Saturday, December 19, 2009

Mewsic Brings the Frengers Together

I was lucky enough to spend the start of my 29th year with beautiful people in my life and...Mew. These great Danes push the boundaries of music in a way that no other band does for me. I’ve had the conscious experience two albums in a row now of listening to the album, thinking, “Hmm, this is pretty good, all right…”…warming up to it and then realizing that they were simply speaking a musical language that my body was not yet familiar with. Once I spent more time with them and their sounds, my body learned this language and was suddenly opened up to their ridiculous, spacey genius. They’re just so new and innovative! And they have such a crazy, unique, specific, creative vision that they are just so good at putting forth unadulterated! Every time I experience Mew, I am covered with the rubble of incredulous wonder: "How does their music shake me like a rattle and rock me like a the same time??" "How do their guitars sound like a factory?" "How do they make Forest Elvin music sound so gooooooood?"

I saw Mew play on December 2nd at Paradise Rock Club in Boston, MA, where I suspected my companion and I were getting shortchanged on our first time seeing them live because of the sound and overall quality of the venue. Then I saw them again on December 4th, (my actual birthday), in New York City at Webster Hall, where it was absolutely confirmed that we were shortchanged in Boston. To be fair, Webster Hall has exceptional sound and my entourage and I were lucky enough to get what I consider the best spots-for-sound in the house-- right behind the sound booth. Still, I probably won't return to Paradise Rock Club and I feel bad for the dashing woman that accompanied me to that show because it was a damn joke compared to the magical experience at Webster Hall.

In other news, SunChips has unveiled a new completely compostable bag, which I learned about by purchasing at a Duane Reade. It is obviously an amazing accomplishment that should be lauded far and wide. It is also the LOUDEST BAG EVER MADE IN THE UNIVERSE. Seriously, I could just carry that bag around instead of a rape whistle. Rustle the bag, and all the cops from all over NY would come running. It's better than the Bat Signal! That, or sometimes it kind of feels like I'm being attacked when I touch the bag because it's so loud. It's all very unsettling. Go SunChips, for redefining the boundaries of what it means to carry around a bag of chips the way Mew redefines what it means to experience recorded and live music! Listen to Mew while you eat SunChips! And then you'd probably just explode.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Some Day it Will Be My Job to Go to Live Shows

I used to be a several-shows-a-month kind of lady. And as with anything, the novelty and excitement of live music started to wear off because I experienced it so frequently. If it were my job to go to live shows, that'd be one thing. But I have a during-the-day job and shows have to fit into the outskirts. Sad. For a variety of reasons, the days of several shows a month are long gone. I'm much more selective about my shows now, which, in my day job/old age, is a preferable way to go about things. Fortunately, the past few months have seen some shows that were certainly worth the pain and sacrifice of venturing out into a night of willful sleep deprivation.

Mates of State, (whose family blog, Band on the Diaper Run, is still a source of pure glee for me), co-headlined a tour with Black Kids and closed out the show in DC. The co-headline meant an hour-long show as opposed to the usual 90 minutes, which was obviously a bit of a bummer. During the song, Now, there was a loud crackle that my brother thought was a blown speaker since there was a marked difference in sound afterwards. Luckily it was "fixed" (or something) soon after because the sound just kind of crept back to normal levels. Regardless of these minor setbacks, Kori and Jason performed from two separate, portable, raised platforms surrounded by translucent, orange orb lanterns and per usual, played a tight, vibrant set. Watching Kori dance with only the lower half of her body while her top half is fully committed to rockin' her organ and keyboard is an extraordinary thing. Two members of string metal band, Judgement Day, joined Mates of State on stage and were an amazing asset. After their last song, the duo returned to the stage sans their Judgement Day back up band, and performed a lovely, relevant cover of Tom Waits' Long Way Home. The setlist spanned their entire discography, which is something I always appreciate from them. Plus, I was kind of OK with them only playing for an hour because I had seen them a few months prior at The Black Cat, where they played an even larger, even more representative batch of songs, for even longer. [On a Personal Epilogue Note: I almost ran out of gas on the way home because I didn't want to stop at an Exxon. When my brother and I left for the show, I thought I'd be OK even though my tank was close to empty. But being on the streets of DC late on a Saturday night means a lot less driving and a lot more idling because those people just stop right in the middle of the street! They don't give a crap! So the gas situation became a little more dire on the way home. The first gas station we saw was an Exxon and I told my brother not to stop there because I hadn't given any of my money to Exxon in years. He shook his head at me and said, "Yeah, I get that you don't want to support them, but this is different. You need GAS." I said, "I know, but I don't want to get gas from Exxon! I think we'll be OK. If the next station we see is an Exxon, we'll stop. I won't tempt fate twice." He shook his head again and said, "Ya know...I've always wondered how people run out of gas. This is how." A few hundred feet later, a Shell station appeared out of nowhere (seriously, I'm pretty sure it wasn't there before, wasn't real and only appeared at that moment because I am the luckiest woman alive) and we didn't run out of gas! I had less than a gallon left. Ha!]

