Last Night: 3 One G at the Vagabond

3 One G

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Vagabond, Miami

Last Friday's performance at the Vagabond by 3 One G, the Winter Haven-based Joy Division tribute band, was jammed to the rafters. Surprisingly high-energy and weirdly thrilling, it also raised a number of philosophical questions, among them:

1) If someone wears a Joy Division T-shirt to a show by a band that isn't really Joy Division, but is pretending to be Joy Division,

a) is this acceptable because the real band members are not actually onstage?

b) is he still "that guy"?

c) is this more or less sincere than the person wearing the Bauhaus shirt, which seemed like a calculated effort to wear a similar old-school "goth" shirt without actually wearing one of Joy Division?

d) they're just shirts, chill out?

2) If a bunch of clueless Miami bros start a hardcore-dance circle pit during "Warsaw," perhaps not realizing they weren't watching a "real" band, is this

a) annoying, and somehow disrespectful of the funereal atmosphere in which most Joy Division fans would prefer to stew?

b) just annoying?

c) refreshing, because the bros are reacting to the song just as a high-quality punk song, without all the historical and emotional baggage, proving that Joy Division's music itself is still fresh and relevant?

d) actually not too historically inaccurate, considering the misguided pseudo-violence that often popped up at Joy Division's hometown gigs?

3) If an American Apparel-type chick insists on jumping upstage and dancing around, and Aaron-Branch-as-Ian-Curtis only looks momentarily flustered and then ignores her,

a) is she clueless about the band, but really still in need of validation and attention?

b) is the ignoring part of a lack of a script, as it were, for such an occurrence, due to Manchester, England's lack of attractive Latin women in microshorts?

c) would the real Ian Curtis have done the same, and gone on with his show?

d) is this our city's (usually successful) tactic for luring bands back down here? Because it seems to be?

4) If a girl approaches Branch-as-Curtis post-show with vaguely groupie-ish intentions, only to find he's already being dragged across the dance floor by another girl,

a) is this because Branch himself is just cute?

b) is this because Branch is cute, but actually because he is playing a cute guy who committed suicide and thus ramped up his attractiveness permanently for a certain class of gloomy overthinkers?

c) does the universe fold in on itself while I shake the loose brain cells out of my ear canal?

But back to the performance itself. When I interviewed Branch and Danny Scott, the band's founding member, bassist, and Peter Hook, a couple of weeks ago, they stressed a few claims. One, they were among the most accurate portrayals of Joy Division bands currently working; two, people had previous travelled from all over Florida to see them; and three, their repertoire comprised the band's entire catalog, not just the greatest hits, as it were.

These were mostly true. Let's be honest: Nobody else in the band, beyond Branch, looks anything like the real-life musicians they are supposed to play, with the exception of perhaps faux Bernard Sumner, who's still a little too brunette. But it doesn't really matter, because as cool as Sumner, Hook, and Joy Division drummer Stephen Morris may be, they're all still very alive, well, and playing music, and are thus less interesting as objects of mystery and worship.

Branch's resemblance, however, is uncanny to the point of almost being creepy. He is about the same age as Curtis when he departed this mortal coil; the same skinny, tall build; sports the same pallor, the same mop of blackish hair, and the same icy blue eyes. But most importantly, there's his Curtis voice, nearly identical to the real guy's tense drone. He was on from the get-go, entering the stage last, as a real frontman should, even introducing the band as Joy Division, to a small collective gasp/sigh from the crowd. You could close your eyes and almost forget for a second you were in the swamps in 2008.

It was also apparent that a good portion of the crowd had, if not travelled from outside South Florida, had definitely made a point of getting to the Vagabond that night. Fridays there are usually extremely busy; this past Friday was elbow-to-elbow at some points in the main room where 3 One G played.

The band's set list struck a balance, much like the real Joy Division, refusing to pander -- "Love Will Tear Us Apart," which would have been the cheesy, obvious choice for a set closer, came third. The bulk of the songs were, of course, the most recognizeable -- "Disorder," "Transmission," "She's Lost Control," "Shadowplay," "Digital," and of course, "Warsaw," from whence 3 One G cribbed its name. Scattered throughout were a few deep-cut nuggets, like the Joy Division version of "Ceremony," later re-recorded by New Order (what the band became, post-Curtis), and an encore of "No Love Lost." (The audience, with their chanting for "one more song," would have had this band play through the entire catalog if they could.)

But with an audience this knowledgeable about the real Joy Division, came both an overjoyed response to just about everything 3 One G did, as well as a shrewd, cerebral analysis of it all as well. Were his herky-jerky dance moves appropriately timed? Would he have done them so much? Was a song being sped up, or chords minorly changed, inappropriately? And here's where the whole weirdness of such a tribute band becomes apparent -- less than a third of those assembled overlapped at all in life with Curtis, who died in 1980, and if so, only by a few years. As an audience, for reference we were drawing off crystallized sources -- collector's videos, YouTube, fictionalized depictions like 24 Hour Party People and Control. Surely the real Curtis flubbed some notes, changed his dance routine around, sped up or slowed down a song if he got bored. But by 2008's standards, if it wasn't caught on video, did it really happen?

And what would the real Ian Curtis think of this interactive display of slightly morbid idolatry? It's hard to say. He seemed less anti-rockstar than, say, Kurt Cobain, who also famously checked out 14 years after Curtis. He loved artists like the Doors and David Bowie, centered on shamanistic figures of adoration. But he also seemed to combust under the pressure of fame and increasing obligation. So from his grave (whose headstone was actually recently stolen), would he appreciate someone pantomiming him, and people paying to see the pantomime as the closest possible proximity? If he were still around, would he mind? Would the audience then care as much?

It hardly matters though, because in leaving life the way he did, Curtis was not, as it would seem, managing his own destiny. Rather, time has proved that he was giving it up, uncontrollably, into the hands of those who needed him to be what they needed him to be. In the scheme of things for an artist, though, it's hands-down better than the alternative: simply fading away.

Personal Bias: I recently considered hanging one of those "Love Will Tear Us Apart" posters over my bed until friends convinced me it was just inviting personal disaster.

Random Detail: Although it was hard to see over the club's wavy walls, the band performed complete with those projected film clips of, uh, atrocity exhibitions.

By the Way: Rumor has it 3 One G may return to South Florida later in the year with some other tribute acts -- faux Smiths, anyone?

-- Arielle Castillo