shows

You Say You Want A Revolution: Nice As Fuck at Bowery Ballroom

We’re Nice As Fuck
Wish you good luck!

–Nice As Fuck, “NAF Theme”

It was a nice surprise when a friend sent me a VISA gift card for my birthday. I could finally justify spending money to seeing Nice As Fuck’s most recent show in New York City at Bowery Ballroom. I kept missing NAF perform (at the just closed The Deep End Club or opening for M. Ward). I pinched myself as I hit “confirm payment” thinking about how I would get the chance to see Jenny Lewis for a second time this year, and witness Tennessee Thomas and Erika Forster groove up close. This summer has been oppressively hot in New York, and without One Direction I have had little to look forward to. I was geeked about having the opportunity to see one of my favorite musicians in a totally new dynamic. Jenny Lewis, the lead singer of Nice As Fuck, has had an impressive solo career for the last ten years. She came to fame in the music industry in her previous band Rilo Kiley. Tennessee Thomas was a drummer in the rock group The Like. Erika Forster established her name with Au Revoir Simone.

I got off work on August 1 ready for the revolution. I’d spent months scouring the Instagrams of Tennessee Thomas and Jenny Lewis as their friendship led to the formation of the new rock trio. I giddily got excited as Matt Hitt and Alexa Chung popped up around the band. The network of New York models, artists, and performers all coming together in solidarity. Despite waiting to buy a tee and beer, I managed to snag a spot right in front of Jenny Lewis’ mic stand. I’m not kidding when I say I was on top of the keyboard. I figured you don’t let a chance like this go by without grasping it.

Alix Brown DJ’d the first hour of the evening as we waited around NAF’s staging on the floor of the Bowery. The songs set the perfect tone for the evening, even though I will admit, I didn’t recognize a single song. However, I was happy to sip my beer, snap pics of the staging, wonder if Alexa Chung would be at the early show (she was at the late show), and subtly shake my hips to the tunes.

NAF came out a little after 8pm for their first show of the evening at the Bowery. Dressed in black pants, Nice As Fuck black tees, green military jackets, black berets, heavy winged eyeliner with bold lipstick, NAF were a conglomeration of radical 60s counter-culture attire and attitude. The Bernie tee taped to Tennessee’s drum set was a nice touch, a shout out to her advocacy and campaigning for the Senator in his Presidential bid. NAF asks for all those in attendance to unite in a desire to experience connection, love and freedom.

naf

This was the point when it settled in just how close I was going to be to Jenny Lewis during the set. As you can see, without zoom, I felt like I was pretty much in her personal space. But in terms of art, there was a great closeness that developed between artist and audience as the set began. With no barrier, not even a rope, we were a part of their raucous set. It was contained chaos performed with a smirk.

NAF performed “Runaway”, off the new album, first. In the aftermath of Jenny Lewis’ rumored break up with writing partner Jonathan Rice and her move to the East Coast, it’s hard to not read her own departure into the lyrics. The solace Jenny has found alongside Tennessee and Erika is obvious in her stage presence, and her Instagram posts where her smile is infectious, large. All three performers seemed genuinely humbled by the outpouring of love for their set.

Jenny Lewis sang the opening verse of “Cookie Lips” directly to me. As I sought to break eye contact do to the overwhelming feeling of having my favorite singers eyes on me, she sang Oh cookie lips, give me a crumb /Oh cookie lips, are you the one? As Tennessee explained before the song began, “Cookie Lips” is about a lover who gives you enough of the “cookie” to keep you wanting more, but it’s ultimately “crumbs.” A lover who ghosts. I think I just got ghosted by cookie lips / (What a dick). The song is fresh, young. Fun. It’s also catchy as hell.

Universe pulls us together
For tonight
Cookie lips

 

If you want to know who I am? 
Just ask any of my friends

“Higher” was a stand out of the night. The soaring vocals, bass and drums pulsing within the confines of the Bowery. True love never dies / I’m getting higher and higher. Jenny’s stage presence was electric, intense. She was actually lit up. The confidence she has as a performer so clearly comes from years of experience on the road, and it’s hard to look away as she commands everyone to join in the experience. To revel alongside her.

The set drew to a close with “Door” and “Guns,” the two most obvious songs of revolution and power on the album. “Door” has a recurring exclamation of Don’t Close The Door! An insistence that the message of peace and love brings about real unity. “Guns” is a call for us all to put our guns away. Nice As Fuck doesn’t want to be afraid. The album, written this past spring, feels like a direct reaction to the current political climate. As Jenny instructs, the solution is revolution. NAF’s politics cannot be ignored. They don’t want you to be able to look away, misinterpret. Leaving, I felt like over the course of 9 songs I had become closer with the band. I somehow understand their energy, their sound better.  I’m excited to see what they all do with this side project in the future.

I highly suggest checking out this new act if they stop into your area. Join the revolution! You can check out The Deep End Club’s activism blog and even buy your own NAF tee before attending. Let’s all try to be a part of the solution!

Setlist:

Intro – Jem and the Holograms theme
Runaway
Angel
Homerun
Cookie Lips
Higher
Mall Music
Door
Guns
NAF Theme

Where Have You Been All My Life? Villagers Re-imagined at the WAC

Villagers, a band very much defined by their frontman, Conor O’Brien, released their first album in 2010. Becoming a Jackal had its own little promotional poster in HMV, and I bought it to impress my new friend Grace. It was the second album I ever spent money on, and I put it on my mp3 player (a Creative Zen Stone!) immediately. That anecdote tells you everything you need to know about where I was, musically, when I was thirteen.

I have Villagers to thank for a lot; not least the realization that I could actually find the music that I liked myself. Becoming a Jackal is an amazing debut album. It opened my eyes to the fact that a good album does not necessarily have to be a sad album, and not every song has to be about love. Sure, Villagers do write about love – just not exclusively.

That first album and its follow ups, {Awayland} and Darling Arithmetic, have underscored a lot of bus journeys in the six years since then. They are albums that exist in a very self-contained way, each song like a jigsaw puzzle piece fitting neatly together. Their most recent album was released last April, so I was surprised and delighted to see Where Have You Been All My Life hit the shelves in January.

The album is a reworking of songs from all of Villagers’ albums, performed live but audience-less at the RAK. Some of them, chiefly those from the earlier albums, are radically transformed. These turned out to be some of my favourites in the set. I especially loved the changes made to “Set the Tigers Free”. On the original album, the syncopated rhythm contrasts sharply with the songs on either side of it. That rhythm lends a distinctive feel to the song, but it’s completely abandoned in the 2016 version. The melody is slowed down and the refrain tune is lengthened and sustained. It makes for a different experience, but a lovely one.

