existed at all. And I really, truly like a lot of these bands. I love garage rock, and so I spend a lot of my time going to those shows and writing about those bands, bands that never had the chance to exist before. I love them. I love the semblance of a miscreant life they allow me to lead. They will be important to the history of rock and roll in their own right. But as bands in the larger scheme of things, it’s important to admit that they’re not truly doing too much on an individual level. They’re treading, or re-treading, water, as the case may be. They’re almost all good, but almost none of them are extraordinary.
Why am I saying this? I want to make it absolutely clear that Future Islands and Double Dagger were different last night. Not in the same league of smaller bands that I usually post about in this form. “If your band sounds like another band, break up your band,” Nolen Strals, lead singer of Double Dagger, admonished. Yes, that’s pretentious and actually impossible (art doesn’t and can’t come out of a blank chasm, plus there’s about twenty bands I could name who sound like Double Dagger, though in deference to the band I will refrain). But he was strikingly right. We should all be fucking trying harder. The musicians and the fans. Don’t you want more than danceably good songs? Double Dagger doesn’t always succeed, but they constantly and irrepressibly strive for the creative. They’re not the only band to use just drums and bass (what up, JEFF the Brotherhood), but bass player Bruce Willen uses those four strings and beats them into a cretinous rock orchestra with extremely clever and economical use of effects pedals. Another type of electronic machine, a different version of my much-loathed “button-pushing,” but a damn original and creative use of them. Future Islands also rely heavily on bass, with an actual synth player.
Both groups also have the most important element of their band in common- frontmen who actually really truly sincerely to the bottom of their Baltimore hearts care about what they’re doing. Double Dagger’s Stras doesn’t merely obliterate the line between audience and performer with his long mic cord, he plays with it, pushing it back and forth, like where sand meets the ocean. Taking a microphone into an audience isn’t anything new, but the way he flits between crowd surfing and performing onstage and being in the crowd transforms the space. And isn’t that what the whole point of art is? To transform this little DIY rock space into something unrecognizable to our daily dulled ears and eyes, even for a few songs.
In 2007, I saw Future Islands play at my college (for my hilarious Facebook album of the show, including pictures of Matt & Kim and Boogie Boarder, click here), and I remember thinking how strange and rough and unlike my friends the guys and the music were, and how much I liked what they were doing. Three years later, it seems that their sound has found itself, grown into that special place where it all really works. Front man, Samuel Herring, is phenomenal, special. He’s the Bruce Springsteen of electronic rock. He has a deep, growling voice that shouldn’t make sense, but once it grabs you it will not let you go or surrender. His guttural growls and groans incite heart-lurching and emotional introspection and celebration all at once. He shines on the band’s new single, “Tin Man.” It’s less of a song and more of a striving for something. With the steel drums woven in hypnotically throughout the bass-heavy track, the band is making a thoroughly modern music. “Tin Man” has an incredible emotional output that’s supported by the synth, rather than the hooks themselves providing the ineffable quality that makes you addicted to a particular song. Plus, you can tell Herring is the nicest guy in the world- completely sincere while still actually very good at what he does. He also gives away a lot of information. Behind the strikingly low voice and booming, exploding stage presence, there’s just the tiniest bit of fear in his friendly, sweaty face. “This is a song about someone looking for his heart,” he says before “Tin Man.” I think everyone watching thinks, “I know what he means.”
There’s no hidden messages in Double Dagger or Future Islands. The songs and the performances lay it all out before us. I love that these two bands give the kids something to really fall in love with. Not just moshing, or dancing, or catchy melodies, or anger. Instead, new-sounding, exciting music, thoughtful but still edgy players, with the good old fashioned rock and roll courage to put it all in front of us. Every last bit.