You’ve heard the saying that less is more? Well, new scene bands (with their 3 guitarists, 2 vocalists, a rhythm section and a lighting guy), ska bands, and anyone from E street haven’t. Then again, they’re probably too busy banging groupies to pay attention to old adages. Still, there is something to be said for keeping it simple. Here is our tribute to all the smaller (in quantity) bands out there, where at least one member has to sing and do something else at the same time. And who better to help us out with this list than Andrew Elstner, member of the great band Torche – a 4 piece, but we won’t hold that against them. Their newest album, Harmonicraft, is a stellar listen, and it’s out now on Volcom Entertainment.
These are in no particular order.
The Police – A huge influence on myself and millions of other kids who grew up in the ’80s – back when bands who wrote incredible music could still fill stadiums and get serious airplay. It also helped that they really knew how to write.
Traindodge – A personal fave of mine from the midwest. This OKC trio has been flying largely under the radar for far too long. Start with “On A Lake of Dead Trees” and go from there. Crazy loud, incredibly smart music on the heavy prog tip.
ZZ Top – Hell, even Hendrix was a fan of Billy Gibbons. They remain the longest running rock band with the original members on their original instruments. If you can’t get down with the Top, I can’t get down with you.
High On Fire – The best metal band alive? Maybe so. They are all the things I love about metal. A thunderous rhythm section, teeth rattling riffs that do more with less, all under a cloak of dark themes and imagery. Fucking. Awesome.
Jimi Hendrix Experience – This dude’s star is still burning bright, and it will continue to do so until the last human being fades from the earth. Oh, so you can shred a squillion notes with brutal accuracy? Neat. The guitar solo from “Machine Gun” eats your lunch within the first two measures, fool.
Jawbreaker – I was fortunate enough to see Jawbreaker open for the Foo Fighters back when Grohl was on his first headlining tour back in ’96. They were touring for their masterpiece Dear You, and I was immediately hooked. I don’t claim to be the biggest Jawbreaker fan – I really only truly love the one record, but damn is it good. Songs like ‘Chemistry,’ ‘Jet Black,’ and ‘Save Your Generation’ were the soundtrack to my sophomore year and proved that the radio and the world weren’t ready for the genius that Blake Schwarzenbach unleashed on Dear You. Truly my favorite power trio.
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – When I first heard Karen O and company, I thought the NY punky wunderkinds were a one hit wonder with their songs ‘Maps.’ They followed that album with Show Your Bones and It’s Blitz, which are wildly different and almost equally great. The former being just a cracking indie record, the latter leaning towards the electronic, but also being one of the most solidly written albums I’ve ever heard.
Fall of Troy – This band gets props for Erak’s ability to shred guitar lines that sound like they came from a peyote smoking shaman recently returned from “regions beyond.” Oh yeah, he does these insane sweeps and leads while singing and rarely looking at his guitar. I saw it live, or else I wouldn’t believe it.
Muse – I don’t particularly love Muse, but I do have a ton of respect for the absolute cacophony of sound they make with just three instruments. I got the chance to see them a few years back at the Reading Festival, and man do they put on a spectacular show. The fact that they make as big of a “rock” sound as they do was impressive to say the least. Bellamy makes his one guitar sound larger than the duos of most bands.
Green Day (’91-’98) – I don’t usually put years on this kind of thing, but Green Day moved away from the power trio formula by adding a 4th member (who is never credited but always there) from Warning on forward. Now, they may have lost a step with their recent few efforts (¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tre!….ugh, just awful) but starting with Kerplunk!, and especially on Dookie, this triad of musicians made some of the catchiest tunes the radio has ever heard. Sure, they never used guitar solos, or anything that would warrant more than three members (or even 3 chords), but they were a favorite of mine for a long while.
It was a tough list for me this week as I struggled to find a whole lot of bands that were three-pieces. There a number that I suspected were, but after further investigation turned out to be four-pieces. After all the hard work and research, I think I have a pretty strong list here – although Andrew’s list makes me think otherwise. How do I compete with Jimi Hendrix? I suppose lying on the floor in the foetal position would be appropriate.
Alkaline Trio – It’s in the name folks. I would imagine they’re probably the first band that came to mind for a lot people on this Top 5. I’ve been a fan of A3 since Maybe I’ll Catch Fire, and despite the critics (and many of my friends), I think they are still putting out top notch material – though not counting the acoustic themed Damnesia, which I didn’t care for at all. The Trio have a knack for creating awesome pop-punk (with an emo twist? Casey might disagree there) and making it sound like there are at least two more members in the band. It probably helps that two out of the three members play and sing. Derek Grant is so lazy sometimes.
The Fall of Troy – I still remember the first time I heard The Fall of Troy’s Doppelganger back in college. I thought, “Holy crap, these guys can play! Wait…what? There’s only three guys in the band? Well then….how….huh?” It still defies all logic that Thomas Erak can shred like he does while singing. It’s a shame the band has met their demise, especially considering that they never really gained the fan base they deserved.
