Communication: A Gig Reflection

I’m going to tell you about a gig I just did. I’m going to refer to the organizer and the venue by pseudonym because my point here is not to shame anyone or try and ruin anyone’s reputation, but a) to illustrate how important communication is in putting on a show and b) to frankly just process this and get it off my chest. I still find myself shaking my head in disbelief at how…weird the whole thing was.

I met this dude on Twitter who was something of a promoter and all-around indie music supporter. He was really great about retweeting links to my music. Whenever someone asked for new music to check out, he would reply with a list of local, unknown musicians like myself. He was probably the most engaged with my music of anyone else I messed with on Twitter. That’s why when he DM’d me in February asking if I wanted to take part in an anti-bullying benefit show at The Middle East, I was all over it. It was a joint effort with Filthybroke Recordings, who’d put out an anti-bullying compilation.

The first hiccup happened about a month after the initial announcement of the show. The Booker contacted me via DM again to let me know that the date and venue had changed. I wasn’t too thrown by that, since the new date wasn’t until July (and it was March at the time). My bandmates confirmed that they could do the new date, and we were on again.

For months nothing much else happened in regards to this event. Then it was 1 week until the show and I decided to start promoting. (I typically wait until at least 1-2 weeks before a show to promote because it’s my personal belief that any earlier and people will get promotion-fatigue, and are more likely to forget.) I went to The Booker’s Facebook page to get the details about the show for my own promo, and was surprised to find that all the anti-bullying language had been removed, and it now said that it was a benefit for The Venue.

It’s A Benefit, Don’t Worry About It

I was not excited to find out that the whole purpose of this show had changed. A change like this warrants reaching out to the bands and letting us know about it. We should have had an opportunity to decide whether or not we wanted to still participate. The Venue is a not-for-profit performance and art space that is apparently in dire need of money, but bands should have been given a say in whether or not they wanted to freely give their time and money for it. I considered pulling out but with 1 week to go I figured it’d be a shitty move so I stayed on the bill.

The Devil’s in the Details

When I book a show with WEMF I know that as soon as the lineup is confirmed I will get an email. The email will have the lineup, set times, set lengths, load-in time, and details about compensation. There was no such communication from The Booker about this show. Lacking that info I finally reached out to The Booker to get this info. He told me there were no set times, but that one band had requested to play at 9pm. A lineup of 6 (it started off as 10) bands, and no lineup? Never have I played a show with multiple bands that did not have the lineup figured out. I just asked to go on at 9:30 since the set length was 30 minutes.

These 2 things started to make me feel a little nervous about the show. I figured what the hell though. Do it anyway, keep an open mind, it’ll be interesting at least. I was a little miffed about the beneficiary being changed without notice, but I was willing to put that aside. Honestly, it’s not like we draw a huge audience and were missing out on hundreds of dollars. It was just the principle. Again, I wasn’t about to pull out 1 week before the show though. That’s just rude.

6pm Saturday night, me and the guys are loading in our stuff as instructed. The Booker isn’t there yet, but one of the other performers (someone else I knew via Twitter; we’ll call him Act 1) was there. Here’s where things get a little messy. My drummer had been mulling all of this over and getting increasingly annoyed by it. I think there are 2 parts to it: 1 is that he had offered to waive his normal performance fee for me because he thought it was a benefit for something that he cared about, and now it wasn’t, and 2) he really objected to how the whole thing was handled.

Side note:

A few weeks back my company held a big meeting of all the engineers and one of the break-out sessions was about communication, specifically about identifying your style of communication and using that knowledge to more effectively communicate with others. The communication styles were categorized into colors, and mine was blue. One of the traits of “blues” is that we “Avoid issues that might end up in conflict or debate” and are very concerned about how others perceive us.

In the context of this show it meant that I wasn’t willing to make a stink about things because I didn’t want to come across as a bitch, or worse (because I’m Black) have people write me off as An Angry Black Woman. My drummer, however, wanted some answers and asked my permission to get them. I don’t know if I did the right thing here or not. I gave him the go-ahead, because I felt he had the right to inquire about it because it affected his money, and I could tell it was eating at him. I’d offered to pay him after all but he felt like he’d already told me he wouldn’t charge me so he didn’t want to go back on that.

Back to the Devil…

He proceeded to ask Act 1 about the situation. It turned out that Act 1 knew quite a bit about it because he’d been involved to some extent in organizing it. Long story short, there was a personal falling out of some kind between The Label, The Booker, and some 3rd party Promoter. The Booker decided to put on his own show, but felt he couldn’t keep it as an anti-bullying benefit. At that point my drummer is asking questions like, “Why didn’t you guys let people know that?”, “Why didn’t you just change it to a regular show that charges people money?”, “Why didn’t you pick a different charity to donate to?”

He asked the same questions when he finally met The Booker. The answers were about the same with a little more detail, and just getting my drummer more pissed. He told The Booker that he was being disingenuous in not being forthcoming about the changes. He was also upset on behalf of the other performers, especially this band from Nashville that was on tour. They asked for donations for gas, and he ultimately convinced The Venue to give them some money at least.

The feedback that I shared with The Booker was that I thought the communication was poorly handled. He seemed genuinely remorseful about it, like things hadn’t gone the way he’d planned. At the end of talking with him I essentially said, “You know what? It happened, we’re here, it’s about the music, so let’s play and have a good time.” I was ready to move on from it.

