live reviews

Send Me Your Magic: Paperwhite Live in DC

I want intimacy in my music. I look for emotion in songs and yank it out with my bare fists, ingesting it into myself. And what is a concert but a way to project music’s intimacy into three dimensions?

While a successful artist — the one with “the X factor”  — can entrance a stadium full of thousands of people, a different challenge presents itself in the smoky back rooms of shady concert venues. An intimate venue calls for an intimate presence: We’re all in on the secret, shared between the back room’s enclosed walls.

In one such back room at the Black Cat (semi-discovered DC dive bar and concert venue), Paperwhite frontwoman Katie Marshall invites us inside her secrets. Throughout her performance, I imagine her standing in front of the gates of the Secret Garden, finger crooked towards us. She deftly breaks the rusted lock and pushes the gates open, hair swinging behind her and catching impossible glints of sunlight, allowing us to see the most intimate parts of her.

Katie occupies all of center stage, constantly reaching out and pulling us into her. She makes eye contact with every audience member in the venue as we crowd closer. Her eyes are at times fierce and passionate, but the warmth — the invitation — never leaves her face. Her bandmates, including brother Ben Marshall, drink in the audience with warmth, too. While they tend more to frame Katie than to draw attention to themselves, they’re happy to do so and bask in the atmosphere of the stage.

Paperwhite’s music is itself an expression of intimacy. Epitomizing dream pop’s ‘80s-synth movement, EPs Escape and Magic reach out to us the same way Katie Marshall does during her performances. We feel hypnotized by airy positivity; our heads nod and our bodies move until we’re all grooving together amidst shimmering electronics. All of Paperwhite’s songs — though particularly ones like “Wanderlust,” “Storm,” and “Magic” — encase us in a longing that eclipses words.

When we experience this three-dimensional performance of intimacy, longing, and shared secrets, we are connected by the synths, the movements, and the words alike. But best of all, Paperwhite’s reaction to us (the audience) is just as awestruck as ours to them. Katie let us into her secrets, and we somehow did the same for her. Just by collectively releasing our inhibitions to enjoy a shared experience, we lowered the barriers between audience and artist. We had as much to give Paperwhite as they had to give us.

The concert ended and Katie talked, took selfies, and signed phone cases, but the audience/artist dynamic had not been restored. We were still equals. We thanked her for her performance, told her she didn’t need to be so surprised that people deeply connected to her work. She thanked us for showing our support, for understanding what she was trying to give us. Our mutual respect and adoration allowed us to share that most intimate experience — the concert — in a way none of us are likely to forget.

I want you to notice/Some moments are rare/Don’t take me for granted/Just take me there
-“Take Me Back”


Carson is a 23-year-old who discovered the joys of the Backstreet Boys two years ago, when she fell down a pink fur-lined rabbit hole into the world of pop. She has since taken it upon herself to make an exodus into the underbelly of the glitter-covered beast. You can find her Spotify account here and you can also find her on Tumblr

My Mama Don’t Like You: Justin Bieber at Barclays Center

I debated whether or not to buy a ticket to Justin Bieber’s New York tour for months. It was a big financial decision. Or as a co-worker said the day after when I walked into the office in a Bieber tee, “I hope that wasn’t expensive!” Newsflash: pop concerts are not cheap, particularly when everyone on StubHub sells tickets at $150 over the original value for all those of us who couldn’t buy them the day they were released due to work, funds, life. However, I knew I desperately needed the momentary reprieve that a night of Bieber and “What Do You Mean?” could give.

2016 has already been a rough year for us all. We’ve endured the loss of Bowie and Prince, survived another winter, and, if you’re like me, departed work a little more world-weary with each passing day. I bought the ticket to Justin Bieber in hopes of celebrating his revival (yes, Selena Gomez’s not the only one) and hoping for my own.

