concerts: frank turner @ greene street club

frank turner @ greene street club

If you’ve followed me even a little on social media at any point over the last, oh, say, five years, you know that I’ve been waiting to see Frank Turner for, oh, say, the last five years. In 2009, I discovered Frank’s music and, since then, repeatedly, his music has been a balm and a saviour and exactly what I needed over and over and over again. The first three tracks on Love Ire & Song (I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous, Reasons Not To Be An Idiot, Photosynthesis) have quite literally saved my life multiple times. But Frank, God love him, hadn’t before yesterday played anywhere close enough to me to make it feasible to go.

frank turner @ greene street club

So when I saw that Frank, who’s sold out Wembley, was playing a show at Greene Street in Greensboro, a venue with a capacity of about 500, the week before my birthday — well, when Trav said, what do you want for your birthday, I said, I want to see Frank at Greene Street, and he made it happen. (I also said, Music from Big Pink on vinyl, please.)

This show wasn’t even sold out, you guys. I’ve watched the footage of Frank and the Sleeping Souls at Wembley dozens of times, and last night, I saw them play to an amped up room of North Carolinians and there probably weren’t more than 200 people there. It was an amazing birthday present — both from Trav, whose patience with my enthusiasm (and with the fact that me and my sinus infection conked out in the car on the way home) knows no bounds, and from Frank and the band, who went hard for two hours and gave me more than I’d ever let myself hope for in one of his shows. Like the 97s set at Marfa last fall, I don’t know — I’m kind of ruined for all other Frank Turner sets now.

frank turner @ greene street club

During Billy the Kid’s lovely opening set — I’m deeply enamoured with her music right now — I felt somebody get all up in my personal space behind me, and I turned around to snap at whoever it was, except that it was Frank. So instead, I took a deep breath, told him that I was there as a birthday gift, and asked if he’d play “Tattoos” for me — we’d be sure to get the same tattoos. He said he’d see what he could do — and as you can see from the setlist below, he swapped out “The Real Damage” and played it for me. I have some shaky video of it, but I haven’t figured out how to get it off my phone yet, because I am an idiot.

Birthday: made. Frank Turner: awesome. Trav, who made it happen for me: even more awesome. Tarrant Anderson: still my favorite bassist in the world.

frank turner @ greene street club

Setlist: Four Simple Words / The Road / Glory Hallelujah / Reasons Not To Be An Idiot / Get Better / If Ever I Stray / Out of Breath / The Way I Tend To Be / Tattoos / Balthazar / Wessex Boy / Photosynthesis / Silent Key / Plain Sailing Weather / Peggy Sang The Blues / Try This At Home / The Next Storm / Recovery / Long Live The Queen // Encore: Ballad Of Me And My Friends / I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous / I Still Believe

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concerts: cursive, beach slang, megafauna @ cat’s cradle

cursive @ cat's cradle

Trav is already shaking my life up, in that, on Thursday night at the Cradle, I didn’t just think, This is boring and I hate it of Cursive’s set. I paused, and I listened, and I identified what they were doing with the guitars, and then I thought, this is not boring but it is also definitely not my thing. We think about music the same way a lot of the time, but he also knows way more about the technicalities and theory of it, so he’s been asking me lately to define what I call “pointless guitar wanking”. What Cursive does is not “pointless guitar wanking”; I could feel the point of it, the resonance of the dissonant sounds together, all the way through. But this live set just reinforced something I’ve known for a while: Cursive are very talented, they are great at what they do, and it is not at all music I will seek out.

beach slang @ cat's cradle

So it’s lucky that I was at the Cradle to see the second open, Philadelphia’s punk-y Beach Slang, primarily. A funky four piece who would have fit perfectly on a mainstage at the heyday of Warped (and I mean that in a good way; there’s a tiny bit of Blink-182 vocals in their sound that made me deeply nostalgic and deeply happy), they were an absolute powerhouse of energy, sharp songwriting, and excellent chemistry amongst the band. They barrelled through a 40 minute set like a charming trainwreck, nailing a cover of the ‘Mats’ “Can’t Hardly Wait” and making me feel really, really good about the first full length release they’re going to put out. (Right now they’ve got two excellent 7″ records to their name.) It’s punk rock made by people who really, really love pop music — lead singer James Snyder was hanging out by the merch table after their set wearing a Big Star sweatshirt and you can hear that influence in their songwriting — and I’m really, really smitten.

megafauna @ cat's cradle

Almost-hardcore-kind-of-metal Austin trio Megafauna was the first open, and I dug the hell out of their energy and the way the guitar and bass play against each other in just about every song. I’m still trying to figure out if I enjoyed their music, but I definitely enjoyed the shit out of watching and photographing them.

