Three weeks ago, Indie Ear Madness ’09 began with 64 of the best indie-minded/respected bands in the land. After some fierce and furious competition, TV On The Radio and The Bouncing Souls were the only two acts left standing. Last night they went head to head, competing not only for the 2009 National Championship, but for indie music bragging rights, which (you’d think) would at least guarantee them a free shot of espresso in any non-chain coffee shop in America.
The irony of Indie Ear Madness is that the finals are always performed in the same venue as the NCAA’s Men’s Basketball championship; usually some type of large stadium, a setting some might find more ideal for an 80’s hair-band than a well-respected indie act. However, taking into consideration that indie-minded artists usually spend their summers playing large outdoor festivals around the world, performing at Detroit’s Ford Field, in front of 70,000 fans–which at times could seem overwhelming–is nothing either of the championship bands couldn’t handle. It wasn’t a question of if the bands could pull off a set, but how they would do it.
(above: The Bouncing Souls’ Greg Attonito attempts to lead his band to victory against TV On The Radio.)
Going into last night’s National Championship, TV On The Radio were clearly the favorites. Not only were they a #3-seed to The Bouncing Souls’ #12-seed, but they are still riding the wave of critical acclaim from their latest album, Dear Science, which Rolling Stone, SPIN, The Onion AV Club, and the readers of Pitchfork Media all named the best album of 2008. Within the last few months, TV On The Radio has also performed live on The Late Show, The Tonight Show, Colbert Report, Later with Jools Holland, and SNL (you don’t think they can handle a crowd of 70,000?). On top of all of that, they eliminated Kanye West from this year’s tournament–no easy feat considering Kanye usually gets what he wants.
Though they’ve been called a Cinderella team throughout this year’s Indie Ear Madness tournament, The Bouncing Souls could have very well been considered favorites going into last night’s match-up. They shocked the world by dispatching both Bruce Springsteen and U2 from the tourney. The Bouncing Souls are also celebrating their 20th year as a band, and they’ve only really suffered one line-up change over the years (replacing drummers at the turn of the decade); in other words, they’re a really tight squad.
The Jersey punk act not only carry a surplus of indie cred, but could be called prophets of modern day music. Fifteen years ago, when their punk rock peers were penning major label record deals and sucking the teat of MTV, The Bouncing Souls remained content on making a name for themselves on their own terms. To date, The Souls have never inked a deal with a major label, and can still sell out a nationwide tour at will. In 2009, their D.I.Y.-business model seems like the only way to survive in a failing music industry. Their peers, who went for the gold in the ’90s, probably wished they were The Bouncing Souls right about now.
As always, TV On The Radio performed an impassioned set, giving their jazzy-soulful-electro-rock songs a rougher edge than their album versions. “Staring At The Sun” and “Wolf Like Me” brought the crowd to their feet, and even a dialed-down tune like “Hours” took the crowd through an incredible journey. Oddly, considering all of its critical praise, the tracks from Dear Science weren’t able to ignite the crowd in the same way. Sure, “Golden Age” and “Dancing Choose” are catchy, but they seem to be missing that explosive factor. Some of the other tunes from Dear Science (dare I say?) even came off a little boring live.
The Bouncing Souls, with 20 years of set-list material to choose from, brought out all of their club-tested, stadium-ready hits. Re-working two soccer chants over the years (“Here We Go” and “Olé“) also proved to be mighty valuable when attempting to work a room of 70,000 people. The abundance of hey’s, ho’s, and oi’s in The Souls’ anthemic tunes also helped woo some TV On The Radio fans. There was even a section of Williamsburg hipsters–a group usually seen crossing their arms in the back of clubs–uncharacteristically pumping their fists in the air (believe it or not, some were even smiling).
In the end, The Bouncing Souls’ arsenal of hits were just too much for TV On The Radio to overcome. “True Believers,” “Manthem,” “The Gold Song,” and “Lamar Vannoy” sent Ford Field into a frenzy, which even motivated TV On The Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe to come out on stage and deliver his favorite movie quote during The Bouncing Souls’ performance of “These Are The Quotes From Our Favorite 80’s Movies.”
The Bouncing Souls’ sealed the deal, winning their first ever Indie Ear National Title (they are born to lose no more). Now they just have to figure out where they’re going to hang their National Championship banner, since it’s twice as big as their rehearsal space.