No one can deny the ascent of Justin Bieber on last year’s charts. His crossover appeal has seen such a rise that Urban Outfitters now sells “vintage” men’s tees of his baby face (I loathe these shirts. Men can continue owning Metallica tees for all I care.). It’s been ok’d by Complex and Pitchfork to indulge in Bieber’s musings. I’ve always been a Bieber fan musically, but I’ve been on the fringe of his fandom. I will defend “Die In Your Arms” until the end of time, but I’ve never quite seen the appeal of his locks or tattoos. I already have my fandom (One Direction), and it takes up more than enough of my time and money. Yet in light of their hiatus, I knew I had the savings to allow for one night of carefree dancing and swaying to “No Sense” and “Love Yourself”. The price of admission was entirely worth it once Bieber sat on a velvet sofa and sang you think I’m crying on my own, well I ain’t to a reverent audience.

Upon arrival at Barclays, I immediately made the mistake of purchasing a tee outside of the arena only to discover my favorite shirt inside after four steps into the arena. $80 and two tees later, I trudged past the merchandise only to discover the beer lounge immediately to my right. I’ll be honest: I plopped myself there for the first two openers alongside wine moms and Bud Light dads. I was here for Justin and Justin alone. I made sure to charge my phone, and watched as gleeful teens in a uniform of ripped black jeans and tank tops made their way to their seats. I lusted after a Saint Laurent jacket that walked by on a young teen and watched the number of Calvin Klein merch bags grow in number. I was pleased to see that most of the people in attendance were still the young women who had been there since the beginning. Pop airwaves might be drowned in “Sorry” and “What Do You Mean?”, but among the fans paying for tickets are the same women who attended the Believe Tour.

The tour opened with Purpose’s album opener, “Mark My Words.” Singing from the middle of a glass box, fists and face pressed against the glass, Justin Bieber sang Mark my words, that’s all that I have / Mark my words, give you all I got. After the spiral of the last few years, Purpose begins with a hushed promise.  There was a reliance on the stark images of Justin on top of a metaphorical mountain on stage, the slope of the stage. He climbed the inclined stage as he did the charts—effortlessly.

The concert kicked into gear when Bieber came back out, the box descending into the depths of Barclays Center, to perform “Where Are Ü Now”, the smash hit remix of 2015. “Where Are Ü Now” has been remixed for the tour, and Bieber effortlessly carried out killer dance moves alongside his vocals. Singing to us fans, he pleaded, I need you, you, you, you, you, you / You, you, you / I need you the most.

It’s impossible to separate the narrative of the relationship between Selena Gomez and Justin from Purpose. He confronts the tabloid culture of his breakdown on “I’ll Show You”, singing My life is a movie and everyone’s watching / So let’s get to the good part and past all the nonsense… Much like his continued appearances on James Corden, striving to show his heart, his humanity, Justin just wants us all to focus on the beats and lyrics. He wants us to focus on his craft and not the spectacle. I’m not made out of steel / Don’t forget that I’m human, don’t forget that I’m real… It can be hard to remember that the celebrities we see on Tumblr and Twitter exist outside of our browsers. “I’ll Show You” asks us to look for the man behind the music. Act like you know me, but you never will… As I stood there, swaying and spilling beer, I thought of all those meet and greets Bieber had cancelled due to sapped energy. The distance between us and Bieber grows daily as the magnitude of his celebrity engulfs him, but lyrically we’ve never known him better. Bieber, the singer, is trying to let us in. He just wants to set the limits. He just wants to show us, under the lights of an arena.

Bieber went on to perform “The Feeling,” his collaboration with Halsey, and the instant classic “Boyfriend”. The arena joyously sang along to the slick vocal magic of “Boyfriend,” which is just as massive as it was in 2012. It’s still exhilarating to sing along to Chillin’ by the fire while we eatin’ fondue / I don’t know about me but I know about you.

