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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2008/06/25
by David Steinberg

Neil Young Was Wrong

My my, hey hey
Rock and roll is here to stay
It’s better to burn out
Than to fade away
My my, hey hey
There was a time when the Seattle jamband scene was alive and thriving. It wasn’t just that there was an interesting band or two, a Flowmotion or a Rai or a PKE Meter, but there was an entire sub-genre being formed. There was a universe of high-energy (mostly instrumental) funk jazz bands. Not only did Rockin’ Teenage Combo and the Living Daylights and Crack Sabbath exist and play $10 shows all the time, but they kept forming interesting side projects. There were the Mad Tea Parties at the Sit and Spin and the Rockin’ Living Daylights at the OK Hotel, not to mention the late night insane jams at the infamous loft. The turn of the century was a golden age of fascinating music and fans that were excited to see it.
This seemed like a repeat. A few years prior to my move to Seattle, a few Seattle bands created a fresh way to look at rock and roll and created the grunge movement. Within a few years, you couldn’t avoid the damn thing. Between Microsoft and Starbucks, there was a trend of Seattle institutions becoming omnipresent. Why wouldn’t this be the next trend to become nationwide?
In retrospect it’s pretty obvious why it didn’t happen. Instrumental bands face a huge challenge to fame, as people love vocals with their music. Look at Medeski Martin & Wood for an example of a band that has an abundance of talent but a shortage of large venue bookings, and they’re the absolute best-case scenario.
So time moved on. Some interesting music was made in both official bands and fun projects like Das Rut. Jessica Lurie moved to Brooklyn. Dara Quinn moved across the mountains and had kids. PK moved to Portland. There still were regular bookings for Skerik, but the sense that something incredible was about to happen that would change the face of music faded. The fans got old and became less interested in – or less capable of – going to an all night loft party. It took a few years, but we got the slow fade away.
As much as people romanticize bright, brief burns, there are advantages to having things dissipate. One of those happened over the solstice when an email arrived. Dara was headed back over to the wet side of the Cascades. Rockin’ Teenage Combo would be playing the loft.

While I was excited to see the band again, a lot had changed since their last loft party. Dara’s trademark streak in her hair was gone. PK was playing an electric bass. The area around the loft had gentrified; I almost missed it due to unfamiliar surroundings. The inside of the loft had grown up to, with a new paint job and the ratty furniture replaced by higher quality appointments. Would there be any chance to replicate the magic?

The answer to that question came in the first song. The band jammed it out for 20 minutes, sounding like they never had left. There might not have been much of a crowd, but the people there were excited to see the band. Even Seattle musicians Thaddeus Turner and Skerik came out to watch; both ended up playing keyboards when Dara took a quick break. It might not have been the infamous 2001 Mardi Gras loft, but it was good music played well.

And that’s where Neil Young is wrong. I understand that people love to romanticize danger and youth in the rock and roll world. Push yourself hard and the second your music slips in the slightest stop playing and let the next generation take over, lest you be called a sellout. The problem with that is it assumes momentum can’t be changed. If you start to fade away, you’ll just keep on going in that direction. What this weekend proved is that that’s not true. No, we don’t have an exciting Behind the Music special or a gravesite to visit for the Seattle groove scene, but what we do have is a bit of a resurgence. A variant of Das Rut is now playing on Wednesdays. Olympic Sound Collective was quite impressive at both the Fremont street fair and at a late night show of their own. Maybe they won’t change the world, but there’s something to be said about just putting on a good show and making people happy. Dramatic collapses might fuel the celebrity shows, but I prefer my entertainment to come on the stage. Rust might not look pretty, but it’s a lot easier to fix than a burnt out engine.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html.
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at http://www.livejournal.com/users/thezzyzx.

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