WHYBAML‘s instrumentation is ethereal and eerie, but not insubstantial. Electric guitars are the root of the music, although it is still less electronic than {Awayland}. “Memoir”, a song written by O’Brien for someone else, is punchy and uptempo. The choral parts highlight just how lonely are the lyrics that he sings solo, and his falsetto adds to the haunting atmosphere. Desperation builds with the words Take my body/take it from me/it is not worthy of your memory and it doesn’t resolve itself.

The thing about the best Villagers songs is that they are simultaneously sad and happy, strange and scary and beautiful. They move me in ways that I can’t really express. One of the things I appreciate most about them is their willingness to write songs about friendship – how rare! How important it is, to be able to vocalize that feeling of grateful security with your friends:

And we’ll drink to the gentle, and meek and the kind
And the funny little flaws in this earthly design
From the Reeperbahn to the Sundarbahn
I will heed your call from the dust and the sand
And I’ll save all my stories for thee

Villagers aren’t exactly a famous band in Ireland, but neither are they completely unknown. It was a bit unbelievable to see our local little arts center on their tour posters. My mother, who liked the first album very much but hasn’t listened to the other three, thought at first that it must be a tribute band. It would be weird, though, to have a Villagers tribute band do a four-country tour, so – well, it must have been them. We bought tickets for my parents and I (I am the coolest teen in the world), and then I kind of forgot about it because so far this year my life has consisted only of taking down study notes onto flashcards and crying at the Daily Show. But then, almost without warning, we were at the Wexford Arts Centre staring up at the very real, very much non-tribute-band Conor O’Brien, and we were watching Villagers.

Villagers know how to perform. They played for almost two hours, and never seemed to flag or tire of the songs they were singing. Darling Arithmetic is a more personal album, with love songs more to the fore, and they’re beautiful live. The instrumentals were flawless, and what was really amazing to me was how clear Conor O’Brien’s voice is. It’s exactly like it sounds on the CDs. What you can’t get from the recordings, though, is how emotional his performance is. O’Brien gives – appears to give, anyway – his all to every song. He believes in what he says, and I felt and believed it too. To see Conor O’Brien standing up there with his guitar, singing I’ve been awake for so long now/and all I can see/is the light of your love/you’ve been dawning on me is, in my humble opinion, to be very, very lucky.

I think Where Have You Been All My Life is an album that is enhanced enormously by seeing it live. There is an understanding of what Villagers was trying to do with this album that I could only grasp when I saw it. The most powerful moment of this show was when they played “Hot Scary Summer”, “Little Bigot”, “Occupy Your Mind”, and “The Waves”, in that order. These songs are all about prejudice and hatred in one form or another. “Hot Scary Summer” particularly moved me; a surprising, beautiful song about modern homophobia and its consequences. Now I live inside you/and you live in me/and nothing’s gonna change that dear, he sang, eyes closed, looking angelic. We got good at pretending/and then pretending got us good. How did he take that feeling, crystallize it, and turn it into such a short and powerful phrase? All I can say is that I felt something melt and then solidify in my chest, looking at him, listening. He gets it. “Occupy Your Mind” was another star, a sneaky, funny little song released after anti-homosexuality laws were passed in Russia. To hear it live was so intense – that guitar line thumping! The whole (tiny) room was buzzin’! (I wish I could offer a synonym for buzzin’, but I can’t.)

O’Brien finished up with “No One To Blame”, which ends on an amazing little ethereal hook that I can’t really describe but that makes my heart hurt thinking about it. There’s a window in your eyes/a kind of swimming pool for swimming fools like me/oh, Mister Mystery.

The encore was the most intimate and wonderful thing I have experienced in my life. He smiled, shy, and opened up with I am the lineman of the county… “Wichita Lineman”! I had hardly dared hope, and it was beautiful.

After the show, we saw Conor hanging around outside at the merch stand, and I hid behind my mother (I can get very starstruck). My father got him to sign a ticket for me: it says to Claire love Conor, and it is worth more to me than anything in the universe. And then somehow I was meeting him, and I shook his hand and squeaked out something like long time fan and basically ran away into the January night. I have only now got over the embarrassment.

Since the gig, I have been floating on air. Nothing can bring me down. I have not listened to “Hot Scary Summer” since, nor will I, because no experiencing of it will ever again be so perfect or beautiful.


Claire Cullen is an 18-year-old who lives in Ireland. Recently she has been dealing with Hamilton-related problems, and it’s probably best not to get her started on why. Dedicated to furthering the Liberal Agenda.

“I’m All In”: Jenny Lewis’ Autonomy Celebrated on the 10th Anniversary “Rabbit Fur Coat” Tour

jl

And I think we’re at our best / by the flicker by the light of the TV set… Jenny Lewis was the formative female singer of my teens. In some part, my dyed red hair is simply an extension of wanting to be her. There are mornings where I still feel like I’m just trying to emulate her style, charm, authenticity. I know that for years my writing tried to do just that. I wanted her wry sense of humor, her sincerity as my own. Jenny made me feel less alone when I was an awkward teenager with unruly curls & strong convictions, and she continues to now. I’m not sure I’ve progressed much beyond ripping Teen People spreads of The Postal Service out to tape along my walls and shopping at vintage stores to find any and every gold dress to mimic her Under The Blacklight fashion. More Adventurous was the soundtrack to every journey to northern Michigan, every drive to Chicago. It’s memories of crying over boys who no longer matter & licking Burnett’s off shot glasses with the girls who still do. I devoured Acid Tongue savagely, ravenously in college. Last week, I was thrilled to celebrate the ten-year anniversary of Rabbit Fur Coat. The lush, quiet solo album that made me believe in the importance of articulating my (day)dreams, aspirations. The poetry inherit in finding one’s own voice. They warn you about killers and thieves in the night / I worry about cancer and living right…

Seated in the upper balcony of the Beacon Theater, I was thrumming with energy as M. Ward took to the stage at 8pm. He originally toured with Jenny Lewis and The Watson Twins in support of “Rabbit Fur Coat” in 2006. He was featured on Jenny’s cover of The Traveling Wilbury’s “Handle With Care.” His set was the perfect reminisce as he played a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Rave On” and his own original “Poison Cup.” M. Ward’s sincerity has always been the right accompaniment for Jenny’s wit and generosity. While his guitar work is spectacular, it’s the way he bites and chews on lyrics that is most gripping. The sweetness of his words undercut by the rough reed of his vocals. One or two won’t do / I want it all…

jll

The auditorium reached full capacity as the intermission came to a close and the lights dimmed on the second night of Jenny’s sold-out reunion concert at the Beacon,  where she was celebrating a record that launched her now-expansive solo career.  As I clicked the heels of my silver Chelsea boots, bought earlier this year in partial homage to her and Harry Styles, I sat on the edge of my seat. The set began with “Run Devil Run.” Flanked by the Watson Twins, Jenny came out in a striking red ensemble, holding a candle to echo the record cover, her history in offering.