I had been hoping to take a dear friend to the Mates of State show because it fell very close to her birthday. Alas, she wasn't free that night, so I bought her and her boyf tickets to a show at a later date instead: The Shins. This was a very exciting deal for me because the last time I'd seen The Shins was at the giant behemoth of a venue that is D.A.R. Constitution Hall (also with this birthday friend). This time through, they played the much more measonably-sized 9:30 Club and sounded as phenomenal as I'd remembered them. Their set included two new songs and a cover of the Beach Boys' Girl Don't Tell Me, and since they weren't promoting a new disc, they played a number of songs from their first release. The glory of this was overwhelming. The dazed agitation of James Mercer singing, "One wound-up punch of intuition lays flat my whole take on us" was predictably enhanced in the flesh. With a partially new cast of characters, these guys are true candy for the ears. They performed revelatory arrangements of their stellar collection of songs, building all kinds of anticipation for Those to Come.

Neko Case. When Ms. Case's album, Middle Cyclone, came out, I thought to myself, "Wow, I am going to have a lot to say about this when I write about my favorite music of 2009." Then I realized I was being crazy and hoarding, so I am writing about it now. Plus I saw her perform at the 9:30 Club and Rams Head Live! so it's relevant for this post too. Just like with any band I love, when I sit down and think about how to describe their sound or how their sound affects me, I am overwhelmed with a feeling that I cannot possibly find the appropriate English words to communicate the ridiculous amazingness. The thing is, I can't. I really can't. There is no way that I can effectively depict my love for the various music I write about, in a way that will get you to understand my experience. That disclaimer seems especially in order before tackling the daunting task of describing the live shows of Neko Case. Neko Case's live shows take all the wild, earthly genius of her albums, packages it for transport and then sets it free in a controlled, staged environment right before your very eyes. Her longtime, rock-steady, incredibly talented touring band ensures a tight dynamic set from night to night and her comfortable, witty, goofy banter with the always-delightful Kelly Hogan is icing on the cake. On Middle Cyclone, Case sings about kinds (and means) of nature-- human nature, animal nature and how we reside in the external world of nature. She distinguishes between the three entities to establish a separation...and then croons about the relationship between them, magnifying the overlap, similarities and oneness of humans, animals and our nature-al world, in order to enhance that relationship. Whether she's singing about pharaohs, animal instincts, a tornado in love with you or humans' inability to recognize creatures of the wild as wild, Case's music has a way of liberating both human and beast alike by celebrating us in our own innativity. Better still, there seems to be no one better-suited than Neko to sing about this particular version of how we're same same but different. When she sings "I'm a man-man-man, man-man-man-eater," there's a phenomenal dual truth that lies in the fact that we're hearing this dreamy heartbreaker sing the voice of a man-eating animal. Her live shows do certainly swallow me whole and I, for one, am never surprised.

When The National played the 9:30 Club in May, they did that thing that 9:30 Club sometimes does where the band plays two shows in one night. Then the band played a third 9:30 Club show the next night. I went to two of those shows. The Brooklyn boys always put on a good show and these two shows were no exception. Backing band tour member Colin Stetson opened with an impressive, unorthodox performance that you really just have to experience (I'm hoping he'll hook up with this guy) and the woodwind arrangements he was a part of for The National carried the band's songs just as well as the other arrangements they've done in the past. The band was promoting the AIDS/HIV-fighting compilation Dark Was the Night and debuted three new songs. For the record, I would've taken additional performances of Mr. November in lieu of the new ones. Not that the new ones were bad at all-- it's just that I didn't know them yet anyway and just imagine hearing this live. It's goooooood.

