Then-current album: Blind
Opening act: Madder Rose
Back of ticket ad: “Superco — So. Ca.’s Electronics Lifestyle Superstore.” Are you now.
I just realized in looking at this ticket that I obviously didn’t have to pay for it, seeing as how there’s no price listed on it. It must have been either through my friend Jen V. or someone at the label but I honestly don’t ever remember talking to Geffen folks at that time…though no, I take it back, I remember some promo tapes. Hmm.
Anyway, this show, another review for the New University which isn’t online to my knowledge, and the alternate 1990s continuing in the era of alternative. And all that.
Shows that are local are always up my alley by default — I say this just having been at School of Seven Bells over at the Detroit Bar elsewhere in Costa Mesa last night, which ran late but which only took me a few minutes to get home in thanks to friend Brian E. And as had been mentioned in the Helmet entry as well as other related ones by now I was used to good shows happening at UCI, so this end-of-the-school year one was a real treat.
But even better, it was the Sundays. And I’m still glad to this day I caught them at least once.
The Sundays, in retrospect, are and remain one of the best bands of its time and place, something that just simply, seemingly effortlessly worked and, even more to the point, lasted. When they first made the big splash in the US thanks to Reading, Writing and Arithmetic back in 1990, along with the initial couple of singles before that, I don’t know if anyone would have thought about it that far down the road — for some, however much it was immediately loved, it seemed too obvious a fusion of styles, Smiths meets Cocteau Twins etc. But the real Rough Trade antecedent would have been Young Marble Giants, less in exact sound than in perfect self-contained focus on the engagements of the everyday. If the earlier band were even more delicate and understated on first blush the songs captured a perfect sense of the subtle, the quiet, the reflective, the internal debate. The Sundays were in contrast more immediate and soaring but even so, it wasn’t that far removed — I remember someone dismissing it at the time as ‘music for librarians’ and, well, given where I ended up and all, perhaps it was right.
But the slam contained a hidden truth in that the Sundays were about the undemonstrative, the seemingly effortless, the ‘this is what it is and this is all we need.’ Harriet Wheeler could have fully let loose but only did so in bursts, in moments, right when it worked, and her partner in music and life David Gavurin was similarly right on the money almost note for note, shimmering then punching it up, the rhythm section no less perfectly balanced. It seems almost insulting to label it ‘classic indie’ or ‘indie pop,’ it’s more a set of perfect sketches on how the day to day can soar and cascade, done via the medium of a rock band lineup that never sounded like it ever wanted to be in a bar or be engagingly sloppy.
The album still works for me to this day, it’s a go-to album that if ever I want to hear something and I just don’t know what in the heck to play, Reading Writing and Arithmetic is there and seems to grow a little richer each time. By the time I saw them, Blind had been released as the followup, and both it and their final album years later are definitely enjoyable even if they don’t dig anywhere as deep for me. Still, Blind gave them a bit more of an American profile in parts, and given that it was still a few more months away before the Cranberries rode their take on it all to American fame, catching them on this tour meant doing so at a high point, bigger than their first go round, with an audience that was completely in love with them.
Which is important to note in more detail — the early nineties are obviously not the stereotypes that history and collective memory creates and enforces, no period is ever like that. This whole series hopefully shows as much, but 1993 seems to linger in the general musical memory as a bit of an interregnum, a tiny one, between perceived phases. It seems only right that a show right in the middle of the year like this should happen as a result, it’s something that doesn’t fit the bill somehow. This wasn’t a club show, Crawford Hall was the same location where the Helmet show I’d mentioned in a recent entry had taken place, it can hold some thousands of folks — and as it turned out, the place was pretty well packed, if not sold out.
As mentioned I reviewed this for the New University and one thing I remember from that review was commenting on the weather, and how it was just perfect. It was too — not in a ‘welcome to summer’ sense, but in a June gloom way, but even more so. It wasn’t just that the marine layer of offshore clouds coming in as it does at that time of year, but a little rain as well, just enough of a minor storm I think — the memory may play tricks, but I do remember walking across campus and thinking how perfect it was that a band so suggestive (musically if not always lyrically) of relaxing at home on gray afternoons and taking stock of life would be playing on a day like that. It just felt right.
Madder Rose was the opening band — the only time I’d see them, as with the Sundays, and I’m also glad to have caught them at least the once. One of the many bands that just seemed to be happily and naturally releasing a great little album right around that time — their debut, Bring It Down, is a little more rocked up and out than the Sundays were, but the pairing of the two bands was inspired, Mary Lorson’s singing and lyrics not that of Wheeler’s either but with a similar ear and eye for life as it stands, engaging and memorable. I can still sing “Swim” to myself pretty much at the drop of a hat and they did that, of course, as well as a great cover medley of a Cars song (as distinct from their own “Car Song,” I should note) and one other song completely escaping me. In fact it’s bugging me I don’t remember which Cars song, “My Best Friend’s Girlfriend” I think, but they did it in their own engaging slow burn style and damn if it didn’t work well. Given all the hoohah about bands of the time and place now — the Matador at 21 thing is going on this weekend as I type — it’d be nice to see them get some more credit, really.
And then the Sundays. It’s actually a set I don’t remember much of, which is a pity of course, and yet what I do remember really sticks. As with Madder Rose I was watching a little more from the side more than from front and center, standing nearer to the doors about a third of the way back from the stage front. It’s not that there was a moshpit at the show — and given the time I wouldn’t have been surprised if someone tried it for the hell of it — but I think I didn’t want to have to deal with the crush up front. It was a very ‘cool’ show in terms of its lighting and the performance, not in the sense of putting on airs, but more that, like their recorded work, this was being done with a minimum of fuss — no sloppiness, no drum solos or whatever, no cheery exhortations to the crowd. In fact if Wheeler had done anything like that we probably would have all wondered what planet we were on.
But it wasn’t that they were shy and retiring, or that they didn’t look like they wanted to be there. It was more that they seemed to know they were in a good spot, had captured hearts and attentions just enough while not simply recreating the album recordings either. It was all good spirited, for lack of a better word, a sense of feeling that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else other than there. A community, if not per se communal — not a rare thing to happen at a show, maybe, but here was a good example of it in action.
The one moment I will always remember, though, comes from the song “Goodbye” — at one point in the song there’s a guitar break from Gavurin that’s one of his flashier moments, just a really sharp, beautiful little solo. I distinctly remember that we he did that part live the whole place cheered — a spontaneous burst, something that surprised me so much that I remember it now. But it felt right, it was uplifting and melancholy all at once, the band was all into it and everything seemed in sync beyond what words could say.
I like the fact that Wheeler and Gavurin decided to just take it easy, raise their children and make their way in life, really. It seems exactly them.