New Year's Eve brings its own unique set of rules. The symbolic significance of the holiday and the highly charged party atmosphere cast a long shadow over the night's musical options -- in effect, magnifying their importance.
For concertgoers who align themselves with a particular genre or demographic, this isn't usually a problem. For instance, what jam band fan worth his or her salt would be anywhere other than Philips Arena for Widespread Panic's annual cavalcade of performances?
But that heightened sense of spectacle can be a problem for rock 'n' roll shows. Rock, after all, is particularly dependent upon that fickle seductress: buzz. And a band without the right intangibles contributing to its buzz can siphon the sense of import from a New Year's Eve show faster than a Candlebox tune can clear a dancefloor.
For New Year's, says The Earl's talent buyer Patrick Hill, "more so than putting on a show, you're putting on a party. For example, as much as I love Cat Power, we're not going to book her on New Year's Eve. You want a band that's a great time."
Hill knows of what he speaks. The Earl is one of a handful of Atlanta venues hosting rock shows with that elusive buzz built right in. Garage-rockers the Woggles are riding a wave of acclaim following the release of this year's sturdy Ragged But Right, and have recently weathered the death of guitarist George Holton. In a bit of eerie synchronicity, openers the Black Lips are in a remarkably similar position, having lost guitarist Ben Eberbaugh in late 2002 before releasing Black Lips! on the respected Bomp! label.
"They're definitely likeminded bands that are taking different approaches to similar music," Hill says. "The Black Lips are insane; who wouldn't want to see them on New Year's Eve?"
But the Woggles and Black Lips aren't the only area rock acts whose New Year's Eve shows come equipped with appropriate symbolic value. The same can be said of the shows scheduled for Atlanta's hard-rock behemoth Mastodon and Athens' Southern rock titans Drive-By Truckers. Admittedly, neither band is the first that comes to mind when one thinks of a classic New Year's Eve party act. But, in keeping with the holiday's promise of new horizons, both bands stand at a crossroads, ready to leverage critical word-of-mouth and grueling road stints into enduring high-profile success.
To be fair, they've been at that crossroads for a while. Mastodon's acclaimed Remission was released in 2002, and the Truckers' Decoration Day is their second album in a row to garner "Where have these guys been all my life?" accolades from the likes of Entertainment Weekly. Nonetheless, their similar seating arrangements in the "Next Big Thing" dugout make them apt candidates to play New Year's.
At least, the venues sure think so. According to Echo Lounge booker Alex Weiss, what he looks for in a New Year's show is "a band that has a good draw, and something that's a little bit different from what everybody else is doing."
"I think Mastodon definitely fits that bill, because they're not like a real party-type dance band," says Weiss. "They're really good at what they do. They have a really strong following, and their shows are always a lot of fun. It gives people who like something a bit different for New Year's a place to go."
Variety Playhouse manager Brad Syna has a similarly good feeling about the Truckers show, which represents a departure from previous Variety New Year's concerts. "We've done jam bands on New Year's Eve [before]," he says, "but Widespread at Philips takes a big portion of that crowd."
The Truckers, then, offer the opportunity to provide a different program -- and the band's hiatus from the Variety stage should only heighten the experience. "We haven't [had] them for a year and a half," says Syna. "And I know they've grown since then."
At press time, ticket sales for all three shows were promising. None of the bookers is too worried that audiences will stick to more traditional party choices, or be split between the different (but comparable) rock shows.
"Mastodon's crowd never was a big advance-purchasing crowd," Weiss says. "For New Year's Eve, a lot of times with us, people wait 'til the last minute anyway to buy tickets. I'm confident it's going to be a fun show."
Syna echoes that sentiment: "[With] places our size, the majority of tickets are sold the last couple of weeks. We've done a nice amount so far. [The Truckers] keep growing and getting bigger, but not really too expensive. I think it's going to be pretty close to a sellout. They're a fun band. It's a good New Year's Eve [bill]."