By Nick Anderson
Making a band work is at once the easiest and most difficult thing in the world. It’s what I imagine pulling a rabbit out of a hat must be like for a burgeoning magician. You buy the bunny, house, feed, and care for it. You practice the act together and get used to having a top hat full of pellets. You transport the poor thing to your first low-paying performance, which turns out to be a child’s birthday party in someones backyard, hiding said rabbit from everyone in attendance until, abracadabra, you pull the beleaguered creature from it’s cylindrical tomb and…everybody saw it coming from a mile away. Sure, they’re not entirely positive about how you did it, but they’ve seen it before. Of course you pulled the rabbit from the hat, that’s what magicians do. Now do it again, but this time, do it with some fucking style. I have a lot of respect for bands who make it work and who do it again with style. I respect the Hold Steady. I respect Andrew W.K. And I respect the hell out of the Constantines.
Since 2001, they’ve released a handful of albums and EPs, all while playing countless shows and festivals. In 2010 they stopped playing for personal reasons. But they must’ve figured them out because they’ve recently reissued their second record Shine A Light in honor of it’s 11 year anniversary. If you haven’t listened to Shine A Light in a while, give it a spin. It’s still brimming with youthful, muscular passion, and while I hope they play some cuts from their other records, Tournament of Hearts and Kensington Heights, if they only play this album in it’s entirety, it won’t be a disappointment.
In a general sense a band can be broken down into two categories; musicianship and aesthetics. To revisit our magician theme, musicianship relates to the technical ability a given performer possesses in getting the rabbit out of the hat in one piece. Aesthetics, on the other hand, relate to how our would-be David Copperfield engages the audience while performing the trick. One isn’t objectively better than the other and plenty of bands possess one without needing the other.
The Constantines are gifted with both. The rhythm section anchors each track, marshaling the guitars into falling in line with the song’s direction. These songs require a firm hand with drum and bass; without, they could easily fall into a morass of self-satisfied feedback and distortion. Which is not to say they would. As far as musicianship goes, you’d be hard-pressed to find better rock guitarists than the Cons. Technically, they’re superb.
The Constantines have incredible guitarists who are right up there with Doug Martsch and Joey Santiago. All of them are technically proficient, but they all possess an individual style that they bring to a song that’s impossible to re-create. And that’s where aesthetics come into play. Pulling a rabbit out of your hat isn’t easy; telling the story about why it’s in your hat in the first place is just as hard. There’s not a lot that can be done with a guitar that hasn’t been done before and yet the Cons manage to find a way to not only recognize where the guitar has been but show where it has the potential to go.
It’s been four years since the Constantines played together and 11 since they pulled Shine A Light out of their collective hat. No one ever said that dealing with rabbit shit was easy, but Saturday night at Neumos, I think the Cons are gonna make it look that way.
Nick Anderson is our newest contributor. He also plays in a rock and roll band called Hounds of the Wild Hunt.