He forgives you for all you’ve done / But not me / I’m still angry… “The Big Guns” is a different song than it was in 2006. In 2016, Jenny Lewis’ lyrics have gained weight given the passage of time. Jenny admitted last week to Rolling Stone that she didn’t even realize the depth of the album until revisiting it. Rabbit Fur Coat was a brash announcement of Jenny Lewis’ new voice as a solo artist, and forecasted the self-assured and hard-earned persona that was to come. It was the work of a woman who has grown-up publicly and strengthened her voice and her writing on a diverse arrangement of projects.

Despite the aggressiveness of its message, Rabbit Fur Coat is, for the most part, a quiet work of art. “The Big Guns” is assertive in the best way possible, but the rest of the album focuses on lamenting softly, serenely. As a teenager, I gravitated towards the considerable weight of “Happy,” and I still do ten years later. With the passage of time, my concerns, and I’d like to think Jenny’s, haven’t really changed. I’d rather be lonely, I’d rather be free… As an eternally single gal, mostly on my own validity and intuition, I’ve clung to “Happy” for years. It was thrilling to sit in an auditorium awed into silence as we listened to Jenny strum and sing the verses of “Happy”:

But my mama never warned me about my own
Destructive appetite

Or the pitfalls of control
How it locks you in your grave
Looking for someone to be saved and not restrained….

Jenny builds narratives. She was the earmark for my writing as a teenager, and still is. I studied her lyrics in hopes of writing poetry that resonated as much. She creates stories to be inhabited. Lyrically, the songs are filled with friends, foes, and daydreams. Silver Lake is a backdrop, but so is the dust of the open road.  Her movements on stage, her claps and twirls, only add to the narrative. She embellishes her music with the beauty of light, life. The flourishes of her wardrobe enhance the timbre of her voice. Her look is as nuanced as Taylor Swift’s, but imbued with a touch that feels one-of-a-kind.

“You Are What You Love” and “Rabbit Fur Coat” were beautiful to see live. The lights dimmed as Jenny sang, “Let’s move ahead twenty years, shall we? / She was waitressing on welfare, we were living in the valley.” I remember I used to skip “Rabbit Fur Coat,” but last week I sat still, poised, as Jenny took us back in time.

After a short backstage change, Jenny emerged in a black suit with floral appliques to sing “Handle With Care” with the help of the Watson Twins and M. Ward. The cover of the Traveling Wilbury’s classic swelled within the auditorium, everyone clapping their hands and stomping their feet along. When the set ended with “Happy (Reprise),” I was eternally grateful that Jenny still had a voyage left to take us on.

The medley of hits that Jenny performed in the second-half of the night was generous.There were, of course, the recent hits: “Just One of the Guys” and “She’s Not Me.” However, to my delight, Jenny also returned to earlier work. She played “See Fernando” from Acid Tongue and “Silver Lining” from her days with Rilo Kiley. The latter took on new meaning as she celebrated her ten year solo anniversary singing, I was your silver lining / But now I’m gold…

The night ended with a song I played many an afternoon back in my teens. I used to belt out Rilo Kiley’s “I Never” after school in the basement as I updated my Myspace account and picked new AIM away message quotes. I longed to feel the passion Jenny expressed for any of the boys lining the halls of Royal Oak High. Now when I listen to it, I tend to focus on the confessions. As people in the auditorium finally started to leave their seats to stand along with Jenny in pride, we all celebrated the abundance of emotions and experiences as a woman that Jenny admits to living, embracing. I’ve lied, cheated, stolen and been ungrateful for what I have / And I’m afraid habits rule my waking life… If she has taught me anything over the years, it’s the sense of pride one should feel in being “only” a woman.  I’m only a woman / of flesh and bone… Aggressive, coy, depressed, reverent, mournful, fearful. Ultimately, Jenny tells us, a woman can be anything she imagines herself to be.

Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never,
Never, never, never, never
Loved somebody the way
That I loved you…

First set:
Run Devil Run
The Big Guns
Rise Up With Fists!!
Happy
The Charging Sky
Melt Your Heart
You Are What You Love
Rabbit Fur Coat
Handle With Care (The Traveling Wilbury’s cover)
Born Secular
It Wasn’t Me
Happy (Reprise)
Second set:
Head Underwater
She’s Not Me
Just One of the Guys
See Fernando
Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley)
Red Bull and Hennessey
Pretty Bird
I Met Him on a Sunday (The Shirelles cover)
The Voyager
I Never (Rilo Kiley)

 

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. 

Looking Out For You: Catfish and the Bottlemen’s Showcase at Terminal 5

Do you, don’t you want me to love you?
I’m coming down fast but I’m miles above you
Tell me, tell me, come on tell me the answer!
Well you may be a lover, but you ain’t no dancer…

                                 —The Beatles, “Helter Skelter”

Catfish and the Bottlemen made an entrance onto Terminal 5’s stage to The Beatles’ “Helter Skelter.” A bold move for a band from England trying to carve their own history as a British rock group breaking ground in the American music scene. Then again, this is a band that isn’t interested in making friends but instead announcing their arrival. Clad in all black and hair grown out from its earlier mop top, Van McCann—more than ever before—looked the part of a front man. This wasn’t a homecoming show, but a calling card. Surrounded on all sides by teens, I waited to hear the music Catfish and the Bottlemen has been perfecting since forming in their early teens.

I’ve seen Catfish and the Bottlemen perform before. Earlier this year, my best friend and I saw them perform at Mac’s Bar in East Lansing to a few hundred people. Squashed in a small bar on a cold evening in March, Catfish’s performance was raw and chaotic. Van was sick, but their onstage presence showed no lack of continuity and gusto. Drunk, I danced. I screamed. I loved.

The show at Terminal 5 opened with my personal favorite “Rango.” Catfish and the Bottlemen are great lyricists, and the proof is in “Rango.” Heartfelt and confessional. Vulnerable. Van sings:

I plan on coming back for nothing
But then again there’s you
And although this town does flaunt
All the stuff you need to feel at home
I plan on taking from it nothing,
But then again there’s you…

 Our twenties are about picking up, and leaving home. Finding new homes in people and places right (and wrong) for us. Catfish and the Bottlemen explore the temptations of home, the lure of the familiar, and the love for those we have left behind that lingers far after the initial break. The lilt to Van’s voice when sings “But then again there’s you…” might just be the most beautiful moment on any rock album to debut last year. Having recently left home for New York City, I connect with “Rango” the hardest. The desire to take “nothing” with me, and—yet—wanting to carry on my person those closest to me. I want my friends, their gleaming smiles and throaty laughs and whiskey tolerances. “Rango” continues,

And although this town does flaunt
Much thicker stories than I care to talk
Darling you’ve fought them in style
And I’ll always love you for that…

It’s hard to return to places we grew up and notice the veneers that have changed on buildings, and more pronounced—the ways the town and ourselves have morphed and transformed, and—occasionally—stagnantly fought to remain the same. “Rango” is the song I play for everyone I want to introduce to Catfish and the Bottlemen. It was nice to hear them introduce themselves to the crowd with it, to have them understand what I hear every time I turn the song up on my iPod. “Rango” is a proper introduction to these Englishmen.