 

It’s a Free-For-All

9pm came and instead of the band we’d been expecting to go on, someone else performed. This made me suspicious, so I found The Booker and said, “We’re still good for 9:30, right?” Glad I checked. He’d told Band A that they could go on next. Luckily, Band A was cool and said sure, you can go on at 9:30. Then Band B showed up, pretty persistent about going on at 9:30 because one of their members was sick. I wanted The Booker to handle this scheduling situation, but he just looked uncomfortable. I didn’t want to look like an asshole, so I gave in and let Band B go on at 9:30. Then they were done, and Band A stepped in and went next. We’d gotten pushed back two times.

The thing is, we seemed to be the only ones annoyed by this. The band with the sick dude was like “Things run behind schedule, it happens.” That made me feel like I was being unreasonable in expecting that they would have gone on at their allotted slot of 9pm. Frankly, I don’t even think this was a case of “things running behind schedule.” I think it was a direct result of there not being a schedule. It also seemed that most of the other acts had worked with The Booker before and were accustomed to things being run this way. One of the performers told us of how he actually didn’t get to go on at all one time because they ran out of time. They were all very “chill” about it.

By the time we went on, all of the other bands had left, save for one guy from the group that played before us. He stayed for our first 3 songs and then also left. Luckily there was this nice couple who stayed through the entire thing and seemed to dig it. If not for them, we’d have been playing to an entirely empty room. We tried to make the best of it and played our hearts out like we were in a packed venue. I still felt disappointed in how things had turned out.

We packed up our stuff and started heading out. I told the doorman (who also happens to run The Venue) that we were the last people inside. He seemed surprised and asked, “Isn’t there another band going on after you?” Nope. Yeah, the flyer says it goes until 1am, but here it was 10:30 or so and everything was over. The Booker? He’d left at least an hour and a half ago. We saw him walking away with the Act 1 while the band with the sick dude was setting up. We thought he was just helping the guy load out, but we never saw him again. Ghost.

Lessons

I can’t control how someone runs their shows. I can be more involved and ask questions early. I don’t know when the benefit was changed but if I had been periodically checking the event maybe I’d have caught it sooner. If I had asked about the lineup and scheduling sooner I’d have gotten a sense of the way he runs his shows; I could have made a decision about if that was cool or not for me.

I don’t shoulder all of the blame for this though. Having a scheduled lineup, communicating with the performers about changes, any number of small things like that could have made this better. And leaving before the show was over? I played one other show where the promoter ghosted before everything was done. I haven’t tried to book with her since. I’m sure she’s heart-broken. 🙂

I’m trying very hard not to slag The Booker (or The Venue). His heart is in the right place and he truly cares about his music community. Everyone you talk to tells you what a nice guy he is, and my own interactions with him have been nothing but positive. I’m thinking though that he should get someone else to organize his shows. Or maybe not. This was clearly not our scene. We were the odd ducks here. Maybe that’s why no one else stayed.

Either way, it was a learning experience.

 

-SC

You’ll Understand When You’re Older

heartA couple of weekends ago the Mrs. and I went to The Xfinity Center to see Heart, Joan Jett, and Cheap Trick—listed not in order of performance but in order of importance to me. In fact, the order of performance was exactly opposite. Anyway, this was an old school rock adventure for us. We had both seen Heart during their Red Velvet Car a couple of years ago, and had also seen Joan Jett do a short set at Atlanta Pride many years back, so we were looking forward to seeing them again, but we’ve never seen Cheap Trick. Admittedly, I wasn’t very familiar with Cheap Trick’s catalog—at least I thought I wasn’t. Turns out they have a gang of songs that I “know”.

Needless to say it was an excellent show! These folks are all professionals, they’ve pretty much perfected their stage show over the decades that they’ve been performing, so there was no disappointment there. All 3 bands had new material out, but they mostly stuck with playing their oldies. It’s gotta be challenging, you know, being a band with a strong catalog and trying to bring new material to the table during a show like this. Every time anyone played a new song you could see the wave as people started to sit down, waiting for the next song that they know. I mean, in all fairness to the crowd some of their musical styles don’t translate well to today’s music. We tried to listen to the new Cheap Trick on the way to the show and it was hard. Joan Jett played a tune called “TMI” that kinda had me like “Huh?”.

One of the things that kind of struck me as I was listening to them play some of their earlier tunes—I’m talking 70s era—was how there was a time when I didn’t like these older songs. I was introduced to Heart via 1985’s self-titled Heart album. Check out this cover:


heartalbum

Yeesh. I LOVED this album. After I was done devouring it I decided to go out and get some of their older stuff with zero idea of what I was getting into. I had no idea that the Heart I had found was a fairly new beast. I wound up getting Dog and Butterfly, and I was like, “WTF is this? What’s with all of this acoustic shit?” I tossed that sucker aside quickly and went back to listening to “What About Love”.

Somewhere down the line though I picked that album back up and gave it another listen and found myself starting to appreciate the songs. One by one they kind’ve grew on me. I think I simply wasn’t ready for them, you know? I don’t know how old I was when I gave that album another listen, but it started out with me listening to “Lighter Touch” on repeat, and then I grew to appreciate the title track, and before I knew it I was listening to almost the entire album. I wonder what changed for me? Like, what made my musical tastes evolve to the point where something that I was fairly dismissive of before turned into a favorite? It wasn’t like I’d stopped liking that mainstream brand of rock music. I adored 1990’s Brigade (maybe more than Heart), but I was also digging this classic rock vibe.

