"For some it is how you succeed"
Mazzy Star with Psychic Ills at Majestic Theatre
Detroit, MI USA 11/15/13
by Jeff Howitt for MOTORCITYBLOG
It is often accidental how some bands form.
When Dave Roback slipped out of Rain Parade just after they released their first record, beyond some personal strains it wasn't because the band wasn't happening. Some look past the glow of acknowledgement and are willing to keep going in deeper. As the story goes in 1983 Roback and lover Kendra Smith, former bassist of Dream Syndicate, released a sole single as Clay Allison and not long after started calling themselves Opal. Also in ’83 a young Hope Sandoval was in a folk duo named Going Home with Sylvia Gomez and on tour with Sonic Youth and Minutemen when Gomez found herself backstage with Roback in Los Angeles and handed him Going Home’s demo.
Jump up to December of ’87 (the last year of what is considered the Paisley Underground movement in Southern California) Opal release Happy Nightmare Baby then while on tour with Jesus & The Mary Chain Smith leaves the band and swiftly Sandoval steps into her place while the project tours for two more years. Instead of turning in a batch of songs they no longer feel a connection to as Opal (save “Ghost Highway” and “Give You My Lovin’” which was written by Sylvia Gomez) the musicians dared to go even deeper, re-imagining themselves as Mazzy Star and recorded She Hangs Brightly which shimmered into the world in April of 1990 on the last legs of Rough Trade’s run in the States. Capital Records picked up the album and re-released it in November of that same year.
The Paisley Underground was quite above cloud level by this point and it’s scrappy cousin Indie Rock was bringing everybody along. Crowding concert halls and airwaves (which used to be very exciting when a new song spontaneously broke out beyond the programmers whims ala “Loser” by Beck) and established a lot of Outsider music as popular entertainment. Late ’93 saw the release of So Tonight That I May See and almost a year after the albums release the single “Fade Into You” was peaking in the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 44. By the Millenniums close they found the pennies of the mild fortune they helped amass being counted and assessed for formula over their saving grace of going ever deeper so publicly they let go.
For some it is how you succeed.
Their performance here in Detroit is their first since 89X’s Christmas Show in December of 1996 which didn't end well at all. Whatever the circumstances were Sandoval cancelled then decided she wanted to still go on and I’m sure with no intention of doing so cut short Sebadoh’s set. The bill also included face to face, Goldfinger and Bloodhound Gang. Mazzy Star took the stage to a hail of ice and booing.
If Sandoval had any trepidation about that night nearly 17 years ago it does not show in her stance at the edge of the stage as she remarked that they never quit. They've been writing songs all this time. I wouldn't be surprised if in relative to Mazzy-years we see another record sooner than later from them.
They open the night with “Rock Section”, the last track from The Black Sessions. The Parisian Radio Show conducted in front of a live audience. “Look Down From The Bridge” and “Cry, Cry” from Among My Swan follow. The stage is seemingly dark but more expertly lit once my eyes adjust. A row of deep blue lights shine straight down while along the front and side lights shine inward stage level. Projections of empty beaches and leafless trees melt and mix gorgeously with insinuated geometric whirls. “In The Kingdom”, the new record Seasons of Your Day’s opener flows into “Ride It On”.
Another track from the new album “Does Someone Have Your Baby Now” again sits sonically regal amongst their earliest work from She Hangs Brightly including the title track and “Halah”, a song that became a hit almost completely through independent airplay once So Tonight That I Can See started to take off with the single “Fade Into You” and interest in the debut record pushed it to Gold certification by 1995 at the height of other mellow music maker success’s like Portishead and Tricky.
Speaking of that mighty single,
“Fade Into You” indeed was next.
As with the incident Sandoval faced almost two decades earlier we sometimes mix up that Bob Seger sound bite about “Detroit having the greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll audiences in the world” with just being rowdy and often oblivious and not paying attention to what is happening around us. Case in point tonight. Though I didn't see any indication from the stage I did hear from a good source who got the play by play in the girl’s bathroom that a guy turned to gal who had been talking the entire show and said something along the lines of
“No one talks during Fade Into You”
which prompted the girl to flip out so much
that someone in the crowd popped
Daddy’s Little Girl in her fucking face.
Meanwhile the band closes their set with “Blue Flower” from their debut and an excellent “Disappear” from Among My Swans.
I mean you could have a conversation without yelling while the band plays as they put some serious work into the blending the lush acoustic and fuzzy elements of their sound but why pay $20 bucks to talk about Nothing during Something? It is packed. Even over in the corner where I am by the South Bar. Almost too much so but not so much I can’t take it all in and just zone out. The only spell breaker (but no deal breaker) is when Sandoval’s flips through her iPad she uses for her effects rack and you can hear the “puck-puck”. A modern equivalent to hearing someone’s fingers slide on guitar strings. Really no big deal.
Mazzy Star returns to the stage to “California” another great song off of Seasons of Your Day and not to name drop an obvious inspiration but Roback and Co. really embody well the similar sickened baroque territories that the Velvet Underground touched upon especially early on. I’m probably seeing into this too much but they even resemble the cover of the eponymous VU record on stage except Sandoval who is at the nose of her ship. Hair in the breeze. They leave us with “Umbilical” from Among My Swan.
Most people seemed very pleased.
I am still shaking my head at the thought of someone getting floored during “Fade Into You” and I pat the door guy on the back on my way out and he shakes his head too. Probably not for the same reasons as I though. When we arrived, kind of late even for an all ages show, around 9PM, there was still a line almost around the building. We thought for sure no one had played yet until about 20 people from the entry point all kinds of folks start piling out to smoke and we hear that the opener Pyschic Ills had just finished. Now about 6 people from getting our ID’s checked and after listening to and cracking up a little at the door guys game which he practiced with every smiling lady he suddenly announces that he’ll “be back in five minutes!”. He just ran out of wristbands. Someone behind me suggests “We've got our tickets. We should go.” to his girlfriend which sounds like the best idea considering.
A bunch of us walk in and get into the actual ticket line. “Aw. No. You got a wristband? You can’t go in without a wristband.” and drops about a dozen on the floor which I pick up. I don’t budge and reply “This is taking an extraordinary amount of time to accomplish with you hitting on every girl walking through this door. No shame but come on!” He booms “All right, this guy is gonna help me with this” and I disperse the bands I have and get inside not long before Mazzy Star takes the stage.
For a show of this size and in the Majestic Theatre itself I really can’t grasp how understaffed this event was when it’s almost overboard getting through “customs” in the Magic Stick. I've seen this door guy for years and I love the character of the Majestic and who it draws from for employees and who it hangs onto for their place in the “scene” but this seemed a bit amateurish even by “It’s All Good” standards. I mean Bartenders can get slammed and there is a whole etiquette to getting one to see you amongst all the money waggers (usually start off with a BIG tip!) but with lines that never thinned out there was a serious lack of hustle or almost interest even in slanging drinks that night.
You gotta rock that shit.
It’s your gig too.
I have to point out that Live Nation has their hands in many of the major venues around here such as The Fillmore, St. Andrews and the Shelter to name a few that local talent buyers like ones at the Majestic, Trinosophes, Crofoot, Small’s or PJ’s Lager House compete for shows with. Also with experiments like Orion Fest and St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival happening and being run by out of state entities I would hope treasured local mainstays like the wonderful Majestic Complex with it’s deep lineage in the City culturally and all it’s possibilities for presentation would bring a few things up to speed for those of us who attend live music events weekly and also for the bands they hire to perform.