Baby, you know who you are

Friday, February 16, 2007

Downtown. Saturday.

One of the latest places to enter the live music game, River Nick's, is packed to the gills. If you were downtown, you had to notice.

What was the big deal? Promise to Burn.

If you haven't heard of this band, then you're definitely not plugged in to the local music scene. The reason is that PTB has become probably the most controversial band in Cape Girardeau -- a group that is unabashed in its purpose to make it big. They sound like popular acts -- think Nickelback and Matchbox 20; you get the picture -- and aren't afraid to acknowledge that fact.

And, not surprisingly, they're one of the most popular bands in Cape Girardeau. Now the question becomes, will Promise to Burn be the saviors of the local music scene?

A few weeks ago I wrote about how it seems sometimes that local live music gets so little support from the Cape Girardeau audience. Great bands like Fill -- an amazing local jazz-rock trio -- sometimes play shows to only a few people, most of them seeming not to care about the music at all.

Promise to Burn, however, is different. In the past, their local shows have been rare, but each one is packed, standing room only. The kind of packed house that within a few minutes can make you supremely nauseated because of its suffocating stuffiness. But hey, that's a successful rock show.

This band, with their emo-ish haircuts and unrelenting high-energy, guitar-based modern rock (I mean the kind you could easily hear on the radio) has really made a big impression on the Cape music scene, in ways good and bad.

For some they represent exactly what the scene needs to become even more vibrant -- a band with a hip, maybe even trendy, look and sound that can attract some major label attention. That kind of attention would be good for everybody, they say. Take Randy Mallett, for instance, the man behind Banned Promotions, a Web site that profiles local bands, reviews their stuff and helps them with other band stuff.

Randy and I communicated via e-mail, since his phone was acting squirrelly, but here's what he said through finger proxy.

"You can say a lot of things about the band Promise to Burn (and most everyone does), but that only tells me that whatever they're doing is good, because people are, indeed, talking about them. As far as their influence on the local scene, I can definitely see it as a positive thing. Hopefully they'll be successful and show everyone around here that you don't have to live in California to get noticed."

Others aren't so kind to PTB, and the band members know it. One of the big points of attack is that they haven't paid their dues, because PTB has played only a few local shows.

True. Gig vets they are not, at least not at home.

Second: PTB's sound is extremely (putting all kinds of emphasis and a dash of Tabasco on that word) radio-friendly. Radiohead they ain't, my friends (those of you who understood that reference probably also understand the name of my column).

Combine these two criticisms with the massive success PTB has already enjoyed -- download after download on MySpace, extremely packed local shows, playing in front of record company guys and working with record industry vets -- and you might begin to see how the scenesters would be talking. But as Randy pointed out, talk is good, even if it's bad.

And the PTB guys know it, too.

I talked to guitarist Luke Sample (yes, the same guy who was sued by the big movie studios), who explained the band's unabashed commercial philosophy to me. Yes, Promise to Burn's goal is to make the big time, and instead of touring the traditional way, they plan to use the Internet a la bands like Panic! At The Disco to do it.

As far as paying dues, Sample says they spent two years writing songs in a basement before they revealed themselves to the public.

"When we first started the band we didn't see a lot of benefit in playing shows right off the bat without writing the best music we could," Sample said. Also, "There's a smarter way to market these days than driving around in a van."

He's right, folks. And for a band whose express purpose is to make it big, the Internet is probably the way to do so in the year 2007.

Given my music snobbery, my take on PTB goes something like this: I don't care much for their music, it's just too mainstream for my tastes. However, these guys are pretty good at that mainstream sound, their live show is high-energy, and best of all, they don't pretend to be something they're not. Sample and the other guys in Promise to Burn don't hide the fact that their goal is to make it big, and their music does sound radio-friendly.

So often bands with a mainstream sound like PTB pretend they're cutting-edge, producing a sound like no one else, when they know they're trying to be as popular as possible. Not so with these guys. As Marc Bolan once said, "Baby you know who you are." PTB does.

And all the talk over their role in the local music scene only ups the profile for everybody. Keep reading these pages to learn more about these guys in the coming weeks. Until then, go see some live music.

Matt Sanders is the Arts & Leisure editor for the Southeast Missourian and the editor of OFF Magazine.G

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