Cyndi Lauper/Rosie O'Donnell. Yes. The Human Rights Campaign has been doing a True Colors Tour for the past few years that involves a 40-plus-dollar ticket to a venue an hour away from me. And while I'm always up for a big gay party with big gay music, I have yet to make it to a True Colors date. Cyndi Lauper and Rosie O'Donnell have been staples of the tour, which decided not to do a big multi-city outdoor amphitheater trip as in years past. Instead, Cyndi and Rosie went on the ten-city Girls Night Out Tour together, playing the 9:30 Club in DC. What?? That's what I said when I first read about the tour. It's safe to say that I never thought I would ever see Cyndi Lauper or Rosie O'Donnell live. Not for lack of want, of course-- I just never thought my path would ever yield the live experiencing of such celebrity. And here was the opportunity to see both of them live together at the 9:30 Club. Obviously, I jumped all over it! It was amazing. Rosie O'Donnell was slated to go on first and do a 30-minute comedy act. Fifteen minutes after she was scheduled to go on, the stage was empty. I found this weird because I've pretty much never seen a band go on late at the 9:30 Club. They run a tight ship. A little more than 20 minutes after she was supposed to come out, Rosie came on and explained that her plane had landed 17 minutes prior. We all expressed our cheer-ful appreciation that she had literally landed and then come directly to the club and she was off and running. There seem to be a lot of strong polarized opinions about Rosie. I like her and always have and I thought she was great. She talked a lot about her family, going through menopause and her love of Then she came back out later to sing back-up and play backing drums for Cyndi! Cyndi Lauper. Let me start by saying that for me, Time After Time alone would've been worth the price of admission. On the way to the venue I realized that I'd forgotten my earplugs that I wear so religiously and then thought to myself, "Well, it's Cyndi Lauper. I don't really think she's going to blow the roof off." Yeah, Cyndi Lauper blew the roof off. I was delighted to find that she and her backing band played a very rock 'n' roll show with max volume and guitar solos. One of the first things she did when she got on stage was to remove her shoes for greater dance move mobility. She bopped (which was a real highlight, by the way-- that thumping bass line was siiiiick) all over the stage, draping herself on speakers and lifting her legs and excuse the extra cheese factor, but it really was a great girls night out! Which is good, considering girls just want to have fun. [Wow. Apologies again.]

Virgin Mobile Freefest. After getting tickets for this thing about two months ago, I actually didn't end up going. Standing in line to pick up my tickets the Friday night before the show was a bit of a nightmare that involved forgetting my phone, finding out I needed my confirmation number for the tickets, asking a stranger to borrow his phone and rain. After all that hubbub, two friends ended up not being able to go at the last minute, and my brother woke up with some kind of flu-like illness. I contemplated going by myself to see (among many other great things), Weezer play Pork and Beans, but in the end I opted to stay home, hang out with my sick brother, write this post and be home to watch Entourage. 'Cause ya know, happiness only real when shared. Maybe next year?

  • Upcoming Shows I'm Totally Stoked About:

The Weakerthans - John K. Samson and the guys never disappoint me. Ever.

Sunny Day Real Estate/The Jealous Sound - My memory of Sunny Day Real Estate's live shows are that they are some of the best in existence. I hope my memory serves me. I'm excited to see Nate Mendel back in the fold. The fact that they're playing with The Jealous Sound pretty much just blows my mind. I'm sure that I will have plenty to say about this show later.

Built to Spill - These guys are one of my Brother's favorite bands of all time so I always go with him to experience the serious skills. They also never disappoint...except maybe a little sometimes when the number of minutes they've been jamming goes into the double digits. Still cool though, of course.

Thrice - With their latest release, they've, once again, pushed their boundaries. They are always so good. They will be so good.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Lately, I've been doing things late. I fell in love with Sex and the City after the show had wrapped. I fell in love with Gilmore Girls after it had broadcast its last scene. I started watching The L Word between seasons five and six. And now I am here, in April 2009, writing about my favorite tunes of 2008. Granted, I like to give things time to sink in. So I guess I've given you some time to miss the sounds of music past, and now that I'm revisiting them, you can drift back and listen to them with fond ears. Intentionally-created nostalgia! Unless you haven't heard these songs yet, and then you can enjoy the excitement of discovering these beautiful works anew, the way I experience Lorelai Gilmore every time she steps on screen. Right. So in no particular order:

1. Liz Phair - Exile in Guyville
Elizabeth Clark Phair released a remastered version of the seminal Exile in Guyville and then made a DVD to go along with it. See both previous blog posts ("Once More, With Feeling" and "I Am Offering You a Free CD. This is Not a Gimmick.") to hear my thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams and desires about it. The remastering is Grade A, the bonus tracks are welcome additions (I put the Girlysound version of Ant in Alaska on a bleeding heart compilation years ago) and the subsequent tour in support of it surpassed any prior notion I had of a dream come true. (Try these for the optimal listening experience.)