I find that this has happened to me a lot over the years—that I’ll really not dig on some piece of music, but find myself years later appreciating it. So, my question to you is: What song did you start off hating and wound up loving? Leave your answers in the comments!

-Stevie

 

 

Energy, Passion, and Audience Connection

I recently volunteered to work a show at Club Zuzu. This was a result of one of my 2016 goals, which is to get involved in the local music community, so I signed up as a volunteer with Boston Hassle. They put on this show in conjunction with another group called Rad Castle. I didn’t know any of the bands on the bill but I figured this was the fun of just getting out there to explore. I showed up with an open mind and my old digital SLR (I was on photo duty) and waited for the night to unfold.

Cove Sauce

Cove Sauce

I can honestly say that this was unlike any show I’ve ever attended before, even in my boldest of college days. Three bands played: Cove Sauce, Joe Passed, and The Taxidermists. Cove Sauce and The Taxidermists consisted of two people each: a guitarist and a drummer. The second band had five people in it I think, so they were odd guy out, but the genre/style of music was similar to the other two, which I guess I would classify as noise rock if I had to (in general I suck at classifying music though). It reminded me of old-school garage punk, especially the first and last bands, Cove Sauce and Taxidermists. I mean, Club Zuzu is small, you guys. The room was filled with noise rock. I think that’s the genre you’d classify this as; I’m honestly not sure.

So, imagine: small room, but easily about twenty to thirty people there. For comparison, my last show had about seven people in attendance. Loud, distorted, angry guitar strumming, banging the drums like there were ants crawling on it and drumsticks were the only thing that could kill them, and vocals that were essentially yelling, the words completely indiscernible. It was raw and energetic and loud and crowd loved it!

Taxidermists

Taxidermists

The energy in the room was like whoa. Have you ever been to a show (or performed at one) where some people were hanging out at the bar talking, and the floor in front of the stage was empty? Here there was a nice solid wall of bodies close to the stage, and the audience was bobbing and banging their heads and dancing and just feeling it. And what’s really interesting is that it wasn’t like the bands were doing anything crazy energetic. They weren’t jumping around or dancing or coaxing the crowd. Hell, they barely addressed the audience at all. In fact I can’t for the life of me put my finger on what it was about them that compelled that kind of attention and energy other than the music itself, which was definitely high-intensity music.

I was watching a YouTube video recently for some tips on stage presence, on how not to just stand there like a dummy with a guitar. The video included suggestions like: move your guitar around so you’re not holding it stationary all the time; make eye contact with the audience, and different places in the audience; move away from the mic sometimes, like when you’re soloing; and move the guitar from in front of your body when you’re singing and not playing. Good stuff, I found it very useful, but do you see the body positioning of the two guitarists in the pictures above? That’s pretty much how they stayed the entire set. Other than stepping back from the mic when they weren’t actually “singing”, they didn’t move, and they never made eye contact with the audience. I don’t think they ever even looked at the audience, and it didn’t seem to affect the connection between performer and audience at all.

I have found myself thinking back on that show over a week later, wondering what lessons I can take from that night to make my own live shows better, to give them that kind of energy. I think some part of it may be the genre of music, right? It’s hard to sit idly by while hard, thrashy music is playing. To be honest I wasn’t into the music but I still found myself moving with it. It’s like trying not to bop when a bass and drum kick in with the most basic of R&B grooves—something in your body just responds. There has to be more though—Tori Amos doesn’t exactly make you wanna get up and dance (most of the time) but she’s captivating live— and I think it’s passion and feeling. Those guys didn’t look at the audience, but there was feeling in their playing and performance.

Someone said of my last gig that it was one of the best shows so far, because all three of us seemed really into it. I actually thought it was a kind’ve crappy performance because we messed up a few times (like, playing the wrong parts in places kind’ve messed up). What a difference in perception. For me because it wasn’t technically good it was not a good show. For the audience, they weren’t concerned or bothered about the mishaps—they were interested in the feeling and the vibe. I remember feeling a little emotional during that show because it was unexpectedly the last show with Aram, so we said fuck it and threw everything we had into it. I know Aram was playing like the devil (he broke a drum stick). We were playing with feeling and despite our execution problems people were drawn in by the emotion.

When I heard that I was kind’ve like, “Huh, well, that’s interesting.” and filed it away for later thought. Seeing it in action with this Boston Hassle show, seeing how into it the band was (and how that affected the audience) has brought it back to forefront. I’m wondering how I can channel that same energy all the time. It’s not like I don’t feel my songs, but maybe I’m concentrating too hard on not messing up. It’s the same thing I experience when recording vocals, where I’m concentrating so hard on trying to be on-key that I’m not emoting well. I’m concentrating on execution and not allowing myself to relax and enjoy it—and to be honest, there’s a fair bit of nervousness/stage fright in there as well.

I’m going to record my next live performance and make myself watch it (which, ugh, I hate watching myself) and see if I can take my live show to the next level. Here’s to growth!

If you’re a musician who performs out, how do you connect with your audience?

Club Bohemia: Debut for My Band

I’m so excited! Last night at Club Bohemia And Then There Was One played with more than one! There were three in this band in fact!

