In the 1980s, bands like U2, INXS, and Echo & the Bunnymen forged the way for epic, glimmering arena rock of the college radio sort. Their songs were memorable, they had hits on the radio played alongside Michael Jackson and Madonna, and at the time they didn’t seem that different from a whole lot of other, less popular bands who played with the same arsenal of instruments.
In the 1990s, Radiohead picked up the grandeur when U2 headed down the smugly ironic highway. Radiohead added their particular suspicious, psychoanalytic, nervous-tic driven spin to the sound. They were truly one of a kind, and as a bunch of musicians, they were and are immensely talented and creative.
In the early 2000s, two bands hit the world’s stage from roughly the same heritage: Coldplay and Interpol. You may have heard of them. Coldplay took some of U2 and Radiohead’s basic elements – soaring choruses, chiming lead guitar lines, no-fuss drum parts – and filtered them down to a widely palatable, basic pop sound that has filled arenas ever since their first big sing-along hit, “Yellow.” Their singer, Chris Martin, even said something like “Coldplay is to Radiohead what Diet Coke is to Coke,” in an interview with Ricky Gervais.
On the other hand, Interpol took some of the same genes – darkly dramatic songs, wiry guitar parts, tense vocals, and a rock-solid rhythm section – and crafted something much different, and less commercially appealing, but still spawning a fair share of imitators as well.
So where does 2006 leave you? When you hear that a band is influenced by Radiohead or U2, what should you expect them to sound like? Epic arena rock or anxiously taut melancholia?
Lucky for Portlanders, while the band called Caves (no “The”) might be stuck with “sounds like-” in their press, they’re no diet Radiohead, nor are they Interpol lite. They’re not reinventing the wheel, but they don’t need to; guitar pop is the basis of all rock ‘n’ roll. Caves play a refined, atmospheric brand of indie rock that indeed recalls Interpol and early U2. Their songs are murky, intense and brooding, with a distinctly crackling bass guitar provided by Tim West, appropriately straightforward drum parts by Brian Christopher and a gossamer layer of guitar courtesy of David Benedetti washing underneath it all. The sound of their instruments contrasts with the passionate, yearning vocals of singer-guitarist Jacob Carey.
A highlight song found on Caves’ MySpace page is “Samurai,” in which Jacob sings a lot of stuff that isn’t completely intelligible, but around the 1:50 mark he sings “maybe we can fall in love with each other” and then something else and then “our hearts get punctured” which leads in to a big “take my hand- look in my eyes – again.” It’s a pretty great moment, which, if you’re prone to getting goose bumps from grand musical moments, you might get at this point. Then comes the sinewy reverb-laden guitar “solo,” which isn’t a solo in the style of Van Halen or G ‘n’ R, but just an instrumental interlude in which the electric guitar is the dominant melodic force.
And then there are The Dimes, who play a less minor-key-driven type of modern rock that could be described as passionate guitar and piano-based pop in the vein of Coldplay. Think also Jeff Buckley, Keane and maybe The Bends-era Radiohead. That means some driving acoustic guitars, finely hollered vocalizing and songs about love, loss and life.
Portland mainstays Blue Skies for Black Hearts round out Thursday night’s Doug Fir bill, and if you haven’t heard them, you must be living under a rock, which means you’re probably not reading this. Or this. So these words are wasted. Crap.
Caves, The Dimes, and Blue Skies for Black Hearts will be out in full effect this Thursday Oct. 26 at Doug Fir, 830 E. Burnside.