Critics' Picks

Boy Sets Fire

Endlessly driving across America, limping from basements to run-down club to rented VFW hall, sometimes finding tons of kids milling around waiting for you to play and other times showing up only to find out the show was canceled is often a frustrating, painful exercise. Well-promoted and -attended shows are followed by 10-kid shows in warehouses that were advertised only through word-of-mouth. It can make a band feel like Sisyphus--you know, the Greek mythological figure who was doomed to eternally push a boulder up a steep hill only to have the boulder roll down at the last moment just as he neared the peak. The feeling can envelop bands and cause them to lose the passion and inspiration that helped them get motivated in the first place. To wit, last year I helped book and run shows at Moon Tunes, the venue just south of downtown that mainly catered to touring punk and hardcore bands. While there were plenty of shows that had enough attendance to pay touring bands adequately and decently, there were even more where the last song was heard by fewer than 10 people. Factor in the inevitable van breakdowns, homesickness, and the looming specter of poverty, and self-doubt can become overwhelming.

On 1998's EP In Chrysalis, Boy Sets Fire explored the theme on the song "Loser of the Year Award." But while singer Nathan Gray described the sense of dejection that comes with being in a band, he also rejected the notion of quitting with the hard-nosed, almost stubborn defiance common to hardcore. Above all, he knows exactly why he does what he does: "I'd rather stay a loser / And laugh at common sense / Than rely on safety nets and reminisce / As they struggle for mediocrity." Yet despite performing against the almost-constant backdrop of failure (the back cover to the In Chrysalis booklet jacket depicts the band struggling to repair its broken-down van), Boy Sets Fire knows the pleasures of achieving success through a DIY work ethic.

After all, the band has achieved a considerable degree of success within the hardcore underground. The group has issued several well-received albums, including split releases with fellow hardcore heavyweights Snapcase and Coalesce, as its newest release on Victory Records, After the Eulogy. And they have graduated from basement shows and rented halls to a nationwide club tour, including a Dallas date at the Galaxy Club. Still, it's the band's brawny music (very emotional hardcore with distinct undertones of metal and punk) combined with its brainy lyrics that has set Boy Sets Fire apart from the hundreds of other hardcore acts trudging across the country. Giving audiences something to think about while they're moshing has enabled Boy Sets Fire to enjoy the best of both worlds, like Bad Religion and The Clash before them. They surely don't deserve the Loser of the Year Award anymore.

Yuval Weber