The Reputation – Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY – 2002-02-21

The Reputation
Where: Rochester – The Bug Jar, NY.

When: 2002-02-21

Let me start off by saying something about experimental music. I’m all for it, if you want to try new things to test the limits of electronics and effects pedals in rock-based music, but don’t do it live. This show started with an opening act that consisted of two guys playing in front of the stage with their backs to the crowd so they could twiddle all their knobs. One guy would play a note or two and then manipulate it, while another had a guitar flat on the stage and would pluck away at it discordantly while using different effects. At times it got pretty loud and chaotic, at other times it sounded like a few plucked notes with the volume rising and falling. Now I’ve been reading about early Sonic Youth and Butthole Surfers, and I try to be open-minded when hearing acts like this, but until there’s something for the crowd to get around, it’s best kept in the basement.

Luckily, The Reputation was all rock, and it brought the crowd back into the action. Led by Elizabeth Elmore (of Sarge fame), the band proves my theory that, once again, guitar-driven rock is coming back in vogue instead of the post-anything, keyboard-enhanced fare we’ve been getting lately. First, let’s say that this is not Sarge. In fact, when people shouted out requests of former Sarge songs, Elmore said, coyly, “You must be thinking of some other band. We’re The Reputation.” Gone is that band’s poppy-emo quality, and instead you get all-out, guitar-driven rock. I love it.

Elmore makes an excellent indie-rock female frontperson in a genre that lacks well-definable female figures outside of Sleater-Kinney and Kim Gordon. She played right to the crowd, wailing away on her guitar and sporting an old-school Compound Red t-shirt. Her songs were up-tempo and rocking with a bit of a Southern-rock root. Many songs were fast as hell, very impressive and kept up by a drummer who felt like he used to play in strictly heavy metal bands. Still, the band broke up their set with one song that Elmore played on the keyboard, prompting her to point out that she is “sensitive and demure. Mostly demure.”

Following The Reputation, Tristeza toned things down a bit with their style of flowing, melodic, chiming Mogwai-esque rock. On album, their songs can have a somnambulistic effect, flowing very pretty and sweet but not changing enough to blast loud to impress your friends. Live, however, you got the sense how long these guys had been doing this. It was amazing how well they reproduced the unique, flowing sound of their albums, but it took on a more edgy, intense feel in a live setting.

With chiming guitars, extremely rich bass, intricate, time-changing rhythms, and keyboard atmospherics, the five-piece were incredibly tight. Even more impressive, the band was very into their music. As much as possible considering the softer pace of their songs, they bounced and moved to the music, at times bent over their instruments or swaying their heads. In fact, I’d say they were more into their music than the crowd. That means a lot when you consider a band plays their songs millions of times. When you can tell the musicians are into the songs, working hard to eek out impressive and unique sounds from their instruments, you can’t help but get more into their music as well.

My only fault with Tristeza was that their show, ending at about 2 a.m. on a weeknight, did tend to put me to sleep, not really because it was as quiet and pretty as on their album but just because of the late hour. The band was surprisingly tight, and they proved that instrumental music can carry over brilliantly to a live setting. They also showed that, at the base of their experimental style, they’re still a rock band at heart.