… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, Attack Formation, and Fluke Starbucker @ Bottom of the Hill, 02 November, 2001

Explosions in the Sky, who were supposed to open this shebang, were replaced by Fluke Starbucker. No explanation was offered, and I didn't much care, seeing as I'd never heard either band.

Fluke Starbucker turned out to be a quirky pop band in the Dinosaur/Pavement/Sebadoh vein. Pleasant-enough sounding, but these days I find I have little to no patience for bands without stage presence or personality. Fluke Starbucker falls firmly into that category. Singer/guitarist Ted Nesseth seemed only moderately uncomfortable in the spotlight, but the other band members, while playing capably, seemed interested only in being as unobtrusive as possible. Not very rock 'n' roll at all.

Attack Formation, on the other hand, had an overabundance of stage presence. I knew we were in for something special when keyboardist Lucky Jeremy hit the stage, looking a lot like Richard Ramirez and sporting a Flowbee haircut and a Body Count T-shirt. And it only got weirder from there.

Attack Formation assaulted us with jazz-damaged, difficult rock in the spiritual tradition of fellow Texans the Butthole Surfers. Not my cuppa tea, normally, but they won me over with their angular brand of breathing, loosely tight ensemble playing. And the fake blood-spitting and crowd baiting ruled too. Near the end of their set, drummer Brandon Crowe told us not to start talking all at once, because he needed to figure out which of us pretty boys were gonna be his bitch. Now that's rock 'n' roll.

… And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead were up next. How best to describe my disappointment with them? Well, since you can't see the elaborate interpretative dance piece I choreographed for this purpose, I will resort to the next best thing: a bulleted list.

  • Changing guitars after every single song is super, super lame. No way your gear needed tuning after every song. Yes, we're all very impressed that you have a Jerry Jones Guitarlin and some other super-obscure crap. Now put it all away, pick a guitar, and start rocking.
  • Dude, I'm pretty sure you and Corey Feldman were separated at birth.
  • Name-checking Patti Smith in not one, but two different songs is annoying and smacks of pandering.
  • Jumping around, shaking your head, and flinging your guitars around is cool, but it's no substitute for real intensity. You may have fooled most of the indie kids, but I could tell you were phoning it in. Until the last song, anyway, when you guys really destroyed some of that fancy vintage gear. That was bad ass.
  • Three good songs out of a set of 12 or 15 is not good enough! "Clair de Lune," "A Perfect Teenhood," and the one song that sounded like the Strokes were good. The rest were mediocre at best.

And so too much good press and too much success too soon ruins another promising band. It truly seemed like ... Trail of Dead are guilty of believing their own press, that they no longer have to try harder, because whatever they do will turn to gold. Even if that means putting on an unexceptional show for a club full of real fans who deserved better.