untie me, I’ve said no vows: the shins @ Music Hall of Williamsburg // 3.15.17

I got to live out a dream. I cannot believe that I have seen The Shins live. I cannot believe that I will get to see them again this summer.

I’ve noticed a trend, and it’s that all of my most essential friends grew up listening to the same things I did. Not necessarily in full, but some of the crucials were present. I think that if you’re a music fanatic – or perhaps even if you’re not – music helps to account for some of the ways you see the world. If you’re constantly listening to a song or if you have lyrics toiling around in your mind, something somewhere sticks.

I got to see The Shins with someone who listened to them during her formative years just like I did, and that made the entire experience so much more fulfilling and sweet. It was really wonderful to mutually express disbelief when they played some deeper cuts that we had thought were absolutely improbable choices, or to both experience the totally pure heightened emotion when you see songs you have been listening to for almost a decade come to life.

What a kaleidoscope character James Mercer is! There were moments where he seemed so boyish and sweet, and moments where his eyes went wild which made me wonder if he’s simply an insane genius savant, no more, no less – most likely, I’ve since decided. Then there were moments where he got personal – like when he was introducing Mildenhall – and moments when he played the guitar like a rockstar. All of them meld into this single human who I admittedly struggle to fathom, but completely adore.

Quick moment of appreciation for their set decorations which threw off total “Soul Meets Body”-meets-Sufjan-Stevens vibes (which is a confusing conglomerate), but were gorgeous and appropriate nonetheless. That set quickly raced to the top of my personal favorite set dressings list, alongside Real Estate’s 2014 tour stage lighting, The Districts’ 2015 stage, and The Killers 10th Anniversary Decennial (for obvious reasons – the antler keyboard made a comeback!!!). I don’t know who brought giant yellow happy face balloons to The Shins gig, but they somehow made the entire affair that much more whimsical.

I took five full videos which I think is a new personal record for full videos taken at a gig. See them under the cut (with indulgent commentary!)…

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is it strange that I no longer see the hands in front of my face?: clap your hands say yeah @ le poisson rouge // 3.4.2017

Where do you go when you are feeling completely and wildly insane? I put my headphones on and go straight to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. They’re the only band that I have found thus far whose chaos seems to mimic my own.

I think it’s entirely in the vocal delivery. As a young professional (lol) I am not afforded the luxury of spending the bulk of my day yelling about things, so I let Alec Ounsworth do it for me.

Clap are a band that have always been on my radar, but I’d never truly given the time of day until a friend recommended I listen to them and curated a path for me. That second part is crucial. I vaguely remember listening to certain tracks from Hysterical, but I don’t think that any of them had really done anything for me until the present. “The Witness’ Dull Surprise” really, really, does something for me. For the past six or so months I’ve turned to that song especially. There is something really sublime about the lyrics:

Oh well, the rain it never stops here
Is it strange that I no longer see the hand in front of my face?
Just short of longing for the past
And short of asking for forgiveness
You read my palm and suggested that I find a new apartment
All of our sleepless nights came crashing through the window

Later:

My dear, just show me where it hurts
And I’ll draw blood to make it better,
I will do anything.

It’s simple, but I’m unable to deny how much it resonates with me. Clap are a band that to me symbolize desperation. I do not believe that desperate = crazy but I think there’s a little bit of crazed mania behind every desperate feeling. I want to unpack that more, but I feel like I can’t, because I think it all speaks for itself, really.