Beastie Boys – I would hope that most people know that these dudes actually knew how to play instruments (and quite well actually), but something tells me that people are mostly dumb and clueless – despite the success of a strong rock hit like ‘Sabotage.’ Beastie Boys are one of the greats of my era in music and they will be remembered as such when my kids are my age.
Bedouin Soundclash – I have stated it before: Bedouin Soundclash hold a special place in my heart. It’s kind of amazing that they get so much out of three members, really. They definitely have some stripped down cuts, but most of their songs are extremely lush, sounding as if there are five or six people in the band. Their most shining endorsement should be the fact that they are one of the few bands that my wife and I BOTH love and are a staple on our date nights. If you like your reggae with an English twist – they’re actually Canucks but whatever – then the Soundclash might be for you.
Blink-182 – How much do I really need to say here? Neighborhoods was underwhelming, but not enough to wipe out their entire back catalogue of awesome material. Blink is such a polarizing band – especially if you are a music
snob nerd like myself – but I gave up trying to hide my love for them somewhere around my sophomore year of highschool, when Enema of the State was released. Like A3, they employ dual vocalists and get the most out of their three members.
Ben Folds Five – A lot of my well-played favorites have already been mentioned (I’m looking at you Alkaline Trio, Blink-182, Green Day, and – despite their recent work – Muse), but no one has yet hit upon the majesty of the Five. As I mentioned once before, the Ben Folds solo experience was a tumultuous one, but Ben Folds Five – with their distorted bass, basement-vocal harmonies, and an endearing mix of melancholy and humor – manage to never disappoint.
fun. – ‘Some Nights’ was one of the best songs of 2012. Right up until Nate Ruess and Jeff Bhasker decided to bludgeon the melody to death with an auto-tune crowbar. That said, fun. has ably filled the Ruess-sized hole in my life that was created by the death of The Format. (And yes, this is a bit of a stretch since fun. plays with about 46 musicians live – but technically they’ve only got three members. So technically I can use them on this list. Which I have done. Obviously.)
Now, Now – Just go listen to Now, Now…now. Ha! See what I– because their name is the word ‘now’ twice, and then I–you know what, I don’t have to impress you. Now, Now is plenty impressing on their own. Listen to ‘Neighbors,’ from their EP of the same name, or ‘Magnet‘ from their full-length Threads, and you’ll understand. You might be overcome with joy and sadness at the same time from the beauty of it all, but you’ll understand.
Paper Route – Man, I just keep talking about these guys. I really like this band, but I wouldn’t bring them up this often on my own, I promise – they just keep being the answer to the questions that Type In Stereo asks of me. So…stop asking so many questions about great three-man electronic-pop by guys who like to sing about Christmas, I guess?
Everclear – There were several acts that I could have gone with here, but I’m going to throw it back to my middle-school self and let him/me pick Everclear, because they were in my stereo all the time for a long while. From ‘Santa Monica’ and So Much For the Afterglow, through both volumes of Song From An American Movie, these guys got a lot of play time from a younger me – and for (kind of) good reason: they write that kind of hybrid pop-rock-alternative that would never survive the era of Pitchfork, but was indispensably great in the ’90s.
Nirvana – It’s safe to say that the impact Nirvana had on the music scene during their career was, and will always be, immeasurable. They exploded onto the scene during a bleak time in the world of music, when boy bands and hair metal ruled the airwaves, and they put the grunge scene on the map in a way no one could have ever predicted. Their chart topping album Nevermind even ousted the great Michael Jackson’s Dangerous for the #1 spot on the Billboard charts. All it seemed to take was the intro to ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ to move a generation of jaded teenagers to change the face of music forever.
Muse – After watching the progression of Muse over their career, I have to say that choosing them for this list was beyond easy. Their innovative song structures and pension for mixing genres throughout their albums are impressive to say the least. Matthew Bellamy is unbelievable to watch live, and it is still dumbfounding to me that he can sing, play guitar, and play piano with such incredibly high levels of ability. Drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Christopher Wolstenholme are equally important in creating the epic sound that Muse have created. Overall, Muse are probably sitting on the throne as the most talented three piece band around today, and they have definitely earned themselves a spot amongst the top three-pieces of all time.
Propagandhi (’86-’05) – Ahhh, good old Propagandhi. Most people either love or despise the ultra political Canadian punk rockers. Easily one of my favorite punk bands, Propagandhi always shined differently than the other bands on Fat Wreck Chords by writing extremely radical left-winged lyrics, and by having a technical prowess most punk bands of the time didn’t even come close to. While their lyrical content could be abrasive, I always found that singer Chris Hannah came across rather well spoken. While it may have been for the better that their career as a three-piece ended in 2006, the albums they put out prior to that are still some of my punk rock favorites.
