For those of you who didn't go to Oberlin, or are too young to remember, blues-rock trio Adult Situations
was one of those Oberlin student bands with so strong a following that it never managed to stay dead. You know the story--they pack the Cat at their final show, they graduate to tearful farewells, they go on their separate ways, they start lives and careers--and one year later they're all back in Oberlin playing at the Cat for One Last Gig. And, a couple years later, another Last Gig. And then in New York, or Seattle or Portland or San Francisco, another Last Gig for their alumni homies, just for old times' sake. And so on. The Bucketkickers, the alumni of the Obertones, Huzzah for the Shopkeep--it seems like no matter how dead the band is, no matter who leaves, no matter how vehemently the frontman insists that, for real this time, this is their last show, ever, sooner or later they'll all be hanging out together with their instruments at Oberlin, reminiscing over good times, and boom--someone'll book 'em for one last gig. To put this phenomenon in perspective, Adult Situations's absolutely sublime post-graduation reunion show was the first performance I ever saw at the Cat, back in freshman year--a watershed moment in my lonely, rapturous relationship with live music. That was in 2004. Today, in 2009, Adult Situations--not having played as a band in two years, with one of its members living in Indonesia--got together again, booked a tiny venue in the Lower East Side called Arlene's Grocery, and what the hell. One last gig. For old times' sake.
Of all the bands this could have happened to, it couldn't have happened to a better band. I mean no offense to other kickass Oberlin bands like the Bucketkickers, who, despite their name and the departure of half the band, have repeatedly failed to kick the bucket--but when most of these bands get together it's a nostalgia trip more than anything else. It's clear they haven't practiced together in ages, they forget the words to their own songs, anyone who's never heard them before has no idea who they are--but who cares? The spirit and spectacle of the performance are what counts, and it's always a fun show, if never as magical or intense or ass-kickingly facefuck raaaar as you remembered. (As with all bands, there's an inescapable weariness to playing their signature set for the eleventy billionth time.) Two things set Adult Situations apart, though. First, they managed to stay together and perform for a while in New York after they graduated--fuck, they even opened for Fall Out Boy once, if the rumors are to be believed--allowing them to grow their music and establish an identity outside of the school. Second: they're Connies. And that, really, matters more than anything else. Long before Oberlin became a notorious hippie school it was recognized as one of the best music conservatories in the country. These guys are part of that heritage, that legacy of phenomenal musicianship, and it shows--you can hear it in their composition, in their lyrics, in their improvisations and delivery--even in that crazy experimental shit they do like the almost imperceptibly low bwaaaowaaaow
Asher gets by tapping his hand against the side of his electric bass and cranking up the distortion. They're not just a bunch of talented kids fucking around with instruments and having a good time. They're professionals. These guys, in their time apart, have been practicing. A lot. And holy fuck does it show.
Recordings don't do them justice, honestly. They're too intense for conventional recording equipment. I'm serious. Opera singers have a voice that breaks glass; frontman Nick Messitte has a voice that breaks amps. Halfway through the show the amp started buzzing because the sound guy grossly underestimated how much juice was going to be coming through that mic (why does Nick need a mic at all?). Not entirely the sound guy's fault--it happened at the Cat, too, back in 2004, and it happens on all of the shitty old mp3 recordings that served as the soundtrack to my Oberlin education. The dude is intense. There's a power to his wailing, neurotic, deliberately off-key delivery that puts some of the punk rockers I've seen to shame--which might seem incongruous among the elaborate blues picking and country-western distortion tricks he does on his axe. But it works. Joined by the crooning harmonies and drum-shattering rhythms of vocalist/drummer Ian Pollock, and the magical flying fingers of bassist Asher Rapkin, the resulting music is a veritable force of nature. It's a distinctive blend of styles--youthful and energetic and incomparably intense, and yet somehow retains more than enough of the soul and depth of its jazz roots. No four-chord vocals or cookie-cutter bass lines, oh no. This is advanced
music. And it's crazy and emotionally brutal and will rock your toenails clean off. (Their Oberlin-era magnum opus "Piano Etude," a musical narrative about a Con guitarist taking piano for a music theory class, is particularly nerve-shaking. No small feat, considering that it's basically a song about how much Nick sucks at piano.)
That's one thing I love about this band--they make the kind of music that you can just close your eyes and get lost in. It's not the kind of music you'd want to listen to alone--but you could. The harmonies just come out and slug you at some resonant frequency, and all of a sudden you're moving at seventy miles an hour. It pries open the little bottle in your soul where you keep all the angry things and sucks them right out. You feel almost like what it must have felt to be the Gerasene demoniac
having his one thousand demons torn from his soul, driven into pigs, and blasted into the sea by the sheer force of awesome. Not even in the cheap way an emo or punk band would do it--it's not all raw emotion--but in this intricate, delicately winding channel with occasional exploding floodgates. I didn't even notice until tonight that most of their songs--including the ones I've already been listening to ad nauseam since 2004--were about alienation, loneliness, and social awkwardness. It's a blessing, in retrospect, that so early in my Oberlin experience I could experience that raw poetic lyricism as a prelude to all that was to come. I thought that it wouldn't be the same, this time; teenagers tend to prefer more emotional stuff and my tastes have definitely already begun to mellow out--but, if anything, their frenetic, anarchic style and lost, frustrated lyrics (not to mention the liberal smattering of New York references from their post-Oberlin material) makes their music even more relevant to me than it was five years ago. It was a real privilege to hear them again.