Sunday, April 5, 2009

Rock & Roll Part 3: not dead yet

Last evening, as the world of popular music set it's sights on Cleveland and the induction ceremony for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, one could almost be forgiven for the nostalgia and the tone of a memorial such an event can cast on the music. It's a grand thing, no doubt, to recognize the achievements of so many original artists, but there lies a danger to view the medium through the rosy haze of days gone by. We say “remember when” and toss around words like “classic” which should never have been associated with a music made of immediacy and rebellion, as we pour the bronze and build the pedestals and reduce our heroes and bad influences to pigeon roosts on a mall. As I say, it’s a great thing to behold and recognize our artists, and very cool for a bruised and bloodied city as ours to have this event, but it begs the question, if Rock & Roll is being stuffed into a museum, is it dead yet?

The answer last night, at a grungy little music club just a few miles east of the hard glass memorial to Rock, is an unequivocal “no”! At the same time the once young and relevant Metallica was receiving their plaque of gratitude, four ass kicking chicks were tearing it up on the tiny stage like the music had never died; indeed, like it was invented all over again as it has been for each generation.

HotChaCha is a band born of the city which fancies itself the Rock and Roll Capital, yet often forgets why that still matters. Jovana, the unforgettable singer with the dark eyes and sardonic smile, commands the stage and sings for the crowd, not her shoes, while the rest of the band propels her forward to the edge of the stage and into the audience. The music still matters to them, and it’s a joy to watch, like it’s being invented right before your eyes. And the crowd matters too, twenty somethings who don’t care what you listened to when you were their age, and some of us, even old enough to be their parents, who want to hear something new and vibrant, not just sing along to the oldies. When HotChaCha demands crowd participation, shouting the refrain “Bob” in the song of the same name, the interaction is immediate and genuine, as the musical experience should be. Never mind what their “influences” are, everyone is always influenced by what comes before, but nobody cares in this moment. This band creates a sound all their own with Mandy’s ringing, siren guitar, Heather’s staccato bass, Lisa’s urgent drums, and the throaty, midwest clip of Jovana’s vocals; and that’s all you need to know.

So leave those old records on the shelf, and get your ass out to hear the music now, and remember why you loved it all over again. HotChaCha is on a trajectory which may take them on to bigger and better things--because they are relevant, because they are fun, because they are even earnest in their enthusiasm and drive, and mostly--because they rock.

photo courtesy of John Scully