The Wild Moccasins: Holding It Down For All That Is Right With Local Music Scenes
Are we so glued to our mp3 blogs, tour date aggregators, and bittorent sites that we’ve forgotten about local scenes? Should we believe all these bands we read about every day are born whole, without coming up from some sort of hometown scene? More likely, those of us who were twentysomethings in the 90s, taking part in scenes of “hardcore bands and community centers,” as Barthel puts it, are now the thirtysomethings who stay home and write blogs instead–forgetting that there are new twentysomethings going to those shows, starting their own DIY spaces, birthing the bands we’re writing about.
Tennent also treads the well-worn cautionary rhetoric about bands that should still be toiling away in their local scenes, honing their skills and writing new music, but have instead been plucked out by the Internet hype cycle and labeled as a hot commodity far before their gestation period is complete.
This is a concern I’ve seen voiced on behalf of numerous blog-annointed bands (again, see Vampire Weekend): that maybe we shouldn’t get so hot for their debuts; maybe we should let them mature first. Since we’re treading around in 90s throwbacks anyway, I’d just like to ask: why start now? Slint put out two albums. Drive Like Jehu put out two albums. Rodan, one. Dare I mention Neutral Milk Hotel? The list goes on–either bands that were lauded on their debut and went on to have long careers (Pavement? Palace?) or bands that had tremendous influence but imploded before they could make three records. So No Age now has two records out–in indie parlance, that means they’re ready for their close-up. Maybe in a year or two each dude will go on to form their own June of ’44 or Hot Snakes.
The Wild Moccasins (the show I went to see on Friday) are a good example of a talented band squarely rooted in its local scene, and much better off for it. The Houston scene has always been and will always be the red-headed step child of Texas music, withering in the wake of Austin’s behemoth influence, and even taking a back seat to teeny-tiny Denton (side note: duh, New York Times). But that may just be its main asset, because everyone knows it’s the sweaty, smelly underdogs who have the most fun, and even in my limited experience with the scene here it’s always been open, friendly, and pleasantly weird in a way that only a small and largely unnoticed community can be.
Opening an almost entirely local bill Friday night, The Wild Moccasins drew a small crowd of what appeared to be mostly friends and family. I was there at the insistence of my best friend, who’s been in Houston the past few months and had become hooked on the band via their heavy rotation on Houston’s legendary KTRU, the station out of Rice University holding down the experimental and ambient music fort in Houston for decades. KTRU also plays lots of local acts and is one of the main avenues Houston bands have available to get their music out to sympathetic ears, just one of the many examples of allegedly arcane local promotion techniques which still happily thrive outside of the Internet (though, to be fair, a lot of people probably listen to KTRU online).
As you may notice if you check out their MySpace page, The Wild Moccasins are a little rough around the edges. They sound like a local band, especially when experienced via lousy computer speakers. Their harmonies are sweet and sunny, and they’ve got promising outlines of infectious pop hooks, but there’s something missing from the Internet version of the band at this point: it’s the experience of seeing them in a small room that’s actually too cold from the AC that’s calibrated to accommodate a non-existent large crowd, something which is obviously impossible to attain via blog or MySpace.
What struck me about the band was its sheer energy and potential. The music is straightforward chord and harmony pop with heavy twee tendencies, but it’s got the advantage of a skilled and active drummer, noodly lead guitar riffs, and loopy bass hooks. They play what a kooky old man archetype character might call “real toe-tappers,” and have a great live presence. These YouTube videos somewhat approximate the feeling of their live shows:
“My Favorites Die”
With no record label, only a handful of shoddily recorded songs, and heavy rotation on KTRU, the Wild Moccasins are like the poster children for local scenes. The fact that they’re laying their foundation as a band through almost weekly live shows around town instead of slick demo mp3s will work to their advantage in the future if they ever do obtain national success; the people who will remember them the longest and the fondest are the Houston fans who heard them play the same exact songs week after week in poorly climate-controlled venues, and not the ones who gobble them up into a blog, make a vague comparison to Tilly and the Wall, then move on to the next victim.
For now the Wild Moccasins are where they ought to be, which is itself these days an enormous measure of success.