As our year-end Best in 2011 Pop Culture listings take shape, we’ve found some odd, off-the-wall nominees for a quirky Honorable Mention category. We’ll give you a few each Wednesday to tide you over until the Best Of lists are revealed.
Best Rawk Show: The Bazan Band, New Brookland Tavern, West Columbia, SC — Jonathan Sircy
David Bazan runs a tight ship, something that’s probably even more true now that he has ditched the Pedro the Lion moniker. The last four times I’ve seen him with a band (twice as PTL), he has had his mates precise and locked in: a quick run of songs (frequently with tour updated arrangements), a respite to answer questions from the crowd, and repeat. Touring behind 2011 release Strange Negotiations, this Bazan Band was leaner than last year’s incarnation which featured a second guitarist/vocalist, Blake Wescott. But they didn’t sacrifice a whit in sound. Bazan attacked his guitar with a ferocity I haven’t seen before, and when the volume peaked, the band hit like the atom bomb, filling up every nook and cranny of West Columbia’s premier rock club dive. Bazan’s voice has gotten more gravelly with age, but he hit every note he need to (aided by harmonies from bassist Andy Fitts) and more than adequately brought the emotive goods.
I tend to gauge a rock show by the drummer. Is he silently mouthing the words along with the lead singer? Is he making periodic eye contact with the bassist that says, “I LOVE this part of the song”? Does he know how to properly mix precision and fluidity depending on what the song requires? Drummer Casey Westcoat’s mouth wasn’t moving, but his eyes were feverishly intense the entire night. He was by turns pounding on set opener “Second Best,” propulsive on “Magazine,” polyrhythmic on a new arrangement of “Gas and Matches,” and backbeat-tastic on Strange Negotiations standout “Eating Paper.” The set-list was a treat for Pedro the Lion fans: two songs from 1998’s It’s Hard to Find a Friend (“Of Up and Coming Monarchs” and “Big Trucks”), EP deep-cut Criticism as Inspiration, and the two aforementioned songs from Control. He even threw in an obscure Tom Petty cover (“Climb that Hill”) for good measure. His between-song digressions included thoughts about the news media (not to be trusted), the Occupy movement (the first bit of hope he’s seen in years), and bands he loves (Beatles and Fugazi). The show was positively heavy, and Bazan’s ability to go from satirically scorching (“Second Best”) to loving (“Won’t Let Go”) and then to existential questioning (“Strange Negotiations”) showed him at the top of his game. He’s become a must-see performer.
Best Moment in a Videogame: “The kid just rages for a while.” (Bastion: XBLA, PC) — Richard Clark
You’re controlling a character with a sword or staff in a videogame. There are boxes and other breakable objects around you. What do you do? Of course, you attempt to break those objects. It’s a gaming tradition that’s turned into an unthinking impulse, rooted more in mechanics than any thematic conceit. From the earliest RPGs, breaking boxes, vases, and chests has resulted in found life, coins, or objects. In other words, games reward our wanton destruction of an environment without any actual reflection. When we do pause to reflect on what we’re actually doing, we seem like utter psychopaths, gleefully destroying everything in sight with little concern for those around us.
That’s why, for the long-time gamer, the moment in Bastion when you first start breaking things is so startling. Shortly after Kid wakes up to find everyone and everything he knows destroyed — and just as you cause him to go to town on various boxes and fragile objects — the narrator clarifies what’s going on in that moment with one concise and profound sentence: “The kid just rages for a while.” We don’t hear that sentence again, and we don’t need to. Kid’s situation is unfathomably sad, but we can all relate to that moment when profound sadness and an inescapable sense of injustice collide, and the only logical response is to break things.
Best New Way to Listen to Music: Bandcamp — Jason Morehead
In the past year, online streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio have become all the rage, and understandably so — they’re cheap. A measly $9.99/month will get you access to Spotify Premium, which lets you stream as much music as you want sans advertising to your various devices (iPad support coming in 2012).
However, when it comes to streaming music, my favorite remains Bandcamp. Artists upload their music (full/partial albums or single tracks) to their own details pages and charge however much they want (or they can let users decide how much to pay), cutting out the middle-man. It’s not a perfect system — its tag-based navigation is a bit of a mess — but you can easily spend hours trawling through their site and stumbling across previously unknown artists that blow your mind.
Or, to put it another way, Bandcamp is everything Myspace (remember them?) should have been.