Disclaimer: Reviews are supposed to be impartial and unflinching.  This review cannot be that. There are people that listen to music. And  then there are people that hear music. To those who hear it, music  speaks in different tones that hint that something greater is at work.  It can mean something. It can be something that is completely  relatable when one finds themselves surrounded by the unrelatable. It  was ok to have opinions and express them, even if they were unpopular.  Or better yet, work those opinions into cleverly poppy songs so that  people are unwitting learning something if they stop listening and  hear the music.

There are two bands that formed this writer's love and devotion to  music. One is R.E.M. The other is 10,000 Maniacs. They were  near-perfect bookends.

10,000 Maniacs and R.E.M. are on pedestals. Without them, the  conviction and perseverance to follow this career path would be gone.)

R.E.M.'s "Automatic For the People" just turned 25. It got the deluxe  re-issue with bonus tracks and demos to celebrate the lasting genius  of the Athens band's masterstroke.

Husker Du is finally getting their catalog re-issued and have finally  entered the collective conscious that until recently didn't recognize  the value in the contributions the St. Paul trio to the 80s  college/indie/alternative canon of mixing music and politics.

The Replacements, too, have finally caught a foothold with a new  generation of musicians.

Other names that come to mind include The Smiths, Sonic Youth, U2,  Violent Femmes, X and many more.

Oddly there is one band that seems to miss the list, and it is both  mystifying and appalling.

Where are 10,000 Maniacs?

The band that formed in Jamestown, NY in 1981 might not be as bold as  U2, nor share in the drunken brilliant belligerence of The  Replacements. 10,000 Manics influence is more subtle, yet as important.

Would the R.E.M. that we know today, be that R.E.M. if not for the  influence of former Manics' frontwoman Natalie Merchant's influence on  Michael Stipe. It was through Merchant that Stipe felt comfortable  bringing politics to R.E.M.'s music (for without it, there would be no  "Lifes Rich Pageant," Document," and "Green.")

In a decade that might have had more sugary hits on pop radio stations  than we currently do, 10,000 Maniacs' music often combined message and  music into a deceptively clever amalgam.

Songs like "What's The Matter Here?" Don't Talk," Gun Shy," and "Like  The Weather" dealt with social topics that may be more relevant today  than when they were first released 30 years ago on the band's seminal  "In My Tribe."

Maybe it was (is) the bitter sting of Merchant leaving the group in  1993 after it finally achieved the national spotlight it had danced  with for many years previous. (And perhaps a sting made more bitter  after Merchant left the 'art by committee' restrictions of the band to  release the utterly mediocre "Tigerlily.")

Leaving the band may have been in motion behind the scenes for a time  before the public announcement, but to fans that found solace in the  band's integrity to make music that matter, it was a wound that for  some (including this writer) that has never fully healed. You don't  quit, especially at the top of the hill for which the band had fought  so hard.

The band did soldier on. Mary Ramsey was tapped to be lead. It was a  move that was natural, and the fit of Ramsey with Steve Gustafson,  Dennis Drew, Jerry Augustyniak and Rob Buck seemed too good to be true.

10,000 Maniacs released "Love Among the Ruins" in 1997. The band was  entering a second life and for an album that followed the tremendous  popularity and success that was 1992's "Our Time in Eden," "Love Among  the Ruins" is an underappreciated gem.

Gone was the pretentiousness that many felt Merchant brought out and  in came Ramsey, a renowned violinist adding depth to the soundscape of  the band. Ramsey vocally is not overpowering the songs; she pays  service to the songs. It is not as showy--just ask Ringo Starr as he  is consistently slammed for doing the same thing behind the drumkit.  In theory, everything in the mechanisms of a band should work in  service of the song.

20 years later, 10,000 Maniacs are, thankfully, still making music and  touring. The band's stop at Lamp Theater in Irwin, Pa proved that the  intervening years that saw founding guitarist Buck die of liver  failure and Oskar Saville taking the lead vocal for a stint in the  mid-00s, have made Ramsey and 10,000 Maniacs a much tighter and fluid  band. There is a crispness to songs like "Painted Dessert," "Cherry  Tree," and "Like The Weather" than only years of playing together  could provide.

The set list mixes the pre-"Eden" hits with "Eden" and Ramsey's four  albums with the band. "These Are Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants" got  the biggest applause from the crowd, even if 25 years later one still  questions whether audiences are hearing "Candy Everybody Wants" or  listening to "Candy Everybody Wants."

This tour is celebrating "In My Tribe." That 1987 album along with  1989's "Blind Man's Zoo," might even be more relevant today than they  were 30 years ago.

By all reasonable logic and circumstances, 10,000 Maniacs should not  be. Yet they are, weathering a one-two punch in the 90s of Merchant  leaving and Buck dying of liver failure at 42, sounding better than  ever if one is able to hear the music.

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