Happy 20th, Merge! Now get off their lawn.
July 5, 2009 5:30 PM   Subscribe

Merge Records, the independent record label founded by Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance of Superchunk, turns 20 this year. All Things Considered focuses on how they stand out from other labels by turning profits in these trying economic times. They are throwing a four-day festival this month, XX Merge, in North Carolina where it all began. Stand-out acts for the festival include M. Ward, The Magnetic Fields, The Clientele, Superchunk, and the biggest act promoted by the label, Spoon.
posted by educatedslacker (41 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Superchunk is the best! I love to annoy the crap out of my girlfriend by forcing her to hear all of the songs in their original and acoustic format. Common mix cd theme for me.

Spoon's best song is still "all the negatives have been destroyed" that parking lot they are in no longer exist.

I wish i could go to this. :(
posted by djduckie at 5:47 PM on July 5, 2009

Dear God, Erectus Monotone is playing... I may need to make the pilgrimage to Chapel Hill.
posted by saladin at 5:53 PM on July 5, 2009

Too bad y'all. Sold out a long time ago.
posted by greta simone at 6:02 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm pretty sure the biggest act promoted by Merge is Arcade Fire. Too big to play XX Merge, even.

The festival is sold out. The nights particular bands play on is not announced in advance. So, you'd potentially have to go all five nights if you wanted to see, for instance, Polvo.
posted by 3.2.3 at 6:03 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Tickets are still available for the Sunday show at Memorial Hall with She & Him, Wye Oak, and American Music Club.
posted by leesh at 6:07 PM on July 5, 2009

Also, it's a five-day festival, not a four-day one. (Five years ago seeing so many bands in five days seemed like an easy feat--now I'm scheduling in disco naps and glad the Sunday show is seated.)
posted by leesh at 6:10 PM on July 5, 2009

I'm with 3.2.3--The Arcade Fire has sold more albums than any other Merge artist. The label is on record saying that.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:11 PM on July 5, 2009

Just checked the list of bands playing--I've seen 9 of them live and I'd say easily the best performance was put on by Lambchop; worst was far and away Polvo, who I saw open for fIREHOSE. Goddamn was Polvo terrible, though fIREHOSE was so good they had me dancing on top of a table for most of the set.

Merge is one of the best indie labels to ever come out of the US. Amazing they've gone two decades. Here's to 20 more years!
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:19 PM on July 5, 2009

Polvo was that band I was always excited about seeing until I realized I had them confused with Bastro.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:28 PM on July 5, 2009

I love me some Spoon. It takes balls and talent to self-mythologize like they did on Gimme Fiction and not seem like total wankers.
posted by bardic at 6:38 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah, seeing Lambchop on one of their early tours is one of my fave shows ever. I wasn't up for playing Crowded Club Roulette, but I don't begrudge the way they're keeping the lineups secret - the "it's a birthday party and if you want to celebrate with us cool if not also cool" line makes perfect sense.

This sure is interesting, though:

Will there be XX Merge events other than the night time shows?

Yes. To be announced!

*leans in, raises eyebrow*
posted by mediareport at 6:39 PM on July 5, 2009

Superchunk is awesome. So is Spoon. So is Merge Records. Thanks for this post!
posted by blucevalo at 6:41 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Radio David Byrne is podcasting Merge bands throughout July.
posted by Ritchie at 6:48 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks, Ritchie, that's fantastic. Byrne's note on that page is really sweet, too:

The label approached me about a year ago as they were asking various folks to curate compilations from their 20-year history. How they’ve survived 20 years of the music biz wars is a miracle and somewhat amazing. Some might think that having acts like Arcade Fire and She and Him keep the label afloat — and maybe they do — but I know that big success can also overwhelm a small efficient staff. Success can bloat a small company, and then they have to deal with their expanded bulk after the big hit is over.

