So I’m still recovering. STILL. Sleep schedule thrown off. Ears hearing things funny. And Friday? Friday is to blame for a lot of this.
(Thursday went like this.)
Friday was another late start; I feel like I just saw The Arctic Monkeys at the McDonald, so I skipped their Wonder Ballroom set, even though skipping all the Wonder Ballroom shows made me feel like I wasn’t entirely really at MFNW; a lot of those sets were highlights of last year, particularly Les Savy Fav, a band I would really have liked to see again this year.
But at 9 pm we planted ourselves, not for the last time, at Berbati’s Pan, where Say Hi were already playing when we arrived. “I don’t know any of these songs!” my companion said. I recognized a few, kinda sorta â€” at least “Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh Oh,” for sure â€” but for the most part the live Say Hi experience is very different from the record; live, the band is a three-piece, playing stripped-down and adjusted versions of Eric Elbogen’s one-man-band compositions. You might think more people wouldn’t make for simpler versions of the songs, but in this case, they did.
Since this was a Barsuk showcase â€” something I didn’t realize until a friend mentioned it in a text message; clearly my powers of observation were at full force â€” Say Hi was followed by another Seattle act, Rocky Votolato, who I describe as an “act” partly because while he was playing alone in Portland, I’m reasonably certain that last time I saw him, Votolato was playing with a full band. It was a homecoming show in Seattle in April 2007, and it was the reason I went back and gave a few more listens to Makers â€” which I’d liked, but not entirely fallen for; I sometimes think Votolato’s singer-songwritery tunes are bare and gorgeous and catchy, and sometimes think they don’t quite stretch as far or stand out as well as they could â€” and finally picked up a copy of Suicide Medicine. The show came at the end of tour; on “Suicide Medicine,” Votolato sounded like his voice might go out at any moment. And that, according to this recording, that was only the seventh song of the night.
This show was a bit mellower, but no less charming, despite my inability to shake the feeling that, with his slicked-down, longish-in-back hair, Votolato looked like an untrustworthy drifter in a certain kind of dated road movie. But he played a good mix of songs, a cover or two, and both the songs I so wanted to hear.
And some jackass behind me talked the entire way though “Suicide Medicine.” Hence, the title of this post: DUDE, SHUT UP. I know there are a lot of bands at MFNW, and that you won’t care about every one. I know that I, too, talk to my friends during bands I’m not into. But when there’s one dude on stage? And he’s not playing very loudly? Get the hell away from the people who are clearly standing near the stage because they want to see this guy.
Thus ends your extremely cranky public service announcement for Friday.
Votolato didn’t play a particularly long set, so I convinced my companion that we ought to trek up to the Crystal Ballroom to see if Sunny Day Real Estate was still playing. Which they were. The first person I noticed when I got to the main floor of the Crystal was a clean-cut teenager who looked a touch out of place; the next was a frantically flailing/dancing guy in a tie-dyed T-shirt who was clearly having the time of my life.
A confession: I’ve liked Sunny Day Real Estate since Diary came out in 1994 (good lord, really?), but I’ve not listened to them all that often. “Guitar and Video Games,” from 1998’s How It Feels to Be Something On (which came after the band broke up the first time) is on a mix CD I have, and I loveÂ that song, despite its not-too-distant relationship to prog rock; I love the builds and breaks and sense of muted desperation that soaks Jeremy Enigk’s voice. I remember seeing the video for “Seven” on 120 Minutes way back when and, if this isn’t selective memory rewriting things, being somewhat captivated. It didn’t sound like anything else I was listening to, which was probably a lot of Blur and Juliana Hatfield and Weezer. It was far denser, musically; it stopped and started and had an angular quality that I hadn’t yet learned to appreciate. (Jawbox and a certain admiration, if not adoration, for Fugazi came later.)
But I had to look up the name of the song, at this late date. SDRE just doesn’t have quite the power over me that they once did, despite all the associated memories. That said, there was something powerful about the few songs of their set that we caught. I didn’t recognize most of them â€”Â clearly it’s time to revisit Diary â€”Â but I was delighted that when we stuck around for the encore, we got “In Circles.” I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.
My companion was far less impressed. I spent the walk to our final destination trying, tiredly, to explain why SDRE mattered; why they seemed so different when they appeare; why it is actually indie rock and/or emo, but emo in the way I think of it (which is to say a musical genre born of hardcore and punk and indie, traced back to the likes of Rites of Spring and epitomized, whether they like it or not, by bands like Jimmy Eat World and The Get Up Kids â€”Â not just a fashion statement for glossy rock bands); why it wasn’t their fault if certain other bands took that sound and made crap out of it. (Isn’t that what always happens?) I didn’t win him over, but I’ve got people working on it.
Our last stop of the night was a sort of official afterparty thing at which The Thermals were playing. This, I didn’t know was happening until I picked up my MFNW passes; this kind of made my weekend.
I just had to wait until 1:30 in the morning for that to happen. The show was at BodyVox, a big, semi-industrial dance space painted all white, with largely concrete floors and with what I assume was the main dance floor carefully covered with some sort of tarp so we couldn’t fuck it up. Doors for this event opened at midnight, and there was no indication as to when the band would go on. We ate sandwiches and partook of the various open-bar options that would help us stay awake: vodka and Red Bull at one bar, espresso shots at another. And we people-watched (at one point I became convinced there was some sort of Nike involvement in the event â€” maybe a room to which unsuspecting music fans were swept away to have their shoes stolen and replaced â€” because there’s just no reason for that many people to be wearing ugly retro sneakers like that).
And finally, finally, the band went on. Tiredness was no longer an issue.
Once, I saw The Thermals at the WOW Hall, and while they didn’t draw a large crowd, they drew a great crowd: We congregated close to the stage and bounced, giddily, with smiles on our face. This was like that â€” or at least it was up in the front. I didn’t bother looking behind me, because the band was too good to allow for distractions. The Portland trio played everything I could possibly have wanted to hear â€” selections from every album, including “Test Pattern” and “No Culture Icons,” two of my absolute favorites of their precision-crafted, buoyant, intense, smart, poetic rock songs â€” and they were, well, fantastic.
This had at least a little bit to do with the fact that I’m not sure anyone there was having more fun than the drummer.
The Thermals have had a few drummers. The current fellow is Westin Glass, who a) sounds like either a hotel chain or a really fascinating literary hero and b) looked downright giddy when he was playing, when he wasn’t playing and when he took a drum-free intro as an excuse to run through the crowd, high-fiving people. It was charming. And he’s a durn good drummer, too, which, y’know, helps.
So that was a highlight, if a highlight that knocked me out for much of Saturday. If you are not yet a Thermals fan, I cannot recommend them enough, live or otherwise.
Coming soon: Saturday! In which I fall in love with The Brunettes and indulge my nostalgic side with The Get Up Kids!