I really enjoyed seeing Clap live. Their set was surprisingly (and disappointingly) short, but hearing The Witness’ Dull Surprise and Adam’s Plane live were a thrill. I was sold on the new album, The Tourist, after hearing those songs, too. The night served its purpose. This is a sentiment I’m sure I’ll express many more times on here, but: I laughed, I cried, I listened.

switch it up, switch it up: victoria monet, little mix, and ariana grande @ madison square garden // 2.24.17

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I was a 90’s child, but I never got into The Spice Girls. I think I was technically a bit too young to have hit them in their “prime,” and I think that the focus for my peers was on Brittney, N*Sync and Backstreet Boys (I will state, for the record, that my preference was for N*sync). I never went to pop concerts as a child – is this why I have become an avid concert attender in my prime? all of those years of deprivation? – however, in saying that, I must divulge that my technical first concert ever was to see Jessica Simpson in Bryant Park for a taping of Good Morning America, right around the time that the Dukes of Hazard came out, as part of a friend’s birthday party. I liked Jessica Simpson as much as a pre-pubescent girl would, but the experience did not make me feel like I had just seen an idol. It was also perhaps a bit underwhelming – a rather bare stage with the musicians and J.S. prancing around in her Daisy Duke outfit; it wasn’t particularly awe-inspiring.

Fast forward probably fifteen years to the summer of 2016. I’d been listening to a lot of Radio 1 at work because admittedly I’m endlessly amused by their coverage of whatever annual shindig they put on in Ibiza (“Ibiza is going to be absolutely massive. I Absolutely Cannot Wait for Ibiza.” god bless and keep Annie Mac). I kept hearing this song over and over and over again: take a sip from a secret potion, i’ll make you fall in love… It was not one of the ones that I wrote down to look up later, but I found it popping into my head quite often. The song was “Black Magic,” by Little Mix, and it is totally and undeniably infectious.

Summer ended, and now we’re at Fall 2016 when I, well, I’d say “stumbled” but I was rather “pushed,” into an unabashed love affair with One Direction. Logic told me that this was the appropriate time to get properly into what I’d mentally cataloged as “the female 1D” so I decided to give “Get Weird” a spin. I was surprised by how I immediately found it to be a perfect album. That is not an accolade that I dole out very often. I became completely and totally obsessed. I loved Perrie and her gorgeous hair (pun not intended). I loved how Jade was absolutely beautiful, but totally quirky. I loved, maybe more than anything, Jade’s Natalie B. Coleman heart dagger sequined shirt that she wore in the bestLive Lounge ever!(!!!) I loved how well their voices blended, and how they were four bad-ass beautiful women that I felt were impossible to not admire.

I began totally indoctrinating my friend/coworker with Little Mix and was pleased when she grew to love them. I remember cheekily messaging her approximately once a week to say “but WHEN are they going to go on tour???” Finally, Ariana Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour was announced with them as a supporting act, so we jumped on seats for Madison Square Garden. It was funny to us – we thought, alright, we *guess* we’ll stay for Ariana Grande, since we’re paying for her, though neither one of us were particularly interested.

Obligatorily, we started listening to Dangerous Woman. I remember hearing “Moonlight,” the very first track, for the first time and immediately instant messaging M to say “I cannot believe this, but I am impressed – you have to listen to this right now.” We both started to play the album and Ari’s back catalog and pretty soon it became unclear to me who we were more excited to see.

This was in November, I believe, and the concert was end of February, so the subsequent months were completely and totally centered around the event to come. We discussed a Plan of Action™, we curated our outfit visions. We expressed disbelief that we were going to be in the same room as our girlband heroes. We spent an entire preparatory weekend at my friend’s house in New Jersey. We went to the mall to shop for outfits, we drank wine and did face masks, we squealed over and over again because the concert was in two short weeks! Our friendship revolved around this show, and it was pure madness. I’d never had this type of experience when I was younger, so I was thoroughly enjoying it.

The night before the show, I had the intense feeling of anticipation and excitement that I previously only ever felt the night before traveling. I could not believe that sort of feeling could be applied to a concert, and a pop concert nonetheless. Who would’ve thought? I felt like a child; it was wonderful.I realized that I don’t really feel pure unadulterated excitement over indie shows. That doesn’t shock me, but it was nice to know that I still could feel excitement over a concert. The day finally arrived, and my friend and I spent the entire day in a teenage dream – we watched the latest episode of Riverdale, had afternoon coffee to get us ready for our long night, and danced around my room to a playlist of Little Mix and Ariana Grande while we got ready, as girls are wont to do. We walked out of my apartment feeling like a million bucks. The day was as perfect as we knew the night was going to be.