Somehow Merge has managed to do it.

posted by mediareport at 6:52 PM on July 5, 2009

Yes! Merge has made it as one of the great influential indie labels of our time. I was actually listening to Superchunk today driving home after dropping my daughter off at summer camp and bopping in the car almost as much as Laura does on stage. It makes me happy to know that they are still successful with their endeavors. Congrats to Merge for sustaining the years and adding yet another great facet to the DIY community.

And for anyone interested in the history of American indie rock I can't recommend enough the book Our Band Could Be Your Life.

P.S. If you are in the St. Louis area July 17th Sonic Youth is playing a FREE show at the Arch.
posted by emypocu at 6:55 PM on July 5, 2009

There's a book coming out specifically about Merge, from Chapel Hill press Algonquin Books, sometime this fall.
posted by leesh at 7:08 PM on July 5, 2009

In 1991 I was a college radio nerd. I remember the night that Superchunk came to town to play some crappy bar (No Pocky For Kitty tour?); I had seen their record in rotation but hadn't paid it much attention, being generally overwhelmed with the quantity of amazing new stuff that I was encountering at the radio station.

So unfortunately what I remember from that night is that I had decided not to go because I had an exam or an 8am class or something. Within months that band and that album had become my most favorite. But I made up for that error by seeing them as often as I could, including once driving from a job deep in the marshy flats of south Texas two hours to Houston to see them on a 1994 tour.

Versus is playing? Richard Baluyut is a god.

I wonder if it'll be the full-on Lambchop band or just Kurt and a guitar or such. Which would be OK, but the full monty Lambchop is really something to see.

I wish I'd heard about this before it sold out, because I totally would have gone. My sorry ass white collar workaholic life has extra PTO to burn anyway. And it wouldn't be the first time.

I'll console myself with my Jesus Lizard ticket.

If someone has a 5-day pass that they want to make some money off of, MeFi mail me.
posted by intermod at 7:20 PM on July 5, 2009

The Spoon guy did a very good Black Cab Session.
posted by Flashman at 7:34 PM on July 5, 2009

So many of my favorite records of the last 20 came out on Merge - that would be one hell of a fest to attend. Touch and Go's 25 Anniversary Block party was one of the most incredible music events I've experienced. There was a crazy sense of camaraderie of all of these people equally jacked to be seeing so many of their favorite bands and celebrate the label that brought them so much great music. Hopefully Merge fairs better than T&G did after their celebratory wing-ding.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 7:35 PM on July 5, 2009

Every night on tour, Polvo either plays the best show ever or the worst. I don't know if I'd gamble and pay stalker prices in hopes of getting them on a good night, but that Versus and The Magnetic Fields are also playing kind of makes me want to jump in the car and trek to NC in hopes of getting in.
posted by bunnytricks at 7:47 PM on July 5, 2009

East River Pipe = way underappreciated.
posted by davebush at 7:49 PM on July 5, 2009 [2 favorites]

You know, I was a huge Merge fan about ten years ago. When I learned they signed Conor Oberst to the label, I stopped paying attention. Putting aside the fact that Conor is a huge prat, having a band that openly plagiarized from one of your most important legacy acts (that would be Neutral Milk Hotel) recording for your label is rather gross and acting in poor faith on Jeff Mangum's behalf.
posted by pxe2000 at 7:53 PM on July 5, 2009

Whoa, I missed that East River Pipe was going to be there too.
posted by intermod at 7:57 PM on July 5, 2009

Let's not forget the Rosebuds! Meanwhile, if anyone has extra tickets and wants to sell one to a grad student in Carrboro...
posted by rbf1138 at 8:01 PM on July 5, 2009

It feels kind of weird, actually. I remember the 80s, when the Rolling Stones turned twenty and the attitude of people vaguely my age whose tastes in music I liked responded, mostly, "yes, that's nice, but stick a fork in it, y'all are done."

And now the people of vaguely my age whose tastes in music I liked are that far along, themselves, and have had to rectify the conflict of rock'n'roll and middle age in their own ways.

And I think, in part, the healthier attitude is displayed by the people who can leave their own generational hangups out of it, and can rock out without permanent adolescence. And they can recognize when the kids of today are making pretty good music themselves and allow them to stay on our lawn for a little while. And the Rolling Stones did some okay stuff too.

