AMERICAN CULTURE REPORTER
Han Vance on Music (and Social Media):
All hail the psychedelic musical vibes still brewing in these United States of America, a nation who could desperately use a dose of counterculture as a break from all the bad news we continue to regularly make.
Tune in. Drop out. That slogan isn’t quit fitting with this suddenly Millennial-dominated and fluffy, fairly lightweight cultural era. Unless you post it on Instagram, right? I wanted for elements of the old times, and not in the way fools commonly bemoan their neighborhood’s or city’s urban maturation, while secretly meaning they themselves used to be so much more fun at heart when they were young.
I just wanted to groove out, again.
Finally Seeing of Montreal of Athens in Athens:
Kevin Barnes is a trip, y’all. The last time I covered him in Atlanta he was all buff and not wearing a shirt and fronting a live rock band, real organic and guitar-driven. It was an abrupt divergence from the synth-laced work that helped once “Of Montreal”, now more commonly spelled of Montreal, grasp such heights of modern psychedelia as to make one’s pretty face melt. Some of the fun was gone, as I sorely missed the key work of Dottie Alexander and the full-on special effects of previous gigs.
Here at 40 Watt Club clad in various vivid drag outfits, one I found rather eccentric-grandmotherly, he lived up to and beyond the promise of weirdness of past of Montreal shows I’d seen and of the act’s cartoony music videos and merch – often designed by Kevin’s brother David Barnes.
My lovely wife, Jami Buck-Vance, decided she couldn’t make the trip, so I ended up going in with Will Ingram of the good Athens band Wieuca. The set was a wee bit shorter than I would have preferred, though Kevin had invigorated energy enough from a hometown crowd he called “the best.” I enjoyed seeing a younger, new generation of party music fans from the city where I went to college doing their freak bounce at a live show, sort of like early era The B-52’s, dude.
MGMT and the Myspace Generation:
Or “We Were Huge on Myspace”
Time to Pretend. We were like in our thirties, back then, and finding ourselves hanging around my mom and stepdad’s house, my little sister and I. We’d separately fallen apart, way post-being club kids together and then slowly put ourselves back together.
We were divorced, adult parents, half-waying you could say away from nasty, devastating stretches of addictive impulses, toward glories of the expressive lives we inhabit currently. I was beginning my life’s work as a writer and she – a prominent muse of mine at several levels of our lives – found herself in the garden as an artful landscape designer, an Earth- and its plants-shaper. When that song broke on Myspace, it instantly became my feature/site song, which really mattered in the (brief) Myspace era. Then, we discovered the triptastic journeys of the accompanying music video on on-demand. Third eye opening.
Electric feel now, kids. My wife and I, with said sister Anna Vance and hilarious soon-to-be brother-in-law Paul DeSilvio in tow, saw them play at the new Roxy, right next to the stadium of the Atlanta Braves. It was a fun night, finished up with food at ancient HWY 41 roadside dive Doc’s. We took Uber.
Many of my fellow city folks cried me a river when the Braves moved out of Atlanta proper, but the newer area is urban and has many obvious advantages, like nice, very nearby nightlife options. It’s right across the Chattahoochee River from Atlanta, in Cobb County. Neither baseball stadium was/is accessible by fluid mass transit, which is pathetic.
On Socials: For all its too-busy presentation and soon-to-be obvious archaicness seen so clearly now, music mattered so much more on Myspace than on any other straight social media ever. Good new stuff broke. Polymath Justin Timberlake busted out as the biggest star benefitting the most financially from the fledgling social media site – he’d later buy it, which I always felt was just small payback for the many millions – while other, less commercially viable artists had a free place to show their stuff, finished or in-development, to the inhabitants of the world. Many gained confidence and fanbases, and we each had a new “place” to work.
Myspace was freshly invented and the title of social media manager was still so far from business proliferation, that the artists you reached out to on the platform often contacted you back directly. I was able to comm with acts, and based on the huge readership numbers of my (free-for-me) Myspace blog, they more often than not let me hang out with them when they came through the Atlanta area. Producer/performer Cisco Adler and his set out in Malibu became our online friends, and I got to interview them at various nightclubs and art shows. Nomadic sludge core power duo Jucifer, formerly Athens residents, put me on their guest list to write about them on the site, and it snowballed from there.
There and elsewhere, I put in the 10,000 hours it takes to become able at something, often writing about my love of college football, while also scribbling thousands of poems and mainly plugging away on my debut narrative book Golden State Misadventures, of my travels of California, at Mom’s and in two nearby homes where I lived. That book goes third edition on Silver Stone Press August 24th.
Further and The Elephant 6 Ramble:
Twenty-five-plus years ago when I first moved from Marietta (the new home of the Braves) to Athens, Georgia, in 1990, one of my first UGA friends in the group I knew from school was Andrew Rieger, later the front of Elf Power. A member band of the old Athens-based music label The Elephant 6, like other so-called Elephant 6 acts, Elf Power are melodic yet quite trippy. Real staying power there, evidenced by a long run of moderate successes and propelled forth by the enigmatic engine of Rieger’s soul. The music moves easily into matters of adult life, while still taking a listening audience on a wild ride through the energies more closely associated with youth.
The single best track from the whole history of the Elephant 6 label is from sometime Athens residents and of Ruston, Louisiana (where I once visited Louisiana Tech on a football recruiting trip), a band called Neutral Milk Hotel. In the Aeroplane Over the Sea is simply a warbling circus of a masterpiece, title track to an album of same name.
I like to sample a nice taste of the best of the Elephant 6 acts on YouTube, and you should definitely try to catch Elf Power live out on the road. Or my current fav Athens band still, of Montreal, considered a later wave of the Elephant 6 movement, which I’d first heard, at all, on Andrea’s little record player at the Marietta party house we called Kinjac, the summer before Athens. Olivia Tremor Control spinning out their layered warped sounds, I initially wondered if the record itself weren’t damaged. Was I on something?
Not talking about hippie jam bands, here folks, though I’m sure they would love to play another set for you while you burn big or your blossoms bloom. My friend Gordon Lamb has a new book out called Widespread Panic in the Streets of Athens, Georgia where you can read all about the biggest of them, save the Grateful Dead, whom I saw three times at the Omni and were definitely a deeply cultural trip. Widespread shows were increasingly bigger rock shows during the years I saw them play in Athens (most of the 1990s), and their musicianship was surely strong, they go long but had none of this artschool-quality vibrance I ultimately enjoy so much more.
Living in The ATL, the current undeniable world capital of hip-hop, some of it good to great and some of it just bad, and the home of Mastodon, the biggest heavy metal band in the world; my friend Brent Hinds is in the group. I can get into both, but for kaleidoscope fun I look to more modern and danceable out of region touring national acts like the catchy MGMT and out to the east, of the largest state east of the Mississippi River, that is, back to little Athens.
Groovin’ in ol’ Georgia.