Yes I know
That I’ll never work out exactly how you’re thinking
But let me know when I’m needed home…

The show is swift. Catfish and the Bottlemen don’t spend much time setting up songs, telling anecdotes. The music introduces itself. Steals your attention away from your phone, from the bodies pressed against your back, from the arms raised in the air in silent syncopation. “Pacifier” segued into “Sidewinder.” It was hard to keep my eyes off Van. In March, he’d been soft and sullen. He appeared smaller in a knit sweater. At Terminal 5, hair falling in front of his eyes and shirt unbuttoned, he looked like a proper rockstar. Shoving his fingers into his hair, he seemed to be acquiring the nuances of Harry Styles’ enigmatic persona (I say this mostly because there is nothing Van would hate more than a comparison to One Direction’s heartthrob, a band he has continually denounced in interviews when not tweeting Louis Tomlinson hate). He was lithe on stage, his guitar work both elegant and anarchic. His fingers fast moving, his mouth shoved against the mic as drops of sweat rolled down his hollow cheeks. His eyes were hooded, lowered. Seducing the crowd to come a little closer with “Business.”

I wanna make it my business
I wanna tolerate drunk you, honey
I wanna make you my problem…

The highlight of a Catfish and the Bottlemen concert, in my opinion, is always “Hourglass.” One of the rare moments Van paused to introduce. He dedicated the song that night to Ewan McGregor’s daughter who was in attendance (McGregor is rather famously in the music video—to the point Van noted that people think Catfish really did steal the song from him). “Hourglass” is bittersweet and indulgent. It demands you lean in, sing softly.

And I’m so impatient when you’re not mine
I just want to catch up on all the lost times
And I’ll say I’m sorry if I sound sordid
Cause all I really ever want is you…

My predisposition to love songs about yearning is high. I instantly fell for “Hourglass” the first time I ever listened to The Balcony. You can’t ignore these lyrics:

Offer my hand and I’ll take your name
Share my shower, kiss my frame
Cause I wanna carry all your children
And I wanna call them stupid shit…

All I want is what I can’t have. “All I really ever want is you.” Concise, and to the point. This is my mission statement. The part of me I try to hide behind Sephora brand lip stain and an American Apparel acquired scowl. I’m weak in the face of people I want. I want all of them, their attention and their focus. I want to devour them. I want gentle touches and soft murmurs. I want the fragility of loving someone, and them returning the feelings.

Catfish closes every show they’ve done with “Tyrants,” a song that Van wrote at age 14. Now in their early twenties, the song has earned and gained weight. We’re all trying to “get a grip” of Catfish of Bottlemen as they “make a racket.”

And I did my best to get my hands under your jacket…

Setlist:
Rango
Pacifier
Sidewinder
Fallout
26
Business
Kathleen
Homesick
Hourglass
Cocoon
Tyrants

Tell Me What It Is You Want: Years & Years’ Confession at Terminal 5

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The minute I got inside Terminal 5 last Wednesday to see Years & Years, past the glimmering chandeliers in the entrance hall contrasted by the grime of the floor, I made my way to the bar. I was present to hear Communion, and I wanted my fill of alcohol. It’d already had been a long week. Though, I will say I was dressed the part for a New York City concert in my Topshop Chelsea boots, leather jacket, and leopard print skirt. Budweiser in hand, I headed to the floor.

The closest I feel these days to something akin to religion is attending concerts. The sense of community amassed as we all stand waiting to hear the lyrics we’ve whispered to ourselves before bed, jammed to in our cars at 5pm in standstill traffic or strutted down the sidewalk to. I love the moment that the album goes from being a personal to collective experience. The clamor of sweaty bodies, spilt (cheap) beer, and glimpses I catch of the band make an album tangible. I was ready for “Eyes Shut” and “Without” to become a live experience I could take home, a memory I could hold. Years & Years so acutely speaks to my constant state of longing and wanting. I always want more, more, more.

Years & Years started off their September 16 show with “Foundation.” The beginning of their debut album sets the tone for the dance party they are going to reign over. Communion is an album about want and desire, the latter a name of a track on the album. Communion—like the best pop records—is about love, loss, obsession, and sex. As the lights dimmed and strobes turned on, I downed the rest of my beer and threw my cup to the floor. I didn’t want anything inhibiting me. As Olly Alexander came out on stage, a force of boundless energy and long limbs and blinding smiles, I screamed into the lights, “And I wanna get older / All the things I want I really shouldn’t get…” I used to be shy about taking up space at shows, trying to contort my body as small as possible, make sure my purse wasn’t touching anyone, cautiously moving my hips but not enough to garner any real attention. I was afraid of being seen, mocked. I’m finally learning how to lose myself in the music, how that’s ok if not preferable. The sold-out crowd was immersed in every lyric. Thrashing along to the beat, lunging forward. “And your head looks so good / I wanna love it so much…” All of us understanding that all to familiar urge to drown oneself in someone new, “I wanna do what you love…” Years & Years hauntingly merges upbeat electronic beats with melancholy lyrics, the juxtaposition of uplift and disappointment constantly experiencing friction. The duality live was great. Olly reminds us of the reality of our expectations despite our adoration. The constant refrain throughout the night was our callback response of “ohhh, ohhh, ohhh, ohhhhhhhh.” It was like a dreamlike chant, all of us in the crowd wanting, needing, craving and freely admitting so.

Longing comes up again and again on Communion. Live it was fun to thrash, jump, and sing, “You tell me that you want me now / Is it desire / Or is it love that I’m feeling for you / I want desire…” It’s hard to listen to “Desire” and not think of the modern age of short-lived relationships and Tinder swiping. Is all we want desire? Do we know what love is anymore? Are we willing to find out? Olly was quiet throughout most of the night except from when he interjected, “If you’re here on a date now would be a good time to start hooking up.” The energy in the room palpably changed. Bodies moved a little closer, shook a little bit harder. We are a generation looking for “want.” This was never more apparent than on “Memo” when the crowd rose their voices along with Olly to exclaim, “I want more, I want more / I want more, I want more…”

As everything cracks and splinters on “Take Shelter,” I loved being held up by the audience as Olly sang, “I know I wanted far too much / Never thought I wouldn’t be enough…” I constantly feel like I want too much from people, and therefore I ask for nothing. I am so prepared, so deeply engrained with the belief that I need to be ready at any moment for the brush off. It was nice to seek sanctuary in the lyrics, to dance the loneliness away. “I’m not gonna tell nobody / I’m not gonna tell nobody ’bout you…”

“Gold” was beautiful live, an audience bathed in luminescent gold light singing, “I’m gonna be the one that sets it all alight…” The sense of agency and control. Pop music focuses on the exaltation and exhilaration, the powerful and defiant. Years & Years with “Gold” have written a track that echoes. We see the light, and the darkness within us all is momentarily transformed. I was blinded by strobe lights. I could only feel.

