Commentary

Don't Take Geico's 'Indie Across America' Too Seriously

Kids - they do the darndest things! Like call you by your first name, stuff uneaten sandwich crusts into the sound hole of your beautiful beautiful guitar and execute technically proficient Five-Star Frog Splashes onto the back of your neck when you're enjoying a hard-won nap. That guy over there, the one rocking back and forth while muttering "make the boy go away, make the boy go away" like a mantra - he knows what I'm talking about.

Maybe it's because I've spent much of the week hopped up on pharmaceutical-grade ibuprofen while icing my cervical column, but I'm still not entirely sure whether or not this week's Video Critique subject - "Indie Across America," a Geico-sponsored music walkabout - is an Onion-esque parody. The pro-parody argument: the featured band, Stereo Crowd, tosses out Spinal-Tappy boasts about writing three songs in an hour; the featured bits of the band's songs sound like bar conversations set to a backbeat; and the venue in which they perform is so stereotypically hipster-Brooklyn (faux-festive balloons, fans wearing throwback NBA jerseys, etc.) that it has to be a plant. The anti-parody argument: the band has a web site and purchasable songs and whatnot; the clip has the whirry, ADD-simpatico edits that are a hallmark of "cool" circa-2013 entertainment featurettes; and Geico generally doesn't loan out its anthropomorphic gecko to satire-minded gigglepusses.

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It could go either way, which is why it's unlikely that anyone will take "Indie Across America" all that seriously. This isn't to dismiss its ambition, however, at least as far as these things go. Its eight episodes, set to debut at the pace of one per week through mid-November, survey eight major U.S. markets. They're hosted by the estimable Dave Holmes, a music-scene gadfly since his MTV days. Nobody devotes this many resources and puts forth this much effort for a quick agenda-free laugh.

Unfortunately, "Indie Across America" lands in a commercial dead zone. It's too polished for indie music purists and too flaky for indie dilettantes. At six minutes and change in length, the first episode feels bloated and, oddly, way light on the performance footage that, in theory, would convince us that Stereo Crowd is the next Fishbone. And really, does anybody need a lecture from Holmes about the cost of living in New York City? No? How about from me, then? Gosh, there was this one time, I bought a slice of pizza and it cost THREE DOLLARS. Where I live now, you can get a small fountain soda and 77.5 percent of a garlic knot along with that slice of pizza for the same three dollars. I blame Bloomberg.

There's nothing at all tedious about that. Anyway, Geico's sponsorship presents another challenge. Even though its brand presence is as muted as it can be under the circumstances - the Geico moniker gets flashed up front and there's some unobtrusive signage in the club - the holier-than-thou contingent might dismiss the series based on its corporate affiliation alone. That's unfair to anyone who's trying to get content of this kind made and triple-unfair to acts like Stereo Crowd (sure, win over the anti-sellout Nazis by turning down corporate patronage, then work seven jobs to make up the difference) but that's the corner into which we've boxed ourselves.

The irony in all of this? Even with the eight-city travel component, this particular sponsorship wouldn't seem to make a lot of sense for Geico. But hey, good on them for supporting something unconventional and seemingly at odds with their brand personality.

So the clip continues with Stereo Crowd prattling about the fans and the creative process and the energy, and it's dull and relatively harmless. And then we hit the 4:20 mark, and out of nowhere there's a faint flicker of something that could make for a far more involving web series.

When Holmes asks one of the Stereo Crowd guys about the challenge of making a sustainable living as a musician, he responds with an uncharacteristically blunt and practical answer: essentially, that storytelling and self-promotion via social media are as important a part of the job as writing and performing great songs. He doesn't bemoan that state of affairs nor does he attempt to put a happy face on it; he puts it out there flatly, almost blithely. The honesty is uncommon - and quickly buried in the musical avalanche of a poorly mixed performance clip.

Nonetheless, that, to me, would be an interesting web series: Take three up-and-coming performers and chronicle the compromises: the meetings with licensors, the Thanksgivings and Christmases spent away from family, that kind of stuff. Yes, this lacks the commercial appeal that would prompt a corporate sugar daddy to underwrite it and yes, getting access to those particular moments would be a challenge. It's nonetheless the only part of the band-on-the-rise experience that's gone uncovered. There's a story in there somewhere.

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