Live: In a Raleigh art gallery, Rolling Rock's bid to become the new PBR tastes metallic and strange

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Rolling Rock Project 33, featuring Tyvek
Flanders Gallery, Raleigh
Friday, Oct. 11, 2013


Full disclosure: By the time you read this, my likeness has likely been used by the Latrobe Brewing Company to market Rolling Rock.

At the Rolling Rock-sponsored Project 33
(or, for the social media-savvy, #RRProject33), being photographed and videotaped was unavoidable. There was, after all, the question of the low turnout paired with an aggressive camera crew on hand to document the event for a lifestyle marketing campaign. The ploy seemed desperate to position Rolling Rock as the new Pabst Blue Ribbon—that is, the cheap domestic swill of choice for the discerning and apparently lucrative hipster demographic.

But, as marketing, Project 33 lacked subtlety, tact and a basic understanding of the audience to whom the event should have appealed. From the moment I arrived at Flanders Gallery, a half hour after the posted start-time of 6 p.m., I was inundated with Rolling Rock logos, plastered on the photo-booth outside the door, and on the carefully distressed baseball caps and crisp T-shirts worn by the gauntlet of staffers I had to survive just to gain entry. After an employee ensured I had properly RSVP’d to the event (I was one line on several pages of names, most of whom never arrived), I entered a gallery overtaken by advertising. Entrants to an Instagram photo contest had already submitted their pictures of skateboarders, trees and Rolling Rock bottles; their “work” was matted and displayed in a grid on all walls. A projector cycled through more of these amateur ads. Rolling Rock’s horse icon commandeered one wall, while three more carried quotes championing individuality from Bob Dylan, Kurt Cobain and Hunter S. Thompson.

The beer was free, though, and served in branded mason jars. And Posh Nosh provided a tasty sampling of pretzels, sliders and tacos. “Catering for foodies,” it seems, is a necessary complement to Rolling Rock’s adequate, if slightly metallic tasting Extra Pale Ale and Amber Lager.

This living advertisement used a semi-obscure rock band as proof of their “cool,” while failing entirely to understand what makes that band cool in the first place. The draw—at least ostensibly—for the evening was a featured performance by Tyvek, the great everyman post-punk band from Detroit, whose raw rock fixates on 9-to-5 annoyances and taps a deep well of underground rock touchstones. It’s working-stiff escapism at its heart, standoffish punk at its surface. Tyvek traveled to Raleigh for this one-off gig, a rare Triangle appearance. Hopefully they were paid well.

Tyvek took to the stage 40 minutes after the rumored start time of 8 p.m., reportedly because event organizers were stalling to wait for a better turnout. That never materialized. Despite the odd environment and a crowd of maybe 30, the trio shuttled through an hourlong set defined by the kind of punchy and rangy anthems that fill last year’s excellent On Triple Beams. Frontman Kevin Boyer offered gently snarky banter between songs, offering at one point, “Sometimes when I play, I get thirsty. I just don’t know what the fuck to do about it.” He raised a bottle of Rolling Rock.

But this night belonged to the brand, not the band. While the mixed lot of a handful of Tyvek fans, some middle-aged suburbanites and bored twentysomethings seemed to respond favorably to the performance, Tyvek couldn’t fully engage the crowd. There was no rowdy response, just polite applause. The front of the stage remained empty as the audience retreated to the shadows to avoid cameramen. Those who weren’t fully committed to seeing the band filtered out after camera crews cajoled them into posing for staged group photos with bottles in the foreground. “Wayne County Roads,” a shout-along standout from On Triple Beams, fell flat in the face of glaring strobe lights and photo ops. The camera crews even went so far as to pose Rolling Rock bottles on stage for pictures, making absolutely clear that the music was no more than background.

When Tyvek finished playing, only about a dozen people were left to watch. They were the band’s fans, capable of enduring crass marketing only to be left wondering if their presence was worth it at all.

Correction: This article initially stated that Tyvek had never played the Triangle. That is incorrect.

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