The show quieted down when Years & Years performed “Eyes Shut,” a personal favorite on the album. Olly sat at the piano, iPhone’s craned to get a picture of him poised with his fingers on the keys.

And nothing’s gonna hurt me with my eyes shut
I can see through them
I can see through them…

The audience was hushed. Everyone’s dance moves slowed. Eyes trained on Olly obscured in a halo of pink and blue lights. We stayed silent for “Without.”

You don’t belong to me, you’re too far away
And everything falls apart when I try to say

You’re enough
In love without me
So close your heart
You’ll never find me
Ooh you can hate me now
Cause I’ll be gone
And I’ll be with you or without…

Having relocated to Brooklyn this summer, I feel “Without” strongest. It’s been on my bedtime playlist for months. I objectively miss people, constantly. I just don’t know how to tell them. I understand Olly’s exclamation here that “Everything falls apart when I try to say…” As an English major, I love words. However, poetry taught me that sometimes the power is in the breaks, in the pauses, in the things left unsaid. Everyone I love is “too far away” and I often have to remind myself that they “don’t belong to me” anymore. Time will test the foundation of our relationship, but for now I have to allow us to experience life apart.

The show reaches its culmination with “Real.”

I think I’m into you
How much do you want it too
What are you prepared to do
I think I’m gonna make it worse
I talk to you but it doesn’t work
I touch you but it starts to hurt
What have I been doing wrong
Tell me what it is you want
Don’t know what it is you want…

Years & Years deals with the unknown, the tumultuous. There is very little steady ground. Young, reckless. They’re looking for answers, and sometimes, admittedly, in all the wrong places (people). Standing in a crowd of young twentysomething’s, I felt like we were all admitting we were lost. Tell me what it is you want / Don’t you know what it is you want…

These two girls in front of me turned to each other after Olly bounded off the stage, saying, “He can’t not play ‘King’! He can’t not play ‘King’!” I wanted to pull an Amy Winehouse and tell them there was no way Years & Years would leave the stage without playing their breakout hit. As Olly came back onto the stage to an ovation of hollers and shouts, he smiled, his arms out, and sang, “Let go, let go, let go of everything…” For an evening—as I rose my arms and swung my hips—I actually did.

at least you got the notion that i care: nana grizol at sluggo’s north

The first time I saw Nana Grizol was at Plan-It-X Fest in 2012 in Bloomington, Indiana. After a pretty trying weekend of couch crashing and awkward run-ins at a no-booze-allowed venue, I was so excited for my friends from Chattanooga to arrive in their tour van inevitably packed with coolers of beer. They did eventually, and may god bless Hamm’s and house shows, am I right? The night before, though, I was stone cold sober and bouncing around the company of people I only knew from the internet, most of whom I’d never met before. Even though a lot of my friends were really enthusiastically into Nana Grizol, I had never given them more than a passing listen. In this setting, a warehouse venue packed with sweaty folk punks in all manner of cutoff shorts, the stage was swarmed for their set. Intimidated by the strength of the crowd, I stood in the back of the room, barely making out what was going on onstage. All I could really do was listen. While Theo Hilton sang about positivity and friendship in a way that felt like he was personally chastising me for being a reclusive bummer (even though I know I am well loved, it’s hard to believe all the time) tears streamed down my cheeks that I couldn’t wipe off fast enough to pretend it wasn’t happening. I couldn’t name the songs I heard that night if I tried, or the lyrics, just the way they made me feel. I felt reminded of how much warmth and love I had available to me, and I felt inspired to take advantage of it, if not also mildly scolded. I loved it.

It’s been three years since then, and in that space of time I’ve become pretty familiar with their records. This time they played at my home bar, the one I just need to stumble through my backyard and across the street to get to. Sluggo’s North (sister Sluggo’s to the one in Pensacola) is where I spend the most of my time that is not inside my own house, which was a nice update of venue from “out of town somewhere I’ve never been where I’m not allowed to have a single alcohol.” The crowd was smaller and less intense, dense for the space but packed with people I know and love. I had some seasonal cider in my hands and my friend Angela in my ear going, “oh my god, I LOVE this!” So, ideal.

The matinee show went from starting at 6 to starting around, god, who knows, maybe 9. This was fine, in all honesty, because it gave me the flexibility to be an hour late and still have tons of time to catch up with friends. Nana Grizol is the kind of band that will draw out even the worst shut-ins, myself included, so there were a lot of people to see. By the time they went on, everyone was pleasantly buzzed and gleeful to be in good company, and already sweaty enough not to mind crowding together in front of the tiny stage. Hilton played barefoot between their impressive duo of drummers/trumpet players. The two of them traded off playing drums and brass, sometimes playing simultaneously. The band seemed so comfortable and happy onstage, drummers trading joyful looks while they concentrated on their concurrent beats, tuba player dancing and playing air guitar with his tuba between parts. The downside of being the sort of insistent person who wants to stand directly in front of the stage is that the sound is the worst there, so I couldn’t make out much of what Hilton was singing the same way I did from the back of the room in Indiana. It was a different experience. This time I already knew most of the words because I have the records, but I would have liked to have been able to be reminded live. This is mostly my own fault, drunk and dancing myself sore right in front of a monitor. It’s fine. No tears this time around. Instead of having an emotional breakdown by myself in an unfamiliar room, I was able to commune with people I love in mutual appreciation of music that was fun and meaningful. There were people to grab onto and wail, “I once had a lover, I don’t know if I’ll recover, but I know it was worth it.” And I know that was worth it.

I got a chance to tell Theo Hilton about my experience at PIX ‘12 while buying a tshirt after the Sluggo’s show, and when I went outside afterwards I was glowing from the experience so much that someone called me out. I was standing outside right outside the door, mind elsewhere, and a girl drew me back down to earth by exclaiming, “you look so happy right now!” I flushed, and the bassist of Nana Grizol who happened to be sitting behind her added, “you’re beaming!” I think I said something affirmative in response, but I don’t remember–I do know I covered my red face and blended into the crowd behind them in an attempt to disappear. I’m stuck on that word he used–beaming. Joy is so infectious, and the energy reverberating between the crowd and the band left me elated. When you’re so full of happiness that it feels like you’ve swallowed the sun and it’s escaping through all your pores, that’s how I feel after a really great show, and beaming is the best possible word for it. This was that kind of show. Here’s to many more nights of beaming.