Wish I could be there. So many bands I've wanted to and haven't seen, some of whom have been broken up or simply not visiting the States for years. Seeing them all in the same week could be like dying and going to a really good heaven.
posted by ardgedee at 8:05 PM on July 5, 2009

I liked Honor Role.
posted by grounded at 8:06 PM on July 5, 2009

having a band that openly plagiarized from one of your most important legacy acts

It's only plagiarism because you don't like him. If you did, it would be homage.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 8:17 PM on July 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I've been to the five, ten, and fifteen-year Mergefests, but for this one I am just too damn tired.
posted by pinky at 10:01 PM on July 5, 2009

I think pxe2000 may have a sad obsession.
posted by SAC at 10:25 PM on July 5, 2009

Polvo:Orville Sash::Sonic Youth:Everyone else

That said, their new single sounds like a wet dog fart. or Third Eye Blind or something.

Aside from Polvo and a handful of other bands (Rock*A*Teens, Superchunk) I could take or leave the label. I'm glad they're still going strong, though.

Give me a call in 2014 when Drag City does their 25 year anniversary. I'll be pooping my pantaloons
posted by orville sash at 4:40 AM on July 6, 2009

I think pxe2000 may have a sad obsession.

She also always conveniently forgets that Bright Eyes' first album (which sounds an awful lot like his follow ups) came out the same year as the album she claims he ripped off.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 6:15 AM on July 6, 2009

That said, their new single sounds like a wet dog fart

For fucks sake, that sounds like the Afghan Whigs reuniting to reinvent themselves as a nu-metal band five years after the fad passed.
posted by bunnytricks at 6:15 AM on July 6, 2009

i always thought oberst was ripping off david dondero. and now donero records for oberst's label. sometimes the universe just has it ass backward.
posted by msconduct at 6:35 AM on July 6, 2009


Be sure to check out the tour diaries on their site. There's some great stuff in there.

A friend and I once took a road trip from here in Columbus down to Knoxville to see a Superchunk show...one of the best live shows I've ever seen, with Columbus natives Gaunt making the trip to open up.

That Sunday when we got back, we sat down to watch the new Simpsons that week. We're sitting on the couch watching Bart, Nelson, Milhouse and Martin decide where to take their rental car when they start chanting..."Knoxville! Knoxville! Knoxville!" It was a surreal moment.
posted by Otis at 6:47 AM on July 6, 2009

There's a book coming out specifically about Merge, from Chapel Hill press Algonquin Books, sometime this fall.

Here's a better link for the forthcoming Merge book.
posted by spilon at 7:31 AM on July 6, 2009

Will there be XX Merge events other than the night time shows?

One I know of:
Radar Bros, Tenement Halls, Portastatic, Matt Suggs and The Music Tapes are playing a free show at OCSC on Saturday 7/25 at 1pm.
posted by thivaia at 1:06 PM on July 6, 2009

Also, I'll be at all five nights of this shindig.
posted by thivaia at 1:08 PM on July 6, 2009

Guv'ner reunion! Wow. I'm jealous of whoever gets to go to this 5-day event.
For me, Merge and Matador are neck and neck as the bastions of great American modern music.
posted by swamptiger at 9:11 PM on July 6, 2009

Correction: East River Pipe is not playing. Which is no surprise, he's kinda reclusive, at least as far as public performance goes.
posted by intermod at 6:23 PM on July 7, 2009

playing a free show at OCSC

Unless they've taken over the spaces next door, Orange County Social Club is one tiny venue, so get there plenty early...
posted by mediareport at 7:15 PM on July 7, 2009

It's strange, I've listened to plenty of NMH, plenty of times, and a fair amount of Bright Eyes, and they don't sound at all alike to me. Especially Bright Eyes doesn't sound like Oh, Comely. What am I missing? I'm truly perplexed.
posted by OmieWise at 4:24 PM on July 27, 2009

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