Day 23. Song from a band or artist that you have met in person:
“Outside” — Tribe
During my freshman year of college, I was a reporter for my college newspaper, Newspeak. (Very Orwellian, I know. It’s since been renamed The Tech News, which was also its original name before some genius thought Newspeak was clever.) That was the start of an ascension of editorial positions that culminated with Co-Editor-in-Chief. But enough back-patting.
At the time, I fancied myself to have a pretty good knowledge of music (and compared to the average person, I think I did). As such, I became the de facto features writer, which meant I got free access to review shows. (Read: I got to see a lot of local and small-name bands ranging from mediocre to downright awful.) You may think that getting in free would make the bad shows more bearable. You’d be wrong. It just makes it easier to leave in the middle.
Occasionally, however, you’d get the shock of something special. One night in 1990, Tribe was that something special. Tribe was an up-and-coming band getting a lot of buzz in the Boston area. It was a little bit of a coup when they got booked to play a show on campus. Their song “Abort” was getting airplay, even though they only had a self-released album at the time. Even so, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of them.
Typically I didn’t do interviews with the bands I covered, but for some reason, that night I got one. It was before the show and I met with them in their “dressing room” which was nothing more than a storage room to the side of the “club.” They looked like a normal bunch of people, although I do remember thinking that Janet LaValley, the lead singer, was dressed much more formally than the others. We chatted for a while. I found out some interesting things, such as, this was the first band for all of them. (Kind of amazing to think that is was everyone’s first band ever, and they eventually got signed to a major label). They gave me a demo tape, (which I still have because I’m a hoarder, er, collector) and off I went to watch the show with everyone else.
There was a bit of a transition between the five people I’d talked to and the people who appeared on stage. Janet LaValley, in particular, seemed to have a persona that she put on (which was accentuated by the attire I mentioned previously). She played sort of the detached, crazy-eyed chick, which I thought was interesting. But even the others, who were pretty laid-back during the interview, were much more serious on stage.
Now, I must digress a little to tell you about Lens and Lights. They were (and are) the on-campus organization that did sound and lighting for shows. I was actually in the club for a while, but to be honest, when I was there, many members didn’t, shall we say, believe in deodorant. Generally clean, but not pleasant-smelling. Have you ever been cooped up in a projection booth with someone emanating serious B.O.? There isn’t enough stuff you can jam up your nose to make that a pleasant experience. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me deciding to quit. But I digress on the digression.
While their lighting was generally pretty good, let’s just say that I never thought they did a very good job with sound and leave it at that. Especially at smaller shows. The sound at this show was terrible. As in, couldn’t-make-out-a-word, music-so-muddy-you-could-get-stuck-in-it terrible. In retrospect, that could have had something to do with the acoustics of the venue—the basement of a residence hall. But it’s much more dramatic to say “They sucked!” So: “They sucked!” I left the show feeling utterly underwhelmed. Thanks, Lens and Lights!
When I got back to my dorm room with my friends, we listened to the demo tape. I remember saying “This is the band we just heard?” After the disappointment of the show, the tape was a revelation. It had only three songs, but they were all really good. And from then on I’ve been a Tribe fan.
“Outside” was one of the songs on that tape. (For audio of the song, go here. There’s a lot of good Tribe-related stuff on that site, I’d recommend checking it out.) I like how the track builds and builds, culminating with the call-and-answer part. Good stuff.
Unfortunately, Tribe didn’t last very long: Two major-label albums and a few years. I did manage to see them another time in that same venue (when, to be fair, the sound was much better). They just never caught on outside of Boston, and ended up disbanding. A couple of the members went on to form a software company (which came up with Guitar Hero among other things). In another interesting note, “Outside” was featured in the video game Rock Band (and not Guitar Hero for some reason).
So maybe there’s hope for a comeback.