2. Tokyo Police Club - Elephant Shell
These young, charming, adorable Canadians had a lot to live up to after their stellar, revelatory 2006 debut EP A Lesson in Crime. The raw, confident talent they showcased at such young ages is the kind that causes me to wonder why the only thing I could think about during my late teens and early twenties was how to hang out as much as possible with my current lady of choice. Why couldn't I hang out with my lady AND write succinct, infectious, pugilistic dance rock? With a disc that clocks in at under 30 minutes, be sure not to let lines like "Australopithecine, rekindle your heart / These hospital machines are state of the art" pass you by.

Thrice spent two albums writing standout songs that did much to popularize a screamo, hard-edged, metallic genre. Then, in 2005, they turned away from it by expanding their boundaries and sound with a darker, sulkier, more digitized album called Vheissu. Since the band's inception, the one constant has been their evident evolution. They are ambitious, intellectual, challenging, hard-working and, above all else, true to themselves. They know who they are, they know what they want to do and they work hard to be it and do it all the time, over time. In 2007, this meant releasing volumes I and II of The Alchemy Index - four EP's each built around a different element. Volumes I and II were Fire and Water. Volumes III and IV: Air & Earth, released in 2008, are chock full of pianos rooted in vocal harmonies, guitars that sift notes like dirt, atmospheric variance that twinkles like stars and...sonnets. Masters of their craft, their live shows are mindblowing. As an added bonus, Thrice put out another release at the end of last year: the Live at the House of Blues DVD.

4. CSS - Donkey
Cansei de Ser Sexy ("I got tired of being sexy" in Brazilian Portuguese) finds itself on more serious ground with their sophomore effort. This is all relative, of course, as the album is called Donkey. Singer Lovefoxxx shines through blissfully with her accented girlish growls and decisive, commanding, rhythmic voice work. The rest of the team certainly holds up their end of the deal, wasting no time with punky hooks that consistently collide to make inspired dance music at its finest. Also, go see them live. Right now.

5. Mates of State - Re-Arrange Us
I'm a relationship-oriented person. This applies to family relationships, friend relationships and romantic relationships. [I guess I could've just said, "all relationships."] Even though I haven't heard it, I'm pretty sure the Katy Perry/Kelly Clarkson song I Do Not Hook Up is about me. My Relationship-Orient Express is also true for bands. I appreciate superior albums and superior songs but what I'm most interested in, and actively seek out, are superior bands. I want to find bands that I know I will want to be with until they break up with me. This tends to cut back on quantity, but it's a sacrifice I can live with. It also tends to block out objectivity - if I have a relationship with a band, that relationship colors my opinion. The biases of loyalty and affection are alive and well in my love of music.

I first saw Mates of State at a theater in 2002, a year after members Kori Gardner and Jason Hammel got married. In the seven years since, they have released two children, three full-lengths and an EP. Sometimes they take their kids on the road with them and sometimes their kids come on stage with them. I love families! I love rock! And I am completely enamored with this rock star family. I already love how Mates of State's music has evolved. And the way their beautiful marriage has beautifully married family and music into their lives has done much to enhance my relationship with their music. Their trademark spazz organ factor is decidedly absent on this latest disc - the large, reflective domestication of piano sound that takes its place is new, exciting, familial, familiar and wonderfully re-arranged.

6. Frightened Rabbit - The Midnight Organ Fight
These Scottish heroes are my musical equivalent of Meryl Streep, with a depth and range that is undeniable. They make thumping rhythms and driving melodies that spread out like a fog and envelop me before I have any clue of what's happening. And it's so irresistible, that once I realize it, alls I want to do is sit back and breathe it in. Combined with words that explore the shadow underbelly of love and the sordidness of its absence, The Midnight Organ Fight punctures and punctuates the soundscape with dark, raw, sweaty, reflective songs that, above all else, just keep it so damn real.

7. Stars - Sad Robots EP
Stars' brand of pensive, intellectual, anthemic electro-rock is right up my alley. I've actually said before that if I was a band, I'd be Stars. Or if Stars were a person, they'd be me. They have such a strong, specific overall artistic vision that shapes and colors everything they do, from the music to their layout designs to their lyrical themes to their album concepts to their live shows. The Stars brand is unmistakable and utterly enthralling. The first time I heard the Sad Robots EP on my wonderful, tiny speakers, I was pretty sure I was having a heart attack. True to form, its sweeping, massive musical textures envelop, mesmerize and hypnotize.

