Although we won't be left completely empty with the loss of DFest next weekend, something still won't seem quite right to my ears. Yes, FreeTulsa! and Black Gold Music Run will both step up to try and fill the gap, each to its own measure. Whereas FreeTulsa! will focus primarily on indie-rock and Black Gold Music Run will be directed more to mainstream and blues-rock overtones, both keep their vision directed squarely on the Oklahoma music scene.
That's a good and admirable vision, and there is more than enough talent here to sustain both festivals with local bands to spare. DFest itself made an effort to direct a good portion of its attention to Oklahoma artists, but as the festival grew in size and popularity, there was another aspect that made it so very exciting and anticipated for so many music fans. Although organizers caught a degree of flack for losing focus on local music, it was the vision for exposing Tulsa to some of the hottest emerging acts on the national music scene that kept the general public's interest and made it an event to anticipate for many DFest devotees.
Although both of the approaching festivals have kept their focus on local music, not all is lost in regards to emerging buzz bands.
Cain's Ballroom has for years championed buzz bands and indie rock, and that hasn't changed. In fact, Sunday evening's concert by The New Pornographers is not only the kind of show that the Ballroom has been building its reputation on, but it also brings us exactly the type of act that DFest would have put on the main stage to prove to Tulsa there really is life left in the national music scene -- if you're willing to look beyond your basic radio fare.
That's not to say The New Pornographers don't belong on mainstream radio.
Although the group has its roots squarely based in the indie-rock scene, an innate and uncanny sensibility for pop hooks and the ability to draw from every decade of the rock era make it a logical candidate to be the band to dominate airwaves.
When discussing the confusion at the band's lack of airplay with band leader Carl Newman, he said with a chuckle, "Yeah -- if I only knew the answer to that myself...
"I think we've always taken a lot from the different eras. From the beginning we had '60s pop elements and Beach Boys-type vocals, but we've also drawn from '70s glam rock and from late '70s/early '80s new Wave like Blondie, The Cars and The Vapors. We've always taken what we wanted from all of them and made it our own," he said.
"We definitely have our own niche. We live in the world of indie-rock. We always have and probably always will."
Even so, The New Pornographers' take on indie rock isn't one that should be confined to a small demographic or kept to indie-snob circles. Hints of beach Boys and Beatles intertwine with strings and vocal harmonies that recall ELO, often paired up alongside the previously mentioned new wave lynchpins of The Cars or Blondie. Somehow, an hour with any given New Pornographers' CD is like a pop history lesson run through a blender and pulled out with a modern and indie-rock twist.
This isn't music just for twenty-something indie fans -- or even the now thirty somethings that have had an insight and followed the band for the past decade, since forming in 1997. A slot on a big festival stage in downtown Tulsa could be a watershed moment to indie-pop awareness in our town and break down demographic barriers.
Without DFest, however, we'll have to settle for what will expose the band to a smaller audience but create a far more intimate and interactive show at Cain's Ballroom Sunday night, July 25.
When discussing the band's arrival, Newman said that his band had never played Oklahoma before, much less Tulsa, but that he was definitely looking forward to the visit.
"I've always been fascinated with Oklahoma," he said. "After all, Oklahoma brought us The Flaming Lips -- one of the weirdest bands out there!
"We started out with no real plan, just to make music," Newman said in regards to the band's longevity of more than a decade. "It was kind of a shock to find I was going to turn into a job and then a career. We put our first record out 10 years ago ... and we're still here."
Of course, some of the band's longevity might be attributed to the success not only of the band itself, but each of the members' side projects. Newman himself has released a couple of solo albums as A.C. Newman and fellow guitarist/songwriter Dan Bejar has seen a degree of success with his project, Destroyer.
Perhaps more noticeable, however, has been the success seen by vocalist Neko Case, Newman's female foil who adds such beautiful harmonies to the Pornographers pop crescendo, yet has followed a slightly darker tone with her solo discs, becoming a true indie-rock siren.
When New Pornographers arrive in Tulsa this weekend, you can expect a full evening of indie-rock that hinges on all the cornerstones of four decades of pop. As simplistic as it may sound, it will easily be what Newman laughingly called a "good time rock 'n' roll show," even though he admitted that sounded cheesy.
If you're looking for inspiration amidst a sea of indie-pop and are willing to open your ears to something new, however, this is exactly the show that Tulsa needs: a nod to the past, while focusing directly into the future of rock and roll.
Tickets are still available for the show Sunday night, July 25 at Cain's Ballroom for $26 in advance or $28 at the door. Imaad and The Dodos will open at 7:30pm with doors opening at 7pm, so make sure to come out and see what we'll be missing with the loss of DFest this year, while remaining up-to-date with the best that indie-rock has to offer.
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