Music writers focus on Great Men, which is odd, considering how many of us smell. Even when focusing on the most underground of the underground, critics focus on the bands with buzz, the warhorses, the hip -- bands that have, in one way or another, achieved some level of success. We ignore the thousands of bands who don't bubble up to the level of bands that can book a club. But the people -- the art-rock band you were in for two weeks in college; the teenagers writing snotty, dirty two-chord punk songs; the cloistered geek making bleeping songs on his laptop -- toil on in the obscurity that has always covered the unwashed masses.
To be sure, there are good reasons for this. Critics, like clubs, are filters, helping people find, out of the myriad bands out there, some musicians worthy of their time. Most bands out there lack the chops, vision or talent to be worth people's time. In a word, they suck.
But it is at that level, among the teeming masses, where the real rock & roll passion is. What's more dramatic -- a critical darling switching labels or a bunch of kids, almost brand-new to their instruments, giving their all to win a battle of the bands? Yeah, the darling might end up on more mixed tapes, but the kids will still be alright.
Exposure, a battle of the bands at Mississippi Nights this Saturday, where the grand prize is sixteen hours of studio time, isn't going to draw a lot of established acts or marquee names. And a lot of the three dozen or so bands that are going to compete will be, to put it nicely, underwhelming. But it will be a chance to see some unjaded rock & roll passion, maybe discover a few gems and spend some time among the people. Here are some of the bands that'll be out there kicking ass, for better or for worse.
Lester Benson: Lester Benson used to be called the Shitty Bungholes. 'Nuff said. Well, okay, one other thing -- the keyboards are wicked funky.
Black Midnight: One of the things that gets washed away pretty early in the life of a band is unabashed emotion -- and in most cases that's a good thing. But the three ladies in Black Midnight aren't adding any irony to their sweet pop tunes.
Power Craving Soccer Moms: Adolescent punk bands with snotty names and song titles such as "Soulless Nation" are, in a way, as traditional as Ivory soap. The Soccer Moms aren't adding anything new to the palette, and good for them -- some things are just fine the way they are, and teen punk, with all of its Misfits T-shirts and sneers, is here to stay.
Blinded Black: These guys walk a thin line between nu-metal and plain old metal. They write songs with titles such as "All My Pain." Consider that fair warning. Be prepared to be blinded by their fans' black T-shirts.
Chokehold: The members of Chokehold are angry about something, and they want you to know about it. Their demo, called Terrorism...For Your Ears, features an airplane cruising toward a collision with an ear -- a classic underground punk statement. The music is hardcore with just enough melody to keep the songs from becoming a grind. If they're half as energetic on stage as they are on disc, they should capture some new fans.
Feeling Forgotten: Breakup songs are the territory of teenagers -- or at least they should be. Adolescents' view of their own life in stark, mythic terms brings out the rotten emotions of a breakup like nothing else -- a fact that the slow, emo sadness of Feeling Forgotten is setting out to prove. (This goes for the bands Loneliness in a Goldfish Bowl and Fifty Yards from Freedom, too.)
Not Quite Heroes: Mixes adenoidal pop punk with emo melodies -- adolescence in a can!
Pagoda: Pagoda writes some dirty, grimy rock & roll with a lo-fi feel that the Big Boys pay millions to capture. The song "Trash" is just that -- not garage rock, but garbage rock. Think of Ian Svenonius or the New York Dolls, dial your expectations way back, and you've got it.
Keuw: There is one secret that punk bands have known for ages: If enough people yell the chorus, it's going to sound pretty cool. Keuw understands this and uses it to make boot-stomping thrash.
Gimli: It's the '70s all over again, as metal bands are naming themselves after Lord of the Rings characters. This is a good thing.