Multiple times during Mineral’s Saturday night show at the Bowery Ballroom I felt an almost ineffable and exhilarating rush, this absolute thrill of being at something vital and powerful and alive. It happened during “Gloria”, when the band transitioned into the stunning half-time crunch of the final bars, and again when singer Chris Simpson announced, “How blessed we are” during “SoundslikeSunday”. I got goosebumps and a head-rush when the band closed with “&Serenading” and the whole crowd seemed to sing its final words. I watched these songs come alive in a flash, and the whole thing over with the same seeming quickness. Reunions are not supposed to feel this way.
The prospect that it should feel so ecstatic, indeed the odds of it even happening at all, seemed pretty far off until a website, Facebook page and Twitter account for “Official Mineral” popped up earlier this year. Mineral was one of the more prominent emo bands during a time when that meant it played to maybe 40 people a show instead of 20. Between a harsh first album and elegiac second, the band left a surprisingly robust catalog, plumbing failure and darkness but frequently also grace and power and immitigable joy.
It was the latter of these that came to me time and time again at the Bowery. Since we are now firmly into the winter of the emo revival, something as seemingly impossible as a Mineral reunion is now fact. That it should be so much fun is even more incredible. Many recent bands claim influence through acts like Mineral and Sunny Day Real Estate, supposed pillars of the genre, but owe as much or more to their early-00’s teenage obsessions likeTaking Back Sunday; pop bands who picked one idea and stuck with it to stardom or bust. One of the unexpected realisations of revisiting Mineral’s back-catalog, particularly first album The Power of Failing, is how ebullient it all feels, leaping from idea to idea with an adolescent sense that more-is-more and actually somehow being right. “Five, Eight and Ten”, which opened Saturday’s show, has about three separate bridges, while “July” clatters over a harmonic-filled coda before launching into a double-time punk strut. I listened to it a lot on my drive home from work at night, smiling all the way.
Musicians strive their whole lives for just this ephemeral connection, and for an hour and a half on Saturday night, Mineral had it. So, for that matter, did we.
The band brought this tenfold in concert. It played a just-about-perfect setlist, with most of personal-favourite EndSerenading as well as select rarities and the expected ‘hits’ like “Parking Lot”. While many songs called for distortion-pedal explosions, the most powerful ones kept the melodies clean, Simpson bending over his guitar with evident stage fright but also power and purpose, picking out single notes or strumming fiercely. The other members seemed to recognise just how unlikely their situation was and made the most of it, guitarist Scott McCarver messing up his lines on occasion because he was leaping all over the stage, bending notes and pushing his guitar right up to the amp to feed it back.
The overall feeling was one of exaltation, for the religious themes of Simpson’s lyrics, yes, but also the power of a crowded room, brought together by a band many – yours included – were born too late to ever really know but whose music bridges those barriers of time. I have felt it before, but rarely so keenly or with such strength. This is the community music lifers tend to exalt, almost ad hoc in its composition and yet bound together so firmly by the four Texans onstage. It strikes me now as like plainsong, the early Christian church music so simple and unisonous anyone could join in the hymns and transcend the human world. Musicians strive their whole lives for just this ephemeral connection, and for an hour and a half on Saturday night, Mineral had it. So, for that matter, did we.
Since then I’ve listened to recordings of the show, and most remarkable is how different Simpson sounds than he used to, his voice deepening, widening. I don’t remember it that way at all; the band was so loud, and I so close to the stage, I couldn’t really hear him. I got the thrust of it but maybe not the thing itself. That’s okay, because the only concerts I’ve ever heard with perfect clarity were at Carnegie Hall, and they weren’t even close to rock music. I am reminded of how Peter Matthiessen describes his brush with enlightenment in The Snow Leopard, a brief feeling you only get the gist of but even in that small amount is precious. In the days afterward things stand out with such clarity to me, as if I have been suddenly refocused. Such, I suppose, is grace.
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