I was happiest to hear “Love Yourself.” There’s no arguing with the brilliance of the lyric my mama don’t like you and she likes everyone. By pairing up with Ed Sheeran, Justin Bieber wrote the first song off Purpose that might not actually be aimed at Selena or his fame. This isn’t an apology, but a declaration. The kiss-off that I’m happy to add to my pop arsenal is you should go and love yourself. Even better, in a year of self-care, the shortened love yourself. Ed Sheeran knows how to write a ballad, and this track allows Bieber to do what he does best: quite simply, sing. I’ve loved watching Bieber take this song around the world. The presentation in concert was minimal, which allowed for the track to find its true depth. Anyone who has watched the concert film Believe knows that Bieber’s tours of old were about bombast, cinema, and flair. The Purpose Tour smartly contains itself. It’s not as interested in the staging as it is in Justin’s restoration. Sure, there are dancers; but at times there is just Justin, the man, alone on stage. Nearly consumed by the lights, we get to watch him apologize and resurrect the career he nearly imploded.

Thankfully, the last half of the concert retained old hits “As Long As You Love Me” and “Baby”, while adding  “Purpose” and “What Do You Mean?”

It’s interesting how “Baby” in 2016 retains its desperation:

And I’m in pieces, baby fix me
And just shake me ‘til you wake me from this bad dream
I’m going down, down, down, down
And I just can’t believe my first love won’t be around…

At the height of his fame, Justin still is in pieces. He still can’t believe his first love won’t be around. Week after week, we get continued Instagram posts where Justin reflects on his history with Selena. While she was seen crumpling a sign calling for her to marry Justin earlier last week on her Revival Tour, Justin seems intent on hanging onto the past.  “Baby”, a breakout pop hit, feels just as relevant to Justin’s history and headspace now as it did in 2010. The song now carries the weight of his real true love, the media backlash, and the continued desire to connect with millions of people through music.

I am still speechless that Bieber performed “Children.” The track dragged. If I’d been in need of another 20-oz beer this would have been the time.

I’d like to remind you to not leave during his drum solo, a pulsating reminder of the talent behind every changing hairstyle (thankfully, he cut the cornrows before Barclays so I could attend in good conscience). The encore of the night was, of course, “Sorry”. As we grabbed our coats and threw away our beers, Justin wanted us to remember that he wanted to redeem himself. Justin, in my opinion, consider yourself absolved.

Setlist:

Mark My Words
Where Are Ü Now (Jack Ü cover) (Purpose Tour remix)
Get Used To It
I’ll Show You
The Feeling
Boyfriend
Cry Me A River (Timberlake cover)
Love Yourself
Been You
Company
No Sense
Hold Tight
No Pressure
As Long As You Love Me
Justin Bieber Drum Solo
U Smile
Children
Life Is Worth Living
What Do You Mean?
Baby
Purpose

Encore:
Sorry

Falling in Love/Lust with The 1975 in Glasgow

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A low drone noise has been radiating from the speakers for the past half an hour. I’ve just downed one vodka tonic and I’m gripping my second. I look up and see the outlines of three rectangles above the stage, three dark boxes waiting to be filled with light. There’s nobody behind the microphone yet.

I didn’t even care about The 1975 six weeks ago. Then “UGH!” came on the radio when I was driving my mum’s car late at night and I almost crashed it into the wall at the end of my parents’ street. I’ve crashed a car once before, on the journey home from kissing a boy who I then fell obsessively in love with for ten years.

Next I saw the video for “UGH!” The section at the beginning before the set is crushed with light felt like taking a deep breath. I saw the clapperboard in front of the camera, saw them all line up in front of the set, then I saw Matty Healy in silhouette, and I waited for him to start singing, and when he started, I was in love. Three minutes of him in what felt like a hundred different outfits, with the set glowing blue and pink and static in the background. I’d never thought about him for a second before then.

It all happened so fast.

It’s 8:45pm and the drone is louder now. I’ve been thinking about this exact minute, this specific pocket of time for weeks. The anticipation I’ve felt about seeing this show has been so intense that it has become physical. The week before I see them I can barely eat and I have to drink to calm my nerves. I keep thinking about the five minutes before they go onstage. If I can’t keep it together when it’s far enough in the future to be abstract, how will I cope when it’s close enough to touch, when the lights go down, when I can hear the ripple of screams from the other side of the crowd? It’s sickening anticipation, it’s wanting them – wanting Matty, specifically – now and forever or just wanting him to never arrive onstage, to leave the country, to get out of my life forever because I can’t handle the possibility of his presence.

