Although my musical education has been fairly diverse, it has still been limited to fairly mainstream genres.My mother made tapes of all the best “oldies” for us to play in the car when I was little.We listened (and still do) to the country radio station, the rock and pop radio station, CCM, classical. Even Trans-Siberian Orchestra, a favorite group indefinable by traditional labels (is it rock?Is it classical?Is it instrumental?Is it choral?), still technically falls outside the indie music realm, with its huge, packed-out concerts every Christmas season and its constant exposure on the radio at the same time.
So when I started to help Professor Perritt with this website, I found myself not only getting introduced to the Chicago indie music scene (having just moved here last week), but also the indie music scene in general.Of course, when I think of indie music, my mind automatically translates it as something that falls into that indefinable, nonconventional genre.So as I hopped on the El for my first trip by Chicago Public Transportation (well, at least since the age of five, which really doesn’t count, because I’m sure I had my hand held tightly in my mother’s for the entire trip) to head out to the Beat Kitchen to hear Bailiff play, I hadn’t a clue what to expect.
Except that it would be different.
When I arrived, 40 minutes early due to an affliction with a family curse – the complete and utter terror of being late – I found the venue fairly unpopulated.It was, after all, only on a Thursday evening, with the show not scheduled until .Why should it be full?I was asked my age at the door and when I answered, was told,“I need to see proof, honey.”Oh, really?What a surprise.(Is it my fault I’ve got a face that will be carded until I’m 95?)And yet, I was oddly surprised he hadn’t asked for ID straight away, as has been my experience when there’s even a hint of alcohol around.
Once inside, I perched myself on the edge of a booth’s bench, pretending to be engrossed in the close-captioned playoff basketball game on the television.As time filtered on, people trickled in.A waitress politely pushed her way through people crowded in the three foot space between booth and bar.A young schoolteacher (yes, I eavesdropped, what else is one to do when alone in a bar?) exclaimed upon seeing a friend she hadn’t expected.People hugged, chatted, got caught up on each others’ lives, and told atrocious jokes.It felt like a really dimly lit and close-quartered family reunion.
Finally, after the clock had ticked leisurely towards , and then past, the door to the back room was opened and the audience meandered in.Surprisingly, to me at least, there were no chairs.(Yes, I admit it: every concert I’d previously attended has had chairs – or at least a large expanse of grass to sit on.What can I say?I grew up in suburbia.)People clustered throughout the space. 20, 30, then 40, probably up to about 50 by the time the concert got really going.
Finally, my first taste of true, live indie music.
Bailiff is a young band, both in the age of the performers and the time elapsed since the band’s formation.Unfortunately, this factor was evident in their show.
Not in their performance.They all played their instruments well – three young men, one on lead guitar, one on bass and one on drums.The main singer hit all his proper notes and had a pleasant enough voice, though he sang solo with only a few harmonies in the whole show.(I’m a sucker for good harmonies.)
No, their performance wasn’t bad.It was their music itself that displayed their youth.
I suppose I should add a caveat about my musical preferences here, as of course they impact my appreciation and judgment of any musical artist.In addition to harmonies, I’m also a sucker for piano, strings and brass.As a ballet/jazz/modern/lyrical/tap dancer, I hear both music and words in terms of choreography – if I see dances in my head the first time I listen to it, I know it’s something I truly like.I’m a logophile (word lover, for those of you who aren’t), and so lyrics are always a hugely important part of any song with words.And I get bored very easily by rampant repetition.Not when it’s used creatively, for effect – that’s fun and, well, effective.No, I’m talking about repetition of the “We need a longer song and can’t come up with anything else to say, so we’re gonna sing the chorus three more times” variety.
Bailiff’s myspace page (www.myspace.com/bailiffmusic) says that their music is a blend of blues, progressive and roots.But to my ear, there was little to distinguish them from any other guitar/bass/drum three-person rock band.Which (see my caveat above) did not immediately endear them to me.
But there were glimmers of hope.One song’s opening lyrics caught my ear when he sang, “How can we get close / if you won’t cross the line? / I didn’t mean to draw it there / for you to stand behind.”What a fun way to word it!Not to mention the cool mental image of the relationship that it evoked.
Another song, “When I die,” began with a harmonized almost-scream.Not so much as to be piercing, but enough to send a shiver and create an instant mood.As they started singing (ooh, more harmonies!), I noticed that the music and vocals combined to create a slight lilting Irish feel.I was intrigued.This could be good.Unfortunately, the entire song consisted of two lines sung over and over.The first time was interesting, the second, tolerable...the tenth?Oh, sorry, I’d tuned out by then.
Other than those too few stimulating moments, the band relied on, regretfully, a great amount of repetition.A stolid, steady beat to each song.Repetitive cadences.Repetitive lyrics (incessantly, in the case of “When I die”).Which, unfortunately, creates an experience easily forgotten.
In their youth, the members of Bailiff find one catchy phrase, lyrically or musically, and think it makes a song.If they could just take these brief shining moments and build upon them – through use of expanded lyrics, intentional repetition for effect instead of a constant fall-back option, and musical contrast within a single song – they will hopefully build on the potential that they show and create powerful music that will carry its legacy beyond the walls of the back room of the Beat Kitchen.