The Live Wire Bar on El Cajon Blvd. recently celebrated its 15th anniversary with a night of DJ’d music honoring local bands and record labels from the early-mid ‘90s — an era long forgotten. I actually remember attending the Live Wire’s grand opening party way back when — so, needless to say, the announcement of this indie rock class reunion made me feel a bit long in the tooth. This got me thinking about the state of the local music and how things have changed — for better or for worse — over the years. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been accused by many of being Dated and Jaded in my perception of the current local music scene. Although things have certainly gotten bigger, have they necessarily gotten better? The adage quality vs. quantity comes to mind.
In the early 90s, San Diego fluctuated between two or three respectable live music venues, two college radio stations, and a handful of reputable record labels, stores and local fanzines — this was the scene. The Casbah, a San Diego institution since 1989, set the benchmark as an original live music venue catering to local, regional and national touring acts — and continues to do so. Bands such as Drive Like Jehu, fluf, Rocket From the Crypt, aMiniature, Trumans Water, Uncle Joe’s Big Ol’ Driver, Inch, No Knife, Deadbolt, Creedle, Chune, Heavy Vegetable, and Three Mile Pilot proved that musically dissimilar bands could not only co-exist in the same scene, but also play together on the same bill, on the same night — what a concept!
As the output and level of creativity among local musicians continues to impress, I’ve noticed remarkably less and less diversity and open-mindedness among the audiences frequenting live music venues in our fine city. Whereas the DIY/indie rock movement — regardless of genre — was once the unifying force, the local scene now appears to be driven by small cliques or sub-genres. I often wonder if this isn’t a case of style over substance and image over content. Music fans in San Diego have a multitude of bands, genres and venues from which to choose, yet musical tastes appear to be more pigeonholed and ghettoized than ever — where is the sense of adventure and experimentation? Maybe I’m just out of touch.
On a positive note, I’m continually amazed opening San Diego CityBEAT each week at the number of live music venues now operating in San Diego. Bars such as The Alibi, The Whistle Stop, Pink Elephant Bar, San Diego Sports Club, etc. provide an environment for musicians to build a fanbase and hone their craft — and for club-goers to get their live music fix. Unfortunately, the cost of living in San Diego has stifled the arts community as a whole. True artistic expression and output is dependent on the balancing act between subsistence and the free time and energy to create. Many talented musicians have packed up and left San Diego because of the prohibitive economic/artistic landscape here, which is an unfortunate reality. San Diego is most certainly a city experiencing growing pains and it will be fascinating to watch how the music scene morphs during this transition period — I’ll be watching and listening.
— BRYAN SPEVAK