is it worth the admission

By Peter Blackstock. Peter’s Postscripts Blog at No Depression magazine website, Jan. 15, 2008.

“is it worth the admission….”

The above lyric is the first line of the first song on the first album by a band called Zeitgeist. The album was called Translate Slowly and it came out in 1985, followed by three records after they changed their name to the Reivers. The band split up in October 1991 and hasn’t played a gig since.

That will change on February 9-10, when the Reivers make a Saturday-Sunday stand at the Parish in their hometown of Austin, Texas. The recent Led Zeppelin reunion in London may have been a bigger deal to the mass of the civilized world, but not to me. And not, apparently, to a few hundred other folks, given that the February 9 show sold out within one day, resulting in a second show being booked for the following night. As if anyone even asked “is it worth the admission” — a bargain at $15 — for quite a few folks (myself included) it was also worth a plane ticket of a few hundred bucks.

If you’re wondering, on account of my writing about them here, whether the Reivers were some sort of pioneering alt-country band, no, they weren’t. Well, not really, anyway, although Translate Slowly did contain a terrifically inventive cover of “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain”, and closed with the western-twanged instrumental “Hill Country Theme”.

What they were, at heart, was a classic pop band — considered “alternative-rock” at the time, but really much more basic and broad in their appeal, I always thought. They balanced memorable melodies and unstoppable energy with seemingly effortless ease, contrasting the rough and sweet vocals of frontfolks John Croslin and Kim Longacre (respectively) amid an infectious swirl of chiming guitars and unbelievably lively rhythm. (I’m sure it’ll seem like hyperbole, but I still think Garrett Williams might be the best drummer I ever heard.)

They were at the forefront of a swarm of Austin bands that were caustically dubbed “The New Sincerity” by musician/author Jesse Sublett, and while that comment was perhaps understandable given Sublett’s perspective as a veteran of the city’s previous punk/new-wave onslaught, it also rang with a bit of resonance. While the bands themselves (Zeitgeist, Wild Seeds, True Believers, Glass Eye, Doctors’ Mob, etc.) would never have declared themselves to be “newly sincere,” they emerged in an era where the likes of Michael Jackson and Quiet Riot were topping the charts. By comparison, they were a real breath of fresh air, particularly if you were just beginning to dig beneath the surface, as I was back then.

A few nights ago I stumbled upon a reasonably entertaining documentary about the rise of heavy metal on VH1 Classic. The first hour dealt with the more purist forerunners and creators of the form, with the second hour detailing how it all devolved into the caricatural carcass of Motley Crue, Warrant and Twisted Sister. In that context, what we were hearing on the stages of Liberty Lunch and the Continental Club and the Beach and the Hole in the Wall actually *was* pretty sincere — these were bands who were playing music for all the right reasons, and pretty damned good music at that.

— Peter Blackstock