We played an 8 o’clock show at Club Bohemia, a little sub-venue downstairs at the Cantab Lounge. It was quite an eclectic show. We were up first with my brand of kinda alt-rock with a hint of pop. We’ve practiced 3-4 times with a huge week-long break between our last practice and this performance due to some scheduling issues, so there was some concern about how we’d pull this off. I’m pleased to say that we did a nice job. There were mistakes of course, but I was impressed with the way we communicated during the songs and managed to swerve back on course. I feel like it was the kind of synergy that a band that’s been playing together for a long time has.

Rollo Tomasi Quartet

They’re a jazz quartet and apparently regulars at Club Bohemia who play there once a month. They were quite impressive. I’m not a big fan of jazz but these guys were fun to watch, especially Jim Frey, the drummer. He has this small, low kit that he wails on, and his solos are kind’ve mind-blowing. Their entire swing was engaging because there were hints of other genres in there. Sometimes they’d get into a straight 4/4 rock groove, then switch into an R&B groove, then seem to lose any real hint of rhythm as everyone took their solos and went nuts, and then slide right back into that jazz feel. Here’s an example from another night at the same club.

Ghost Cats

They were a heavy rock band that my friend described as having “elements of Rage Against the Machine and arena rock”. Their sound is big, and their songs are epic; lots of sections and changes. The lead singer is a tall man, and he didn’t have a ton of room onstage to move so at first he seemed a little restrained. Towards the end he came off the stage and danced and thrashed in the audience and really livened things up! This is one of the songs they performed (although the footage is from a different venue).

Baeja Vu

Let me just say that when we went on at 8 there wasn’t much of a crowd. A few friends had shown up, a few members of the other bands were hanging around, but that was it. When the Rollo Tomasi Quartet went on the room started to fill. By the time Ghost Cats were on it felt like a bustling Saturday venue. There were a lot of college-aged people there, and it had a very different feel. here was energy and build-up in the air. It felt like people were actually there to see and enjoy music. When Baeja Vu went on it was as if someone lit a match to a stack of tinder. Suddenly everyone was on their feet, moving to the stage to get closer. I could have been at a big name concert instead of the basement of the Cantab. There were like seven people crammed on that tiny stage: drummer, guitarist, bassist, dude playing soprano sax and clarinet, keyboard player, and 2 frontmen. One dude was like a rapper or something, and the other was the hook dude. Their style of music was like hip-hop/soul/funk. They did a Jamiroquai cover if that gives you any indication, and if that doesn’t then how about the fact that the chorus of their first song said something like, “Fuck me I’m lonely.”. It was a feel good party band, and the crowd loved them. They announced that it was their first show, but I just don’t see how that could be given the turnout (these people were clearly here to see this band, not randos that wandered off the street) and the fact that folks in the audience were literally singing along with them.

But…

Nothing comes up when Googling them. Zero info. No SoundCloud, no Facebook. Nada. I can’t find a thing about them. So there’s that.

It was a great night and a very good debut for us! Club Bohemia was different than I remembered it, but I’d love to be back…and maybe in a later slot lined up right before some big-drawing band like a Beija Vu. I’m looking forward to playing more shows and building our tribe!

The Haps: Mid-Sept Update

allthethingsI kind’ve took a week off towards the end of August/beginning of September to go spend some quality time with the fam. For the last two summers we’ve vacationed with the family of my wife’s dear high school friend. Yeah, we became those people. It’s a pretty far cry from the way I was brought up, but you know? I’ll take it. 🙂

We spent a week in Cape May and I unplugged from just about everything for the most part, but I’ve come back to work with a vengeance. Here are some updates.

 

 

 

The Past

Before I absconded to New Jersey I released a new single, “Wasted”.  It’s my first studio-recorded single since So Into You, almost a year ago. Everything about this song was different: the experience of recording it was different, the feel of the song itself was different. It’s a much darker, heavier song than I typically do for my solo work. I’m making a short video, another “How I Wrote This” for it so I won’t go into excruciating detail here about how it came along, but I will plunk this link down right here. I happened across this article and it was a decidedly different take on the character of Anastasia Steele than anyone else, and I thought “Aha! I have my protagonist!”. I’ll update the site of course with a link to the video once it’s done.

The Present

I’m looking for a drummer and a synth player, so I went to Craigslist. First of all, everyone and their mother is looking for a drummer. You guys are popular and hard to come by! Why is that? is it because there are few places in the greater Boston area large enough to have and use a drum set? Are drums just particularly hard to play, so fewer people do it? Whatever the reason, the ratio of drummers to bands/people who need them is skewed. I looked for ads, found nothing fitting, decided to post my own ad, and have since disappeared into the void of Craigslist postings past. I’ve updated it twice with no bites. I’ve also not heard a peep from a synth player. Is that really a thing or did I make it up?

Since Craigslist was bombing on me I signed up for a service called Bandmix. Seemed easy and legit enough. There were actual listings for people in my area and the profile setup was informative—and it’s free! Well…sort’ve. The catch is that it’s free until you find someone you want to contact, and then you get prompted to sing up for a premium account. That’s kind’ve lame to me. If the main purpose of your site is to connect musicians, and you allow people to join for free, requiring a paid account to actually allow connections to be made seems a bit bait and switch. Just go ahead and require payment from the get-go. It’s not like I’m going to join your site for finding musicians, find someone I’m interested in and not want to contact them. It’s so silly. So I wound up signing up for yet another service. I’ve contacted 3 drummers so far. I hope i can snag someone within a month so I can cancel.

