your image in the eyes of someone else: the horrors @ rough trade // 9.18.17

Alex Turner, my musical hero who will no doubt grace the caverns of this blog many a time, made a compilation for the jukebox in The Bowery, a pub in Sheffield that Arctic Monkeys ex-bassist, Andy Nicholson, and reigning drummer, Matt Helders opened in 2008. In 2010 or so, a friend who had visited the pub posted a photo of Al’s compilation to our internet forum.

In addition to giving me a catalog of his own roughly 100 songs that are all my most beloved, through this compilation Alex gave me “Draw Japan” by The Horrors. It didn’t take long for me to start noticing him wearing their totally sweet – and forever coveted by me – “I Am a Horror” shirt, or the rad football scarf with the roses. He’d perhaps unintentionally informed me that I should be paying attention to this band, so I started to listen, and I fell hard for them.

Purely out of interest, I wish I could know how many times I’ve listened to their 2009 release “Primary Colours.” I don’t think my Last.FM would be accurate in this case, because I had that album on every .mp3 player I owned and would spend hours with it. I remember thinking that I had never heard anything like it. I remember going to England to study abroad and playing “I Only Think of You” while I sat in my window and looked down at the Trinity College dining hall with a breeze blowing through the slightly ajar window on one of my first nights there.

I remember the first time I saw the music video for “Who Can Say” – the dark-yet-whimsical Faris at the microphone aesthetic, particularly during the spoken part in the middle (and when I told her I didn’t love her anymore, she cried/and when I told her her kisses were not like before, she cried/and when I told her another girl had caught my eye, she cried/and I kissed her with a kiss that could only mean, goodbye), was so reminiscent of a Gothic school prom, that it actually made me laugh. The image has yet to leave my head and I’ve never stopped getting a rush of adrenaline when the synth kicks in after that “goodbye.” It’s a perfect example of when the words in a sentence end, but the music behind it serves to say something else.

I want to enumerate what The Horrors mean to me and really break it down, but the only way I can think to do so is to share two words: “Scarlet Fields.” That song is in every way the all-encompassing summary of why I love them, why they have not left my mind for nearly a decade, etc. If I had to elaborate beyond that – I mean, if I were really forced – I’d say that I didn’t believe or want to believe the journalists who said that their second single from 2017’s V, “Something to Remember Me By” was the best song they had ever made… and then I heard it. It completely and totally blew my mind. It is flawless.

The Horrors are endlessly cool and very, very good live. They’re also stupid hard to photograph because they’re all twenty feet tall and have extremely harsh lighting. So the above ended up being my most useful shot. It is obviously significant distorted, but in that way it’s actually a perfect representation of them.

I loved this show. I loved the way it felt to be pressed against the stage, dodging the reckless whip of Faris Badwan’s microphone cord. Hearing the girl behind me sing along in perfect time. Playfully shaking my limbs in unison with my show companion, the only other person I’ve met in real life but not through Arctic Monkeys who knew of The Horrors – he even saw them before I did! Staring at the scar on Tom Furse’s cheek from across the room. Closing my eyes and being hit with a wall of sound.

And when the last song played out and they left the stage, I (all but) cried.

 

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the girl who collects shells has gone back to the coast hearing voices: fionn regan @ bowery ballroom // 9.9.17

I’ve never seen Bowery Ballroom so dark and I’ve never heard it so quiet as when I saw Fionn Regan play there tonight. The room was miraculously devoid of voices, but it was not still; you could hear every creak in the floorboard.

This is exactly how I had hoped it would be. It felt completely private, which was indicative of the fact that I do not know a single person in real life who knows of his existence. I got the sense that I am not the only one – I thought there was an uncharacteristically large amount of people who I presumed were flying solo. I never really thought that I would ever get to see Fionn, so it was really just one of those absolutely magical evenings that makes me think “thank god I live in New York City,” a place that artists cannot pass up.

I listened to all of “Be Good or Be Gone,” the first song of Fionn’s that I’d ever heard, with my eyes closed. They may as well have been closed the entire time, as there was hardly any light shining (hence the unimpressive photo above, which is the only one I managed). I get the sense that he does not like to have his photo taken, but I couldn’t resist, and I was genuinely surprised that several people insisted on using their camera phone flash in a more or less pitch-black room. I loved the way that Fionn apparently does not need light to play his songs to perfection and he hardly looked down at his guitar, or even really opened his eyes – I kept imagining him in a cottage with no electricity after the sun goes down picking out his tunes flawlessly. His voice cut through the dark air like a knife. With my eyes closed, there were moments where it was tough to discern whether I was hearing a live song or the recording. It was that spot on, but not at all in a stale way.

When I saw The Twilight Sad at the Bowery last year, I thought to myself that James Graham felt like the closest thing to Ian Curtis or a prophet that I would ever see. If that’s the case, then Fionn Regan is the closest thing to a bard that we’ve got. A bard of what, I’m not entirely sure – his own design, maybe? There’s a fluidity to his music that I can never seem to put my finger on, but know is always there waiting for me.

For his one song encore, he came out and stepped out of the path of the mic to play a very quiet rendition of “Abacus.” Perhaps he always does it this way, but it took me by surprise – it seemed intimate in a way that was unexpected from such a soft-spoken man. I could not help but think that anyone farther back than the tenth row might not have been able to hear him at all. From my spot in the second row, I felt really terribly lucky to hear his beautiful voice naturally without it being projected through a soundsystem.

More than all of the above, I cannot stop thinking about the way Fionn changed the last line in “Hey Rabbit.” The original goes ,”Well, I made you rich, and you made me poor.” Tonight he sang “Well, I made you rich and you made me richer.” Everyone chuckled; I gasped for breath.