The lights go down. The girls at the other side scream. There’s Ross, the bass player, then Adam, the guitarist, then George, the drummer, then a long pause. Then Matty, leather fringe hanging from his arms and corkscrew curls hanging in front of his eyes. First it is “Love Me” and then “UGH!”, no stopping between them; it’s perfect and breathless and there’s no time, there’s no time to intellectualise that this is happening right now, right in front of me. It’s living inside the “UGH!” video for an hour and a half – the same set and a different colour scheme for each song. I feel like the girl in the a-Ha video who dissolves into her television.

Matty’s the centre of attention at all times – of course he is. He’s taking his jacket off, then pulling his cowboy shirt out from his jeans, then unbuttoning it halfway through the show. He walks around the stage with his glass of wine and he’s mesmerizing. He’s half expert sex angel – licking his lips and then throwing his head back during “Robbers” – and half embarrassing cousin at a wedding, addressing us as ‘ladies and gentlemen’ with his thumbs up after every other song, playing up to and then completely shattering the much-discussed image of him as a studied pretender to the rock star throne.

Even when they’re onstage the push and pull of wanting and having doesn’t stop. The moments when Matty disappears and reappears are the most delicious, even more than the time he spends dangling from the edge of the stage screaming with his head between his knees. At the end of “Anobrain,” he climbs up behind drummer George’s drumkit and stands behind him for the end of the song, then he disappears behind the set, and the lights turn to television static. As the band starts to play “Fallingforyou,” their most intimate song, Matty emerges, climbing onto the amp stack, a shadow against the buzzing static behind him. I can’t see him singing the words, he’s a silhouette, but I feel the sense of sexual possibility, the wanting, the longing for someone who might long for you too. Then he leaps to the edge of the stage, back into the light for the best line – “I don’t want to be your friend / I want to kiss your neck.” The song ends with a bass rumble that I can feel crawl up my toes, through my heart and into my lips – the climax of the drone from the beginning of the show. What I’ve been waiting for since I first heard “UGH!” on the radio, since I bought the ticket for the show, since the lights went down at the start. The moment when the anticipation makes way for the actual release.


Claire Biddles is an artist and writer based in Glasgow, Scotland. She makes work about crushes, regional glamour and the relationship between pop culture and real life.

I’m Holding Onto Gold: Jess Glynne’s Debut at Webster Hall

The atmosphere inside Webster Hall on January 20 was buzzing. Interest in Aussie Conrad Sewell’s material was palpable, but it was clear the audience in attendance was waiting for the curly-haired siren Jess Glynne, who took over radio airwaves with the Clean Bandit collaboration “Rather Be” in the summer of 2014.

Much like the British group Years & Years, Jess Glynne’s music is a fusion of pop dance tracks and emotional ballads of empowerment.  The show started with an intro of “Strawberry Fields,” and immediately gained momentum when Jess entered stage left and broke into “Ain’t Got Far to Go.” Hair slicked back into a high ponytail braid, eyeliner thickly embossed on her eyelids, a sleek sleeveless blazer on top of a black bra and pants, Jess was fierce, beguiling. The crowd was loud, hinged on every swing of her hips and sway of her braid.  There was a pulse inside Webster Hall as people clamored to teeter a little closer into Jess’ field of vision.

The smartest decision of the night might have been for Jess to perform  “Rather Be” and her other collaboration with Clean Bandit, “Real Love” early in the evening. “Rather Be,” her first chart-topping U.S. collaboration, was inescapable in the summer of 2014; however, the decision to play the track early allowed Jess to showcase her own independent voice, her own articulate songwriting. “Rather Be” was built for the UK Top 40 and Jess’ voice was able to catapult the song to long-term success. While Jess herself has not yet found large success on U.S. airwaves outside of this hit, she’s still poised for gold. “Rather Be” was pure fun; every concertgoer singing along at the top of their lungs.

