My 20-year Love Affair with Blonde Redhead, Jam Room Music Festival Headliner And why I screamed out loud when they were announced
By Tracie Broom
I’m in a magical long-term relationship that is continuing to roll strong, thanks to the Jam Room Music Festival. While friends know that I connected with my super-wonderful partner Scott at the 2014 festival, resulting in a really rather phenomenal LTR, I’m actually talking about my two-decade love affair with this year’s JRMF headliner band, Blonde Redhead.
Before getting into music nerd territory, I’d like to go ahead and lay down my top 5 reasons why Oct. 3 on Main Street in Columbia, S.C. is going to be amazing:
- It is a miracle that a band of the international stature and coolness of Blonde Redhead is playing in Columbia, S.C. – at a free festival, no less. I cannot overstate this.
- It’s their only Southeast gig on this tour. Total booking coup! (That in mind, if you are a fan, consider donating what you would have spent on gas and hotel to the nonprofit Jam Room Music Festival. I did, and it feels GREAT.)
- They are the best, and most consistently excellent, live band I’ve ever seen. Like many of you, I have seen tonzzzz of great bands, so this is a pretty big deal. They combine technical virtuosity with a dreamy, melodic, and very modern sound based in the math rock and post-punk electro-indie thing of the early 2000s, now transmogrified into the kind of highly-produced, creamy-but-ultra-cool music you can listen to while working on the computer or cleaning the house. Live, they kill it all.
- The JRMF is the best festival in the Midlands for combo of high-quality indie bands, very chill street scene, and the fun of running into a frillion people you know and like very much from various eras throughout your life here.
- The organizers don’t do it for the money; they do it because they love music and they love their community. This is powerful juju and it works.
I first heard about Blonde Redhead when I was an undergrad at Wesleyan University in Connecticut. A Brooklyn-based band, they were playing in the basement of WestCo dorm. I wish I could remember more about the show, but suffice to say that it was during their noise-ish days, probably 1994, the year they formed and released their self-titled debut, or maybe 1995 when they released La Mia Vita Violenta. To be honest, I don’t remember much about the show, but I went on to follow them throughout my years living in San Francisco, seeing them just about every time they performed live between 1997 and 2009, which was only maybe five times.
A Blonde Redhead show was a rare treat, even in a major market like SF.
Japanese singer/guitarist Kazu Makino is not only the definition of the term “hauntingly beautiful” and wears the most remarkable designer outfits, but the Milanese twin brothers, Amedeo and Simone Pace (guitar and drums, respectively) are wildly salt-and-pepper handsome. They make quite an impression hitting the stage. Then they start playing one of their rolling, wistful yet badass songs, she takes the mic, closes her eyes, starts swaying, and then unleashes the most ethereal singing voice in all of the indie music world, breathy yet unconcerned: the perfect formula. The whole audience tends to be transfixed at this point, having fallen in love with all three of them.
Which brings me to a fun fact: Kazu and Amedeo’s romantic relationship.
From Stereogum, who explains it best:
“The real heart-swelling moment [of the album Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons] comes from ‘This Is Not.’ Makino and Amedeo's romantic relationship is not a band secret and it gives them a palpable chemistry during their live performances, but you can hear it in her voice with this song. Lyrically straightforward, she describes the silver linings of a failed courtship in a love letter to both Pace twins: "She left everything/ traveled to the other side of the world … a series of meaningless movements/ And then by chance she met/ You and your brother/ The moment she saw you/ She knew you were made for her."
I mean, it’s pretty compelling stuff.
I remember when Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons – my favorite of all of their albums – was released in 2000. It was the height of the dot com era in San Francisco, I had extra cash from reviewing cell phones for CNET, and I’d already gotten to see the band live at Bottom of the Hill once, maybe twice. I want to say that I nabbed that record from Napster, as well as a live recording at Bottom of the Hill at one of the shows I attended – I still have it and love it when it comes up in my iTunes shuffle. (I have since paid full price for all of their subsequent albums; it took a year or two for me to grasp that illegal download portals were killing artists more than they were killing “the Man.”) I get excited whenever they release a new album, such as the most recent, 2014’s Barragan.
My top 10 Blonde Redhead songs to look up and give a listen:
- “This is Not,” Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, 2000
- “Elephant Woman,” Misery is a Butterfly, 2004
- “In Particular,” Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, 2000
- “Falling Man,” Misery is a Butterfly, 2004
- “Missile,” In an Expression of the Inexpressible, 1998
- “I Still Get Rocks Off” (their breakout hit), La Mia Vita Violenta, 1995
- “My Impure Hair,” 23, 2007
- “Futurism vs. Passeism,” Fake Can Be Just As Good, 1997
- “Dripping,” Barragan, 2014
- “Penultimo,” Barragan, 2014
I could go on and on about Blonde Redhead and their history, or you can just Google them and discover for yourself what an enormously huge deal they are internationally and in the States.
I screamed out loud when Jam Room Music Festival founder Jay Matheson announced them as this year’s headliner at a festival kickoff party at The Whig this summer. Tears followed. Kind-of accidentally made a scene. I don’t really get hysterical in public, because I am supposed to be all grown up and such, but it was just such an exciting shock that somehow, quite magically, these guys had landed one of the rarest birds in indie rock royalty, ever.
Let’s go see this band together! They will play the final set of the Jam Room Music Festival on Saturday, Oct. 3, 2015, 12 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Main and Hampton Streets in downtown Columbia, S.C. Free! There will be good beer by The Whig, bike valet by the Cola Town Bicycle Co-op, progressive local food vendors and more.
You can check out the rest of the lineup and donate funds to the nonprofit Jam Room Music Festival at www.jamroommusicfestival.com.