Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty has tapped into an interesting concept with his Burn to Shine series. For each installment, a certain city’s bands get together in a soon-to-be-destroyed building. They perform one song each, and then the building’s demise is filmed. What Canty and his crew are getting at is the difference between the ephemerality of one art form (architecture) in raze-it-and-build-a-strip-mall America contrasted with how lasting another form (music) can be.
Does everything here deserve longevity? With fourteen different acts on the DVD, it is, of course, a mixed bag. The lineup for Burn to Shine Seattle was curated by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard. His taste is more eclectic than his own indie-emo music suggests, though I have to wonder if Gibbard ever really sits down and listens to an entire album by hip-hop duo Blue Scholars or metal thrashers Triumph of Lethargy Skinned Alive to Death. Kinski is a favorite of mine, so I couldn’t care less that it’s another band that doesn’t really fit with the predominant singer-songwriter vibe of the DVD, especially when Kinski rocks the hell out of “Crybaby Blowout.”
Gibbard shows up to perform “Broken Yolk in Western Sky” with just a guitar, and many other performances are similarly sparse. Ex-Pedro the Lion frontman Dave Bazan’s “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” is a fine enough song, but hearing the word “vagina” come out of his Christian mouth and seeing him physically wince as he mutters it is off-putting. Eddie Vedder slums with his indie brethren, performing “Can’t Keep” on a ukulele.
The two true standouts are Tiny Vipers and the Cave Singers. Tiny Vipers (a.k.a Jesy Fortino) rings more tension and release out of her guitar and voice on “On This Side” than fully fleshed-out bands like Minus the Bear and Spook the Horse do. And the Cave Singers’s “Called” is a fine piece of haunting Americana. Who knew the melodica, an instrument that looks like a child’s toy, could sound so profound?
Burn to Shine Seattle is a homey affair (and not just because the building being destroyed is a house). You can catch musicians tapping their toes in the background as other bands play, and in between songs they banter with each other amusingly, as when the Long Winters’ John Roderick wows Gibbard with some technical guitar knowledge.