Last night at New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, a host of indie faves, including Dirty Projectors, St. Vincent, and Titus Andronicus, helped music journalist (and SPIN contributor) Michael Azerrad celebrate the 10th anniversary of his book, Our Band Could Be Your Life, which chronicles the DIY bands who shaped American independent music scene as a whole from 1981 to 1991. So as a smorgasbord of ’80s-influenced, DIY-minded current bands covered songs by the musical forefathers Azerrad wrote about, the author encouraged the audience to honor their legacy.
“I invite you all, if you’re inspired, to do something,” he said, as though the venue’s at-capacity crowd were dinner guests. “Don’t wait for someone to give you permission. Just do it.”
“Just do it” was an ethos guiding some the most seminal rock bands of the 1980s — bands like Black Flag, Sonic Youth, and Minor Threat — long before Nike adopted the slogan, and it was also Azerrad’s mantra in deciding to write Our Band. And Azerrad and his co-organizers — the Projectors and Brooklyn promoter Tiger Mountain Presents — “just did it” in putting together last night’s show.
“These bands are a metaphor for doing what you want, the way you want,” Azerrad told the crowd, referring to both the ’80s acts and the ones playing last night. Then, Dan Deacon grabbed the microphone to interrupt with a command: “You’re crowd-surfing, motherfucker.” And, moments later, he did.
The bands delivered their sets in quick, ten-minute bursts, much like early iterations of bands like Black Flag and the Minutemen did at house parties and youth centers in the early ’80s. The show was also an exercise in classifying types of sing-yells, something Azerrad excelled at in his book (Henry Rollins, for example, “spat out the lyrics like a bellicose auctioneer”).
Ted Leo shout-sang songs by the Washington, D.C., hardcore band Minor Threat (“Look Back and Laugh,” “Salad Days”) to a reel-to-reel backing track, with the fervent energy of a teenage boy living out his fantasy, which he was — last week, he told the Village Voice he could play “any Minor Threat song you care to name.” Patrick Stickles, front man for New Jersey punks Titus Andronicus, held one arm behind his back and squinted, emoting youthful, wavering sing-yells, as his band pounded through covers of Replacements songs like “Kids Don’t Follow” and “Treatment Bound.” And tUnE-yArDs’s Merrill Garbus howled huskily and looped her vocals through a sort-of-cover of/sort-of-homage to Sonic Youth’s “The Burning Spear,” the first track from their 1982 self-titled debut album.
Annie Clark (who performs under the name St. Vincent) bellowed gracefully and determinedly through Big Black’s “Kerosene,” hunched over and thrashing skillfully and impressively at her guitar, inciting waves of surprised applause from the crowd afterward, and several appreciative tweets (“We have a winner,” New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones posted). He was right; it was the highlight of the evening, second only to the encore, during which Garbus growled through a cover of Nirvana’s “Lithium” with members of Wye Oak backing her, as crowd-surfing and slam dancing ensued. At the end of the song, she “just did it” herself: she walked to the front of the stage, and jumped in.