Friday, September 25, 2009

Sunny Day Real Estate: Grown Up Emo Kids and Car Seats

"One day, we're going to be 40. And it's going to happen like that," my fiancee said with a snap of her fingers as we surveyed our surroundings this past Wednesday evening at First Avenue here in Minneapolis. She brought it up because we were on the younger side of emo kid nostalgiafest 2009, aka the Sunny Day Real Estate reunion show, and it was quite obvious by a quick glance around the room. We discovered the venerable emotive rock institution known to fanboys and girls as simply SDRE toward the end of their first go-around together. It was 2000 and the band's fourth (and what would have been thought to be final) album, The Rising Tide, was meant with derision by many, but whole-heartedly embraced by us high schoolers that were obsessed with indie guitar music that was catchy but filled with angsty pain.

But it was obvious that as opening act The Jealous Sound played through this very kind of music capably and honorably, we (for the first time in a long time) were the youngins ogling the old people that didn't seem into the music, but were oddly silent and contemplative. It was fitting, though, that we were in the minority, because the lineup consisted of the band's original four members, including Nate Mendel and Williams Goldsmith, who originally left SDRE in 1995 to pursue careers as bassist and drummer in some band called the Foo Fighters. So Mendel and co. stuck to largely that foursome's discography when they took to the stage, which are arguably the ones that SDRE will be remembered for anyway. It started off big, with mostly tracks for Diary, the band's debut from 1994. One in particular that managed to get me from analyzing the crowd to dive into the beauty of the music was their live rendition of "Song About an Angel". With gut-wrenching dynamics that haven't been in anything Jeremy Enigk's written (as a solo artist or in his other band, The Fire Theft) since his breakthrough songwriting year, it was certainly an early apex of the night.

As the band started intertwining more songs from 1995's LP2, including "Grendel" and "Iscarabaid", nothing caught hold of me as intensely as anything they played from Diary, but I knew I had never given most of these songs from their sophomore outing the fair shake they deserve, which is one of the magical things about surprise reunion shows, whether just a money-grubbing last ditch effort in a musical recession or not. When SDRE broke up shortly after the release of The Rising Tide, just after I had started obsessing over them, I immediately accepted the fact that I would never see them in concert. It's a completely different feeling listening to a record of a band you love when you know it's a possibility you'll see them someday, or if you know they're coming to town, or if you know they will never show up in your hometown. So hearing these songs in a light I didn't think would ever be possible truly was special. It makes me want to forgive the fact that the song "8" from that record was on the Batman Forever soundtrack, go back, and listen to it all in a refreshingly new and exciting context.

And despite their connections to commerical success such as this that broke out for the SDRE guys throughout the years both before and after the band's demise (lead singer Enigk also experienced marginal glory as film composer for the deservedly forgotten film The United States of Leland), I really didn't see this reunion as a primarily financially-fueled decision. And I say that as someone who finds a lot of these reunions nowadays completely financially-fueled. And I totally thought the same of SDRE up until the night of the show because there seemed no other reason to do it other than to jump on the bandwagon and see where their mark in emo history lay. Now the show was not sold out, but it was pretty packed. Their comments to the crowd were not necessarily enthusiastic, but they didn't sound forced either. And ultimately, at some point around the middle of them venturing into territory from their 3rd album How it Feels to Be Something On (and Pitchfork's favorite of that year, mind you) with "Guitar and Video Games", I realized they were not doing this for a quick buck. I had completely decided that between their new song that Jeremy (an otherwise sadsack sullen guy) murmured afterward he looks "forward to recording that one" and the pure ardor that propelled Mendel and Goldsmith through "Guitar and Video Games", that this was for real. These guys loved playing music together again.

So while not every song filled my veins with the kind of vitriolic fervor I felt as a pained teenager in a suburban wasteland (wee-ow, that sounds lame, who was I?) and as I came to the treacherous realization that soon I too would be 40 and might not want to "get into it" at a show, that at least the music remains. And thankfully, due to the spirit and genuine love between four guys who had a good run back in the day, both they and I and the hundreds of others that filled First Avenue wouldn't have to settle for just casually listening to an old record to get our nostalgic rocks off. We could get together again and while we can't recreate the past, we sure can come close. And as the mild giddy high weared off as I exited the parking ramp Wednesday night and I witnessed a 40-ish guy with black-rimmed glasses pulled out of his spot and readjust a car seat in the back of his Honda, I thought to myself, 40's not going to be too bad at all. If I can get away on a weeknight when I have a kid of my own to go and relive the glory of emo music when I'm 40, it's not going to be too bad at all.

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