Full set here.

festivals: trans-pecos festival of music + love

texas hill country

Marfa, quit acting like suckering New Yorkers into buying high desert real estate isn’t just outlandish fraud. You’re flat and empty, wow. Kansas must be the new Guggenheim. You’re out, go be New Mexico for a while until you show me something. — Spencer Hall, “Charlie Strong Has Kicked You Off The Team”

I flew to Texas, and then Allison and I drove 900 miles, round trip, to Marfa, TX, a town of 2100 people in West Texas, for a music festival because — well, why not?

marfa, texas

I’d never been to Texas before. I’d certainly never been to West Texas before, a stark and gorgeous place that absolutely blew me away. I spent a lot of time saying “And do you know anything about windmills?” (West Texas is covered in enormous windmill fields, which are, in fact, stark and gorgeous. I am obsessed with figuring out how they work in providing energy.) We saw a cow running, flat out running, after a herd of other cows who were ambling while driving past vineyards in the Hill Country. I took pictures of a lot of rural decay, which was both sad and lovely. On Saturday night at El Cosmico, Allie and I were waiting around while I texted back and forth trying to set up an interview, and Meshell Ndegeocello ran out from backstage, also flat out, carrying her bass. Annie Clark of St Vincent sang the National Anthem, a cappella, before a sandlot baseball game that involved a lot of effort, little talent, and a rooster mascot named Quicksilver, with whom you could take a selfie for a buck, in the press box — proceeds donated to Marfa NPR.

baseball: austin playboys vs marfa's los gallos

baseball: austin playboys vs marfa's los gallos

For fifty bucks, your dog could eat Quicksilver. Marfa NPR made eleven dollars off that. They made $850 off Austin restaurant Frank selling hot dogs, though.

(One of the pitchers for Marfa’s Los Gallos was wearing an Orioles cap, which prompted the two guys calling the game from the press box to say … thus proving it’s not just people from Austin who move here to drop out of society. I laughed. I didn’t talk to the only other Orioles fan in Marfa, though. I should have. Maybe next year.)

marfa, texas

Marfa is tiny, but one thing it has is Liz Lambert, who owns El Cosmico, a ranch just outside downtown that’s normally populated by a dozen restored trailers and some teepees and some scout tents (plus the Thunderbird Hotel in Marfa, and two boutique hotels in Austin; she has an empire!). The weekend of the Trans-Pecos Fest of Music and Love, though, it’s also populated by about a hundred tents pitched by attendees, and three dozen scout tents pitched for people — like me and Allie — who don’t camp, but are willing to sleep on the ground in the cold for the privilege of seeing a whole bunch of bands who could play much bigger stages play a very small, very intimate stage.

trans-pecos festival

(Another thing it has is a guy at Marfa NPR who came busting out the front door when we were walking past on Friday — I was wearing my CARLETON HOCKEY hoodie — to say to me, “Are you Canadian?” When I made a baffled noise at him, he said, “Carleton, Ottawa, yes?” I was so disappointed to disappoint this man, in a tiny West Texas town, who thought I was a fellow Canadian. No, Carleton College, in Minnesota, I told him. “Ah well,” he said, and ducked back into the station.)

