Post-Traumatic Rock Disorder

Bands walk a fine line when trying to add something new to a tried and true formula such as post-rock’s trademark ‘quiet-loud-quiet-loud’ arrangement. The epic scale of the genre allows for plenty of variation and innovation which more often than not results in genius. However as I stood at Rock and Roll Hotel last night watching the opening band Grails doing their thing all I could think was, “Is this how far the genre has come?”

To put it midly, I did not dig Grails’ set. It was obvious that they were trying to cut their own path through post-rock country but the method of transport they chose just didn’t work for me at all. A fan of Grails described them to me as ‘jazzy music for dark cowboys’ … um sure buddy. The band looked like a post-rock band, and they posed like a post-rock band, but what they really were was a hippy-dippy jam band disguised as a post-rock band. I mean I was expecting a sitar solo at any second.

I was trying to get into their set but I kept thinking about how their focus on rhythm over dramatic guitar playing reminded me more of an extended Phish jam than a post-rock show. It got me thinking about post-rock as a genre and how far it has come. It has been about 16 years since Spiderland birthed the genre and in that time bands like Explosions in the Sky have become huge. Now-a-days, since the genre has finally gone big time, everyone and their cousin suddenly has a post-rock band. But are they all really post-rockers or are some just post-college potheads that have retooled their sound to cash-in? While I was thinking that Grails were more like these guys than these guys my fears were confirmed when a guy next to me started to do that pot-head dance (you know the one, the one that your dorm’s tie-dye guy did everytime some one uttered the words ‘kind bud’).


By the end of Grails’ set I was kind of disgusted with it all and couldn’t even enjoy the few decent moments they had generated (well really only one, a nice finger slide working a guitar-neck intro). I thought that maybe these kind of bands would be better suited dropping their chameleon acts and trying to actually excel in the genres they so clearly enjoy playing. The thought of a few more bands like Grails in the pipeline depressed me enough to skip the second opening act.

The only thing that would save the night and restore my hope in a genre that I love would be the headliners, my personal favs from Japan, Mono.

Everytime I get the opportunity to see Mono play live it is a treat. They always put on soul-crushingly memorable performances. They have made my year-end best-of lists for the last two years and last night’s show will probably complete their trifecta.

Their set was magnificent. I got a great spot along the wall in front of the left speaker tower so I could watch the masters at work. Each member of Mono is a virtuoso and watching their handy work is a huge part of the show. The two guitarists’ hands alternated between surgically intricate string-work and hummingbird wing-like blurs. The bassist stood between them looking beautiful as she swayed back and forth, her hair floating about her as if she were underwater. When the band really kicked it into high-gear they all looked like they were rocking out at the bottom of a whirlpool; battling against the forces of nature with their god-like noise wall.

I think that Mono are the most emotional of the post-rock bands. The descriptor ‘mini-orchestras’ really does apply to their music. Last night was rich with stretches of quiet, restrained beauty exploding into some of the most cathartic guitar crescendoes I have ever witnessed. Mono put on a night of beautiful soul-stirring music that completely restored my faith in the post-rock genre and even some of my faith in mankind (yes, even in you Mister Pot-head Dance).

6 Comments so far

  1. jr (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 1:07 pm

    i don’t know much about post rock as a genre, but your description of the performance isn’t helping.

    what do you mean when you say “sounded a few octaves away from being an extended jam at a Phish concert.”

    either you mean something else besides octave, or i’m confused.

    how can the *pitch* of the performance liken it to a phish jam?


  2. darpino (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 1:42 pm

    In regards to pitch – Jam bands usually feature a much deeper sounding bass, drums, keyboards to drive the heart of the funky jam. Whereas post-rock is driven by the guitars, that sound tuned much higher, often for long stretches that don’t even use bass and drums.

    Basically Grails sounded like a jam band but were playing everything tuned higher in a weak attempt to sound post-rock. But it failed because rythmn was their focus not guitar. I guess the shift in focus was their attempt at innovation but it felt like posing.

    I could have gone on and on about the differences but didn’t for economy’s sake. Another difference is jam band song’s feeling of incessant noodling while post-rock songs have a very strong musical narrative structure that give the listener a dramatic conclusion.

    I just find the one much more rewarding than the other. But that’s my taste. To each his own.

    I guess I could have said this instead:

    “I was trying to get into their set but I kept thinking about how their focus on rythmn over dramatic guitar playing reminded me more of a Phish jam than a post-rock show.”


  3. jr (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 1:52 pm

    aha! thanks, that makes sense now, and helps me understand post-rock a bit more.


  4. darpino (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

    No, thank you – I changed the line in the story to hopefully be a little clearer for other readers too.


  5. Hy Hy (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 3:14 pm

    Do post-rock bands really “tune higher” than jam bands? Seems to me that tuning any lower than E or even Eb is the domain of heavy metal, grunge, etc. not Phish and the like. Then again I wouldn’t be surprised if those hippy fellas used alternate tunings too, but I doubt they’d drop it down to rubber-band flappiness.


  6. darpino (unregistered) on May 16th, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

    I’m not a musician HY – just reporting how it sounds to me. I’m sure I could benefit from a lesson in guitar tuning vocab.



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