Concert Review: Burning Airlines, Rival Schools, The Casket Lottery (September 24, 2001, Lincoln, NE)

I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s a good sign when I walk back to my car after a show and do nothing but think of the most creative ways to describe what a horrible time I had. If that’s unduly harsh, than I apologize… but I was greatly disappointed by most, if not all of this particular show. My friend Michelle and I arrived quite early, given Burning Airlines’ status in some circles. But walking back to my car, I had to wonder if that status is overrated.

Up first was The Casket Lottery. Of the 3 bands, this was the one I really wanted to see. First of all, I’ve heard a lot of good things about them from people whose musical tastes I know I can rely on. I know that the band is also related, maybe peripherally, with the likes of Coalesce and the Get Up Kids. And finally, their drummer has toured with Unwed Sailor. Granted, that doesn’t say anything about their music, but you can’t ignore that kind of cred. So, to say my curiosity was piqued is an understatement.

Initially, however, I was disappointed, but only because they weren’t what I expected them to be. However, once that initial disappointment wore off, I was able to enjoy their set a bit more, especially the skill of their drummer, Nathan Richardson. Their music was quite heavy, fuelled by their drumming, but the basslines were incredibly fluid and the melodies were a little more prevalent than I thought they’d be. I was expecting something much darker and, well, ominous, I guess. There was plenty of punch and intensity, but much more straightforward than I was expecting. Overall, I wasn’t as blown away as I thought it would be, but I’d like to see them again, if only to be proven wrong.

I’m afraid that the rest of my comments for the night are going to verge on being petty. I’ll just say this. I could’ve left after The Casket Lottery and saved myself a lot of annoyance and disappointment. Of course, I doubt what I say will matter, since there were plenty of people that loved both Rival School and Burning Airlines. So, if you like either one of those bands, take comfort in the fact that I was in the minority.

Rival Schools seemed to do everything they could to get on my nerves. There was the tired goofiness of their lead singer/guitarist (though he seemed to spend more time letting his roadies fix his guitar than actually playing it). There was the lame banter between songs. That dumb dancing and bobbing up and down. The extended psychedelic bridges, complete with band introductions. The 311-ish basslines. The fact that their bassist played a transparent bass.

Okay, okay… it’s pretty petty. But I did warn you. To be fair, there were a handful of songs that I found interesting, including one that even reminded me of the likes of Catherine Wheel. At times, the band worked in some interesting atmospherics, but they felt more like gimmicks than anything else. In fact, “gimmick” is a good word to describe my overall reaction.

I’m sure to kids raised on punk, the fact that their guitarist had a rack of effects and made all sorts of swirling noises made Rival Schools sound artsy and experimental. But it was the unevenness of their set that never allowed me to take them seriously. They’d be playing a really beautiful guitar part, but then throw in some funky breakdown or weak vocal shoutouts that felt completely out of place.

Now, I’m sure that if I’d listened to Jawbox or Fugazi in high school, Burning Airlines would’ve at least held some nostalgic appeal. If you were to look up “indie-rock” in the dictionary, I’m sure Burning Airlines would be in the definition somewhere, as in music that usually sounds better on paper than when you actually listen to it. There were angular melodies aplenty, a healthy amount of dischordance, and maybe the odd time signature or two. But the whole set felt surprisingly tired and predictable. On top of that was J. Robbins’ yelping, which could’ve made even the most profound of lyrics grating. Occasionally, a keyboard part would be tossed into the mix, but such attempts to widen Burning Airline’s sonic pallet felt more cliched than anything else.

The whole time, I looked around at all of the kids freaking out, and I really wondered what I missing. What was it about this that held their attention, made their pulses quicken, and brought tears to their eyes? Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting older, or that I just not down with the “scene.” Or maybe it was because I didn’t have a pitcher of beer in my hand. I hope it wasn’t the latter, otherwise I’ll be really pissed.