I Don’t Wanna Die In Here: The Mountain Goats in Chicago

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Listen, I bought tickets off Craiglist for this show. This sounds like such a silly way to quantify it but I did, I bought tickets off Craigslist and met a sketchy guy and paid him forty-five American dollars in crumpled bills that smelled like cough-drops, at a bar a block away from the Vic. I just turned eighteen and now I can get into the venue, just barely, still seems like it’s a trick.  It felt like such a frivolous, self-indulgent way to spend a Saturday. Still does, really, when I can get any distance away from the fact that I don’t know what the shape of my life is without this show in it.  It felt like such a self-indulgent way to spend a Saturday and also, essential for my survival, two things which are not actually contradictory instincts. It was funny – the girl I went with, both of us fleeing campus, apologized for not having bought tickets before the show sold out. “I was doing fine a month ago,” she said. “I wasn’t falling apart. I didn’t think I’d need to see the Mountain Goats.” This is coy but it is the truth, I swear: it is possible that if you do not need to be told to survive that you will not start crying in the middle of “Heel Turn 2,” a refrain of I don’t wanna die in here!!! It is possible that if you are not deeply unhappy that it will not do as much for you, this show, this ugly unabashed complicated affirmation of how very much alive you are.

This is the theme, then, overwhelming in its exuberance, too much for me now more than 24 hours ago, sticking in my throat like when you need to get your tonsils taken out: I don’t want to die in here.

The Mountain Goats are touring to promote their new album Beat the Champ, which is both nominally and actually about professional wrestling. Functionally, because I know nothing about professional wrestling and refuse to apologize for it, this is an album about the extravagant, technicolor power of having heroes, an album about what it means to feel protected, an album about violence. “To survive is to leave a legacy of hope,” John Darnielle wrote on his blog one time, and God, what a silly thing to say in a live review of a band, but I can’t help it. I won’t talk about Beat the Champ too much because Aly has already said better things about it than I can but it is a revelation live: at turns devastatingly melancholy (“Southwestern Territory”) or deliciously ravenous (“Foreign Object”) or so much and so brave that my chest feels like its going to crack open, ooze with my insides (“The Legend of Chavo Guerrero”). It is filled with spite and hope and with heroes, larger than life, their knuckles covered in blood.

I am not going to say that watching John Darnielle makes him seem like the subjects of his new album, those larger-than-life wrestlers, but what I will say is this: this is the first time I’ve ever seen the Mountain Goats live, and I am shocked at the measure of devotion which they inspire, which John Darnielle inspires – in me, in the people standing around me, in all of us. I am religiously moved by this 48 year old with a guitar and a strange fashion sense. We sing along (fairly softly, fairly in tune) to the chorus of one of the new songs, adoring, transfixed: Some things you will remember. Some things stay sweet forever. He beams at us. “When you guys did that, that was the sweetest thing!” God, I mean – I didn’t think it was this important to me for John Darnielle to think we’re a good audience, but it is.

He tells a couple stories explaining the wrestling lingo on his album (bemusedly but only semi-apologetically) and makes a few snarky comments at the people yelling out for songs. Mostly he thanks us profusely and often. Every time there is this little cheer-giggle that goes through the crowd, ecstatic. Doesn’t he know that we’re so grateful he’s here? Almost every time he says anything its met by an ecstatic cheer. We want to be a good crowd.

Still. This is not entirely a show about raucous screaming, about happiness.

They play “Get Lonely” barely above a whisper, a song that goes

And I will go downtown
Stand in the shadows of the buildings
And button up my coat
Trying to stay strong, spirit willing

And I will come back home
Maybe call some friends
Maybe paint some pictures
It all depends

Chicago is cold and awful in the winter, I was cold and awful in the winter. Sometimes I still imagine the rot spiraling out from my ribcage, killing everything, Nothing ever grows. John Darnielle talks about “Get Lonely” and tells us all that those shadows are the shadows of Chicago downtown, says something about how finding yourself in the darkness underneath them sometimes takes away that last little degree of light that apparently was keeping you together. The crowd cheers, I cheer, we all scream at how purely true this is, what a gift we’ve been given. Sometimes I go downtown trying to escape from the sadness that coats the back of my throat when I’m on my college campus and it works but also, it doesn’t really work. I am a very small girl, skin and bones assembled out of paper-mache and Elmer’s glue, probably. “Get Lonely” is all I am when I am the worst of myself: “I will get lonely,” a very small voice, not loud enough to even break. I want you to know that during this song I started to cry very loudly and I couldn’t stop, was petrified someone was going to ask me I was alright. I will get lonely and gasp for air, and look up at high windows and see your face there. I know exactly whose face I was thinking of – that is the strange thing about the Mountain Goats, this ability to make it seem like liminal personal truth and universal truth are the same thing.

I am trying to explain what happened and I am falling very short. Other people have talked about this, this inexplicable honesty, something magic and alchemical constructed out of strange lyrics and quiet music and an instrumental bit of interior self-loathing on the listener’s part. Stir, add a room full of people and sweat dripping down my back and a need, a need to be told I am allowed to be a person sometimes. To say that’s all it takes would be an insult, to the musicianship at work here, to the work put into this album – it’s a very good album. I’m not, though, in the kind of place where I can pretend that I wasn’t shaking to pieces during this show, that I was paying objective attention, that I was thinking of things that this piece was going to talk about.

The band leaves and it’s just John Darnielle on the stage with a keyboard and a piano and everything is very very still. JD starts a song, pauses, says he doesn’t play it live much. Tells us he wants us to put our phone cameras away, because it’s kinda intimate, y’know? I love him, I love the Mountain Goats. I feel suddenly like I will tear out the throat of anyone who is rude and horrible at this show. He has very kind eyes and I have an immense amount of faith in him, would probably ride behind him into a strange kind of holy war, if he were the kind of man who wanted to fight a holy war with anybody. This is not a thing he seems to want to elicit and I’m not proud of it, not proud of the way that I can’t entirely untangle my fierce fibrous love for the music and for the person who writes it. I think some of that is implicit in trusting the Mountain Goats. You have to trust them and you have to trust John Darnielle. I don’t think anybody took video of that song and I hope nobody took video of that song, only half out of selfishness. I mean, he asked us not to.

If this solo portion at the center of the set is its quiet heart, the rest of the show goes about dismantling me from the inside out. All I do is scream along. I’m a compulsive overthinker; everything gets processed, everything is aesthetic. Sometimes I go to shows and I can’t stop thinking about whether or not I am dancing correctly long enough to dance at all, and then “Up the Wolves” happens and I am thinking about nothing but the spite inside of me, how I would like to spit it out at the whole world.