8. The Jealous Sound - Got Friends EP
The breathy, raucous shreds of Blair Shehan's band knapsack largely defined my high school career. His subsequent cleaner, more polished project, The Jealous Sound, largely defined my college career. Thus, I went through an entire cycle of denial, eventual acceptance and grief when, after the release of their brilliant self-titled debut EP and their incredible full-length debut, Kill Them With Kindness, The Jealous Sound signed with The Militia Group and then dropped off the face of the earth. The last update on their website is from 2005. So it was an unexpected, jaw-dropping turn and twist (I gasped loudly when I found out) when the band released the Got Friends EP in 2008. Rumored to be what the band managed to record before...they just kind of stopped, the Got Friends EP includes three new tracks plus two remixes of the song, Got Friends - one by the band's bassist John McGinnis and one by Jimmy Tamborello of DNTEL and Postal Service fame. Speaking about knapsack, Blair Shehan once said, "I think we make dark, hard-rocking music with a hook and varied dynamics." That pretty much sums it up for The Jealous Sound too. This EP encapsulates a feeling of being on the cusp. The feeling before the break, the feeling of being on the verge of surmounting the final edge before a vast expanse. It's a hopeful, wide open breath of fresh air from a band that, according to the horse's mouth, is finally stepping into the world of endless possibilities that has always been waiting for it:

From the band's MySpace page:
  • Tour when we finish the full length.
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, February 21, 2009 - 3:42 AM
  • [The EP] is just what we had at the time, we never want to put out music that we don't believe in (and in no way am i saying we hit the mark with EVERY song we have put out but they all started with heart and the belief that we were on to something). Now we have been given a chance to deliver on a promise we made to ourselves and to you guys. It is a bit of a daunting task when i actually write it out like this but honestly it is something Blair, John and i have wanted to make and it has taken every thing we have gone through over the past couple of years to make this record now. This is everything to us.
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, March 07, 2009 - 5:50 AM
  • We just finished the main structure of another song last night so we are moving along quite nicely right now.
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Friday, March 13, 2009 - 4:59 PM
  • We never really filed the divorce papers, we kind of just separated for awhile till we understood what it is that we really want to do on this next record. It brought us all back here to this moment in time. So, no divorce just a separation (we had to stay together for the kids, they deserve better than growing up in a single band family)... I mean we still have the bands that will always try and sound like other bands that came before them, we have bands that are overly 'happy' with a very false sense of what that word truly means... okay im just going off now, ill quit. I am just excited we get to do what we get to do and you guys enjoy it enough to stick out a very very very dry spell. Appreciation is very under appreciated by some but never lost on us.
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, March 14, 2009 - 9:46 PM
  • ...we are trying our hardest to make sure this is the one we have always wanted to make from opening track till the last notes fade. I think we are off to a great start as far as how we want the feel of everything to be and the songs we have so far are fitting right into that little pocket. more to come soon :).
Posted by The Jealous Sound on Saturday, March 14, 2009 - 10:08 PM


Other Notes of Note:

Death Cab for Cutie - Narrow Stairs
I can't talk about my relationships with bands and not talk about a band that I've been with since college. The unfortunate thing about Death Cab is that they have graduated from 9:30 Club-size venues to D.A.R. Constitution Hall-size venues. I don't typically follow bands to D.A.R. Constitution Hall. It has nothing to do with elitist judgement. (Or maybe it does, a little.) It has to do with the fact that I have no desire to purchase tickets to a show that I have to choose an actual seat for, at a venue that holds thousands of people. Especially when I've seen Death Cab in a college gymnasium. It seems that their venues aren't the only thing I've outgrown (undergrown?), as I don't enjoy Narrow Stairs as much as I enjoy their other releases. (Of course, playing at venues like D.A.R. Constitution Hall, they certainly don't need my devotion.) Still, their live show always rocks way more than their albums would have you think and the last two songs they've made videos for are two of my favorite songs on the disc.

The Stills - Being Here
I became intimate with The Stills' 2006 album Without Feathers when they played at the 9:30 Club with Rogue Wave. Last year, The Stills released Oceans Will Rise, which won the Juno award for Alternative Album of the Year and the band won the award for Best New Group. (What constitutes a "new group"?) Being Here is the leadoff track for Oceans Will Rise and is the only song I've heard off the album. I really like it. The Stills go down nice, smooth and easy and Being Here is a quintessential example of their crisp, layered cocktail of straightforward rock.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I Am Offering You a Free CD. This is Not a Gimmick.