I’ve restarted the Berklee College of Music songwriting course on Coursera. I tried to do it so long ago and just couldn’t keep up. I’m having another go at it because I think the information will be valuable. Expect to see updates here as I work my way through a new song.

Also, this week I have not one but two gigs! Friday night (9/18) I’m playing at First Church in Belmont for a fundraiser. It’s an acoustic set, roughly 40 minutes. I’m opening for two dear friends of mine, Polly Fiveash and Anand Nayak, who are an incredible acoustic duo. They’ve been doing this for years and they’ve got it dusted. Then Saturday the 19th I’m playing with my band, Six Times Seven, at PA’s Lounge in Somerville. What a musical weekend! Living the dream. I even get paid for the church one.

The Future

I’m heading into the home stretch with my single-a-month project. I started this up in October of last year, so I figure October will also be the last month I release any singles. After that I’ll be concentrating on writing music to record in the winter as an EP. I’m also planning a background change to the website that won’t affect its appearance but should help with the user experience. I’m either going to move up to a better hosting platform or start using a CDN to deliver my static content.

That’s what’s up as we roll into the end of summer.

 

-Stevie

Lesson Learned: The “Bad” Gig

Sad GuitaristInto every musician’s life the less-than-perfect gig must fall. Potentially often. I’ve been pretty lucky thus far. Out of the many gigs with my band, Six Times Seven, I’ve not had a bad one yet (knocking on wood here). I’ve just recently started gigging solo as And Then There Was One, and my sets have been acoustic for lack of having a backing band at the ready.

So, this past week I played my second ever solo acoustic gig. It was at a little spot in Boston on a Tuesday night. I didn’t expect a huge turnout since it was a school night, but I’d done my due diligence and spread word of the gig all over my socials and invited my local friends and all. At my first gig I had a fair number of peeps show up. At this second gig? One.

It was me, my lone buddy, one of the other bands (a violin and acoustic duo), the sound guy, the bartender, and some rando at the bar who’d showed up long before any music was being played. My buddy had to leave early so he was ghost about 1/3 of the way into my 40-minute set. The duo had a friend show up as well, and they spent most of my set talking amongst themselves—kind’ve loudly. At one point they actually left the bar for a bit, cutting the attendance in the room down by like 75%. The scenario was literally one where I’d finish playing a song and it would take a while for people to realize that the music had stopped. Then there’d be this awkward, polite clapping.

It’s challenging to continue playing and giving your all in a situation like that. I’ve played pretty empty rooms with my band before but it’s different when you’re up there alone and there’s no one else to share that weirdness with, no one to make eye contact with. I could feel myself shrinking, and I started to collapse into myself. I stopped bantering; I only really talked to introduce the songs and introduce the bands coming up next. I started focusing on the end of my set, eagerly anticipating the moment it would be done and I could get off the stage and escape…so that I could feel sorry for myself. I didn’t even say a word about my website or other places to listen to my music. I figured if they couldn’t be bothered to turn around and actually watch me play (and I was kind’ve miffed at the visiting duo for having their back to me the entire time) then they’re certainly not going to go check my music out online.

I beat myself up a bit after that gig. I replayed it in my mind over and over again, wondering what I could have done differently. I came back with two things:

  • Don’t let the number of people in the audience affect your performance. If there’s only one person there, perform like there are 100.
  • Stand, stand, stand!

Fewer people in the audience? Engage them like hell then! Ask them questions, make them part of the show. At the very least it makes it harder for them to ignore you, and easier to remember you. No matter how small (or reluctant) your audience, make them feel like you’re super-psyched for them to be there!

I played my first acoustic gig standing. I sat during this second one. Standing makes a huge difference. Standing helps me put my entire body into the music. I find myself dancing along, rocking, and being more involved in the songs. It also makes me a bigger target onstage, which means it’s easier to see, me/harder to ignore me.

Although this would go under the category of “Bad Gig” (really glad I didn’t hire a videographer to record this one!) it provided some valuable experience for me as a solo performer.

On to the next show!

Osheaga: Bands I Saw

This past weekend I had the pleasure (and pain) of going to the Osheaga Music Fetsival in Montreal Canada. This was its 10th year. It takes place on a little island called Île Sainte-Hélène at Parc Jean-Drapeau. The festival has grown over its run, and they’ve actually had to expand the space and added a new stage last year. There are two areas of the park being used for the festival. The area housing the main stage is nothing to write home about. It reminded me of a standard fairground: no shade, gravel, lined with concession stands. The secondary area though was a really nice change. It was covered in trees and paths that made it look like it serves as nature walk trails when not being overrun by 20 and 30-somethings looking to have a good time. There were wi-fi chill areas, which were essentially little groves in the trees where they’d hung hammocks, a Vans skate pike with scheduled demos, Jack Links mechanical bull-riding,lawn chairs, art, and giant green puppets.

