What I See Is The End Of The End
Unwound's reunion just feels different.
"I never thought I'd get to see [band] play live." That's a sentence I've said a lot over the past five years, but it's only been intensified now that we've entered a post-pandemic, show-going world. I remember in 2020, with us all sequestered in our homes, saying that once shows started happening again, we'd see a rash of reunions and anniversary tours. While that was by no means a unique thought, I do wonder if, by the numbers, that has actually bared fruit. All I know is that it certainly feels that way to me.
Just this week, I saw Unwound, the latest in the line of, "I never thought I'd see" bands to come back. While I've seen a lot of great artists get back up on the stage the past couple of years — Jawbreaker, AVAIL, Mercyful Fate, Algernon Cadwallader, just to name a few — none of them felt like Unwound did.
For one, from the very first time I heard Unwound's music, way back on a used copy of Repetition I scored in the late 2000s, their music always felt mature to me. That's an adjective that could easily translate to "boring as hell," but I promise that's not what I mean. For all the energy and urgency that leapt out from the speakers when I spun that record, there was this perfect balance of intentional and experimental, creating a sound that had trace elements of post-hardcore, indie-rock, emo, and noise-rock but never felt beholden to any of them. It's why they could release records on both Kill Rock Stars and Gravity Records because they bisected scenes and hit the folks who found themselves on the outermost fringes of who were desperately looking for something new.
Seeing Unwound on the Thalia Hall stage, it felt as if these songs were always meant to be aged into. While nostalgia can easily become a trap of simple pleasures and capitalistic gains, Unwound felt like they were floating above it all. While many bands take a bit of a winding path to reuniting, Unwound's story is a bit more unique. Personal demons led to inner turmoil that broke them apart, even if there was always a sense they didn't want to stop. Their coming back doesn't just feel right, it feels appropriate — they never wanted to leave.
Seeing Unwound up on stage, the difference between those other long-shot reunion sets and this one couldn't have been starker. It's a bit of a trope to say that people hate reunions because they end up leaving disappointed but, truth be told, I find the vast majority to be successful. It's a thrill, and most of the bands sound miles better than they did back then anyway. Yet, few have ever felt as absolutely right as this. The band's intensity and urgency were still there, as one song flowed into the next, feeling like every decision — yes, even the weird 10-minute intermission near the end — all felt so perfectly considered and necessary.
Beyond that, had you bet me which big-name reunion band would draw out the most kids under the age of 25, my money surely wouldn't have been on Unwound. When drummer Sara Lund dedicated a song to "all the people who weren't alive when we played our last show" the crowd response easily tripled that of the people woo-ing in response to her name-dropping Lounge Ax and the Fireside Bowl. The fact these kids were awkwardly and endearingly push-pitting the entire set said something more to me: This band, and this music, is still relevant.
Perhaps that youthful exuberance is unique to Chicago. After all, two of the buzziest up-and-coming indie bands from here, Lifeguard and Horsegirl, are made up of high schoolers who just signed to Matador Records and liberally cite Unwound. Maybe the other shows on this tour were just a nostalgia thing, I don't know, but here, it couldn't have been further from the case. Watching a group of kids lose their collective shit to "Corpse Pose" is not something I anticipated, but it deepened my appreciation of the entire event that much more. This was the promise of Unwound made good, decades after that pact was initially broken. May you experience something like it if you ever have the chance.
After the show, I laid in bed thinking about which bands now exist on my "I hope I get to see them" list. One of the first that jumped to mind was The Weakerthans. I started doing a little mental game of who I thought would reunite first from my short list of long-shot reunions I'd actually like to see and I started to feel like The Weakerthans would actually be a bit more staunch in their convictions. So it was very funny to be writing this post and then see this tweet from the band, where they end a standard announcement of a 20th-anniversary reissue and merch drop with "the band has no intention of recording and touring." Incredible stuff.
Classic pick from the shelf: Metallica's Some Kind Of Monster
I spent most of this week leading up to the Unwound shows deeply, annoyingly sick. I was alternating between fevers and debilitating headaches, meaning that I couldn't do much of anything other than lay down and complain. As Nina will surely tell you, I did a whole lot of both. But I also rewatched the Metallica documentary Some Kind Of Monster for what was probably the 10th time and it remains the greatest music documentary ever made. I've never been a huge Metallica fan, so I don't think that's a necessary component to loving this thing. You really get such an intimate look at a group of aging millionaires who are just barely keeping it together and making some of the worst music imaginable. Who doesn't want to watch that?
But even beyond the surface-level funny stuff, with every rewatch I get a bit more of a genuine response out of it. There's a real sense that James and Lars bonded as hesher teens who loved getting drunk and listening to New Wave of British Heavy Metal singles together, and maybe they still feel that way about one another, but their inability to fulfill the other person creatively in a band environment has made it so they can never go back and share those types of moments together ever again. You get the sense that, if they knew back in 1981 that they'd have to work together for the next 40 years, they may have never made it past that first demo.
Also, "delete that" remains an absolutely perfect line that I quote at least once a week. Thanks, Lars' dad!