I always took the original line to portray a relationship in which one person gives more and the recipient takes, takes, takes. The song ends so abruptly on the word “poor,” and hearing that final monosyllabic word always makes me feel like some grand rug has been pulled from beneath my feet. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how my own experiences of being made “poor” have enriched my life, enhanced my personality, whatever. They’ve…made me richer in a way that I never thought was possible, and it just seemed like one of those funny little life coincidences where an artist you turn to time and time again to feel known seems to be exactly on the same page as you are. Cheers, Fionn.

 

 

covering miles in a broken car: the districts @ bowery ballroom // 8.16.17

Ah, the elusive back-to-back gig. It comes but once in a blue moon – or an eclipse, as it were.

I said a lot last time, so there’s not much more to say apart from this: it was really terribly cathartic to be in a room shouting “it’s a long way down from the top to the bottom/ it’s a long way back to a high from where I am,” and I’m really glad that I was afforded the chance again.

I yelled everything away.

covered in gold and kicking through the bellyache: the districts @ rough trade // 8.13.17

I can think of fewer better ways to spend a Sunday afternoon than with The Districts.

I’m not sure that there’s anything more fulfilling than seeing a band in the height of your moment with them. I’ve possibly never loved The Districts more than these past two weeks or so with the build up and the aftermath of the release of their third album, Popular Manipulations.

But, I have loved them a lot in the past, too. In fact, they sit prettily near the top of my (ever-growing, much to the dismay of my wallet) list of artists I feel I will never stop going to see.

I’ve enjoyed watching The Districts evolve since I first saw them in 2014. They’re one of the few bands I feel I can forgive for straying so drastically from the sound that made me fall in love with them (in this case, the sound of their self-titled EP and their first album, Telephone), because what they have evolved into is so damn good. There’s a certain darkness or maybe malcontent surrounding both the second and third albums that I feel can only come with age. They’re still pretty young, but I’m constantly blown away by the unbelievably wise way that Rob Grote looks at and transcribes the world, his experiences, wherever he writes from.

I heard most of Popular Manipulations for the first time in my county court house while I was stuck in a room serving jury duty. That’s one of the stranger locations in which I’ve heard an album for the first time, but in some way I’m really fond of the memory – i’d had nothing to do and very little to look at in that room. This allowed me to fully listen. I restarted and then finished the album later the next day on a train from upstate NY back to NYC. I had a lot more to look at, but I couldn’t see a lot of it through the TEARS. This album is everything!

I was so excited to hear some of these songs live for the first time today.  I feel like The Districts’ energy becomes more and more infectious each time I see them, and this time I was particularly transfixed by their movements onstage. In fact, I spent most of this set thinking about how I couldn’t wait to get home and play them super loud over my speakers and move in a way I wasn’t willing to in a small crowd. I totally was not expecting to hear “Point,” which was a standout track on the album for me (particularly for the lines “for every game of cat and mouse, one gets fed and one gets beaten”), and it totally went off. The sound of “Salt” was just as huge as it is on the album, and “If Before I Wake” really got to me.

This half set focused entirely on the new album (within good reason) and 2015’s A Flourish and a Spoil. Admittedly, I missed some of the songs from the self-titled EP and Telephone. I am so very excited to see The Districts again this week for a full show at the Bowery Ballroom, but I confess I am nervous to see which of my old loves won’t make the cut; I know we’re at the point where some songs have got to be retired, but letting go is never easy.

***

I remember how much “Why Would I Wanna Be” stood out to me the first time I heard it in that court house. It felt epiphanic, and I can tell this is a song that I’m going to mull over for quite a while. It was as haunting live as it is on the recording, and I daresay even more honest and heartwrenching. See for yourself:

i’m just betting on some coming transformation: valley queen @ union pool // 8.12.17

I saw Valley Queen open for Laura Marling at Brooklyn Steel a couple of months ago, and they changed my life, or at least my outlook on my life. It was the strangest thing. I distinctly remember turning to my friend several times throughout their set, mouth agape at what we were hearing and how much it reflected things we were going through… how much it was articulated using actual words we have used or would use. It felt like a revelation, or like we were meant to be hearing it in that moment – it was totally cosmic.

I’d hit a rough patch, and it took a single line – I don’t need no doctor to tell me what the hell has happened to me – to snap me out of it. I’m honestly in awe of how that happened. I’d been having such huge feelings that dissipated simply from, what? Feeling known? Stranger things have happened, I guess.

I had the months in between that first time seeing them and this second time to reflect on more of their music, and several lines have inevitably become staples in my mind. It was fun and emotional to hear them again. It was like hearing from old friends – a strange sentiment for a band that I’ve only been listening to for a few months. But I guess it’s not all that strange when I find the music eerily relatable. I found myself welling up at the lines that were important to me, and chuckling at a few new ones that had found a way to become applicable to my and my friend’s lives.

Valley Queen were every bit as good as the first time I saw them, if not better. I appreciated seeing them a small room as opposed to a giant industrial space. I’d never been to Union Pool’s venue and my friend described it well: the decor had a sort of Vaudevillian air to it; I found this to be true evermore when Valley Queen opened with their stellar track “Carnival.” The smallness of the room and the atmosphere made the songs feel more candid which I thought lent itself really well to their vibe in general. I’ll be anxiously awaiting their album every single day until it comes out. From what I understand, it hasn’t even been recorded yet, but that won’t stop me from anticipating an album I know will be full of words that tickle, sway, and get me.