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Fall Out Boy's Save Rock tour hits Fillmore 

Reports of genre's demise greatly exaggerated

When major label emo-pop survivors Fall Out Boy play the Fillmore on June 1, it's under the premise that they're saving rock 'n' roll. That's the name of the band's new album, after all, as well as its current tour. It's a smart-ass title, obviously, and with an abundance of bizarre cameos (particularly Courtney Love) and a strong Top-40 R&B flavor to many tracks, there's a strong chance Save Rock And Roll is less of a battle cry and more of a punch line. And that's fine.

Still, ESPN's pop culture-focused subsidiary Grantland took the album announcement as an opportunity to sling a little shit, as Andy Greenwald backed into a familiar rock-is-dead corner. "No band did more to keep rock and roll on life support during the last decade than these four mismatched doofs," he said of Fall Out Boy (Fall Out Boy? Are we listening to the same band?). "Mainstream guitar music spent the 2000s retiring to Wisconsin drinking cabins or up its own ass, all while giving technology the stink-eye like Harrison Ford at a replicant factory." By interesting coincidence, a viral post on music blog Your Music is Awful appeared the same day, similarly blasting Bon Iver and other modern indie stars and blaming them for the death of all that is good and daring in rock music.

It's a tired argument, and one which never seems to die. Today, it's the "neutered" nature of major bands, to borrow Kitty Vincent of Your Music is Awful's term. In the '90s, it was grunge rockers' distaste for technical noodling and '80s showboating in general that was the supposed death of rock. Even earlier, in 1961, the Beatles were famously shot down by Decca Records because "guitar groups are on the way out." Like its famous cousin, the apocalypse scare, the death-of-rock scare keeps on popping up, rearing its nervous little head and calling for the return to some idealized, bygone era of rock perfection. Yet the world keeps on not ending, and rock keeps on not dying.

Vincent's "Hey kids, grow a pair: How music blogs neutered indie rock" rant in particular has its genesis in Mark Yarm's Everybody Loves Our Town — a grunge retrospective, interestingly enough, named for a line sarcastically sneered by Mudhoney's Mark Arm as big-time industry buzz swamped early-'90s Seattle. The book's glowing anecdotal recollections of that increasingly mythologized rock movement stuck in Vincent's craw, and she laid into modern music for failing to rock angrily or recklessly enough.

"There is a reason why bands like Nirvana took over the world in 1991 and why the new generation hasn't been able to recreate that energy," she argues, claiming the Internet has led to an incestuous circle of blogs and the (sigh) death of rock at the hands of exaggerated, endlessly stereotyped hipsters. This fits neatly within Dave Grohl's recent idealistic, 'net culture-oblivious assertions during SXSW that anyone can buy a few instruments and pack into a garage, pretend it's 1991 and bash away until they succeed like Nirvana did — never mind massive cultural and music industry shifts over the past two decades.

But Vincent's argument skips between generational assumptions and grunge era anecdotes to argue that tastemaker culture is an Internet-era phenomenon, and actual functioning underground scenes like the Pacific Northwest's late-'80s cradle-o-grunge no longer exist. In the presumed absence of presumably cooperative, supportive scenes (a lot of ifs here), a conspiracy of digital tastemakers make lists, lists, lists — and bands that fail to meet an arbitrary definition of rock-ness get noticed.

"Blogs have created a structure in which the handful of kids writing for the elite establishment like Pitchfork or Stereogum choose whatever unoriginal crap they like that week and all the little blogs fall in line," Vincent rants. Compared to bands like the U-Men, Green River, and L7 — whose live recklessness was, let's face it, pretty impressive — acts like Mumford and Sons, Fleet Foxes and Beach House seem awful tame.

Yet this is where this — and many — death-of-rock arguments hit a wall. Vincent judges some of today's best-known pop acts on the actions of a group of relatively unknown early-'90s fringe bands. That isn't even an apples-to-apples or apples-to-oranges comparison — more like apples to ferrets. Mumford and Sons' Babel, for instance, was the fourth best-selling album of 2012 and won Album of the Year at the latest Grammy's; 1992's Album of the Year was Natalie Cole's Unforgettable, while rock awards went to Metallica, Van Halen and Sting. And it's worth noting that the best-selling record of that year was Some Gave All by Billy Ray Cyrus. That's right, it was the year of "Achy Breaky Heart."

Without an objective, direct comparison, nothing can be proven. If Billy Ray Cyrus could rise to superstardom the same year as L7's Donita Sparks threw her tampon into a festival crowd, then maybe — just maybe — something just as raucous and daring is currently happening well underground of Mumford and Sons or Sufjan Stevens.

Good-natured dude-rockers Valient Thorr and wide-open synth-poppers Future Islands, for example, got their start in exactly the kind of wild underground Vincent bemoans the loss of: some four hours east of Charlotte, in Greenville, N.C., the illegal showspaces that birthed these bands saw acts like Seattle's Wildildlife setting off fireworks indoors as recently as '07 and '08. The same phenomenon is responsible for basement-born Northeastern exports like heavy, heavy duo The Body or deservedly celebrated rock trio Screaming Females, whose incredibly talented guitarist/frontwoman Marissa Paternoster powered through multiple 2012 festival dates and a shortened tour before admitting she'd been dealing with mono all along and canceling the remainder. That's pretty hardcore.

Modern bands must exist digitally as well as physically — that's just a fact of rock in 2013 — and it's a disservice to emergent musicians without the benefit of Mumford-level success to make generalizations like "all they want to do is grow a beard, play the banjo, and hold hands," as Vincent seems to think is appropriate, when some of them — like Paternoster — are hitting the road when they should be sick in bed. And if arguing that rock is dead involves bafflingly inaccurate parallels, anecdotal evidence and stacks of hidden premises tall enough to send a philosophy instructor into a conniption fit, then what's the point? Maybe the real people rock needs saving from are the ones who think it's already dead.

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