Marah, I have not come to bury you, but rather to damn you with faint praise.
Last night's Marah show at Johnny Brenda's was…
The Wistful Rant
It was full of energy, frequently fun, and I will never get tired of singing along to almost their entire catalog.
But missing are the outlier adjectives that would previously fell regularly from my lips like sweat from my brow. Words like, "great", "transcendent", and "unfuckingbelievable" never even bought a ticket for the notoriously short trip from my brain to my mouth.
And I'm beginning to doubt whether they'll ever will again.
I take no joy in this. I want to be blown away by them again. I want to sit in a puddle of my own joy, rendered speechless except for silently mouthed "wow"s.
I've tried like hell to keep an open mind, which hasn’t been easy. After seeing Marah at WCL last May, I wrote extensively (http://bit.ly/k8ZqA) about the baggage I brought to a Marah show and how it affected my experience. I won't rehash that, but suffice to say I haven’t lost all that baggage in 15 months. In a nutshell, they were a band with an already turbulent history who, in one fell swoop, lost 4 of their 6 members at a creative & performance peak. Not an easy hole to dig yourself out of.
But right now? Comparing Marah 2009 with Marah 2010? They’re moving backwards, not forwards.
This is yet another new lineup. Same drummer. New bassist and guitar player. So it’s possible I’m being too hard on them.
As erratic as the WCL show was, they were at least trying new things. Classics were reimagined, some even with the interesting tinge of funk. That incarnation at least had the balls to swing for the fences. I may not have loved the path they had chosen, but I respect them for not sticking to the one with all the picket fences and pavement.
Look, I realize they're in a tough spot. They have to win over new fans, while not alienating the old ones. That's a tough line to walk for any established band. But what I saw last night at Johnny Brenda's was they type of show I never thought I'd see from Marah:
The "hits" were front and center and only "Formula" seemed to have some imagination to it. The new stuff was sprinkled capriciously throughout. One could even pedantically debate whether or not "Muskie Moon" even counted as a new song. Hell, it’s practically old enough to get a learner's permit and subsequently get to 3rd base with half of the drama club.
The new album leaves me cold. It’s not like I dying to hear a lot from it. But the old/new ratio does not speak highly of their confidence in the new material. I would have respected them more if they came out with a big chunk of LIAP songs and said "Screw you and your expectations, these are our latest and greatest babies. We’re going to play the hell out of them and make you love them." Whether in the dark days of “Float Away…” or buoyed by mainstream recognition, the hell bent for leather Marah I've come to know and love like a blackjack dealer with poor math skills would do.
The Disjointed Critique & The Backhanded Compliment
You'll never convince me that every single song of theirs needs keyboard. It works slightly better on the AOD & LIAP material. But I've never once listened to Tyrone or Catfisherman and thought, "Boy, I wish there were more keyboards on this song." I realize it’s not changing any time soon. Christine is here to stay. She’s talented (I liked her solo album), but miscast in her current role.
I really enjoyed the stripped-down acoustic stuff, which is not something I thought I would ever say. More of an indictment of Electric Marah than an endorsement of Acoustic Marah? Possibly.
Sloppiness on Dave’s part reared its head several times. He skipped numerous chunks of lyrics. At first, I was willing to chalk it up to a certain level of ramshacklitude, which has been part of their charm. But it happened enough that it the charm quickly wore off.
The new band lineup was solid, if unspectacular. The drummer is rock-solid. I liked the addition of the horn on several songs, one of which, gloriously, was Christian St. Takes me back (in a good way) to the shows with the Hopping John Horns.
And I’ll be dead in the cold, cold ground before I can hear “The Closer” and not dance a jig.
A snippet of “Baba O’Reilly” was teased early on, but thankfully, it was not played. To me, that’s indelibly a Serge moment and decidedly not kosher if he’s not singing it.
I'm coming to grips, sadly, with the fact that the primary enjoyment I get from a Marah show will likely be rooted in nostalgia and camaraderie going forward. I’m not quite ready to foreswear the slack-jawed, googily-eyed awestruck transcendence I’ve come to expect.
So I'll probably stop being publicly crotchety about how much better things used to be. Because it quickly becomes a broken record that’s dead horse-adjacent.
I’ve bent over backwards to avoid getting embroiled in Marah’s soap opera over the years. All I’ve ever cared about is the music on the CDs and on stage. The elusive “it” that bands and fans spend years trying to find? They had it, regardless of personnel changes or backstage drama. I was able to keep a blind eye to because of it.
Maybe I'm tired of rationalizing yet another lineup change, or maybe they just don't have "it" anymore.
The bottom line is that if they put forth the effort, with the songs they have in their arsenal, Marah can hit a bloop double every night. But home runs seem further out of reach than ever before.
And that's a goddamn shame.
p.s. If they ever brought “After the Implosion” out of mothballs, I take back everything I wrote here.