It was by far my favorite part of the festival grounds and where I tried to stick for the most part—bands permitting, of course. Prior to going I’d attempted to use the Clashfinder website to scope out who was there and start exploring their music on Spotify. Unfortunately, time simply didn’t permit for that kind of exploration so my strategy was simply: make sure I catch the bands I know and like, and wing it for the rest. That worked out pretty well too. I went with a group of peeps but didn’t feel pressured to do the festival in lock-step so it left me plenty of room to wander off and explore on my own.

So, without further ado, here is the breakdown/review, in order, of the performers I saw. Also, I started off thinking I would embed the shitty video and pics I took of the performances, but The Montreal Gazette has some good videos on Youtube so I’m cribbing those where I can. Props.

Run the Jewels

I’d heard of Run the Jewels, but I’m not a hip-hop head so I’ve never really checked them out. My buddies however were really psyched to see these guys, and since there were no conflicting interests I tagged along. It was over all a nice way to start off the festival. Hot, party scene, everyone’s happy and dancing, there’s a hose that someone way in the front keeps spraying on the crowd. It set the tone, you know? They were fine performers, nothing flashy or too interesting. I didn’t know the music so I was happy to just vibe with the crowd, which loved them and ate it up, chanting “RTJ” on command and making the Run the Jewels hand symbol (which is one hand in a gun shape pointing at the other hand which looks like a fist holding a necklace). 

The Thurston Moore Band

So of course I knew Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth so I was interested to see what he was up to. This was a decidedly different feel from Run the Jewels. Moore played with Steve Shelley, Debbie Googe and James Sedwards and there wasn’t a smile to be seen on that stage. Very little audience interaction; they just got up there and started rocking. It was almost as if they could have given two shits about whether or not there was a crowd there. I couldn’t tell you exactly how many songs they played because it was really difficult to ascertain where songs ended. It was pretty much an endless wall of sound. Remember how I wrote about one of the openers for White Lung? How that guitarist at one point simply held out a chord and it was way more sonically interesting than I would have thought? That was a large part of The Thurston Moore Band’s technique. A lot of long held chords, or repeated chord progressions that didn’t go anywhere, but for some reason I wasn’t bored. It was almost transcendent, you know? Like you just lost track of time. It seemed like a super short set but again I don’t know if that’s because of the nature of the music or if they really did play for a short while.

Of Monsters and Men

I caught these guys kinda by chance. Florence and the Machine were due to play afterwards, on the stage next to them, so I figured I’d get there early to try and get a good spot. In a crowd of 150K people that otherwise reasonable plan didn’t work out so well, but I still got a decent vantage point for Florence. Anyway, this gave me an opportunity to check out Of Monsters and Men, a band that I had been likened to on a review from Audiokite. I don’t see it, but whatevs. They were really great though. Awesome performance, good tunes, and frontwoman Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir is adorable. I don’t mean this in a sexist, disrespectful way so I hope it doesn’t come off as such, but I mean she seemed genuinely awed and humbled by the response from the crowd. It was again a complete turnaround from the previous show I’d seen, The Thurston Moore Band. Whereas they were completely insulated and seemed disinterested in the crowd, like they were jaded and had simply seen it all, Hilmarsdóttir appeared to still be very present and recognized how awesome it was that she got to do something she loved in front of a large, appreciative crowd. That was super cool. They’re a tight team, really impressive vocal interplay. I kind’ve got burned out on the schtick of having dual male/female vocals after The XX came out and every song they did seemed to follow a formula, but these guys won me over.

Florence and the Machine

Oh, Flo. What can I say? What a way to end the first night. I’m sure some of my thrall was simply due to finally seeing a performer with whom I was familiar, but I was also just so stoked to finally get to see her in person. She came to Boston not that long ago and I decided not to buy tickets because I knew I would see her at Osheaga, but I regret that decision now because I could have easily seen her twice. She was probably the most energetic performer I saw (until Sunday night). She was clad in this flowing white ensemble and their must have been some kind of fan onstage because her hair was literally blowing. She’d broken her foot right before coming to Boston but she’s apparently all healed up because she leapt and skipped from one side of the stage to the other, barefoot, like some kind of gazelle while belting out tunes. It was incredibly impressive. Some singers I’ve seen will alter their live performance and kind’ve sing around some of those harder notes, but she went at them and it seemed effortless. She too looked like she was having a ball. At one point she talked to the audience and was all “Love each other, embrace each other” with this breathy English accent and I swear she could have been a woodland sprite transported to the stage for one magical night. Am I gushing too much? Nah. Seriously though, she was ethereal and amazing.

 

Young the Giant

Another act I hadn’t intended to see but caught because we were posting up for another show. Sameer Gadhia is the kind of frontman a band hopes for. He’s energetic, expressive, and puts everything into his performance. He didn’t leap from one end of the stage to another, but he thrashed about and really just poured himself into his delivery. His facial expressions, his body movements, his vocal delivery—everything was intense and seemed deeply connected to the music. He was seriously captivating to watch. I’m not a big fan of their style of music though. It kinda sounds like any other dude band with a male singer, you know? It could have been Maroon 5. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I’m just saying that Gadhia’s performance was what set this apart, not the music itself.

St. Vincent

Dude. So, I’d heard this one song by St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”, and I just didn’t get it. I’d commented at the time that it seemed a little post-Prince Wendy and Lisa to me, and while I dig Prince-era Wendy and Lisa, post-Prince Wendy and Lisa was too funk for my tastes. I went to see her though because one of my buddies was absolutely gaga over her and I had no conflicts. I walked away still not digging her music, but her live performance was entertaining and she is a freaking rockstar guitarist. Back to the Wendy and Lisa comparison: dude, she’s Prince. Like, from the clearly tight ship she runs to her guitar style to her aesthetic. She’s Prince, y’all.

