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The Other Steve Miller
Posted in Music Retrospecticus

Newsfeed Anxiety: Breakthrough, The Holiday Extravaganzer, and The Compromise

The band, all bundled up from the cold, playing at the “Wolf Den.” (Photo: Maegan Simmons.)

More than a year into our existence, Newsfeed Anxiety only had (approximately) 1.25 shows and an incomplete album to its name. The next year and a half would be much different, though certainly not without its share of struggles. But they were glorious struggles, all in the name of free-genre electro-folk rock, which are the most noble struggles of all. The new lineup — which featured Ben Webster on guitar/drums and Carl on the drums/bass — played its one and only show at a venue called the Zootown Arts Community Center (ZACC) to a crowd of maybe 10 people, in a room primarily used for art exhibits, not rock shows. It was freeing to finally play a full-band, distorted and energized set, but given the venue choice, a lineup (our openers consisted of a touring lo-fi indie minimalist group, a heavy metal band, and a group of elementary kids, who were actually very good) this wasn’t a very ideal setting for our sound, and I think we hurt some eardrums in the process.

Not long after the show, during a practice in Anthony’s cement-walled and spacious apartment basement, we realized the two-guitar sound wasn’t very befitting of the original mission statement of the group (not to mention switching instruments became very confusing), and decided to revert back to the original three-piece lineup. With no gigs planned for the foreseeable future, we thought it best to move forward in finishing the album. But just as in the summer, we learned the true extent of how difficult it was to add drums to tracks that weren’t recorded to a metronome. We toiled and labored over these songs, but even the most sophisticating track slicing/manipulating couldn’t fully salvage them (I’m still convinced the Flex Time feature doesn’t work). Instead of re-recording them,, we decided to make due with what we had and finally work on other projects, using the lessons learned from this promising-yet-somewhat-poorly executed batch of songs to make the next album a more complete effort. We decided to name the eight-track, 34-minute collection The Compromise, both in reference to the song of the same name, and that, after a point, we had to come to terms to the varying quality levels — ranging from pretty stellar (“The U I Knew,” “Slipping Away”) to the acceptable (“Nocturn,” “The Compromise”) to pretty iffy (“Vices”,”Come Unglued”). We learned to accept the album’s shortcomings — just as one would a deeply flawed good friend, or a troubled-but-well-meaning relative — and by November, about a week after the aforementioned BSOMLSF saw the light of day in the Montana Kaimin, The Compromise was online for our mini-hordes of faithful listeners.

Our efforts were completed, and my internal strifes ranging from September 2006-October 2011 were exhumed. It was time to move on. Finally having recorded tracks gave us some clout when looking for venues to showcase our ever-evolving live act, of which The Compromise served as the foundation. Even before the album was complete, I shopped around a four-song demo (with my phone number written on the discs) to several prominent Missoula musicians in hopes of landing some decent gigs. These yielded mostly null returns, save for one figure who was deeply connected to the intricacies of Missoula’s music scene, who was so impressed by our sound that he booked us a show opening for touring band Generationals for a Tuesday-night show at the Badlander. (This occurred the same night as an impromptu solo acoustic set at the second iteration of the Top of the Mic. I filled in for someone who didn’t show up, but I don’t think I was qualified to advance, seeing how I wasn’t formally entered. I applied online for us to play this competition, but never heard from the event coordinator. In an attempt to be humorous, I copied and pasted James Joyce’s “The Dead” in its entirety in the “other comments” field, which likely prevented the request from being processed. A shame, really, because I wrote “Let’s Drink (Some Alcohol)” as an attempt to pander to the bar crowd during the competition. Now we’ll never know.) Although the crowd was fairly non-existent — something we were more than used to by then — we finally had the chance to perform our much-improved set since our show at the ZACC two months prior. In addition to extended versions of “Nocturn” and “The Compromise” (which served as our opener and closer, respectively), we also included an electrified cover of Obadiah Parker’s cover of Outkast’s “Hey Ya,” which quickly became a staple of our live shows, thanks to a lengthy, mega-phoned intoned “What’s cooler than being cool?” section. There was even a segment where I played solo acoustic versions of “Good With U” and “Slipping Away,” but at the behest of this momentary benefactor, these unplugged segments were scrapped, though they probably shouldn’t have been. (This person turned out to be fairly unreliable and unapproachable, and thus wasn’t the best adviser for the band.) I attended the gig after party as the sole band representative, sent to schmooze among the other Missoula tastemakers in the hopes of getting some high-quality shows. It took place in a downtown apartment, the kind with scuffed hardwood floors, thrift-store couches, faded-tile in the kitchen, and lots of vinyl records. I received some positive feedback for the show (Generationals frontman said we had “great enthusiasm”) and spoke with some out-of-town promoters of some type who gave me their cards. In retrospect, nothing really came of this late-night gathering, but it was positive indication that we were gaining some long-awaited traction.

On the road to semi-legitimacy at our first Badlander gig. (Photo: Maegan Simmons).

The exceptional autumn season — a time highlighted by trips to Seattle for a Flaming Lips concert, Chicago to see family and attend Notre Dame’s trouncing of then-15-ranked Utah, and Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Spring” played on a near-incessant loop — was drawing to a close, and in its final month and a half, the band continued on its sudden upward climb. Following the somewhat-better-attended breakthrough show at the Badlander, we had three more shows slated before the end of the year. The first took place on a bitterly cold Saturday night at a venue called the Wolf Den (a high-ceilinged garage with poor acoustics and a ping-pong table) to a crowd of maybe 15-20 people who likely suffered hearing loss after our loud rendition of “The Beautiful Ones.”

Our second and third shows took place at the Palace, both of which facilitated by our prominent music scene benefactor. Since our March gig, it had become increasingly difficult to procure a gig at the Palace due to a $150 playing fee the venue’s owners charged the band(s) to cover security and sound for the night. This deterred little-known bands like us, that, in order to break even, would need to get at least 50 people through the door at $5 per person. And on Wednesday/Thursday nights, 50 people minimum was hard to by, especially for us. But when planned through our momentary benefactor, the issues of cost didn’t arise, so we played the first show — a good but forgettable affair — without worrying about the fee. The next performance was a different matter. We had grand plans for our December 15 show, which we advertised as our “Holiday Extravaganzer.” There would be Christmas lights, Santa/elf hats, contemporary holiday classics, and yuletide cheer, along with our usual set.

It would be the merriest Newsfeed show to date. But a few days before the event, our benefactor had cancelled the show on account of the visiting band rerouting its tour. After asking if we could play the show regardless, this person didn’t respond, so I appealed to the somewhat-unapproachable owner of the venue, and convinced him that we and one-man-band Matt Hassler could definitely bring in at least 50 people to the show (though he seemed pretty hesitant). Thus, the Holiday Extravaganzer proceeded as planned, and brought good cheer to one and all who attended. With a killer set featuring U2’s version of “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)” a medley of “Holiday Road/Hey Ya/Jolene,” an original rendition of “Jingle Bell Rock” and an even-more extended version of “The Compromise” to close. It was a milestone performance for the three of us, and a great way to wrap up a prosperous semester. Although we didn’t get 50+ people through the door, those who attended supplied us with much love and energy; even the surly sound guy enjoyed us. And we never heard from the booker about the $150 fee, so it all worked out, and would continue to do so, until the band’s final show — and beyond. Required Listening: The Compromise