In his review of Friday night's Cairo Expo '89 show with White Rainbow, Eric Grandy made note of the crowd, "an audience that would rather be offended than pleasantly coddled, for whom excitement is still the best thing, but for whom mere mediocrity may be the worst." This post goes out to that audience, which seems to be exponentially growing by the week. A general truism about Cairo show has been, if you go to one, you'll probably see the exact same crowd at the next one you go to. And that makes sense; Cairo is a tight-knit community.
Lena Joy Whittle
But when I attended this Saturday's Expo 89 show--during which I caught the harmonic sounds of the aptly named Pleasure Beauties, followed by two upbeat sets by two Cairo perennials, Stephanie and Witch Gardens, and finally a ear-blasting show by Grave Babies featuring an Ozzy Osbourne-wigged Danny Wahlfeldt--that fact wasn't true, maybe for the first time, for me at least. Cairo's tiny back room was full of its regulars, but the cracks were filled in by a surprising bunch of new faces, mostly young kids who looked thrilled to be spending their weekend in the company of these bands.
The same thing was true to an even larger extent when I saw Witch Gardens play the Neptune Theatre on Friday night, opening for Baths and Teen Daze. (Check out Todd Hamm's comprehensive review of that concert here). When Witch Gardens hit the stage--the Neptune is the largest venue the band has played so far--the room was nearly full, and among the crowd I only recognized about two people. It was only six months ago that Witch Gardens was playing for a bench-full of about ten people at Bluebird Microcreamery, and now breathless fans are begging for a Casey Catherwood-signed setlist. (True story).
The bigger crowds and expanding fanbase reminded me of something Cairo's co-owner Joel Leshefka told me when I interviewed him earlier this year along with his business partner Aimee Butterworth. "Everything we do at Cairo is creating a framework for artists and hopefully a platform to get them to where they want to go," Leshefka said.
That much is coming true for a lot of Cairo's home bands. (For a quick and easy compendium of those bands, check out contributors to Cairo Records' Cold Jungle compilation and its follow-up, the recently released Coastal Sightings). It might start out as friends getting together and playing small-scale shows in the back room of a vintage shop, but now bands like Witch Gardens are playing the Neptune and getting favorable reviews from Pitchfork. Stephanie is also playing bigger shows, like last October when they were chosen to open for Manhattan art-rockers Gang Gang Dance at Neumos. Haunted Horses and Secret Colors are getting written about in the New York Times.
The new levels of success these bands are reaching shouldn't really be that surprising. First of all, there's a degree of admiration that they deserve--when there wasn't a scene for them to fit into, they created one themselves. The Cairo collective is DIY in its truest form. And, as Eric also pointed out in his review, they're making music that's refreshingly experimental. No two Cairo bands sound alike. For those music fans worn out by "Something the Something and Mumford & ZZZZZZZZZs," the Cairo community is an entirely new world. The revolution is spreading.