Her stage setup was this stark black and white artsy thing with white cubes. She and her band were dressed all in black. The second guitarist/keyboardist/synth-player, about whom I can find no info (literally I found an article that mentions a second female guitarist but no name), was dressed in exactly the same outfit. They did this thing where they would play guitar and then move around in this stiff, robotic choreography. There were cheerleader-style arm movements done with a brisk efficiency, and shuffling foot movements reminiscent of Japanese Geisha girls. And then she would rip it up on guitar. I couldn’t find an official vid so I’m cribbing this from someone named Fish1991. Ignore the joints that flash in and out of the frame. 

I was kind’ve like, “What the eff am I looking at?” until she started tearing it up, and then I said, “Oh. Okay then.”

Nas

I went to see Nas because it kinda seemed like the thing to do. He’s a hip-hop legend, so I should embrace the opportunity because it’s not like I would ever go to see him exclusively. Unfortunately I think I suffered from not knowing his discography well and sitting in the back on the wall. The sound just didn’t reach very well back there, despite the fact that I could hear later acts with no problem. I think the sound guy was sleeping on this one. I honestly don’t have much to say about this performance. About midway through it started to rain…heavily. Big, fat, cold raindrops, so we ran to stand under some trees…because of course that’s what you do in a storm! Seriously. What is worth mentioning is this was the first appearance of Mos Def at the festival. Nas was like, “And here’s Mos Def” and the crowd went wild. Even I got excited. That was the most interesting part of his show though.

Weezer

I was so pumped to see Weezer for the first time. They mostly did songs from Weezer with a few thrown in from other albums like Maldadroit and Everything Will Be Alright in The End. I don’t have anything super-interesting to say about the show. It was a good, solid set. The audience was into it, I was into it, they played tunes I knew and loved, and it rocked. Good times all around. Adding a cuteness factor was Rivers Cuomo’s kids coming onstage to help the band out. His son “played” an inflatable guitar, which was adorable, but his daughter actually came out and played keys on a couple of songs. Can you imagine getting to do that at 12 years-old? Lucky girl.

Kendrick Lamar

This, along with Florence and the Machine, was one of the shows I was really looking forward to and helped sway my hand to purchase my ticket. I became a fan of Kendrick Lamar because of To Pimp A Butterfly. As much hype and controversy surrounding that album, especially given the state of race relations in the country around the time of its release…I had to give it a listen. It resonated with me on a personal level, on a cultural level. I’ve listened to it on repeat in preparation for Osheaga. I also went back and took in his previous albums, and while I liked the tunes off of those as well they were of a different vibe for me. I think that was why I felt a disconnect from his performance. The vibe was festive; it was a party after all. That was fine when he was performing “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe”, but when he did “Alright” and the crowd was singing along with “…and we hate po-po, Wanna kill us dead in the street fo sho” it felt…weird. So I blame my inability to disconnect from the personal meaningfulness of some of the songs for not being able to connect with the vibe the crowd and Lamar were bringing. He was obviously happy with the way things felt, as were the many people around. I think it was just me.

Of note is that this performance was also the site of the second Mos Def sighting. Dude was apparently just chilling on the side of the stage, taking in the show.

Gary Clark Jr.

I caught this performer because I was posting up for Father John Misty. Am I glad that I did! Seriously, this dude can wail. I don’t normally dig rock-blues, but he was so much fun to watch and listen to. I could care less about his lyrics or vocal performance really. His guitar playing though! He switched out several times, Fenders and Gibsons galore, and did he ever get the dirtiest, growliest sound out of his guitars! It was the kind of playing that makes you just shake your head and put on your stank face. You know stank face, right? It’s that face like you smelled something awful, but it’s in response to something so good. Google for images of “stank face guitarists”. You’ll get the odd Beyonce (and odder Eli Manning) result, but mostly actual guitarists playing their butts off. Gary Clark Jr. was unreal. He seriously went into his own zone during his set. He’s another performer who seemed to truly appreciate where he was and the people who came out to see him. Sometimes the crowd would get super loud and he’d have this cute little grin on his face like “I can’t believe this is for me”. His band was tight too, just laying down solid, no-frills grooves to let that man do his thing.

Stank face alert at 7:43. Props to Wladlebarbu.

Father John Misty

I think I’m in love. My buddy Dave had told me about Father John Misty, and I’d heard a couple of songs but not given them or him the attention he deserves. This was honestly a contender with Flo for my favorite performance of the festival, and it was the polar opposite of hers. No lights, no flashiness, just his laid-back style. He won me over when he asked if we were tired of being asked how we were doing, and told us he wouldn’t ask us that because he didn’t really care. He performance was so incongruous with his appearance and demeanor too. Obviously a lot of it was tongue-in-cheek, but one minute he would be flailing about on the ground pumping his hips like some acid-tinged rock star, and the next doing Elvis-style hip swivels while strumming an acoustic. During one particularly danceable number he did just that—he danced! And well! He busted out some sexy club moves that made my jaw drop. I’m about to go through his entire catalog, although I understand that what I know him as is very different than who he was pre-2012. 

