Getting past the taco stages is a formidable challenge for any indie awards show. Why? Because cheering all things independent is harder than it looks.
The 2006 Plug Independent Music AwardsCity: New York
Venue: Webster Hall
Somehow it always worked out for Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. All those two crazy kids needed was some extra elbow grease from gung-ho townspeople and an empty barn, and suddenly their "Hey, guys! Let's put on a show!" refrains became an adorable reality. Of course, picturing the folks behind the Plug Awards in their planning stages conjures a slightly different image: Greasy "Indie" Stoner: Dude. So I've got an idea. Couch-surfing Rocker: Tacos? Yeah, I was thinking that. GIS: Shit, yeah. But no. No, man, let's put on a show. Like, an indie music awards show! Cos fuck the Grammys man. That shit is laaaaame. CSR: Yeah! Yeah, dude, like who cares about Jessica Simpson? Jenny Lewis is way hotter. GIS: That's what I'm sayin'! And we could so do it, too. Remember that dude from Ludlow? That night? He's working Myspace now, right? He could pull something off. Like a sponsorship or something. And like, the people, man. The people could vote! Online! CSR: Hell yeah! And, and, who was that girl you dated? Didn't she go to Pratt? I bet she could put together some sweet-ass graphics. And we could have a projector and a screen Oh! Dude! And that Aziz kid's friends with Paul! We should get him to ask him to emcee! He's hilarious! GIS: Yes! Yes! Oh man, this is gonna be awesome. And we'll have like, performances from nominees and like, a red carpet and speeches. Man, it'll be just like the Grammys! CSR: Yeah, but better! Cos this is our music, man. GIS: Yeah. Way better So, tacos? My impression of the Plug Awards - an evening conceived to honor the best and brightest in independent music as nominated by a nebulous group of voters ranging from industry-types to members of the independent media -- is that the planning was left in the taco stages. While I have to (and did, heartily and somewhat drunkenly) applaud their efforts, the show itself was an example of what can go wrong when you try simultaneously to both disparage and emulate a big-budget production. On the one hand, no one wanted the courtesy claps from industry big-wigs as "Best Traditional Tropical Latin Album" was presented, and no one wanted the over-emotive acceptance speech with the now-cursory "Thank God" (unless it came from Sufjan Stevens' mouth as he accepted the award for Album of the Year). And I'm not upset that this "un-awards" awards show featured ad-lib (and ad nauseum) moments and onstage hijinks, like Nick Sylvester (writer for Pitchfork and the Village Voice) choosing to read from the New Yorker instead of presenting his award and Langhorne Slim purposefully and incorrectly announcing CocoRosie as the winners of Best Female Artist. If ever there was a time or a venue for indie joie de vivre and shenanigans, this was it. Ultimately, I am probably the ideal audience member for the Plug Awards. With cursory knowledge of all the acts, and a vodka-shortened attention span, I laughed at emcee Aziz Ansari skits, nodded my head to Cage's beats, and between furtive cigarette puffs actually did a little drunken dance to Celebration, whose performance was the evening's highlight. This really was it: the big "Fuck You" to the Music Industry. Like, we're so indie we're going to let all the presenters get completely trashed and pull envelopes from their asses, and the audience will stand for the whole four hour show, goddammit. Wait, what? I'm not saying I would've enjoyed sitting through the Grammys at the LA Convention Center, watching plastic pop stars turn the spectacle into a self-congratulatory fashion show. I am saying, however, that I would've liked to sit down at the Plug Awards. And while Aziz was funny, he's even funnier when you can hear all of what he's saying (insert long and unnecessary diatribe about how terrible Webster Hall's sound is here). Sure, no one really expected Bloc Party to appear from the wings to accept their award for Indie Rock Album of the Year, but I don't think that assuaged anyone's disappointment when that anticlimactic moment actually came - the night was full of these, since virtually none of the winners were present. While the evening was clearly conceived with the best intentions, it turns out that much more than bright-eyed enthusiasm is needed to successfully pull this off in real life. Of course, I thought the organizers would have realized this already, since this was the event's third year. But a minimal backline coupled with maximum egos resulted in little more than a long, choppy, wink-and-nudge fest, as audience and participants alike fluffed their indier-than-thou feathers. But maybe I'm being too harsh? How seriously was the audience meant to take the whole production? Clearly the organizers care about independent music and its adjoining scene. Their hearts are undoubtedly in the right place (awards went to Bright Eyes, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Animal Collective among others), and while the show may have started over tacos, the organizers were eventually able to peel themselves from the proverbial couch. But is that enough? Maybe even reviewing an "indie" event is counterproductive. Perhaps it's just a matter of semantics -- had this been the "Plug Concert," would I be mollified? For now, I can only chalk up the evening as one more late night followed by a hangover, and hope for a continued improvement as the show matures. So to the organizers of the Plug Awards, do keep it up. I'll be there again next year, with my indie ego on my sleeve. And if you need some help, I think my roommate has a connection at Filter.