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 maybe 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 Telephone, their first album), because what they have evolved into is so damn good. There’s a certain darkness or maybe malcontent surrounding the second and now third album 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 energy on stage becomes more and more infectious each time I see The Districts, and I was really transfixed by the 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 dance 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 set 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.

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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.

there’s nothing I can say: fleet foxes @ prospect park bandshell // 8.1.17

Sometimes you don’t actually attend a concert – you just sit on the grass outside the venue with a can of Bembel-With-Care and your best gal, and you listen without watching. I’ve never really done that before. I thought it would feel like something was missing, but it felt like driving down a familiar road in a different vehicle.

The highlight of my night was hearing “He Doesn’t Know Why,” which is a song I distinctly remember relating to my high school crush back when I really used to listen to Fleet Foxes religiously. It was the part about letting your family sway you that really resonated with me. Somewhere there’s a charming anecdote about how I got him a red mark on his permanent record after we all got kicked out of the library so his parents convinced him I was a bad influence and wouldn’t let him take me to prom, but this is not a comedy blog. Now, a zillion years past that, I found the coda most comforting:

There’s nothing I can do
There’s nothing I can do
There’s nothing I can say
There’s nothing I can say

I love it when a song twists and turns and loses and gains meaning.

Fleet Foxes are completely ethereal live. Robin Pecknold’s voice was so full and rich in person. It had a lot more dimension than on recordings, which I don’t think I expected because his voice is already pretty distinctive. It didn’t struggle, it only shone.

Moment of appreciation for (Sandy) Alex G, too. I caught him back at Run For Cover’s Something In The Way fest 2016 and I’d never heard of him before then. I loved his set, but his recordings were, I’m afraid, lost on me until recently when I gave Rocket a spin. I feel fairly confident that I’ve played “Powerful Man” more than any other song in the past three weeks. There’s nothing better than seeing what you’re into in the moment that you’re into it, even if I only caught the tail end of his set.

We left early. I almost went back tonight for night two, but I can’t replicate the magic of stopping dead in our tracks because they’d begun playing “Mykonos” (S’ favorite song), and then “White Winter Hymnal” (not my favorite, but very dear to me) immediately after.

I cannot ever again for the first time feel what it’s like to walk into the darkness of prospect park and away from “Third of May/Ōdaigahara” as it continues softly in the background without me.

we found ourselves some treasure and threw it all away // george ezra @ bowery ballroom (7.31.17)

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Every time George Ezra smiled, I melted, which meant that I spent most of this gig melting because he smiled so much. This was a very special show.

Despite living in New York City for almost four years – typing that out is strange because it feels like it’s been at most two – I have never been to a real dumpling spot. George played the Bowery, so I met my roommate down on Eldridge St. for a quick bite beforehand. I don’t know why this detail feels like it was an absolutely integral part of this experience, but there’s no denying it. The dumplings were so good that I can’t stop thinking about them, and I think they’ve been permanently bundled into my memory of this night. Even though the weather was hot and sticky, this night seemed to mark the start of fall for me.

When we strolled up to Bowery just before doors, we were met by a line that wrapped twice around the sidewalk. Usually when I get to Bowery at doors I waltz right in, but I guess I wasn’t all that surprised that George would have so many fans, and so many young ones, at that. Rarely do I feel old at a gig – in fact, I often feel young – but I found myself nostalgic for the days when my parents would insist on taking me to shows.

I was more or less ambivalent to the openers, Ruen Brothers. I really liked the song they opened with, “Aces,” and I felt as thought their performance was really theatrical. They seemed like a good fit to open for George, and I think they warmed the crowd up nicely.

It was really special to see George in such a small venue. We had a perfect spot that afforded us the perfect view of his shoulder shaking guitar playing magic. I really appreciated the way that he gave a short introduction to every song he played. Several of the songs that night were being performed in the United States for the very first time, so it was nice to have context on the songs I’d never heard before. Initially, I thought that it might get old pretty fast, but he was so endearing that I found myself equally as enthralled when he was speaking as when he was playing music.

I’m glad that I went to this show, because previously I’d been a little disappointed in the lead single from this album, “Don’t Matter Now,” which didn’t grip me in the way that anything off Wanted on Voyage had. But there was something really whimsical about standing in a room of people who were chanting “it don’t matter now!” around you, and joining in. It was odd, but I felt like I was choosing to laugh at whatever was bothering me, and I think that’s the point of the song.

When you watch George Ezra play, you’re very clearly watching someone who adores what he does – sometimes he closes his eyes during an instrumental bit of a song and you can tell he’s thinking I have created this. This is my favorite song ever. It’s hard not to smile at that.

i’ve been prayin’ ever since new york // harry styles @ saturday night live (4.15.17)

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I know that everything I am about to say will definitely sound fake, but by some miracle it is all entirely true,  swear down.

I attended the live taping of Saturday Night Live with Jimmy Fallon as host and Harry Styles as musical guest. 