Tyler the Creator

Are you scrunching up your face now? Tyler the Creator, like Eminem and NWA and a ton of other hip-hop artists, can be pretty polarizing. I get it. I don’t actually even know any of his songs except for “Deathcamp“, which I stumbled across on one of Spotify’s New Music Tuesday playlists, and liked. It was also coincidentally the first song he played, so yay for me. In all seriousness, it was the last set of the weekend, and I was completely uninterested in the other acts (The Black Keys, Ez3kiel, and Zhu). I figured I’d stick around, see what he was about, and then leave early. That’s exactly what I did. Beat the crowds too. It was nice.

Honestly though, the dude is a fun entertainer. I don’t know the songs and don’t know the lyrics that get people pissed off, but watching him jump around the stage (and I don’t mean little leaps, but full-on, knees to the chest, catching mad air jumping) was a lot of fun. He brought it, and his crowd loved it. He had good banter (joking about needing to catch his breath between songs and how one of his crew, Jasper, got turned away at the border), and he was intense. I dug it. If I hadn’t been old and tired and pretty much done with the weekend I would have waded into the crowd and tried to take some heads off. Instead I sat on the same wall from which I watched Nas. The difference was: I could hear! And that closed out Osheaga for me—and my first festival experience.

Final Osheaga Thoughts

Osheaga was a lot of fun. I’m not a fan of large crowds, or standing shoulder-to-shoulder and ass-to-crotch with strangers, but considering how large the turnout was and how hot it was, it was still a lot of fun. I think I had a good strategy as well. I didn’t stress about being up front for any shows, even the ones I really wanted to see; I didn’t drive myself nuts trying to see or do everything; and I didn’t stress about being in lock-step with my crew and gave myself the freedom to explore. The lineup was great, and I got massive value for my dollar. My favorite show all weekend was Florence and the Machine (with Father John Misty a close second). My least favorite, through no one’s fault but my own, was Kendrick Lamar. Would I go again?

Maybe.

My Music Week 7/24/15

Peeps, it has been a music-filled couple of weeks! I feel like i have so much to share with you and I’ve barely had time to breathe. I wish it were all music, but a lot of that is the 9 to 5. Anywho, here’s the haps.

Shows

InterpolI got to see Interpol at The House of Blues lat night. A buddy of mine happened to have an extra ticket so I tagged along with him. I’m not an Interpol fan or anything. I mean, I know a few songs and think they’re okay, but I never would have bought tickets on my own.  I have to admit the show was not what I expected. I had this idea of Interpol as being an emo-boy band. I think I have the association because of an ex-boyfriend of a friend of mine who came across as a sensitive emo dude, and he was in love with Interpol. I was therefore completely unprepared for the number of bros in attendance. It was a good show though. Interpol fans really, really like Interpol. Go figure.

The opening band was really interesting as well. They’re called Coscmicide, and they have a style of music that’s very 80s synth pop. Seriously, standing in the back of the room watching them play was like being an extra in one of the club scenes from Less Than Zero. The drummer’s kick drum was mic’d so hard I literally felt it in my vertebrae. There was a woman playing what I think was a synth of some kind with super-permed hair a la 80s Wendy and Lisa in Purple Rain, and she literally had songs where she would stand in place with like one finger on a key and sway. It was trippy. Everything comes around again, right?

Speaking of live shows… You guys! I had my very first gig, all by myself!palounge Let me tell you: there is a major difference between getting on stage with people you dig and playing behind an amp and effects. This gig was me, myself, and I on stage with a mic’d acoustic. I was so nervous, you’d think I’d never performed before. I’ll be honest, I made some mistakes. At one point in a song I actually had to start a section over because I effed it up completely. Man. Over all though I think it went rather well, and I hope to take the lessons learned from that first gig and use them to prepare myself for my next solo gig, which is in August. It’s a coffee house deal at Midway Cafe in Jamaica Plain.

 In the works

studioI finally got into the studio to record July’s single, “Wasted”. I’m pretty excited about it! It has taken a direction I did not expect when I first came up with the rhythm guitar part. I literally wrote the lyrics the night before I was to head into the studio. The song has turned into a kind of 50 Shades of Grey rebuttal, which is a little silly considering I have never read the book nor seen the movie. But hey, why let that stop me?

The song is just about done. All that’s left is to get back into the studio and do a final mix, and then to get it mastered. Wanna hear what it sounds like so far?

I enrolled in this online marketing course, Cyber PR’s Social Media House. I heard about it via some of my GGChat twitter pals. The sad thing is I have not been able to dedicate as much time to it as I’d hoped. In fact, I’m still on week one and I’m pretty sure the course is officially on week three. One of week one’s tasks was to create a to-do list with due dates, and to make sure that you look at the to-do list every day. Just look at it, mind you. I’ve failed at even that little thing. I’m seriously pretty disappointed in myself, but there’s been madness and just not enough time in the day—or evening for that matter. I hope to get back into it this week, although I’m heading out of town in a few days to go to the Osheaga Music Festival in Canada. Not a lot of studying happening there.

So, that’s what’s up in my world. Keep an eye out on my Instagram because I plan to take lots of pics at Osheaga. Also keep an eye on this site, Twitter, Facebook—the usual suspects—because “Wasted” is going to hit your eardrums in the very near future.

Peace,

Stevie