You ever seen this video?
This is, as near as I can tell using my eyes and unreliable memories of being 22 and my friend Stu passing this lore down, a video of At the Drive In, sometime before the release of 2000’s Relationship of Command, playing a set in a middle school class room. Consider that for a moment as you pursue the announcement that At the Drive-In will be playing shows and making new music in 2016. You could take any number of things from this video.
What strikes me, beyond admiration of the DYI machinations that leads to playing a post-hardcore show in a fucking classroom, is how YOUNG these people are, how NEW these songs must feel to be performed in such a way, how much joy is unfolding. This video is a glimpse of what Being There is like. This is what all rock bands should feel like, regardless of how they sound.
There’s a Drive-By Truckers song you might know, “Let There Be Rock.” It is pretty much a story song. The narrator explains his own relationship with rock music, growing up with it and how it affected his life. “I never saw Leonard Skynard / but I sure saw Molly Hatchet,” it goes, the implication being you do the best with what you have, you make your own myths.
I actually got a chance to see At the Drive-In on their first reunion swing back in 2012. They played Lollapalooza one of the years I went. It was big for me, a dude who got into the band when I was 14 only to have them break up within a few months of me discovering them.* Their set was fine, as far as I can remember. They mostly played Relationship of Command tracks. I felt a little let down, a little underwhelmed, a little swallowed by my own expectations. The blame falls on me, at least in part; I wanted them to be a time machine, to make me 14 again, to bring me There. It only goes one way, and only a fool looks for a chance to Be There on third day of a three-day festival with 10,000 other strangers.
I plan to attend at least one of these At the Drive-In reunion shows. They’re playing a new Ticketmaster venue in Philadelphia I’ve been meaning to check out. It’s within walking distance of my house, and though I haven’t listened to the band in a few years, it’d still be nice to hear those songs at max volume. Only a fool would go in expecting to Be There, to feel like seeing this band perform its Greatest Hits, to realize the band has been away long enough to have Greatest Hits and expect to Be There.
Sparta is whatever. The Mars Volta is bad.
I saw Sleepercar, Jim Ward’s post-ATDI solo project, open for Rhett Miller in NYC once. He was alright. I think it is good that he forgave Omar and Cedric for being such dicks to him. Either it wasn’t all that serious or the money is too good to hold a grudge.
I’ve never seen At The Drive-In in a middle school, but I’ve seen Chumped at Boot and Saddle and Algernon Cadwallader at The Fire and Bars of Gold at the MoCa and Beach Slang at Mohawk Place and Japanther at Danger Danger House and J. Fox at Kung Fu Necktie and Barren Marys at Sit-and-Spin and Titus Andronicus at The Barbary.
I don’t say these things to brag. I say it because it is important to understand that what’s happening in that video above is still happening out in the world. You might get it at an At the Drive-In show in 2016, but you’ll definitely get it somewhere else.
The thing I’m chasing, the thing that people don’t articulate when they get obsessed with a band and get excited for their reunion, is more than just hearing the songs; it’s the feeling of Being There, of seeing it unfold, in real time, in the movement before it’s gone forever, potentially preserved on a grainy video and uploaded to a server that will someday die, reflecting something you can see and imagine but never really understand, knowing how it felt and how it moved you and sharing it with whoever else was lucky enough to make the trip.
I’m excited to see At the Drive-In, but I’m just as excited to continue to explore the world underneath my feet.
*”Discovering” is probably the wrong word to use here. I saw a video for “One Armed Scissor” on MTV one night when I couldn’t sleep, then read about them in Rolling Stone. I discovered them the way Columbus discovered a country devoid of any people.