We’re a thousand miles from comfort, we have traveled land and sea
But as long as you are with me, there’s no place I’d rather be…

Jess played “Home” followed by “Love Me.” “Rather Be” was a massive single that overtook the entire globe, but Jess’ own music feels far more personal. It’s meant simultaneously for a Friday night pre-game, and for a solemn Tuesday night. Jess manages to write and perform music that is both exuberant and remorseful. She’s a young woman experimenting, searching. There’s sorrow, regret, love. “Love Me” is Jess at her most straightforward, blunt. It’s specific, accusatory. Let’s have a party, the only guest is you / Don’t beat around the bush, we both want to… The entire audience tried on her bluntness for the night, asked for what they wanted. (Well, not me when it came to more space, but you get what I mean.) And I, I know that I’m not wrong / And you, yeah, you are gonna love me, love me… Personally, I long to feel the sense of self-assuredness that she embodied when strutting around the stage singing “Love Me.” Braid whipping around, her clothes utilitarian in nature, Jess wasn’t about making a fuss.

“Gave Me Something” was euphoric. Jess was truly in her element. The concert seemed to finally take shape. Her dance moves freer, her voice deeper. It seemed to me like she finally believed we were all there to see her “holding on to gold.” You gave me something that I didn’t have before / So I’ma give you something / To stop you saying more…

I was excited to hear Jess sing “Why Me,” the song I listen to regularly on the subway. It gets me excited for the day. It’s rummaging, exploring. Why me? / You left me all alone… The beat is in constant friction with the melancholic lyrics. You stole / My happiness from underneath my nose / My insecurities left on the floor… Jess it at her best when calling lovers out for their mistreatment of her, for asking for what she so rightly deserves. Her backup singers flanking her, Jess was reveling in the power of leading us all night.

Toward the end of the set, Glynne covered Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own.” It was a bold move by a young English songstress to cover Amy, the most enigmatic and bright shining star of British music to come out in the last ten years (besides, naturally, Adele), but Jess did the song justice.  Her voice was rough, raw. The entire audience frantically searched for their phones, myself included, as we sought to, for a few minutes, potentially recapture Amy’s words under the flash of the stage lights where they were meant to always be.

It felt appropriate that Jess followed her Amy Winehouse cover with the emotional linchpin on I Cry When I Laugh, the heart-wrenching ballad “Take Me Home.” The song is a bruise, exposed and tender. I listen to “Take Me Home,” late at night, underneath the covers, my toes cold, when I want to press down on the hurts of the day, the lingering doubts I don’t voice aloud. It was therapeutic to sing along with Jess, Will you hold me now? / Oh, will you take me home?

The tempo of the concert rose again with the follow up “You Can Find Me.” The conclusion of the concert was drawing near as she followed “No Rights No Wrongs” with the single “Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself.” The latter of the two songs debuted this summer as I was searching for a new job. It was my anthem as I filled out application after application, as my insecurities festered when I left job interview after job interview. The wounds heal and tears dry and cracks they don’t show / So don’t be so hard on yourself, no I missed feeling competent, confident. In my apartment after a long day of anxiety and stress, phone calls with recruiters and HR, I would blast this song. I waited patiently throughout most of the concert for Jess to finally reach her hand out, offer up her own experience to parse. I feel like I’ve been missing me / Was not who I’m supposed to be… All of us in the hall seemed lighter, dancing our cares away. ‘Cause I’m just tired of marching on my ownFor one night, we weren’t. Flanked on all sides by sweaty bodies holding beer and liquor, we were all dancing to the same beat. Jess came back out to do an encore of “Right Here” and “Hold My Hand.” I left Webster Hall with my friend Gretchen on my left, Jess’ lyrics gripping me still.

I’m ready for this, there’s no denying
I’m ready for this…

Setlist:

Strawberry Fields (intro)
Ain’t Got Far to Go
Real Love / Finally / Rather Be
Home
Love Me
Gave Me Something
It Ain’t Right
Why Me
Bad Blood
My Love
Tears Dry on Their Own (Amy Winehouse cover)
Take Me Home
You Can Find Me
No Rights No Wrongs
Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

Encore:
Right Here
Hold My Hand

Bonus: Jess just released a new music video you should all check out!

