Getting in Tune | A Couple of Musical Musings on Fang Island, Best Coast, and Giving It All You Got

Fang Island

My good friend, Matt Weiland, is the editor of the Rockport Observer, and when he began the endeavor, he asked me to write about anything that’s on my mind. When it comes to the World Wide Web, he reminds me: “Content is king.”

In that respect, I’ve decided to write something for the Rock-O that even I can’t describe. I think it’s a concert review – or an album review – but I’m not sure. Maybe it’s neither. Just a commentary on live music in Northeast Ohio.

I was inspired (or, in one case, uninspired) to write this piece after seeing back-to-back live shows at the Beachland Ballroom and the Grog Shop on Cleveland’s east side last week.

On Tuesday night, July 24, I went to see the indie/lo-fi/garage/surf rock group, Best Coast, at the Beachland.

Led by singer, Bethany Cosentino, the group has seen a big recent spike in their popularity – evidenced by their sold-out show last week on Waterloo. Their “big songs” – (That’s what people ask when you’re seeing a band they’ve never heard of: “What are their big songs?”) – are “Boyfriend” and “The Sun Was High (So Was I).”

The following night, I saw a group called Fang Island at the Grog Shop. That show was not sold out. In fact, I’ve never seen the Grog Shop less crowded than it was last Wednesday.

While both bands are broadly categorized as “indie rock,” Best Coast and Fang Island couldn’t be more different. (But then again, assuming that two indie rock bands are the same is like saying Renoir and Cezanne are the same because they’re both impressionist painters.) Indie, after all, is short for “independent.”

The reason I’m comparing the two, aside from the proximity in which they performed in Cleveland, is to contrast two shows in the most basic way possible. In short: Everyone showed up for Best Coast, and the band gave nothing. No one showed up for Fang Island, and the band gave everything.

Naturally, concert experiences – musical taste, in general – is completely subjective. What I thought was a listless, lifeless show might have been a seminal rock-and-roll experience for someone else.

But effort and appreciation are two things that are tough to fake. And when an act simply goes through the motions for a sold-out crowd, it’s a little bit like former Justice Potter Stewart’s thoughts on pornography: I can’t define it; but I know it when I see it.

Best Coast played all the requisite songs and put in the proper amount of time, peppered with small talk. They did their encore. They split.

Does a band owe us more than this? Not really. But over the years as a rock-nerd, I’ve seen acts look out over a teeming Cleveland mass and be utterly amazed by our enthusiasm. Maybe it’s myopic of me to assume that Cleveland actually does rock harder than Buffalo or Pittsburgh or St. Louis. But I’ve seen bands with eyes widened by the wild reception they get in the Rock Capital.

Fang Island is a group from Brooklyn, NY (via Rhode Island). It’s five shaggy twenty-something guys who accurately describe their music as “everyone high-fiving everyone,” and their goal, according to guitarist Jason Bartell, is “to make music for people who like music.” Their sound – a blend of symphonic guitars and completely catchy melodies – has been described by critics as “a wild party” that is “honest and life-affirming and infectious.”

(If you have 5 minutes and 13 seconds, an iTunes account and 99 spare cents, I strongly encourage you to sample this high-fiving, life-affirming sound via their joyfully cacophonous single, “Asunder,” off the new album, “Major.” Here is a link via the YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5crIDUyoKI)

Maybe it’s the actual name of the band, which sounds like a death-metal or Goth group. (They’re actually named after a story from The Onion that referred to Donald Rumsfeld’s secret hideaway.) Whatever the reason, when they rolled into the Grog Shop last Wednesday, the crowd never reached triple figures.

They were undeterred. Fang Island didn’t punish the fans who were there by moping about those who weren’t. They rocked as hard as they could. And the fortunate few of us in attendance gave it back as loudly as we could. It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.

So what’s my point?

I guess my point is that Fang Island got a bit of a raw deal at the Grog Shop and, in my opinion, Best Coast might’ve gotten away with one at the Beachland.

I still like both groups. But now I realize what they both think of me.

Joe Gabriele

Joe Gabriele is a Rocky River writer whose work can also be read at Cavs.com. |

(Editor's Note: Seen something cool or inspiring? Or do you wish to be the backlash against unwarranted hype? The Rockport Observer invites and welcomes your voice, opinions and reviews. Become a member [at the column on the left]. Submit a story. Influence your neighbors. Change the world.)

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Volume 0, Issue 0, Posted 9:50 AM, 08.03.2012