I was unfamiliar with Victoria Monet and we arrived about halfway through her set. To be honest, I found her performance a bit awkward. Much like the Jessica Simpson concert, it was a pretty blank stage (this time completely devoid of musicians), and she just sort of danced provocatively and sang. I liked her voice, but her show didn’t cinch me.

Begrudgingly, I’ll admit that I felt Little Mix’s set was short (just six songs) and blatantly catered to their most accessible hits. It was a little disappointing. I cannot say that I blame whoever made this decision, but as a huge fan of theirs I really would’ve appreciated at least one deep cut. However, there’s no denying that they performed their songs to perfection, and it was a mix that I think showcased their talent. I think the part I loved most about their performance was that you could see very apparently that they are first and foremost friends. I remember Jesy first addressed the Garden by saying, “I want to introduce you all to my three best friends.” It was so heartwarming.

And then there was Ariana. She is a powerhouse. Wow. Her set was nearly two hours and she just kept going and going and going. I thought she was really impressive, although I have to say that for one of the largest pop stars in the world, I think I expected a bit more from her stage design. There were moderate pyrotechnics and plenty of lasers, but the stage itself was rather stationary. I do have to say that I appreciate the points made in this NYT article, so I’m still rather torn on this subject. But I loved her set, and she blessed us with”Jason’s Song (Gave it Away)” which came out of left field but I was so excited!

I could probably say something more insightful about the music or concert – I mean, I feel like I glossed over it all a little bit – but when I think about it, for me this event was primarily about anticipating and experiencing seeing really awesome,strong, and talented women kill it on stage with one of my closest awesome, strong, and talented friends by my side. That’s all there is to it.

And if there’s even a slight chance that I can repeat this sort of pure fun and empowering experience by continuing to go to pop concerts, then I well and truly want to go to all of the pop concerts. Every last one.

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i’ll see you when we’re both not so emotional: american football @ terminal 5 // 1.28.2017

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In the month span between December 2016 and January 2017, I lived out all of my emo (being liberal with this term) band dreams.

I saw Kevin Devine for the sixth time (this was my third time seeing him with The Goddamn Band, I think). Kevin has been a staple in my life since middle school. In fact, I think that if my favorite band, Arctic Monkeys, didn’t exist, he would be my be-all-end-all. Frankly, some days he is anyway. This Kevin show brought me Pinegrove, a band that has skyrocketed straight to the top of my list of Bands That Are The Most Important to me.

From the crowd of that KD show, I bought tickets to ‘Something In The Way’ fest, which Modern Baseball was headlining and Pinegrove was also playing. Later, my friend and I tried to understand how we thought that not going to that fest was even an option – we couldn’t. This was the first of many times in the months to come that I would say “Thank God for Pinegrove.” The ‘SITW’ lineup was quite frankly insane and it exposed me to some great stuff I probably wouldn’t have otherwise known (Turnover, Alex G.)

After MoBo was The Front Bottoms’ annual ‘Champagne Jam’. This was my first time seeing The Front Bottoms after years of loving them. One of my most potent musical memories is discovering them one high school summer and becoming totally addicted. I remember my dad asking me to help with yard work, and me bringing my mp3 player outside – I could not survive without them in my ears, and I’d never enjoyed yard work more.

After all of the above, it only made sense to go see the Fathers of Emo, American Football. It was like the previous two months or so were one long emotional concert leading up to American Football as the grand headliner. I won’t pretend that I’ve been a fan all the while; I was seven years old when the debut came out. I’d tried to get into them a few times at the suggestion of a friend, and just couldn’t. Then I was turned onto one of Mike Kinsella’s side projects, Owen. Hearing some of those songs live completely changed me, and I went into one of those “I need to listen to everything this human has ever put out” moods.