Foals Steal Christmas…and the Show

Sitting on Santa’s lap while watching Foals shred must seem like a scenario to rival your trippiest sugar plum visions, right? Well, I must have made the Nice List this year because that was my reality at Chicago’s The Night We Stole Christmas festival.

Running December 3rd through 6th and featuring steady acts like Twenty One Pilots, Bastille, The Struts, and Silversun Pickups, the four-night lineup yielded a ring of Yuletide cheers throughout the storied Aragon Ballroom. I attended Sunday, the final evening, wrapped in intoxicated denial of the work week ahead. Eager to meet the masters of feisty English rock for a third time, I milled with my concert crew until Highly Suspects surrendered the stage to Foals.

The Oxford natives emerged and started a set that would rouse even Old Saint Nick. First up was “Snake Oil” from their latest album, What Went Down. The five-piece continued to stoke a fiery set with upbeat oldies like “Olympic Airways” and “Two Steps, Twice”, fresh fuel via “Mountain at My Gates” and some in-between pleasers (“Spanish Sahara”, “Providence” and “Inhaler”). With Yannis’ perfected pendulum guitar swing, a dash of effervescence and a bold awareness of “the journey”, these musicians held the room for ransom.

“Providence” has proven a stage favorite and key player in Foals’ arsenal. This performance was no exception. While the rest of the band circled up, mid-track, Yannis wandered into the crowd, extending the crescendo of carnal lyrics and free-form guitar. “I’m an animal just like you. I’m an animal just like you” echoed and accelerated. Even from my post at the very back of the venue, the building energy was infectious. The followers concurred.

The band manages to corral indie rock and dance-punk into one arena with aplomb and maybe some slight negotiating, seizing already enraptured followers and those looking for the missing links in their audio collection.

While their latest release spins like a recap of the previous records, it rumbles with newfound meditations and explorations, sonically and conceptually. Of course, as already alluded to, a live sampling is the best way to witness the band’s evolution – an interactive time capsule complete with enough stamina to shatter even Clark Griswold’s 25,000-bulb display.

In light of all that noise, these gentlemen have now been thrust to the top of my must-see (again…and again) list. Take note.

While Foals are a tough act to follow, Silversun Pickups transcended expectations and not just in the wardrobe department. Nikki Monninger nailed basslines in a shimmering blazer/skirt union, which, combined with the lightshow ricochet, provided a stage-bound disco ball. Totally festive, totally major.

The visual pomp didn’t outshine their skyrocketing sound, though. It merely partnered with satiating performances of new thrills (“Nightlight” and “Circadian Rhythm”), radio favorites (“Panic Switch” and “The Pit”) and the forever crowd-fusing last dance, “Lazy Eye”, a performance which alone could have earned them closing rights.

I left the Uptown venue in a daze. I know who “stole Christmas”, but who snatched the past hours I spent swaying under a star-filled ceiling? Did Krampus join in the ruse? I fumbled around in my pocket for a glove, and instead brushed my ticket – a concrete reminder that all the magic of the night wasn’t just a pipe dream.

I’ll trade a drowsy Monday for that pre-Christmas gift any day.


Where is Meaghan Lee‘s mind? It’s often splashing in a pool of puns, Spotify playlists, or obscure movie quotes. Sometimes she deviates from her primarily monochrome wardrobe. 

I Could Go On & On & I Will: Taylor Swift in Charlotte, NC

Is there an award for number of times written about Taylor Swift because guess what, I’m about to do it again. This contains spoilers for the 1989 World Tour!

I saw Taylor Swift last Monday. I went the day before the show & bought high-waisted shorts because nothing else made sense. I looked up the set list in fear of being unprepared but mostly I just wanted to know how many times I was going to cry. I listened to “Love Story” maybe 10 times on the drive, punctuated by the “Bad Blood” remix, trying to get my Taylor ratios right.

