First of all, they're simply not. Rock writers are, to be sure, more given to hyperbole than just about anyone--I'm as guilty as the rest of 'em. But still, I've never proclaimed any band to be the "best on the planet." Who the hell would dare make any such statement about anyone?
Here's what I suspect. I suspect that a bunch of white guys, with middle age fast approaching, feel like they can somehow assuage their liberal guilt by proclaiming an all-female rock band (and is it any coincidence they're from Olympia?) to be "the best."
Don't get me wrong. I would never dismiss Sleater-Kinney as being less than a great band, or write off the fact that someone's favorite band might consist of three women, from Olympia. And I know that rock criticism is entirely subjective--just one person's opinion, pissing into the wind. But an aged white guy calling Sleater-Kinney "the best band on the planet" just smacks of an air of unwitting condescension. By lieu of the fact that S-K's a "girl group," they've been hit with the most backhanded compliment of all--an unspoken "best female band on the planet" bestowment, in disguise of a "best band on the planet" accolade.
All of which brings us to the refreshing world of Elizabeth Elmore, erstwhile leader of Midwestern pop-punks Sarge, and current frontwoman for Midwestern pop-punks The Reputation. Reading through her current band's press kit, one idea that comes up repeatedly is that Elmore doesn't want The Reputation (or Sarge before it) to be thought of as a "girl band" (never mind that she's the only girl in The Reputation), but simply as a band, comparable to any other, regardless of the members' sexes.
To wit, an extended gem from Elmore's mouth: "I'm a feminist. How I live my life, where I devote my time, how I interact with other women--all those things are political. But the fact that I play guitar is not a political statement, it's just who I am. I never liked the Riot Grrrl 101 theory that all girls should start bands. It has to come from your gut--you can't help playing music, you want it so bad you're dying. I've heard so many people say 'I love girl bands.' That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. It's no different from hating a band because there's a girl in it."
Her songs, which have little to do with gender politics and everything to do with personal relationships, follow the same pattern. Continuing from her days in Sarge, repeatedly during the course of The Reputation (2002, Initial), her new band's debut album, Elmore strips herself emotionally bare, telling tales embellished but true, of interpersonal fuck-overs, some hers, some done to her--provided you're listening to the lyrics, of course. If not, you're still treated to a reinvention of the term "pop-punk," a version of the stuff that, sadly, isn't being played on our local "alt-airwaves."
The Reputation is a jump and a leap musically from Sarge, too. Following that band's breakup at the end of 1999, Elmore set off for law school at Northwestern University, but she found the rock itch too much to contain after a spell (though she intends to finish 3L eventually). Following the release of The Reputation, the more-mature-than-Sarge arrangements, including horns and assistance from former Wilco member Jay Bennett, found themselves the target of critic's cupid's arrows, and we're not talking some hack from the Tucson Weekly here. Do the names Greil Marcus and Robert Christgau mean anything to you? They've all kissed Elmore & Co.'s collective ass, and rightly so.
Luckily, no one, so far, has proclaimed The Reputation the greatest band on the planet. After all, no one really is. But they're awfully good, just like Sleater-Kinney, and Spoon, and Wilco, and any other damn band you love.
The Reputation plays on Sunday, September 22, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. The Strawmen and The Jons open at 9 p.m. Five bucks gets you entry. Questions? Call 884-0874.
THREE THE HARD WAY: The Immortal Lee County Killers' debut full-length, The Essential Fucked Up Blues, dropped last year, on Estrus, and contains a fair approximation of Jon Spencer-style yelps crossing paths with the stripped-down blues of our own Bob Log III. C'est bon.
Meanwhile, Dan Melchior's Broke Review is the rare garage-blooze ensemble with a bassist. Heavy Dirt (2001, In the Red) sounds as, uh, dirty as its title would lead you to believe, and clues you in to why he and Billy Childish are ol' pals.
In the Red labelmates Modey Lemon approximate what happens when Ozzy fronts a pack of rabid, bluesy Southern rockers, or what The Doors would've sounded like if they'd gotten as dangerous as they'd have you believe they actually were, on its self-titled debut, from 2000. (For all the train-jumpers: yes, they're garage-y, too.)
Get a dose of the hard stuff when all three bands appear at 9 p.m. on Monday, September 23, at 7 Black Cats, 260 E. Congress St. For more info call 670-9202.
CLUB HOUSE: Louisville's VHS or Beta, who play fairly traditional house music on--get this--actual instruments (yes, it must be seen to be believed) make a return appearance to town this week. Opener is Teen Beat artist +/- ("plus/minus"), which includes James Baluyut and Patrick Ramos, of Versus, and Margaret McCartney, formerly of Tuscadero. The band's debut album, Self-Titled Long-Playing Debut Album (2002), is an experiment in over-saturated guitars and beats which would be truly annoying if it weren't so damn catchy.
VHS or Beta and +/- appear at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, September 25, at Club Congress, 311 E. Congress St. A third band is TBA at press time. Admission is $5. For further details call 622-8848.
BEYOND AUSTIN CITY LIMITS: First step to becoming a bona fide bluesman: play around 200 gigs a year. Austin's Gary Primich does it, and he's garnered accolades that say he's "one of the best harp players alive," one of the rare ones with vocal pipes, too. His new album on the prestigious Antone's label, Dog House (2002), is a pretty good testament, all gritty, houserockin' barnburners, with stellar guitar work from one Chris Masterson.
Don't have time to take a road trip to Austin's Sixth Street? Just head out to Nimbus Brewery, 3850 E. 44th St., on Friday, September 20, to catch Primich in action. Call 745-9175 for more information.