C, meet American Football.

What an incredible and awe-inspiring performance! I did not expect to love it as much as I did, truly, having only gotten into them when the first songs from the new album dropped. But to hear “Honestly” live was like hearing it for the very first time. There are times when that bassline pops into my head and won’t leave until I play the song thrice on repeat. They have completely and totally infected me.

I could not believe how dynamic the band was on stage. I fully expected stagnant calculated guitar playing and not much else (which isn’t necessary a bad thing). Instead I got probably the most entertaining drummer apart from Mat Uychich or Matt Helders (join me for a later post where I attempt to determine why all of my favorite drummers are named Matthew), Steve Lamos. He is plain and simply put, The Man. I guess I also wasn’t really expecting two percussionists which threw me for a loop, but ultimately gave me so much more context.

I was also surprised by how danceable the music was – I don’t think I ever would’ve realized had I not gone to the show and stood behind a guy who had such rhythm and was so endearingly into it all. Also, moment of appreciation for the very nice guy who let my friend and I take his spot on the coveted back-of-the-room-bar-platform at Terminal 5 because we were shorter than he. Thank you, kind stranger.

All in all, the crowd was actually perfect. As much as I love seeing my favorite artists, sometimes I love being the wallflower at a concert – I love watching people love things that I only like. It gives me perspective and I’m always in awe when I discover how much more dimension a band has than what I felt I could determine from listening to them. I guess ultimately that’s the magic I keep seeking by attending gigs.

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Survivor Man

I’ve recently seen several articles about artists that are battling assorted types of loss pop up on my radar. I think I’m most looking forward to Richard Edwards’ new solo album, Lemon Cotton Candy Sunset. The first single, “Disappeared Planets,” paints a pretty accurate picture of the massive feelings that are associated with losing something; in Edwards’ case it’s a relationship. But feelings of loss translate to and permeate other types of loss, which is why I think I’m particularly drawn to it as a theme in songs.

Begrudgingly, I am not a musician. I don’t have a catalog of songs that speak my own emotions, but I like to think that I’m pretty well-equipped to carve out paths for myself in other musicians’ works. I think the same can be said of any music lover.

This playlist is something that I’ve been working on for the past five months and some change. It is simultaneously personal and impersonal in that only a few songs speak directly to the subject of my own grief. I sort of couldn’t bare to include artists or songs that were too relevant. The rest of the songs speak only to me – they quantify the huge emotions that I have felt in this last near-half a year of my life. I guess the criteria for this collection was any song that thematically or in a single line shook me to my very core, made me think, Yeah, they get it. If it seems like the entire thing is a tribute to Sam Phillips, well, I can only say, she gets it.

I don’t usually configure playlists in a specific order, but I’ve tried to achieve some sort of narrative here that covers all of the major waves: confusion, dissatisfaction, anger, sadness. It covers emotional black holes like being jilted, misguided elation, facing an impasse, feeling forced to reinvent the wheel. It twists and turns and loops back around to the beginning, because surviving loss is as much a process as it is a journey.

 

“Survivor Man” is:

  1. Hole in My Pocket – Sam Phillips
  2. Kicking Roses – Benjamin Francis Leftwich
  3. Unfucktheworld – Angel Olsen
  4. Okkervil River R.I.P. – Okkervil River
  5. The Industry – Okkervil River
  6. Broken Stones – Paul Weller
  7. One Less Bell to Answer – The 5th Dimension
  8.  I’m Not a Part of Me – Cloud Nothings
  9. I Did Something Weird Last Night – Jeff Rosenstock
  10. I Love You, What Are You? – Gene
  11. Working Titles – Damien Jurado
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Beginnings

I’ve been pondering whether this is an odd choice for an inaugural post. It’s not a remarkable video – iPhone quality and taken portrait orientation like an amateur, view obscured by heads (hey, at least it’s accurate – this is what it’s like to be five foot me), doesn’t see the song through to the end. The artist fumbles. It is not particularly graceful or special.

