Friday, October 05, 2007

The Miserable State of COMO's Music Scene

It's taken me quite a while to figure out the music scene in COMO, but I'm coming around. I honestly haven't sought out much of the scene or its scenesters. However, by attending shows somewhat regularly, I have encountered most of the major players.

Now, I've only been intimately involved in scene prior to moving here. I lived in Columbus, OH off and on from 1993 through 2005 when this young man headed west. So, I'll attempt to compare the two scenes I know best.

There are some basic things COMO-ians (still working this out) and former residents should know about Columbus. C-bus is the capital of Ohio and its largest city. It's located directly in the center of the state where I-70 and I-71 (connecting it to Cleveland and Cincinnati) cross. The Ohio State University is located there. The University is home to enough students, faculty, and staff that number somewhere in the low six figures. In fact, on football Saturdays, there are more people in Ohio Stadium than there in all of COMO. The city radiates from one primary street that runs north-south, High Street. There's more, but I want to get back to the music scene.

I have considered that the size of these two l
ocales dictates that C-bus will just have more of everything, but quality can still overcome quantity. For example, C-bus may have a longer bike trail, but COMO's trails easily outdo my former home.

Record Stores
Every music scene revolves around its record stores. Although these institutions are going the way of the dinosaur, they are still important hang-ou
ts where rock stars find inspiration and the scenesters congregate in the daytime.

COMO has about three stores worth mentioning. Slackers is not only the place to satisfy all your new/used media needs, but king bloggers of the scene actually work there (more on this later). Streetside is the sell-out of the lot. Founded here in COMO, the store offers the typical college town fair. I actually shop here, since they usually have the new stuff that Slackers failed to order. Part of the lore of Streetside is that the boys from White Rabbits used to work there. The other connection to the local scene for Streetside is its founder, Kevin. Kevin left his old store once he grew tired of the corporate BS. Now, he "operates" Kevin's World, an art space/hang-out/record store that's located downtown.

Columbus has COMO beat in both quality and quantity as far as record stores are concerned. There's Magnolia Thunderpussy where Ron Hou
se taught Bob freakin' Pollard about bands like Wire and the Fall. After a fire, the store moved down High Street to the revitalized Short North where they have a great indie and used selection with some vinyl. It's very similar to Slackers, but you don't have to ask for the CD behind the counter. In fact, you hardly have to do that anywhere in C-bus. Then, there's Johnny Go's House O' Music which is owned by C-bus's most hated rock critic, John Petric.

Finally, there's Used Kids. Drunk scenesters run this joint that only improved after they moved (also due to a fire). If this were the only record store in C-bus, that would be enough for me. I have been to record stores all over the country (and some places in Europe) and this is the best. There's an impressive collection of new and used vinyl and CD's, not to mention the rude/informative staff.

This might be the most unfair category in which to judge these two scenes. The small dives are virtually even in both towns. COMO has The Blue Fugue, Eastside Tavern, and Mojo's. These tiny clubs could be found near any college campus and get a somewhat steady list of bands throughout the year. Columbus has Bernie's, Rivari Room, and many, many more, but none any better than COMO's small venues. This is a tie.

Columbus is going to have more and better larger venues due to the size of the city, but I will compare anyway. Lifestyles Communities Pavilion has a stupid-ass name, but its stage can open up to an indoor concert hall or outdoor venue. COMO has nothing like this, except when they try to put on shows downtown on collapsible stages. Columbus has two arenas to COMO's one, and Ohio Stadium (as mentioned before) seats almost twice as many as Faurot Field. I actually like Jesse Auditorium more than Ohio Theater or Vets Memorial in Columbus, but none of these compare to the Wexner Center for the Arts (and its Mershon Auditorium). The Wex (as people like to call it) feature the best in modern art and film as well as those bands that don't normally come to medium-sized, mid-western cities. Like the store comparison, this one venue ends the competition but not the comparisons.

The two venues that most closely resemble each other are COMO's Blue Note and Columbus' Newport. The Blue Note is actually a pint-sized version of the Newport. Both venues get similar acts with the Note's roster more on the indie side. The Newport is reportedly the country's longest running rock venue. Both venues have awful sound systems.

Neither town has a ton of special events that highlight their music scenes, but they both have pretty significant festivals that feature a ton of great music. Columbus has Comfest which is the nation's largest independent festival. Goodale park is overtaken by 3-4 stages, tens of thousands of people, and
a lot of Columbus Pale Ale for a weekend in June. Columbia's big weekend happens either at the end of February or the beginning of March. The True/False festival is documentary film festival that takes over downtown and features some great independent bands. These two events have very little in common, but they are probably the best weekends in either town. One of these years I'm going to attend both. Maybe in 2008?

This is what any thriving music scene is about. Bands make or break any scene. A healthy music scene can put on and support a number of shows featuring local talent any night of the week. While neither scene has birthed any bands with significant mainstream success, there can be some comparisons.

COMO's current list of bands have received some nice attention. Bald Eagle's take on ironic, Queens of the Stone Age-type metal has locals rocking out and picking up their current release, Hot Shoulders. They're a little silly for my tastes, but they are a respectable band nonetheless. Foundry Field Recordings have received quite a bit of positive, national press, but I'm not buying it. They sounded to me opening for Spoon last week like a boring version of Deathcab for Cutie, if that's even possible. Actually, the best COMO band I've come across doesn't even reside here anymore: White Rabbits. This band moved on to greener pastures in Brooklyn and have seen some great success. Sure, they sound like they're from Brooklyn, but they have roots in Misery.

I'm two years removed from the Columbus scene, but I lived there long enough to know the major players. Over the years, many bands have created major buzz, some even signing with major labels. Scrawl, New Bomb Turks, Gaunt, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, and the Sun are just a few of the bands that have earned major label interest. Currently, the scene in central Ohio is highlighted by longtime club regulars Earwig and new Matador signee Times New Viking. In addition, there are three or four bands for every Bald Eagles or Foundry Field Recordings in Columbus. The scene is busy.

Obviously, Columbus has the superior scene. This may be mostly due to its size, but there are several scenes in college towns the size of COMO that can boast more significant musical movements. I hate to come down so hard on my current home, but I just want it to improve.

For more information on either scene, go to COMO's Bathysphere and Columbus' Done Waiting.


Juliet said...

and don't forget Columbus' baby brother, Dayton...with our own rocking scene and yearly music festival ;-)

comoprozac said...

Ah, another reason Columbus is better: Dayton. COMO has no little brother. They are the little brother of KC and St. Louis...and KC has Lawrence.

jenny said...

Well, look, I hate to beat a dead horse (actually, I love it), but here it goes: spend a week in State College, Pa. Do it! Then come back and talk to me.

I moved from Austin, Texas to State Collge. Austin. If you wanna pit music scenes, try matching C-bus against Austin. No contest. With SXSW and the title of "Live Music Capital of the World," Austin wins hands down.

When I moved to PA, I thought I would die. There were no venues. That's not a hyperbolic statement about the lack of "good" venues. There is literally no single place for a band to play.

And PSU has about twice the student body as MU. Go figure.

So, the dead horse cries: "Keep it in perspective."

When you head to Austin, you'll hear people bitching about how bad things are now. Several places closed in the past 10-15 years. But, in perspective to COMO, Austin is the shit. However, your die-hard Austinite will piss and moan about how bad things suck in Austin; they pine after NYC and such places.

That's not to say things shouldn't get better, but man. . . I'm telling ya. Things could be so much worse. The highlight of my two years in State College was--and I'm not kidding--when Yo La Tengo came to a huge auditorium that sells no booze.