I’m going to get myself in fighting trim
Scope out every angle of unfair advantage
I’m going to bribe the officials, I’m going to kill all the judges
IT’S GOING TO TAKE YOU PEOPLE YEARS TO RECOVER FROM ALL OF THE DAMAGE

This is not a wholly sad show but it is all emotion, all catharsis, like coughing up blood in public, like freeing up the inside of your guts. “Foreign Object,” from the new Beat the Champ album, is an indescribable delight live – all brass and drums and a thousand people raucously screeching out “I PERSONALLY WILL STAB YOU IN THE EYE WITH A FOREIGN OBJECT”.  You’re allowed to be mean, you are. It feels totally fair. You are allowed to want to hurt the people who hurt you (From the song a lot of people were hoping to hear that he didn’t sing in Chicago: I hope the people who did you wrong have trouble sleeping at night). “Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1” forgives you for so many thing instantaneously:

Play with matches if you think you need to play with matches
Seek out the hidden places where the fire burns hot and bright
Find where the heat’s unbearable and stay there if you have to
Don’t hurt anybody on your way up to the light
And stay alive

God, what kind of permission that is, what a thing. Stay there if you have to. Don’t hurt anybody but stay there if you have to. Do whatever it is you need to do. There is something very self-indulgently cathartic about a Mountain Goats show. Song after song and you start to think (inevitably, if you’re like me) that your life cannot possibly be this important. You cannot possibly be told that you are alive, that you are supposed to stay alive, so many times in one night. I don’t deserve it. I am not supposed to have this.  I would say that I’ve never felt as powerful as when I was snarling out it’s gonna take you people years to recover from all of the damage with a thousand other people but that would be lying, would be wiping away a thousand other things this show gave to me, so many other songs: speed up to the precipice / then slam on the brakes (“Cry For Judas”, raucous, joyful); the dull pain that you live with isn’t getting any duller (“The Young Thousands”, matter-of-fact); I don’t wanna die in here (“Heel Turn 2”, ecstatic.) It should feel trite but instead it doesn’t, just feels instinctive. What a thing, right, to make wanting to live instinctive. There is this howling thing inside of my chest that wants to be happy and even then it only sometimes wants to live. But if you say something over and over long enough it is instinctive, sinks down into your bones like it got carved there, a talisman. I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me. Stay alive. Land mines on the battlefield, find one safe way and stay alive. I don’t wanna die in here. That, then, the key line of two separate songs: I don’t wanna die in here. I feel like I’m crawling out of some damp cocoon of foggy loneliness and it’s awful and it hurts and it would be so much easier to go back to sleeping but probably I would eventually suffocate.

They played all the famous stuff and I wanted that, I’ll admit it. I’m such a baby fan (barely allowed into the venue), I wanted to hear “No Children,” I wanted to hear “This Year,” I wanted to hear  “Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton.”

I was right to want those things, and I think I did want them for the right reasons; a thousand people singing “I HOPE YOU DIE, I HOPE WE BOTH DIE,” a thousand people singing “I AM GONNA MAKE IT THROUGH THIS YEAR IF IT KILLS ME,” a thousand people singing “HAIL SATAN.” JD kinda laughed about it, said there were two songs everyone wanted to hear when they came to these shows and he was going to play both of them, because we deserved it. This is the best way I know how to explain: every single second of this show felt like a gift, an earned gift, a gift given to me because I deserve it. I don’t think I deserve to be told over and over again to claw my way past the sludge filling up my insides towards some sort of light but I guess I do, apparently I do. He kept saying ‘thank you’ and I still haven’t figured out how to parse it, how to synthesize my immense gratefulness with being thanked. I want to see them again. I want to see them every weekend for a million years, probably, in exactly this way: barely get into the venue, sneak a beer, cry my eyes out. This seems, now, like the way of things.

They played all the famous stuff but what I remember best, I think, is still one of those new songs: “Animal Mask”. I am humming it now still but what’s darting around in my head is the muscle memory of singing along to it very softly, the way it felt like I was capable of anything, worth everything, glowing.

Some things you will remember. Some things stay sweet forever.

Setlist:

Stabbed to Death Outside San Juan
Cry for Judas
Animal Mask
Foreign Object
Get Lonely
The Young Thousands
Heel Turn 2
Minnesota
Song for My Stepfather (unreleased)
Heel Turn 1 (unreleased)
Never Quite Free
Southwest Territory
Luna
Slow West Vultures
Up the Wolves
Game Shows Touch Our Lives
Amy AKA Spent Gladiator 1
Encore
The Legend of Chavo Guerrero
The Best Ever Death Metal Band in Denton
Encore 2
This Year
No Children
Spent Gladiator 2

blinding white light: seeing perfect pussy

The night I went to see Perfect Pussy I went alone, leaving straight from work for the venue in ragged clothes that doubled as maybe-cool but also fine to get dog slobber on. I like going to shows alone because it allows me to be selfish about the experience that I have–who I talk to, how much I drink, where I stand, when I leave becomes all dictated by my own desire and not negotiated with a friend or date. Sometimes when I really love a band, I find myself drawn to the stage as if by magnetic force, pulling me in to stand nose-to-amp, eyes raised (only slightly, since the dive bars I frequent are home to stages maybe one foot off the floor) to take in what feels like a holy experience just feet away from the performers, ears racking up damage by the second. Nothing is more of a drain on that full-hearted rush than the hulking presence of a boyfriend in the back of the room, arms crossed and uncomfortable without your presence to anchor them in that space. That’s not to say I don’t love to share; while the band played, I found myself looking sidelong to see the joy on my friends’ faces. I like to clasp onto arms, scream-whisper eagerly about how much I fucking love this! That communal pleasure vibrating through a crowd carried on sound waves is a kind of energy field I feel like I can only tap into individually. You can’t do a swan dive holding someone’s hand.

The one grainy phone photo I managed to snag.
The one grainy phone photo I managed to snag.

I sat on the back porch most of the night to avoid encounters with exes and the thick fog of cigarette smoke pressing on my asthmatic lungs. JJ’s is a relic from an age past; a loophole in state law allows patrons to smoke inside, and having watched people ash on the floor for as long as I’ve been going there and never having seen a mop appear–not even when people break bottles–I feel like the floors are, at this point, lacquered in congealed cigarette ash. Don’t get me wrong, though, I find that endearing. I drank a few beers and relished my freedom by bouncing from one cluster of friends to another, bound to no one in particular, following the natural course of conversations waxing and waning and people coming and going. I don’t remember when people started flooding inside for the headlining band, but I do remember reaching the front of the room and immediately shouldering my way to directly in front of the stage. I said “sorry” insincerely over my shoulder to a friend I had pushed by to stand in front of, and he said something like, “you do you, girl,” understanding my need to be as close as possible. I think people are used to that.

