Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
“Go stand over there by that girl, you’re stinking up the hallway,” said the bouncer to a couple of dudes eating fragrant tacos in the stairwell at NYC’s Bowery Ballroom the other night. When I imagined who would show up for “Our Concert Could Be Your Life” — the tenth anniversary celebration of famed-rock journo Michael Azerrad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, which chronicled the secret history of 13 of rock’s most important indie bands — nerds eating smelly tacos did kind of come to mind. Shamed, the boys — one in a worn Minutemen t-shirt that showed off his sunken chest, the other jockish with a skee-jump nose and baseball cap, like a cute fireman — dutifully lined up next to me against the wall near the stage. “Fascist,” the scrawny guy said under his breath as he bit into his taco.
A proper commemoration of Azerrads’s book should include a little rebellion against the man. He was inspired to write it after watching a rock history mini-series that skipped straight from the Talking Heads to Nirvana, leaving out about a decade-plus of potent and deeply influential bands like Black Flag, Minor Threat, Hüsker Dü, the Replacements, Sonic Youth, the Butthole Surfers and Big Black. As the tenth anniversary of the book’s publication came up, Azerrad decided to hand-pick a collection of newbie underground rockers — artists he feels carry the torch of the indie gods lauded in Our Band — and invite them to do cover versions of the music featured in the book. The result: Titus Andronicus covering the Replacements, Dan Deacon delivering a batty video montage featuring gremlins, Alfred E. Newman and Bruce Willis set to the melodic screeching of the Butthole Surfers, and St. Vincent performing her hair-raising cover of Big Black’s “Kerosene,” all hosted by comic Eugene Mirman and Janeane Garafalo, who wore red moon boots, a fur coat wrapped around her waist and a Jansport bag as big as she. “There’s so much stuff in there,” she exclaimed when I asked what she was carrying around. “Water, a book, my wallet, cigarettes. I just don’t feel comfortable leaving it. What if I need something in there?! Like right now, I really need a cigarette.”
The crowd was a testament to cross-generational appeal of Azerrad’s book and of the artists he selected to perform. Graying Brooklyn parents sat at the VIP tables upstairs while girls in American Apparel wiggle dresses, barely old enough to drink (they were totally not old enough to drink), swigged whiskey-and-sodas while the bands started cueing up for their fast, loud and dirty mini-sets. By the time Titus Andronicus were onstage, the early evening polite head-banging had given way to rowdy crowd surfing upstairs, and glassy-eyed awkward flirting at the bar downstairs. Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn made a guest appearance at the beginning of the band’s cover of Replacements’ classic “Kids Don’t Follow,” which starts off with a recording of a Minneapolis police officer breaking up a party. Finn, who grew up in Minnesota, recreated the part in full uniform, then headed downstairs where he took up residence at one corner of the bar. The first time I walked buy him, he was ordering a Makers and soda. Half an hour later, he’d pulled a few fanboys. “Thanks Craig, for the sanity, it’s hard to keep sane,” one of them said as I passed. Another twenty minutes later and he’d drawn a small crowd. As Finn ordered a round of Tecates for his entire storygroup, I asked him how this happened. “Well, I’m saying some pretty smooth shit over here.” So I pulled up a barstool.