There’s a timeline where Brainiac didn’t lose their vocalist, the glue of the band, and they continued on their promised trajectory and became huge and, well, who knows how it would go after that. Maybe a quiet descent. Or they continue to evolve, end things on their own terms. Maybe it all simply stops one day, nothing tragic, it’s just over.
Unfortunately, in our timeline, that wasn’t the case. Tragedy struck as the band ascended. Dissolution, a drifting apart, talent and promise and the future of Brainiac went unrealized. Gone, sure, but not forgotten. The opposite, in fact.
They never stopped mattering - past, present, future fans, other musicians, writers, bands yet to come. Last night was proof that in this reality, they still matter to, at the very least, the 600+ souls packed into The Woodward Theater, to the folks who couldn’t get a ticket to join the crowd of another sold out show on Brainiac’s brief return run. They’re still a vibrant, important, chaotically critical piece of thousands of lives.
I missed the band when they first showed up. I was young, discovering bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden - alternative, baby - when Brainiac were charting a parallel line of musically challenging existence. Challenging to listeners, to themselves. They were a constant battle between protopunk and electronic dissonance, finally settling on some weird conglomeration of the two. Idiosyncratic from the start, aggressively more so as they spent a bulk of the 90’s morphing into The Future, whether we realized it or not. Yes, I’m disappointed to say I wasn’t there from the beginning to the too quick end, but I can say, with my whole chest, that I’m happy - proud, even - to have been there with them on a Saturday in Cincinnati that offered no shortage of incredibly talented bands from across the spectrum playing their hearts out all over the city. Friends, our cup runneth over, does it not?
Here’s where I mention, albeit briefly, opening act The Serfs. I didn’t realize I knew one of their members from my days booking shows at a little DIY art & music space in Hamilton (some of my proudest accomplishments). I hadn’t heard them and didn’t know what to expect. I assume it’s part of their mystique, less schtick and more band DNA, but the “We’re here, who cares, we don’t” attitude of their set was humorous and intimidating at the same time. Heavy 80’s vibes, sinister synth and guitar work, dark and heavy and gloomy and a bit intoxicating, I was as entertained as I was perplexed. Maybe that was the point. Also, bonus points for raggedy all black garb, turtleneck and chain included. Also also, a piece of vinyl siding as a symbol? Sure, why not.
Brainiac made short work of the rest of the night (meaning they tore through their set, not that it was short). Yes, you could feel the loss, the missing element, the kinetic propulsion of Timmy Taylor and what he was and is for the band. However, the band IS Brainiac just the same. Vibrant, kinetic and existing in very much their own way. The vibe was respectfully upbeat. Fans and band alike recognizing that this was a special moment in time for all of them.
Lamenting the slow drift of friendship, the end of their time as Brainiac 1.0 at the end of the 90’s, they were still vivid and engaged, dissonantly thrashing through a set consisting of all the fan favorites (though, I think at this point they’re all fan favorites if we’re being honest). John Schmersal said something along the lines of, “This is solemn, yes. We lost Tim, we lost the band, we lost our friendships. But we’re here now, because of you - the fans. We’re here because we want to be, because we could be.” Shoutout to Stuart from Scottish Post-Rock legends Mogwai for being something of a catalyst, by the way.
On a personal note, it was super rad to see Tim Krug, of Dayton’s Oh, Condor, on stage and so fully present and integrated, equal parts vocals, synth, and guitar.
The band as a whole was tight - super tight - and didn’t feel like they spent a majority of the past 25 years disappeared. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but if we’re being honest, I was.
Legacy is impossible to guess, fathom, consider when you’re in the middle of just… being. Solemnity aside, Brainiac were able to spend the night celebrating their legacy, Taylor’s legacy. Music is a gift. Time is, too. When the two collide, be it to bring a band back from the dark, to conjure them into existence in the first place, to record that existence for others to experience, to give us an opportunity to feel and sing and move and commune and just… be, it’s special and important and I, like so many others, am thankful to be here, there, now, then, in this time and place and to be a part of it.
Schmersal, joking not joking, said “We’re good,” when the topic of coming back from non-existence came up between songs. They most certainly were. Are. Always will be. Don’t forget that part. It’s important.