Animals As Leaders – Maybe putting an instrumental band on a top three-piece list is cheating, but I don’t really care. I doubt that anyone could argue that from a perspective of talent alone, Animals As Leaders doesn’t deserve to be up here. Formed by guitar prodigy Tosin Abasi, AAL plays a brand of instrumental progressive metal all their own. Armed with eight string guitars, Abasi and rhythm guitarist Javier Reyes churn out some of the heaviest layered metal riffs imaginable, creating soundscapes so thick that a bass guitar is unnecessary.
Hüsker Dü – What can I say about Hüsker Dü that hasn’t already been said? They had an obvious impact on the hardcore punk and alternative rock scenes during their career, their albums Zen Arcade and New Day Rising helped to solidify the reputation and place of SST Records in the punk scene, and they were one of the historic label’s most successful bands. The solid fact is that if you’ve listened to any sort of punk influenced band since the mid-’80s, chances are pretty good that they owe a good portion of their sound to Hüsker Dü.
Nirvana – Undeniably one of the most influential bands of all time, Nirvana cannot reasonably be left off of this list. Whether it’s the rough-edged melodies of ‘Drain You,’ or the brilliant insanity of ‘Scentless Apprentice,’ they brought a power back to popular music that had been painfully absent throughout the ’80s.
Muse – Very few musicians in the world today are as talented as Matt Bellamy. I have great reservations about their new album, but their unique brand of epic rock on albums like Absolution and Black Holes and Revelations cannot be ignored. Plus, their ability to pull this off live (admittedly, sometimes with a fourth member) is incredible. They are undoubtedly one of the best live acts I have ever seen. (Also, Matt’s guitar is pretty damn cool…and his clear piano…)
Rush – As a Canadian, I can’t not sing the praises of this band. They were major contributors to the progressive rock scene in their heyday, and yet they managed to make some seriously catchy tunes. Not many four-piece bands could have pulled off ‘Tom Sawyer,’ and ‘YYZ’ has become something of an unofficial Canadian anthem. Oh. and Neil Peart.
Dinosaur Jr – They are everything that is good about alternative rock. They can be pretty, they can be loud, but most of all they play interesting and emotionally charged music. Although the line-up and musical styles have changed over time, the feedback laced guitar lines of J Mascis and his distressingly pained vocals have kept me coming back time and time again.
Green Day – Yes, they now have more than three members, and yes, they have made some awful music. None of this changes how fantastically catchy and energetic the songs they made in the mid ’90s were. ‘Longview,’ ‘Basket Case,’ and ‘When I Come Around’ are some of the best songs of that decade, and that’s only looking at one album. Try to keep that in mind if you ever see the music video for ‘Wake Me Up When September Ends’ again.
Rush – While popular hits like ‘Tom Sewyer,’ ‘Freewill’ and ‘Spirit of the Radio’ will be the songs that most people will remember from Rush, I think the songs that are most representative of their career are the ones that could never attain mainstream success (either because they were too experimental or simply too long to be played on radio). Epics such as ‘2112’, ‘Xandu’ and ‘La Villa Strangiato’ were the songs that properly showcased the limitless capabilities of what Rush could do. And really, with a band that talented, you want to hear everything this band is capable of doing.
Them Crooked Vultures – When you put Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters) and John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) in a room together and tell them to make music, they are bound to create something good – and they most certainly did. Even though this band was never intended to be a full time arrangement, they managed to produce and harness some amazing chemistry. Plus, as much as I like Dave Grohl singing and playing guitar, hearing him rock out on the drums is quite the treat as well.
Sublime – Their unique blend of ska, reggae, punk and hip-hop made for a fresh sound that was enjoyable to a wide array of listeners. Unlike many of their contemporaries, Sublime had a sound that had the potential to generate serious mainstream success. I really believe that if Sublime had gone on to write a couple more albums, that they would have emerged as one of the biggest bands of their era – the band’s third and final album gave a glimpse of what could have been for this group. Unfortunately, the sudden death of the band’s singer and guitarist (Brad Nowell) brought an end to their career before they could really break out.
Jimi Hendrix Experience – While many will debate whether Jimi Hendrix was the “best” guitarist of all time, I don’t think it’s much of an argument that he was the most revolutionary guitarist of all time. Hendrix showed the world what the electric guitar was truly capable of doing. And while far from the calibre of musician Hendrix was, Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell deserve a lot of credit for the complementary roles they played in the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Of course, not being as good as Jimi Hendrix isn’t much of an insult.
Muse – I know its been beaten to death already, but I would be remiss if I did not include one of my all-time favorites on this list. I was lucky enough to see Muse during their Absolution tour in 2003, and even back then (with less lights, pyrotechnics and other gimmicks) they put on an absolutely stellar performance. Their music and their live shows have evolved a lot since then (to the point that they really do need a fourth member to play their songs live), but even when they were just three guys with nothing but their instruments on stage, they were still one of the best live shows in the world.
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