Thursday, June 24, 2010

The End is the Beginning: Passive Aggressor and White Lung, Friday June 18, 2010, Part I

Before you do anything else, QUICK: download Passive Aggressor's demos here and here.

Last Friday night I saw Brooklyn's own Passive Aggressor. It was to be vocalist Meredith's final performance with them, and I needed to be there for it.

I first heard Passive Aggressor at Death by Audio last January, at Little Lungs' tour kick off show. I was standing in the venue's backroom feeling my usual slight awkwardness when PA started. The growling, stomping, distorted, post-swamp rock sound of their song "Moonbeast" drew me into the main room, and I was transfixed for the rest of their performance.

The music itself was hypnotizing in the best possible way, and Meredith was the kind of frontperson whose charisma is impossible to ignore. Tall, lycan, aggressive, and with a long main of messy hair that doesn't so much feminize her as it makes her seem even more animal-like, Meredith and her throaty, punchy howl reminded me of two of my favorite singers, Selene Vigil and Cristina Martinez.

So I was admittedly kind of bummed when I read on PA's facebook page that Meredith was moving on and that the band is replacing her. I also couldn't imagine them without her. Who could possibly take her place? I wondered idly to myself while waiting for their set to start. And then I wondered, will they get a dude? Or will they get another female musician? Maybe more importantly, does it matter?

Regardless of gender, replacing a band member is a difficult business. A band's interpersonal dynamics is delicate, and personality is a factor. It can't just be about finding the best musician for the job; you also need to find the right person for the band. Finding a new singer is particularly complicated because audiences tend to relate to band's vocalists differently and more intensely than to the other musicians in a band.

But that different relationship between an audience and a band's frontperson hinges on a lot more than that frontperson's gender or sex. Marketing executives and record label people tend to focus exclusively on their musicians' gender, sexuality, and level of appeal, I suppose because it's the easiest thing for them to try and sell. But I know from personal experience that one's devotion to any musician is frequently much more complicated than that.

We notice a musician's sex and gender because we're socialized to immediately categorize everyone we see as male or female, and as 'masculine' or 'feminine'. But we also notice body type, skin color, and personal style. If we read or listen to interviews with a musician, we learn about her views, her background, and other information that may or may not like or care about. If we do care, we latch onto various aspects of that musician's personality and way of thinking.

And it gets even more complicated than that, because it goes far beyond the individual musicians in any given band; our interest is also dependent on the members of the band and how they relate to each other, musically, and sometimes personally. It can be hard to separate all of that from your love of a band's music, but if you're buying that music, and going to see that music live, it's a pretty good bet that it is, ultimately, about the music, rather than the musicians.

Despite such complications, a good band that makes good music is, by nature, more than the 'sum of its parts'. Passive Aggressor is more than its musicians, and certainly more than Meredith's stage presence. It occurred to me during their set last Friday that even without her, I really want to hear what they're going to do next. It occurred to me that I was drawn to their instrumental sound before I heard or saw their vocalist. It occurred to me that Van Halen has had three different singers, and that they always still pretty much sound the same...and that they always kind of blow. So I expect that Passive Aggressor will sound brilliant no matter what vocalist is fortunate enough to join them.

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