trans-pecos festival: tift merritt

I saw Tift Merritt and the Heartless Bastards. Tift’s pedal steel player is still adorable and the Bastards are doing new stuff, with Erika on keyboards again, for the first time in years. I saw John Doe do “The Golden State” and then cover “A Case Of You” with the introduction, “This is the greatest love song ever written.” The Old 97’s played a two hour set that surpassed anything I’d ever seen them play, so joyous and unique and special that I’ve been ruined for any other 97’s set ever. Ben Kweller and his wife and kids hung around all weekend, watching bad baseball and taking silly photos. Girl In A Coma worked a crowd full of bros into a lather with a sexy, creepy cover of Sam The Sham’s “Little Red Riding Hood”. And Rhett Miller just sort of stood around, being Rhett Miller, for most of the pre-97s set evening on Friday, and every woman there, as my friend Andrea aptly said, was sitting around tryna pretend they weren’t staring at him. We were all staring at him, though. He’s just so pretty.

trans-pecos festival: the old 97s

(He can also write the fuck out of a song. Holy motherfucking shit the new records sounds amazing live. Look for a review, finally, next week. Also: they’re putting out a deluxe re-release of Hitchhike to Rhome later this year, for the 20th anniversary. I will be buying that, thank you very much. Awww, Hitchhike and Bloodshot are the same age! I just realized that.)

trans-pecos festival: tift merritt

All of the bands who played seemed so happy to be there; this was the 8th year, and I think Tift has played it every single year, or at least 6 or 7 of them. John Doe, a man who helped shape punk, was the middle act on Friday’s bill, and then Rhett got up with the 97s and genuinely enthused that he couldn’t believe they had to follow Ben Kweller; later they got John to come out and he played guitar on a couple of songs and sang a duet with Rhett, who looked like he couldn’t believe his luck in sharing a stage with John Doe. Rhett Miller, serial ladykiller: Trans-Pecos left him feeling just as star-struck and delighted as the rest of us.

We ate well: pizza made by Boston refugees who have a Red Sox related password on the restaurant wifi network at Pizza Foundation; great barbeque and amazing fried chicken from food truck Fat Lyle’s. We visited Prada Marfa, which is in fact a thing that exists, and it was weird and beautiful and funny. Allie and I stopped to visit a couple of small town libraries. I took 1200 photos and interviewed Nina and Phannie Diaz from Girl in a Coma for Brothers In Arms. I slept badly and I didn’t shower for three days.

marfa, texas

This festival exists because Liz Lambert wanted to have it. It is so very very much a labor of love, something that was created so that bands she liked and people she liked could come to a place she loves, and I fell for it. I fell for it hard, and I regret nothing about it: Marfa was gorgeous, the festival was fantastic, the music was out of this world. The company was fabulous — Allison is an excellent road trip partner, who patiently drove all fourteen hours because I don’t have a license right now. I DJ’ed and paid for gas. We laughed a whole fucking lot, which is all I really need in a road trip partner: laughter, and a willingness to hare off to explore weird things, which she totally does, and is.

I knew I would love Texas because Allie loves it, and I will never love anywhere like I love the Thrill and the Triangle, but — sometimes you have a weekend, or an experience, and all of it is magical, even the parts that don’t go as planned. This was one of those weekends: magic. A confluence of almost all the things I love best, all in one place, even if that place is the most unlikely high desert of West Texas.

Full set of photos is here; if you don’t want to browse the Flickr set, the music highlights are on Speakers.

lydia loveless @ motorco music hall

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Lydia Loveless lead off her raucous almost two hour set on Tuesday night with “Head” from this year’s spectacular Somewhere Else, and honestly, it takes a certain kind of fabulously awesome person to open a weekday show with a smaller crowd with a raunchy but somehow sweet song about, well. Oral sex. It’s one of my favorites on the record, though, and I was glad to hear Lydia and her frighteningly talented band play heavily from this year’s release and last year’s Boy Crazy EP (“All I Know” might be my favorite song she’s written, and the set closer “Boy Crazy” was a deliciously devolution into madness), though it does make me sad that I didn’t see her as often as I could have when she was touring for Indestructible Machine, as well, because I love those songs, too. The band played a fire-up hour-long main set, including a gorgeous version of the stop-and-start quiet-and-loud “Verlaine Shot Rimbaud” (which is my favorite song on the record) and excellent set-closer “Mile High”. Lydia did a couple songs solo acoustic, and then brought the band back for a few more — aforementioned “Boy Crazy”, and of course “Steve Earle”, which Lydia must be tired of by now but which will always still make me giggle like a lunatic.

