This Little Underground

There were many quality concerts this week, but the most noteworthy of them shared one unifying quality: ardor.

The beat

Jason Ferguson's blog post on BEATdown last week alluded to the frustrating performance quality that generally plagues rap shows. But as he pointed out, Atmosphere (July 30, Club Firestone), one of the cornerstones of the dope Minneapolis indie rap scene, is a golden exception to the rule. That's because, live, they're smart enough to keep things clear, well-defined and tight. Between Slug's smooth, chiseled flow and Ant's sharp, economical arrangements, the raw emotionality at the core of their music is allowed to come alive.

Opening up were fellow Rhymesayers labelmates Eyedea & Abilities. Though neither elegant nor muscular, Eyedea's vocal delivery was at least fiery, and any MC who drops a Mitch Hedberg joke is all right by me. What really powers their music, though, is the overdriven plastic synth grinds in DJ Abilities' arrangements.

To celebrate the release of their new record, the unstoppable Mumpsy served up a concise, ebullient set (July 31, Back Booth) that focused heavily on material from Mortgaging Our Future for Right Now, the collection that's up on their website for free download ( But most of the vigor came from the songs on Posturing, the new, limited-edition vinyl 7-inch that throbs with aggressive sonic advancements and some lyrical anger. They're still lovable as fuck, though.

Also bringing it was opening Atlanta band Gringo Star, whose powerful and spirited garage take on British invasion rock & roll had big heart and big sound.

Dropping the biggest thrill bomb, however, was New York's Gogol Bordello (July 29, Club Firestone). Their rowdy gypsy punk is what you get when you cram all manner of traditional ethnic music styles into a single powder keg and light the wick. Yep, prime-time fireworks.

In a Wild West digital age where music is hurtling in every direction in search of a new reality, the draw of music with deep roots is gaining traction with good reason. It resonates in rich, primordial ways that are beyond logic.

But Gogol Bordello's true power lies in their ability to connect and move people, inciting them into a frenzy that completely shatters the divide between spirit and body. Whether it's through the music or the spectacle, to have your soul stirred — however temporarily — is to taste a truth that transcends intellectualism, ideology or trend. And it's a notion that much of the indie scene, musicians and listeners alike, has lost touch with. To see a wildly enthused dialogue between performer and audience based on that fundamental principle is a gratifying, tingly and cathartic thing.

This was one of those shows where the band and the crowd occupied the exact same head and heart space, a circumstance that's more rare than you'd think. I'm talkin' genuine communion, man. It's enough to make you kinda sick of all the chin-stroking passivity that goes on in the indie world.


Which brings me squarely to the bigger point: When did showing heart become so uncool? You know what's really uncool? A good scene that dies from lack of support, which would say more about the audience than it does the artists, because the artists are out there. Apathy will be the death of us. Say what you will about the less-hip sectors of the music listening spectrum, but at least some of them are passionate. However misguided, they're emphatic and willing to go to the mat for their bands. Are you?

Take this space, for example. I cover tons of good indie bands that I know for a fact interest a significant portion of my readership. But the second I put some commercial fluff on blast, the comment boards finally wake up. Based on some of their groundless screeds, it's clear that many of the haters aren't regular readers — they're boosters defending their pet bands, which is awesome even if their taste isn't. It's a small illustration, but it echoes the dearth of vocal support and sense of activism that pervades this city's indie scene.

Wake up. There is a cultural turf war going on. It's always raging and it's unavoidable. And in it, there is no neutrality. If you don't fight, someone else wins. As for me, I was born to fight. What about you?

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