She looks exactly how I thought she would, even from far away. A tall, glittery blur with a splash of red in the center; I swear I could see her lipstick from my seat, the highest peak in the room. Her mouth was wider than I anticipated, toothier. Her makeup never budged but she fidgeted with her sweaty bangs and I saw her chest heave. She took the stage in strides, flexed her colt legs, stomped & paused & posed. She can’t keep her chill on stage, can’t stay in character, can’t keep her twinkly eyes quiet enough to just perform. She’s too in love.

She played all of 1989 and of course I wanted to hear my Taylor foundation but right now, she’s 1989. She took songs from Fearless & Red & Speak Now and made them make sense for her now. I don’t think Taylor has ever been embarrassed by any emotion she’s ever felt. I think she thrives on documentation, writing it down exactly as she felt it so she remembers it correctly forever. She never deadens anything and the repurposed songs from her earlier records serve Taylor now, serve us now. I don’t think she’s growing in a vacuum & that’s probably why she trusted us to accept the new order of Taylor Swift. She can’t let go but she won’t look back & she’s evolving but some parts of her are inherent & fixed. I think “You Are In Love” is perhaps the greatest example of this. She sang it with an acoustic guitar at the very end of the catwalk, had us echo her & I felt like she was going to cry when she looked out at all of us. And you understand now why they lost their minds and fought the wars and why I’ve spent my whole life trying to put it into words. You can hear it in the silence, you can feel it on the way home, you can see it with the lights out, you are in love, true love.

 She took a moment before “Enchanted” to say that she writes about what she finds romantic, sitting in a princess dress in front of her piano, picked out the chorus & before I had time to cry she melted into “Wildest Dreams,” & I was too blindsided by the parallels to get choked up. She stood up & the skirt of the dress & the piano sank into the trap door of the stage, she stepped out into the center in a glittery jumpsuit & you could see Taylor in kaleidoscope. She’s still devoted to exploring the fantasy & the romance & reveling in the theatrics but she has stopped ignoring the darkness of fairytales. I felt like I was seeing the most complete version of Taylor Swift, her third puberty, her growing pains & benefitting more than I ever have.

I can’t believe how many times she changed clothes, how she shouted her way through “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” how hard I cried before “Clean” even started & of course I wish I had documented more but I couldn’t keep my hands steady, couldn’t sacrifice time to stillness when I needed to point & toss my hair around & screech in disbelief. Everyone in the audience had armbands that were meant to light up when she came on stage & they were coordinated to match her light show, everyone flashing pink & soft yellow & red & white, a steady pulse that connected us to her, to each other. The armbands still light up if you move, days later, a little E.T. finger reaching out to Taylor wherever she is now & her lighting up in response.

I thought I would be more upset about the show being over but I’ve padded my life so heavily with Taylor that it wasn’t jarring to see her live & then step back into my post-show life. I listen to her more than anyone else, she’s on my phone case & by extension, in all my selfies. I tag her on Instagram all the time. She’s fixed for me, a constant & seeing her live just made her bigger & realer & sweatier. She becomes less of a fantasy for me everyday, more applicable & I know that’s partially because things are changing in my life, I have more cause to apply her now, less emotional void, more faces I’ve saved to my camera roll, more specific boy sadness than I’ve ever had before & she is making me thankful for those things. Her love glow hasn’t dimmed & mine won’t either. She’s my big sis & I have to stop before I cry again.

I’ve Got My Stevie

I saw Fleetwood Mac on the 7th of March & what I really mean is I saw Stevie Nicks on the 7th of March. I saw her consume the stage, I saw the light show dye her hair, I saw her twirl.

3rd grade was shit. Glasses & rubber bands on my braces & poison ivy that covered the left side of my face, sealed my eye. My mom & I lived alone in a mill house (which I swear is haunted) & I talked to her every morning while she showered. She had white wicker in the bathroom, a shelf with a little tray of perfumes, a box of seashells & a voodoo doll whose origins I can’t recall. Where are you meant to display a voodoo doll really? I told my mom about a boy in my class, Vance, & how horrible he was to me & all the other girls. I stabbed the doll while she shouted his name. Her voice echoed under the spray & I closed my eyes when I stuck the pin, the magnitude & wail a summer thunderstorm whose force I swear shook the mirror.

