Rock 'n' roll has been around the block. It's got tinnitus, arthritis, and tennis elbow. Even the bands of my youth, who were always divorced by decades from rock's heyday, are now reuniting as legacy acts to cash in on the nostalgia circuit (hang it up, Rivers!). When my brother and I caught Soundgarden a few years ago at Lollapalooza (itself a festival stealing its name from a moment and spirit long dead), one couldn't mistake the wear on Chris Cornell's vocal chords, the silver of Kim Thayil's mane. Ain't no spring chickens round those parts. And I ain't one either, hobbling into Great Scott with a broken toe and male pattern you-know-what. Neither is Aloud.
On Thursday they celebrated ten years as a band with the tagline “I Can't Believe That Worked”. It's a shocking enough admission. Because Aloud are an ambitious lot, and not in the sense that you might apply the word to Jellyfish or Benjamin Britten. As rock stars of the Olde variety, their currency is in hooks, verve, and vitality. They tour constantly. In a way which is alien to our take-it-or-leave-it culture of post-Pavement indie rock, they want to be heard. And so it's a regular shame that “what worked” wasn't filling coliseums or breaking radio, but staying together, just staying alive. And still, that's no small thing either. It's never easy to keep the dreams of a working band inflated, and for a band whose sole original members are also a married couple, it might be the most important thing imaginable. Seeing that tenacity and resolve unleashed in that little room was as disorienting as it was humbling.
If there's any bitterness about the above, it didn't appear in the troupe onstage, bound by a familiar love and washed by the salvation which rock 'n' roll is supposed to be. Just their opening number “Release” alone carries all the genetic makeup of their story. “I'm gonna die if I don't get this off my chest”, bellows guitarist/bellower Jen de la Osa in her rounded alto. Recent adjunct drummer Justin Emile Shapiro menaces the room with a deft but barbarically forceful beat, while a mod guitar vamp gives way to fuzzy octaves. Jen goes on, “Can you hear me knocking? I've been here for a day or two/ Can you hear my dying?/ I got something I need to tell you.” The personal romanticism of the sentiment dovetails as a siren's call to the audience they could snatch from the dusty clutches of so many gussied up as geezers. Improbably she goes on, “I know that it's a pure love,” leaving me to ponder the relationship: be it for flesh, for notions, or simply for rock 'n' roll itself that their pulses flutter.
Despite the anniversary, they didn't make a fussy retrospective of the occasion. They kept their lineup spare and exercised plenty of new material, from their record Exile and after. Cuts like “A Light That Shines” and “Counterfeit Star” were dialed in somatic and shaggy, breathing fuel into the more ornate (but less lively) recorded arrangements. Songs sung by Henry Beguiristain, the other lead singer/guitarist, often found Jen howling far off mic and into the room instead. The new songs were exemplary of their best, tuneful, righteous, and romantic. “Backs to the Wall”, culled from their Fan the Fury record, is a rare occurrence in any rock scene: a genuine inspirational. With backing recalling a mid-tempo rendition of the Kinks' “Father Christmas” as interpreted by Keith Moon, Henry tells, “You and I sing an urban hymn/ the richest of men can't deny/ that a song lifts hope to a thousand feet/ our last defense in life … I know we can make it fall/ if enough have our backs to the wall”. Soon after the song implodes in chaotic rapture. Hope is their commanding aesthetic. After these ten years, they still summon it with the best.
Even if the subject matter is consumed by the hyperserious, the band is otherwise endearing, comfortable on stage and with each other. Highlights of this particular evening include Jen and Henry creating a “Charles sandwich” out of bassist Charles Murphy IV spontaneously mid-song, and repartee within the couple during their closer “You Got Me Wrong”.
“Does it look like I'm talking to a robot penis?” asks Henry as he clutches the mic.
“I don't know,” says Jen, “does it?”
In the bridge of “Fan the Fury”(, a song whose character you can derive entirely from the title), Jen belts in otherwise silence while Henry hovers over her, waving his hands dramatically. “It's like a theremin,” he says.
By this time, my bum foot has relegated me to the back of the house, where I sit next to a casual fan named James who came for one of the other acts, but stayed(!). We chat a little about the great bill that night while Jen introduces the next song. “This is Old Soldier, … Old Soldier's a boozer.” The song places questions of duty, aging, and dedication to music and one's true self into its folds, a torch song for a life seemingly just in reach, but all times slipping away, the unstoppable march of time itself. They harmonize devastatingly in the chorus, “Understand, understand/ I'm still waiting to push on,” as though at every point, their real journey has yet to begin.
James and I nod conspiratorially, because this shit is good. For a moment, my toe isn't broken, and I'm just as ageless as the singers themselves, transported. As much as rock stardom is tied up with megalomania, Aloud's homegrown projection of it has a stunning selflessness. With an attitude drawn directly from U2's War, they're a band not just playing for their private Nibbana, but for the communion between the stage and the people, the song and the listener. Their ruminations on love, politics, rage, hope, and honesty are clothed only in elation and sweat.
A friend of mine said a few days ago that rock 'n' roll keeps you young. Or as Jen quipped that night, “Thirty's the new fucking twenty, shut the fuck up.” Maybe Aloud's youth is eternal. I consider it as I return to the street, where I am, once again, bald.
Photo Credit: Anne Cook