There’s always a certain ozone taste in the air when former Missoulians come back to town with their new bands, the tang of excitement mixed with mild trepidation. For them, it’s probably a little like attending a reunion. They want to show what they’ve made of themselves.
For the folks who never left, the proceedings have something of an audition about them. Consciously or not, we measure the new band or the new sound or the new guys playing with our old buddies against what they were doing before they left. Maybe we even feel a little left out or even slighted: Surprise, surprise! Guess they didn’t need us after all, huh? It’s kind of the same feeling you get when you hear that a high school sweetheart has gotten married or started having kids without you knowing about it. On some level, don’t we all feel like they should have asked us for our blessing first? Or at least sent us a postcard from the airport?
That’s life, eh? In any case, it doesn’t happen often enough for us to stand on ceremony when the prodigal sons return. The only ones who do so with any regularity are the Fireballs of Freedom, and whether or not you dig the direction they’ve taken in the past five years, you have to admit that success, such as there’s been for them, hasn’t spoiled them yet. They haven’t given an inch. They’re still hungry. But I go to a Fireballs show and I think yeah, well, I guess I need to get my ears scoured out like that twice a year or so (which the Fireballs certainly do—like a Q-Tip from hell!). And yes, they are still rocking mightily, but after half a dozen songs it’s just overkill.
So the Mines are a homecoming I can really get into—they’re more about subtlety than Super Twin overload. Plus, talk about a known quantity: members Ron Lewis and Chad Hansen have written some of the prettiest music in the Missoula stacks. Pick five local bands from the past four years who left us saying, “Hey, wait a minute...” when they packed it in for a move to Seattle or Portland and Mines Lewis, Hansen and Aaron Bolton have probably been in four of them. Portable Winter, the Good Word...a complete bandography for these three would be way too long (and, for most of you, way too arcane) to get into here. Add to that all the side-projects and one-offs you missed if you were too tired to come to the show.
Before hearing The Way the Wind Whips the Water, the Mines’ debut full-length, I probably would have said, “Hey, if it’s about a quarter Ballantrae and about a quarter Good Word and about a quarter Portable Winter and about a quarter something far out and new, I’m sure I’ll love it.” But it’s nothing like any of those bands, which makes it just that much more of an exciting discovery. Like hearing a cool band and then finding out that your friends are playing in it. Or, to trot out the reunion analogy again, it’s like the band who used to play rock covers and a couple originals with really short shelf-lives at all the high school keggers came back after 10 years sounding like Return to Forever! Not that Ballantrae or any of the other aforementioned bands were ever dull or uninspired, but there’s still something about The Way the Wind… that I wasn’t quite ready for. It sounds like ripened ideas and seasoned musicians, not just great ideas and eager musicians.
For the Johnny-come-latelies among you (and believe me, I know I sound like a ponderous old fart when I start unpacking these hoary old Missoula band references), think about the current crop of turtleneckers with quiet guitars and plangent vocals and clever interlocking parts, and you’re on the map. Think Pinback (not to put too fine a point on it). But don’t even think about missing the show!