Fans, musicians, bloggers, and hipsters alike congregated at the 3rd annual Plug Independent Music Awards at New York's Terminal 5 Thursday night to celebrate a year of indie rock fruition...er, commercialization. The sold-out show was hosted by comedian Patton Oswalt and featured performances by Bat For Lashes, White Denim, Jose Gonzales, and headliners of sorts, St. Vincent and Nick Cave.
I suppose the giant elephant in the room should be addressed: Why have an indie awards ceremony when indie already knows how to take care of itself? The ever self-propelling genre has ascended to its own niche media, which has come to influence the music-making process itself. With more than 10 nominees per category, and Arcade Fire, Justice, and Of Montreal nominated for nearly every one (sometimes up against Radiohead!), the notion of voting for your favorite artists when you've already made your year-end lists--or have heard Pitchfork tell you what to think--is entirely self-defeatist. (Not to mention absurdist...everybody knows Neon Bible was the most overrated album of 2007. It won, by the way.)
But one thing that brought the love was seeing the indie movement itself being recognized in a fundamental way. While the show was consistently unorganized and there were barely any representatives there to accept their awards, categories such as Music Website Of The Year, Zine Of The Year, and Online Radio Station Of The Year celebrated the existence of such mediums. And whether or not indie cares if it's being recognized, it was nice to see a sold-out turnout attending to witness what the indie community's online votes would surmount to.
The doors opened to press and artists at 5:30 p.m., the giant screen playing indie movie trailers (Secretary was one of them) against a backdrop of overlooked, ironic hits from the '90s, perhaps to affirm the event's indie affiliation. I think somebody forgot to mention that Dell is a corporate company...which, if you think about it, is no different from American Apparel. But doesn't Dell know that hipsters only use MacBooks?
Speaking of hipsters, apparently Patton Oswalt is the new yindie yupster. He introduced Bat For Lashes' pre-awards performance, beckoning the early attendees to dance with the band on the ground floor before spending the rest of his MC-time in a self-deprecating rant about hipsterdom. Maybe this is confusing for me, I'm from Los Angeles. We're not as self-referential out there. So the masturbatory "feeding of ironic jokes to the masses knowing they are giving you snide looks" schtick didn't sit too well with me. And if what I've observed in New York hipsters so far is correct, Oswalt's act would make even the most devoutly self-denying hipster run to the bathroom for a quick fix. Of makeup, of course!
Between the free-til-7p.m. Rolling Rock-a-flowing open bar and touring crew eating empanadas for dinner, scarce silhouettes lined the upper two floors of the venue, which glowed in an icy green and blue haze. Midtown's Terminal 5 is the city's largest venue after Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, and it was filling in quite nicely by 7p.m. After a few drinks I got bored sitting in the Dell Lounge Blogger Pit and decided to see if I could see Annie Clark of St. Vincent hanging out in the third floor's VIP/interview area. The press orgy that ensued was so flashy and desperate for interviews, I felt like I was trapped in a crowd of paparazzi.
The "anti-Grammys," as Oswalt called them, commenced with a series of winner announcements, which was the exceedingly awkward part of the ceremony, considering most of the winners were not present to accept their awards. Male Artist Of The Year went to Andrew Bird, and St. Vincent won Female Artist Of The Year, accepting her award with a "Power to the people!" before she played a set later that night.
Oswalt's continued a dragging set of commentary about his uncoolness, comparing his physique with that of the emaciated hipsters. His dragging tracts about post-ironic fashion and white denim fell flat. Speaking of White Denim, the band by that name played an impressive, pumped-up rock set. On that note, my sincerest apologies to the Urb editor whose white jeans I probably smudged twice over with my moccasins.
St. Vincent captivated the audience with a defiant, jazzy, stomping set backed by her band. She played "Now Now" and "Red Lips," ending the set with an insane outro jam. But it still seemed like the media was more buzzing than the crowd, which didn't get movin' and shakin'.
Awards ceremonies are all about showdowns and celebrations. Which is why Oswalt's irony was only superseded by the two dudes from Battles who mispronounced the "Okk" in Okkervil River while reading off nominees for Indie Rock Album Of The Year, which Animal Collective took home for Strawberry Jam.
The Arcade Fire took home Album Of The Year for Neon Bible, which elicited scattered boos from the audience.
One of the more inventive categories was Album Art Packaging Of The Year (which went to Menomena's Friend And Foe), and while I was surprised they didn't try for more indie-fied methods of categorizing their selections (like "Top Five Anything!"), it was nice to have a compilation of more unconventional things we indies take to so preciously.
Which is why I was so surprised by my own internal battle when they read off nominees for Avant Album Of The Year...sorry to the dude from Wired who I kept shouting to across the blogging station...I really wanted Liars' self-titled album to win. And when they did, I realized that the Plug awards are just another way to get fans of music excited about seeing it represented. And it makes money, too!
Nick Cave won the Plug Impact Award, and a career-spanning montage played on the screen after which Cave made an abrupt speech. He is definitely more of a performer than a speaker, and his performance was as riveting as it was haunting, gothic country rhythms pulsating through the audience. If anything was responsible for selling tickets to last night's show, it was the iconic performance from one of the only pre-indie stars we have left to look up to.