After Night 1 of the Yep Roc 15th anniversary festival at Cat’s Cradle, my husband and I were walking to the car, exchanging notes on the five-hour show, when he compared the scrappy indie label to the Oakland Raiders. In the 1970s and ’80s, the Raiders scooped up players no other NFL team understood—the outliers and outcasts—then proceeded to become one of the most formidable and dominant outfits in the league.
This is an apt metaphor for a label with a diverse roster with a pedigree that is impossible to peg. The eight acts that performed last night—counting a few songs by emcee John Wesley Harding—wound not only through Yep Roc’s 15 years but also traced a longer arc of indie-rock history.
I must acknowledge that the relative newcomers—singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell, whose schtick is to pen tunes about ex-boyfriends, and Jukebox the Ghost’s sunny prog pop—did not set me ablaze.
But before we judge them too harshly, we should give them time to accumulate the highway miles and lifetimes of record-listening their Yep Roc forebears have logged. Nick Lowe, Dave Alvin, Chuck Prophet, Robyn Hitchcock: Many of them are as white-haired as a snowy owl but no less youthful and energetic than I remember all of them from the wayback machine. They have been on the planet (or in the case of Hitchcock, various states of inner and outer space), and making records for longer than 30 years. Emcee/ songwriter/ novelist John Wesley Harding and instrumental surf band Los Straitjackets have endured for more than two decades.
Last night’s concert was a clinic in how talent, experience and endurance produce great work by artists who have mastered their craft: “I am the sum of the books I have read. I am the sum of the records I have heard,” sang Harding between acts.
It can take 15 years. And it can take a lifetime.