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Lydia’s awful talented and she’s never had less than a fabulous level of charm and sass on stage, whenever I’ve seen her; I got to go to this show last minute, and despite the fact that I was running on three hours sleep Wednesday morning, it was well fucking worth it.

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I’ve seen Caleb Caudle play three shows in three weeks now, so look: if you trust my music recommendations, just go get Paint Another Layer On My Heart right now and save yourself from missing out further. This show was a much better mix, sonically, which really let you hear the great dobro player he’s been bringing along lately, and “Tuscaloosa”, a new and as yet unreleased song, is one I might actually love more than anything on the new album, and I love the new album an awful lot, if you couldn’t tell. Caleb is awesome, and you need to know it.

concerts: caleb caudle @ the cave

caleb caudle @ the cave

caleb caudle @ the cave

caleb caudle @ the cave

Caleb Caudle’s Paint Another Layer On My Heart is one of my very, very favorite records of 2014 — the songwriting is so delicate and heartbreaking, and it feels terrifically like a long distance love affair album, which I appreciate. He played an excellent hour long set at the Cave on Friday night, including my favorite tracks “Miss You Like Crazy” and “Trade All The Lights”, for which there’s a gorgeous video that you can watch below. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Caleb twice this month, and I get to add a third tomorrow when he opens for Lydia Loveless at Motorco. You should go to that show, it’s gonna be great great great. I’ll probably cry.

concerts: shannon o’connor @ cat’s cradle

shannon d o'connor @ cat's cradle backroom

shannon d o'connor @ cat's cradle backroom

I met Shannon O’Connor when she was stomping on PBR cans in the Cradle parking lot during Merge 25, so I knew I was going to like her from the start, because, come on, why not? We then discussed my camera and her CD release show, so I knew I was going to like her even more because I love someone who self-promotes the hell out of themselves, and also someone who lets me talk about my work.

But let’s start with my favorite track off Shannon’s record: “Wedenesday’s Child”. This is funny because the night before this show, on a Wednesday, Trav and I were contemplating the old rhyme this comes from. I was born on a Tuesday, full of grace, which I am not in any way. We went through the birthdays of our closest friends, estimating whose day of birth reflected them and whose didn’t. Kismet, serendipity. I didn’t know Shannon would sing this song the next night, but she did, and I laughed, and then I cried a little because it’s not really a great show if I don’t cry a little. Shannon’s record is really excellent — I can’t wait to write about her lyrics — and the band she’s got backing her right now, mostly made up of fellow teachers like her, is stellar. I had never seen her pedal steel player before tonight (and you guys know how I feel about pedal steel) and he was outstanding, and of course cellist Josh Starmer is always stellar, and add a great

melissa swingle @ cat's cradle backroom

melissa swingle @ cat's cradle backroom

I’ve been cozying up to the bar at the 506 as long as Melissa Swingle has been tending it, and while I’ve also made good time with the Moaners records, until last night I’d never seen her play solo, live, and she about blew my tiny little brain. Melissa’s songwriting, her guitar playing, the huge amount of sound she made on stage with just her and an instrument — absolutely staggering. I’m pretty sure that I didn’t stand around with my mouth hanging open while she was playing, but I can’t be sure, and that’s definitely how I felt during her set. And, come on, you guys: I mean, you all know I love Melissa anyway, but a song about zombies where she looped her guitar so she could lay an incredibly haunting saw line over it? Done. The end. My favorite forever.

Full set is here.

concerts: rock*a*teens & the love language @ cat’s cradle back room

rock*a*teens @ cat's cradle backroom

rock*a*teens @ cat's cradle backroom

rock*a*teens @ cat's cradle backroom

the love language @ cat's cradle backroom

the love language @ cat's cradle backroom

What a lovely night of Merge Records indie pop rock last Wednesday — despite starting at 10:30pm (much too late for this old person), the Love Language’s set was shimmery delicious danceable goodness, and Rock*A*Teens made me doubly sad that I missed their set at Merge 25, because they were equally great. Give me hooky choruses and great guitar rock any day, please. I approve this message etc.

Full photo set on Flickr.