Tonight in Seattle:  

Talkin' shit about an indie rock t-shirt

Hey Cool Thing...

12 Sep 2002 at Bumbershoot

Everyone knows the Indie-Rock-Show-T-Shirt Rule™, right? You know the one, that unwritten rule: whatever band you are going to see, you must, if you insist upon wearing a band t-shirt, wear a band shirt that is at least one degree more obscure, cool, or unknown than the band you are currently seeing. This sets you apart from the masses, and is especially important when seeing a larger crossover band such as Sonic Youth; one must be distinguishable from the mainstream masses, right?

In my reverie I began to mutter to myself about this little rule. Meditatively bored waiting for Modest Mouse (and soon Sonic Youth) to begin, I had the brilliant idea to meticulously catalogue the dreadful, inspired, lovely, or frightful t-shirts the various show-goers are outfitted in as they saunter past me.

Imaginary Dana wondered what I was doing, and I explained this silly, yet seemingly fitting, rule. Suddenly, with overwhelming levels of excitement, we both became consumed with spotting people in band shirts and discussing whether or not they qualify for an indie-rock gold star, or if they're just making a statement that says, "I like MM and SY, but I *really* like Blink 182 the most!" (Should we subtract points for not only straying from the rule, but also reversing the intent of the rule by wearing a shirt several degrees in the opposite direction?)

This little experiment raised a few questions: First, if you are wearing a t-shirt for a band currently playing, does that make you a dork? Or is one simply expressing ardent devotion to the band? Or perhaps, if you're wearing a shirt that is really old (Confusion is Sex shirt — sufficiently beat up and faded) are you letting people know that you've been a fan since the beginning? That you are not to be messed with? That you've got all the singles, studio albums, and bootlegs? That you know your shit? Well, we saw a few Modest Mouse shirts, and we spotted a lot of Sonic Youth shirts: Murray Street x2, Dirty, Goo x2, Confusion is Sex, generic Sonic Youth x2.

After a good 30 minutes of scribbling madly in the notebook, we developed quite the list of t-shirts. Our findings and meditations...

Band t-shirts that qualify for sufficient indie-rock cred:
Murder City Devils, Pedro the Lion, PGMG, Hot Hot Heat, Mike Watt, Juno, Blond Redhead, Himsa, Moldy Peaches, the Knitters, Pavement, Briefs, Doves, Guided by Voices, Stereolab, IQU

Super gold star:
Marlene's pick: Smog
Dana's pick: Pretty Girls Make Graves

Masses, apparently unaware of the rule:
Grateful Dead, Blink 182, Slipknot, NIN, Lead Zepplin, Strokes, Smashing Pumpkins, Soundgarden, Rancid, Sublime, Nirvana, Rage Against the Machine, Phish (Note: these are not *all* terrible bands, however, they don’t express that the person had any knowledge of the rule — and really, it's a bit disconcerting when spotting a grandpa in a Nirvana shirt, grandkids in tow.)

Dead Kennedys, Ramones, the Vandals, Devo, Patty Smith, Misfits, Clash

Michael Bolton (nice!), Kiss (at least I think they were wearing it in jest?), and Trachtenberg Family Slideshow Players

This offered minutes of amusement as we discussed various variables including whether it was cooler to wear a local band shirt, tour vs. album, mock vs. serious, and "indie" vs. "other."

Dana asks what t-shirt I'd wear if I were to wear one? I only have one band t-shirt, that I don’t often wear, but pretending I had any at my disposal I'd go for a cute, girly Gastr Del Sol t-shirt. This would afford me two benefits: (1) it’s sufficiently more obscure than either Sonic Youth or Modest Mouse and (2) would express that I am a fan of one of the lesser-known, and recently-added, members of Sonic Youth (Jim O’Rourke); I might also be able to establish that I am actually there to see Jim, not the uber-popular Sonic Youth. No really, I’m only here to see Jim. I am just that "indie," that "cool," deserve that much cred, that I will brave the masses to see my favorite experimental musician play with some major-label-band. Yeah.

This game provided much entertainment whilst waiting for Sonic Youth to actually start. We were actually planning on reviewing Modest Mouse, but we couldn’t really hear them all that well, and once we were consumed in the indie-rock t-shirt game, there was no letting up. But, from what I could discern, Modest Mouse were pretty good. I do wish Ugly Casanova had played instead, or in addition to Modest Mouse (might I be the only one who likes UC much, much more than MM?)

What the hell are you talking about?

In any and all events, wearing a Gastr Del Sol shirt would, in fact, grant you an almost unlimited number of credibility points. Wow.

In no case are you ever allowed to wear a shirt for the band you are seeing. Absolutely verboten. Even worse was the time I was on tour with Morrissey (long story), some girls showed up wearing sweatshirts from their university.

Where, you might ask?

They were students at Smith. And they thought they were being funny.

The one most-cardinal-of-rules, so-not-okay-that-it-can-wreck-the-band is: Being in any sort of band and wearing your own shirt. Another time I was on tour with one of my stupid bands and like an idiot / drummer, I forgot to pack enough clothes for the whole tour. No chance was I dipping into our shirt supply, though... better to stink an extra two days than to wear a shirt-as-advertisement.

this shit is old

and stupid

even in 2002 standards

I do believe that it is not OK to wear a tee of the band you're seeing (I even checked with Chris du Brey).

But I think the worst shirt ever to wear is Led Zepplin, ew.

And Rick@2, the very first time I saw BOAT, Mark was wearing a "My Friends Call Me Reptile Boy!" shirt. But I love BOAT!

Hmm, I usually follow this rule as well.

However, I have worn same GWAR "Scumdogs of the Universe" T-shirt I bought in 1991 to every show of theirs I have seen since. No one in their right mind is going to mistake you for cool at a GWAR show, so it is an exception, yes?
I promise I won't wear it to see Grizzly Bear!

I think Old school (I think Patsy cline shirt would be cooler than Patty Smith..)or kitch would be best as if you go for indie rock cred, people know you are and it might come off as trying too hard, esp, if you don't know everything about that band. Even Better, local obscure record shop T, or ones with cool image like a record or old microphone, etc...What do you think of home made or paid-to-print? Oh, and what's your take on hats with kitten ears because I'm a big fan, but is there a rule about those?

Nice blog of douchery you pretentious hipster dufus.

Do you happen to know which band produced a shirt that had a deer (a boxy kind of digital looking buck) on it?

im rocking some old school indie shirts. i have a huge collection of it.

It is always OK to wear the band that is playing on your chest if it's a metal or hard rock show. Manowar, par exemple.

It's hard to find one person who isn't rocking an ac/dc shirt when you go to their shows.

I think that the indie crowd thinks a bit too hard about this stuff. It's symptomatic of low self esteem.

Mr. B's comment was the best XD
How bout a guns and roses t shirt to A Kasabian gig?
or you could wear what you want and not be held captive by bullsh!t social conventions. "indie" is short for "independent" after all

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