Yes, that is right. I saw Harry Styles’ debut solo performance with my own eyes. I witnessed what was, if you think about it, his debut as an actor, as well (no disrespect to Marcel, of course), ahead of his actual film debut in Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk which is out later this year.

It is my understanding that I was one of just twenty people who were let into the live show off the standby line. How did I manage this? I’m still asking myself the same thing. I think that part of it probably had to do with the fact that I slept outdoors on the cold hard floor of New York City for two nights. I lived in front of a parking meter on 48th st for 38.5 hours.

When the NBC page placed my ticket in my hand on Saturday morning at 7:15am and I saw that I was number fifteen for live it felt like a small miracle. Of course everything i’d heard about the experience of doing standby for SNL emphasized how much nothing at all was certain until your butt was in a chair. But let me tell you, “fifteen” felt like “guaranteed.” “Fifteen” felt like I had earned it.

I can say with absolute certainly that I was the least okay that I have been ever in my life when I arrived to Thirty Rock approximately two hours early to sit in a bar with my friends. I could not speak and I think for a long while I even refused to sit down. I was in a daze.

This daze only got worse as we were placed in line in the NBC gift shop, went through security, stood in a barren hallway for half an hour while a security guard told us that they had only let five people into dress (AND THEN TOLD US HE WAS JOKING WHICH I DID NOT APPRECIATE), walked upstairs into the historic lounge, were lined up in number order, and were taken up in the elevators. I truly floated to my seat. I remember being led through the doors into 8H, hearing the band, and breathlessly  and inaudibly asking my friend, “where are we?” It was the closest thing to an out of body experience that I have ever had. I wish I could say I am being dramatic about that, but I’m simply not.

And then. My butt. Was in a chair.

I was in.

I’d also just like to say that there were four of us in my camp, and my fourth friend was the last to be seated at the end of the row we were in, and quite possibly the last to be seated off the standby line. Unreal.

I loved seeing how Saturday Night Live worked. There was a real energy in the room, and though I have no frame of reference, I am willing to bet that the energy was a bit more charged given the fact that this was the first episode ever to air live coast to coast. I was in awe of how small the studio was. I’d expected it to be double the size. I was most charmed by the old metal chairs the moving cameramen sat in – they were adorned with “Saturday Night Live” in vintage font.

When the lights dropped, my friends and I all grabbed hands and looked up to the monitors for the dance portion of Fallon’s opening monologue. I do not think I will ever forget what it was like to see Harry on the screen for the first time. He was in the same building as us! I’m not sure it had even hit me at that point, but I couldn’t help but shriek like a little girl.

When they set up for the “Celebrity Family Feud: Time Travel Edition” sketch, one of the pages stood beside us said “are you guys Harry fans?” we said yes, and she said “he’s down there.” We were on a slightly elevated platform, so we all ducked our heads beneath the lighting rigs and there he was, dressed like Jagger. The conclusion of that sketch was actually the first time I cried. I looked right at my friend and broke down, saying only “I can’t believe we got to see Harry play Jagger.” In hindsight it’s hilarious that that is the moment that brought me to tears, but I don’t think I’m really going to sit here and talk about sanity when it comes to this occasion.

The second time I cried was when he opened his mouth to sing the first line of “Sign of the Times” which, ironically, is “Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of the times.” My friend tells this story better than I, so I’ll leave a space in case she ever decides to submit her hot take on the affair:

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Because this is my platform, I’ll give you my take, and it is that I have never in my entire life cried the way I cried that night at a concert. I had a tissue permanently placed to my nose. My gasps inward for breath were threatening to elicit squeaks and I had to subdue them because I was incredibly aware that there were microphones designed to pick up noise from the crowd just above my head. I know that I was shaking. I was, in a word, inconsolable.

Harry was incredible. His performance of “Sign of the Times” was not perfect, and I think he was visibly upset about that. But it made me fully soften to him, and I was so incredibly aware of the fact that he is just a boy who is a year younger than I am. I wished that I could tell him that he was amazing, his performance was passionate – which I’d take over polished any day – and that we were all proud of him.

Hearing “Ever Since New York” for the first time ever was amazing, as well. Admittedly, I don’t remember too much about that since I hadn’t already known the words and it was a little hard to hear them in the studio. I do remember hearing the line “I’ve been prayin’ ever since New York,” very clearly and getting that little pang in your chest that you get when you realize how lucky you are to live in a city that so many people write songs about. He’d written a song about my city, and he’d used the word “prayin’,” and my mind was blown.

My favorite thing about the whole affair is that when I watch the episode or the performances back now, I see them, but in my head I see them from the angle at which I saw them live. I’ve never experienced anything like that, and it is something I will never lose.

If part of the reason I got into SNL was my elective stint as someone devoid of a home, the other – much more potent – part of the reason I got in was definitely divine intervention. There really is no other logical explanation in my mind.

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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