Stevie stands in the middle of the stage, doesn’t require a spotlight. The Stevie songs are everyone’s favorites. The ladies behind me chanted “Silver Springs” increasingly out the sync the more beer they drank. Her voice was brittle & nasal, like always, strength in the warble. She tethered herself to her mic stand, to the stage, to her tambourine, all extensions of herself. She tells stories like she’s sitting down, feet up, holding onto a pillow & drinking wine & touching your knee when she laughs. She sings to herself but it feels like an astral projection.

I held séances in my room when I was 11, kneeled at the alter I made from my vanity stool with a foam beach body board laid across. I mixed dried kitchen herbs & red clay from my backyard with precious drops of rose oil I bought with my allowance, homemade protection spells I carried in plastic baggies in my backpack. My locker smelled, my clothes smelled; I wore a black cat necklace & a floor length crocheted cardigan. I watched Willow twirl a pencil with her mind. I felt smug, blissful, strange. I felt like I knew.

I sneak away from my dad at the mall under the guise of using the restroom or looking at bras, any excuse a dad won’t question at 11 & buy a book on witchcraft from Borders. I cry sitting on the edge of an indoor tree in the middle of the mall when he makes me return it just like I cried when he threw away the Ouija board my mom bought me for my birthday. A few weeks ago my dad called me & in his most pained & measured I-hate-this-more-than-you-do voice said “There’s something I have to ask you but I don’t want you to get upset.” He told me he saw a photo on my Facebook of a pentagram made from roses, asked me if the pentagram was associated with the devil & then said “I mean, I know you’re a witch but I don’t want other people to get the wrong idea.”

My mom has been a witch every year for Halloween for at least the past 15 years. I remember listening to Fleetwood Mac with the sunroof down, sun or stars. I don’t remember the first time. I feel like her voice surrounding me in the dark of the car, the warm leather on the back of my leg & looking up through the roof are innate, a thread-less part of childhood, all middle, no beginning or end. Stevie live felt the same, it just was. I pressed my hands together in prayer as she sang, centered them in my chest & watched as she did the same moments later.

She gave a speech before “Gypsy” & I’m glad I didn’t record it & I won’t look it up now but she told the story of going to the Velvet Underground in San Francisco & standing on the same spot as Janis Joplin, surrounded by lace & velvet. Her particular kind of beauty & warmth preceded her & she found it there, waiting for her. I think Stevie was herself before she became herself, just like you’re bound to be a witch before you realize you’re a witch, small manifestations of self before you find the source, before you fully flip the switch.

I think of my stepdad scoffing & saying “She’s a witch” when we were all in the car together & turning the radio down. I think of my mom’s dream catcher earrings & the silver feathers that fluttered away from the hoop when she laughed. I sent my mom the video I took of “Dreams” & she texted back “I want to be her when I grow up.”

I think about the coven, the sisterhood, the bond between mother & daughter & how my mom doesn’t even realize that she’s the source, that she unintentionally gave me the power. She gardens in the summer & wears fluttery dresses & is letting her hair grow. I call Stevie my mom, joke at work with customers about how I want her to adopt me. Stevie is my mom because my mom is my mom. I think of Misty Day alone in the swamp with her radio, her Stevie & her blonde frizz & her feet in the mud. I think of the citrine hanging from my neck, the warmth it retains when I wear it all day or sleep with it under my pillow. I think of the opal my grandmother gave to my mom. I think of imitation & womanhood & how that’s impossible. There’s only lineage.

I am spoiling 11 year old me crying at Borders as the clerk hands me my change & takes the book back with sage & candles & plants, with cats & black hats & “Gypsy” on repeat. I own a piece of clothing called The Stevie Cape. My mom sways when she dances. I let my hair fall in my face & raise my hands. The women behind me chanting “Silver Springs” were linked around the waist, clinking glasses, a bloodless ritual. Misty presses the shawl to her face & closes her eyes. And it all comes down to you, well you know that it does, well lighting strikes maybe once, maybe twice & it lights up the night & you see your gypsy.

photo courtesy of Rolling Stone