As I mused over it and what I would say, I realized there’s certainly no better choice to exemplify the beginnings of this blog and of this chapter of my life. This is a project meant to chronicle the music that I have loved, experienced, felt. For me, this video perfectly embodies the sublime effect that music can have on a person.

This recording is not remarkable, but it has charm. Much like any performance I’ve seen on the internet of Zach Condon doing O Leãozinho, he can’t seem to remember the words, and you’ll notice that in my shot he’s got the lyrics taped to the microphone stand. It is the single most endearing thing in the world. In fact, it encompasses my favorite thing about Beirut: they are not perfect (and I hope to god that they never ever get better).

This is a song that I never expected to hear live, and there at my third Beirut show it came alive for me. It was almost instinctual to pick up my phone and film it. You will remember this, but you will want to see it again, I thought to myself. It was the only video I took of their set.

It’s always an experience to see Beirut, but this time it felt different, and that was not captured on camera. This is partially because it was different for personal reasons, and partly because of the aura of the band. There was something so distinctly Baltic about them this time, which was baffling to me. Post-No, No, No I read an article in which Zach implied that the Baltic sound they’re so associated with was not actually their calling, or wasn’t authentic (I’m paraphrasing – I’ll have to hunt it down again) and I was palpably disappointed by this thought for days. This particular evening, I think it was Zach’s mustache and grown out hair that did it for me. Possibly also his generally lazy disposition. This is not a bad thing, mind, and it might’ve been due to the five-week-old broken wrist he was sporting. I prefer to think it’s just his nature, though; it is all more intriguing that way.

The blankness of the stage made it seem like the band had sauntered out onto a platform that they were not ready for, and it was not ready for them, either. I sure as hell wasn’t ready, myself. I felt like I was in a basement in a foreign country watching the locals, instead of inside the ubiquitous Music Hall of Williamsbug. I was deep in my own nostalgic head. I slightly transported back to first time that I saw Beirut at Bearsville Theater in Upstate New York, an exquisite wooden mammoth of a place that I will always look to fondly. It was their first show back from a long hiatus, and I remember Zach speaking French into the microphone under his breath. It all seemed pregnant, shaky, nervous – but when the brass blared everything was completely and exactly correct.

This video holds a snippet of time that is personally important; it represents a diamond in a rough night for me. This set brought me anguish but O Leãozinho contextualized everything. It reminded me why I’d made the weighty decision to do something despite it being difficult, even if I wasn’t quite ready.

I do not speak or understand Portuguese. Therefore if it weren’t for Google, I wouldn’t ever have had even an inkling of how this song might translate to English. Let’s think about this for a moment. This song that I can hear – but never would’ve understood had I not looked it up – had the power to momentarily give me a sunnier disposition in a very dark strand of moments, simply from the feeling of comfort that I had from hearing it. From thinking fondly of the goofy grin that took over my face the first time I saw a video of Zach Condon messing up the lyrics. From remembering the opening lines (which at the time were about all I could remember of the translation) and casting a thought towards a fond memory. O Leãozinho means “Little Lion.” Maybe this evening by choosing to do the brave thing, I was the little lion. Imagine that? That’s music.

I’ve read that this song is about someone with the Leo sign, hence “Little Lion.” The person that comes to mind when I think of this song sits two signs away from Leo, but he was golden, and I always sort of felt that it was fitting to throw a thought in his direction when I listened. The start of my favorite English translation is as follows:

I really like seeing you, Little Lion
Walking under the sun
I really like you, Little Lion
To un-sadden, Little Lion, my oh so lonely heart
it’s enough to have found you on my way

The part of my life where it’s fair – to myself, to anyone? – to throw my thoughts towards that gold is, I think, over.

So, to spin it another way, to bring it all back to my thesis: this video is the perfect choice for an inaugural post. It’s enough to have found you on my way. That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what I’d say to any music that makes its way on here. That, and thank you.

c.