Holiday road

Forget about all the other summer tours making their way across the country in convoys of plush buses and overloaded trailers. The real show of the summer is hitting the road in vans a few thousand miles past serviceable, stopping at clubs instead of amphitheaters. In an attempt to use a blanket statement, The Faint, Vue, and The Camera Obscura--the three acts on this tour, Holiday Matinee Summer Tour 2000--play, in the purest and best way possible, Rock and Roll. Exciting, almost stylish, beat-happening rock, more reliant on keys than on guitars, stressing rhythm rather than melody. Put simply, it's music to dance to. And despite what MTV and Rolling Stone and Spin say, the music these three bands play is the New Rock, songs that can reach into the future because they have a firm foothold in the past.

Of course, that's not to imply that each band is indistinguishable from the other two. That would defeat the purpose. San Francisco-based Vue's take on the idea is wrought from the classic arty-punk sound of The Birthday Party and The Stooges, raw meat marinated in sweat and glitter. Hailing from Omaha, The Faint, on the other hand, bases its music in what singer-synth player Todd Baechle describes as "prommy '80s mainstream rock, past new wave, on the radio." For its part, San Diego's The Camera Obscura has put its grooves on a sound of classic hardcore--none of that youth-crew business, just crazy music played loud. Sure, everything since 1965 has been colored by punk rock in some form, but they are influenced in a way that means something now.

What it means isn't always clear at first. But the bands certainly have a handle on it. In an interview with Soma magazine, Vue's bassist Jeremy Bringetto described his band most effectively. "There is a tangible sexuality to our sound," he explained. "But the British press describes us as being part of this new American vanguard that's the diametric opposite of the big-shorts horror of Blink 182. That is so cool." What's even cooler is that Bringetto could have been referring to any of the acts on this bill.

In an ideal rock-and-roll world, this package would, once and for all, cleanse underground rock of washed-out and ineffective macho brooding and shoegazing false introspection. It would bring into view a newer, smarter, sexier look at making records and playing shows, make the '90s look like the '50s. It's hardly that drastic, though. After all, it's just a tour.

The tour--sponsored by indie publicists Holiday Matinee; record labels Sub Pop, Troubleman Unlimited, and Saddle Creek; and online retailer Insound--stops at Rubber Gloves Rehearsal Studios on July 19. Sponsorship? It sounds a bit posh for this lot. Or maybe not: It's not as if the tour is being sponsored by Budweiser or Microsoft or any other big corporation. For instance, look at the outfit that gives the tour its name, the business with the simple motto, "Independent promotions for you, by me." Holiday Matinee is a publicity company run by Muddle fanzine editor Dave Brown, who ekes out a living pimping the bands, record labels, and fanzines he digs. (One of his clients happens to be Denton's own Centro-matic.)

As for the rest, Sub Pop is, well, Sub Pop, as venerable an independent record label as there ever was, which has finally started putting out decent records again, including Vue's last self-titled effort. The Camera Obscura released its first full-length record, To Change the Shape of an Envelope, on Troubleman Unlimited in June, The Faint released Blank-Wave Arcade on Saddle Creek, and both of them are impressive young labels. Insound is better known as Insound-dot-com, the über-record store in cyberspace, for those who actually care where they buy their music.

On top of sponsorship, this road trip was even put together by a real booking agent--Michael MacDonald of Chicago's Recreational Booking--rather than by one of the bands. Imagine, getting help to go out on tour.

"We're playing some pretty good spaces, and we have no days off that we didn't need because we couldn't get a show," Baechle says in awe. There's no way that anyone could really question the working cred of this lot, booking agents and publicists or not. This certainly isn't a Rolling Stones tour. Does this sound professional? An interview with Vue didn't happen. The press kit for The Camera Obscura, which consists of a CD and a computer print-out bio, arrives in a reused envelope, hastily folded and shipping-taped with a return address of label owner Mike Simonetti's house in Bayonne, New Jersey. The press kit for The Faint never shows up at all.

"We haven't really gotten press," Baechle sheepishly confesses. "Hopefully, this is a new thing." You can't blame him for hoping. He talks about their last tour three months ago--how the van messed up, and how "the last time we played in Denton, we played in what I think was a slaughterhouse. [He's referring to Green Means Go's now-defunct venue located at, well, an old slaughterhouse.] The time before, nobody came--really, no one. We ended up staying with this girl who didn't want us in her house." It wasn't much better for The Camera Obscura; the band tried to set up a show in Denton earlier this summer, and, singer-bassist Russell White reports, "it kinda fell through."

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Amelia Abreu