Song 227: Rainer Maria, “Hell and High Water” (2001)

rainermariaI had been to a couple of rock shows before I saw Rainer Maria at the Middle East in February 2003, but they didn’t really register. If memory serves, those previous shows were by Man or Astro-Man? and Clinic, bands that didn’t do much for me (despite the undeniable spectacle of the former).

When Lizzie and I went to the Rainer Maria show with our friend Adam, I suddenly understood why going to watching bands in dirty rooms was a thing people did. It seemed miraculous that the sound was exploding, perfectly formed, in that tiny basement. It felt like we were in a secret downstairs society, and those above-ground suckers, doing whatever mundane, non-rock errands they were doing, were completely missing out. Our community had the distortion and the beer, and theirs didn’t.

The show marked the first time I’d heard either band. Mates of State came out first, and the very idea blew my mind: two people can do this? With a keyboard and a tiny drum? Then came Rainer Maria, and the contrast between the two bands—both powerful but differing in ammunition—made the second act seem massive.

I don’t remember exactly what Rainer Maria played, but I’d like to think this song, the closer to their excellent record A Better Version of Me, was the highlight. I love everything about “Hell and High Water,” from the charging-out-of-the-gate intro to that chorus full of melody and pathos. Then there’s the breakdown that leads to the end, when the sweet harmonies temper the sadness of Caithlin De Marrais singing “I’m not a fool.” The song is full of ranging emotions, with “giving you the finger” sticking out like, er, a sore thumb.   Rainer Maria broke up in 2006, and I desperately want them back, barnstorming clubs with power chords and thunderous basslines. But I suppose it’s someone else’s turn now.

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