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'Spring Fling' offers the best of present-day indie rock

When it comes to indie rock in particular, and alternative music in general, three things matter – songs, sonics and spirit of invention.

There are more than enough examples of artists boasting attitude and “cool” sounds who haven’t gotten around to the “songs” part of the equation, to the point where one needn’t look too far to find parodies on YouTube. (Type in “Hipster band parody,” and have at it.)

But what about the good stuff? Where do you find it?

In Buffalo, we’ve been blessed by 91.3 FM WBNY, which has broadcasting underground, indie, alternative, punk and local rock directly into the ear canals of the open-minded since 1982. These days, concommitant with the ongoing growth of our downtown that some are calling a renaissance, we have Alternative Buffalo 107.7 FM.

This is another blessing for the music community, from the obvious (here’s a place to hear a wide variety of indie rock, good and bad) to the less so (promoters are far more likely to book shows by those bands in our town).

After launching in September of 2013, Alternative Buffalo wasted no time getting involved with the concert scene, and its debut Kerfuffle Festival at Canalside during the summer of 2014 was a great success. Multi-act bills like Kerfuffle can sometimes be a mixed blessing – not all indie rock is created equally – but the listener wins in the end, because the listener can make up his or her own mind about what works and what doesn’t.

Cage the Elephant lead singer Matt Schultz entertains the crowd at Kerfuffle at Canalside on July 26, 2014. The band will headline the Spring Fling for Alternative Buffalo. (Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News file photo)

Cage the Elephant lead singer Matt Schultz entertains the crowd at Kerfuffle at Canalside on July 26, 2014. The band will headline the Spring Fling for Alternative Buffalo. (Harry Scull Jr. /Buffalo News file photo)

Indeed, Alternative Buffalo is sponsoring a multi-act bill called Spring Fling Rock AF on March 28 in First Niagara Center. Happily, Spring Fling is stacked top to bottom with the cream of the indie-rock band crop. Cage the Elephant, Silversun Pickups, Foals and Bear Hands offer deliciously varied takes on the contemporary indie/alternative template.

Together, they represent nearly everything that indie rock should be – schooled in the work of the progenitors, aware of the delicate balance that must be achieved between garagey bombast and smart songcraft, and irreverent enough to be considered cutting edge, without being slavishly devoted the trends of the moment. It’s a delicate balancing act, but one that today’s alternative artists need to achieve if they want to endure, to become their own generation’s R.E.M., Replacements, Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins.

As indie/alternative music exploded, and we got an alternative radio station in Buffalo, it seemed that the music wasn’t underground any more. It had become a mainstream concern. All of a sudden, indie rock became the hair-metal of its generation. So many of the bands were looking and sounding if not the same, then definitely similar.

If there really was a difference between the arena-filling Imagine Dragons and the cool indie outfit you were seeing at your local hipster haven, it mainly came down to production values, equipment and money. Something seemed terribly wrong.

[Read Jeff Miers' review of Imagine Dragons' show in the First Niagara Center]

Bear Hands, which performed last summer at Alternative Buffalo's Kerfuffle, is back for another Alternative Buffalo show. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

Bear Hands, which performed last summer at Alternative Buffalo's Kerfuffle, is back for another Alternative Buffalo show. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News file photo)

What all of this meant for the listener able to tell the difference between trend-hopping and genuine pop music expression was a need to strengthen their ability to separate the wheat from the chaff. Liken this process to discerning the difference between Pearl Jam and Creed in the ‘90s – both were nominally “grunge” bands, but in terms of intention and construction, they shared nothing in common. In indie rock, one needs to know one’s Death Cab for Cutie from one’s Alt-J, so to speak.

This is where having an active and dedicated alternative station in Buffalo can help. The job of radio – in addition to selling advertising – has always been to curate, to offer a cross-section of the best that is on offer at any given time in popular music’s history, and to guide its listenership toward the light. With the Spring Fling lineup, Alternative Buffalo has fulfilled this mandate.

Here’s what you can expect from Monday’s show.

Cage the Elephant

This ensemble crushed it at Canalside in July of 2014. The band stretches the envelope, bringing a Stooges-like roughshod urgency to bear on contemporary indie stylings. In singer Matt Shultz, Cage has its ace in the hole – Shultz is a madman on stage, a whirling dervish of rock exuberance.

Album No. 4, “Tell Me I’m Pretty,” offered proof that CTE plans to follow its own course.

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Foals

Pitchfork called this English outfit an “arena-funk hybrid,” which is on the money. There’s more to it, though – blending elements of ‘90s post-grunge with progressive flourishes, and mining the sort of tremble and lift that can be anthemic without being cloying, Foals hit pay dirt with this year’s “What Went Down.”

These guys could well steal the show on March 28.

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Silversun Pickups

It’s all about the balance of grit and grace, ethereal melody and sonic thrust, and light and shade with this band. “Better Nature” finds the Silversuns teamed with producer Jacknife Lee for the second time, and it’s rather handily its most invigorating collection.

Modern rock that glistens in the most pleasing manner.

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Bear Hands

Another veteran of the 2014 Kerfuffle maiden voyage. Smart, edgy and far too strange to ever be accused of bandwagon-hopping, this Brooklyn outfit has refined its oddball aesthetic through incessant touring over the last few years.

An ability to bring electronic elements to the table without slavishly kowtowing to their dominance makes Bear Hands a breath of fresh air in the stuffy room of modern indie rock.

Email: jmiers@buffnews.com

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