I went into this show bubbling over with optimism; I’ve never seen a friend describe one of Perfect Pussy’s shows with anything less than overt enthusiasm. I’ve listened to their album “Say Yes To Love” a lot. Their driving, relentless sound reminds me of all the 90s female-fronted hardcore comps my uncle has gifted me over the years, bleeding power and energy, and I was immediately hooked. There’s only so much salivating over old Ebullition releases a girl too young to have participated in that era of punk herself can do before wondering whether people are making music like that in a post-2003 world, and Perfect Pussy is. Not to say they’re some Spitboy carbon copy, but their sound is in that realm of hardcore that is feminist but post-Riot Grrrl, or in the case of a band like Spitboy, casually brushed shoulders with Riot Grrrl in the women’s restroom but hung with a different crowd. There’s an overlap, sure, but this genre is a different animal entirely, something tougher, scarier, with a heavier step, that pushes boundaries in both sound and gender. I think with a lot of bands like this you see their influences really heavily contributed to RG and the throwaway Bikini Kill comparison just because it’s punk and there’s a girl singing, like Punch or White Lung or whoever, when you can more directly trace their sound back to that nebulous period of feminist punk and hardcore that populated the late 90s and early aughts. Unfortunately the surviving Angelfire archives don’t do thorough justice to the time period and I don’t know as much as I wish I did. I will say, though, that Perfect Pussy revives that same energy and sound in an incredible way. The experimental/noise component to their music is what I would consider a 2015 version of Submission Hold’s free form jazz-flute breakdowns. Maybe I’m reaching for that one, or maybe it’s just that I prefer a table full of noise gear distorting sound to a wild flute solo.

The set itself was considerably more intense than listening to the album. You couldn’t understand any words their vocalist, Meredith Graves, was singing, but it didn’t matter because her stage presence put the room under a spell as if the way she moved and the dictionless, violent hum of her voice pitching up and down could tell us all we needed to know about the content of the song. Sometimes pained, sometimes exaltant, she rocked forward or shouted to the ceiling at intervals, singing as if it were extremely difficult to pry the words from her throat and performing for us was strenuous labor for her. This implied use of force to expel her vocals washed energy over the crowd, and I think I mostly stood there trance-like, maybe nodding or bouncing. I was awed, absorbing this huge wall of sound narrated wordlessly by the expressive, powerful Graves.

The music I can only think to describe as “loud,” primarily because I don’t know what I’m talking about, but also because that’s a compliment. It was more formulaic of a noise show than a punk show, the set seamlessly transitioning in such a way that you could rarely tell when or if they were switching from one song to the next, like a very well contained, intentional mess. The sound was insistent and raucous, as if pushing me forcefully down a rabbit hole until I reached the bottom and all that was left was feedback loops, shutting off one by one until eventually–silence. Their keyboardist had a setup splayed across a table reminiscent of what I’ve seen at many noise shows, an intimidating number of pedals and switchboards, none of which I can identify, resulting in a jumble of wires that made me feel, if anything, concerned about how he kept it all straight. I like that about noise, that there’s someone standing in front of a bunch of knobs and pedals pressing them with great intention, but how they generate the sounds are still a mystery to me. Given that, I think maybe knowing what I’m talking about would spoil it for me, like learning a magician’s tricks, and I’m better off as an ignorant spectator nodding along to deafening screeching because I like what’s happening and I don’t need to know why.

After their set I promptly got in the merch line to pick up a tape and a shirt, and once I had my prizes cradled in my arms and began to shuffle away through the crowd, I saw Meredith Graves standing in the shadows between the merch table and the stage. I leaned in and stumbled over some words, something like “y’all were great!” or “I’m a huge fan!” or both; the details are obscured because I experienced the phenomenon wherein you meet someone who is very important to you and your brain retains the emotional impression but not the actual details, which are replaced instead with blinding white light, like an encounter with an angel. It’s fine. I know I also told her I admire her writing and write for a music blog that features only non-male writers, something I’d thought she’d appreciate given tweets such as these.

What happened that is extremely important to me is that I apologized to her for the local end of the booking of the show. The bands that played with Perfect Pussy were unmatched in both style of music and in that there was not a single woman in either band. This isn’t a critique I would level at every situation of there being only one band with girls in it on a show, because if it were I would never be able to stop complaining. But when booking a headliner that is an overtly feminist and relatively famous touring band featuring multiple female members, it is at the very least polite to extend an invitation to play to a local band with women in it. There are a plethora of bands in Chattanooga whose sound approximates punk, hardcore, and noise in some way and in which incredibly talented women are writing and playing music. None were chosen for this show. It was weird. My investment in the booking is not just nitpicking–I want Chattanooga to be able to represent itself with its full potential as a destination to touring bands. If I were in a feminist hardcore band and played in a town where I was booked with only men playing totally different genres of music, I would have serious reservations about whether this was a city that was right for my hypothetical band, and if I wanted to go back or route my next tour elsewhere. There are endless tiny cities like ours in the South they could have chosen that they skipped this tour–Athens or Greenville to name a couple–and I want bands to want to play here. That means putting the right locals forward when it counts.

I told Graves a summary of this, that I thought the locals were poorly booked and that in spite of what she saw that night there are many women making great music in Chattanooga, and that I hoped they would come back around and be able to see one of them next time. She took my apology with no surprise and an amount of embarrassment, citing that they’d experienced the same issue in a lot of towns. She put the blame on herself, explaining that she’d been incredibly busy lately (no doubt working on her new record label, Honor Press) and didn’t have a hand in booking this go-round of tour. Next tour, she said, she’d be making an intentional effort to be playing with a more diverse group of bands. I certainly don’t blame her because it’s not up to a touring band to choose their supporting locals, but I do hope next tour she puts some pressure on for towns to put forward bands to match theirs, selfishly because those are the bands I prefer to see and less selfishly because structurally prioritizing the inclusion of women in music is important.

After that carefully measured conversation I rushed over to a friend–I don’t remember who, blinding white light, blinding white light–and clasped her hands excitedly, “I met Meredith Graves! We talked!” The typical hysteria overtook me, fortunately out of sight of the band. I felt giddy and I wanted another beer. I was curled up in an armchair in the back of the room when a friend (one I made by way of her being my ex’s most recent ex, a very interesting way to align female energy in friendship) offered me a ride home so I didn’t have to walk over the river in the dark, drunk and holding my keys the way girls are supposed to do at night. Because at the end of the night, no matter how great it is to witness women being powerful onstage, it is a stage, and when the performance is over you go back to the disappointing reality of male-dominated space and the fear of walking home alone. Just with an extra sparkle of hope in the passenger’s seat of another really cool girl who has your back.