In early 2008, Liz Phair announced that she was planning to perform three special summer shows to commemorate the release of her remastered Exile in Guyville: Chicago (the hometown), San Francisco (where she once lived, supporting herself by selling her charcoal drawings) and New York City (I’m assuming because everything from romance films starring John Cusack to TV dramas starring cops, lawyers and forensic scientists to the Red Hot relationship between The City and The Girls provide overwhelming evidence that NYC is the epicenter of the world.) Naturally, my mind launched directly to “You know something? Not only am I going to New York-- I'm going to New York and Chicago and San Francisco and New York and Chicago and San Francisco! And then I'm going to Washington DC to take back the White House! YEEEEEEEEAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!" Eventually, though, my mind floated back down into the structural shackles of my reality and I decided I could definitely swing a trip to NYC to see her. I promptly took note of when tickets were going on sale and awaited Phase 2.

When I Am Going to Buy Tickets to the Most Monumental Show of My Life Day arrived, I was giddy in anticipation the entire morning. Tickets were going on sale at 12:00 PM EST and all there was to do was wait. (At work.) As 12 noon approached, I sat in front of my computer screen anxiously awaiting the moment when I could burst out of the Ticketmaster starting gate…
…And then I drifted right back to my default state of scatterbrain and missed the stroke of
noon. At 12:03 PM, I clicked the "Find Tickets" button on the Ticketmaster website to find that "tickets [were] currently not available online..." I thought for sure it must be a mistake. The possibility of the show selling out after three minutes did not exist for me. It did not exist. It had never crossed my mind, so my brain was not wired to process it. By 12:06 PM, still believing that there was just some kind of mistake or misunderstanding (as if I was mistakenly being denied admission into a club or something), I called Ticketmaster. My name had to be on the list. There, a very nice lady informed me that the show had SOLD OUT. Confused...then shocked...then devastated, I slunk back to my computer in a state of sunken horror and disbelief. I sat there staring at the screen...and then dejectedly and in denial, I continued to try to buy tickets online. What else was there to do? I couldn’t believe that after weeks of anticipation, I’d made such an incredibly horrifying, hugely disgusting miss. It was as if I’d been training for the Olympics and after all that blood, sweat and tears, I lost the big race. No— dove into the pool three minutes after the gun went off, then lost the big race. Then thought for sure that there was no way I could’ve lost the big race, so then tried to go back and touch the wall with the telephone instead of my computer. Except I hadn’t even trained at all! I didn’t have to! I’d just waited. Alls I had to do was show up for the big race on time! So, of course, like any good Olympic loser, I just got back in the pool and kept trying to swim my way to the golden ticket.

And all the while, all I could think in that Olympic-sized Ticketmaster pool was, “Those three minutes from 12:00 to 12:03 PM are going to haunt me for the rest of my broken life.”

The End.

Just kidding!!!! Ha! About two minutes into my monotonous, collapsed daze of continually swimming clicking “Find Tickets” on the Ticketmaster website, something incredible happened. Out of the ether, a computer programmer hand from the heavens reached down and listed another NYC show for which tickets were suddenly available online. I hurriedly hopped on this shiny, new "Find Tickets” bus, and just as suddenly as I’d been shot down mere moments earlier, I was on my merry way towards purchasing a ticket for the second show. And thus, I was revived from my weakened, comatose state.

So it is with deep gratitude and pleasure that I can report to you about the show. Having said that, I’m not sure what I can really do. Liz Phair’s performance of Exile in Guyville at Hiro Ballroom in New York City on June 26, 2008 was so good that the act of somehow translating what happened to me and my body during that show into words on a page that you read just seems completely and totally absurd. When I think about the show, I am filled with excitement and joy to the point of bursting. I just want to explode it on to you! And I can’t! And that sounded really dirty and I didn’t mean for it to. But I guess it’s actually appropriate since we’re talking about Liz Phair. Anyway, I’ll do my best.

I went by myself to the show. I stayed at my gay boyfriend’s house and spent the day of the show at his apartment while he was at work. I arrived at the venue nice and early, excitedly vibrated myself inside and waited for Gay Boyfriend (GB) to call so I could meet him outside and return his keys to him. It wasn’t until at least an hour later after I hadn’t heard from him that I realized that the underground, Asian-themed bunker that is Hiro Ballroom is insulated from any Verizon cell phone tower that wants to communicate with my mobile phone. I guiltily ran outside to see if GB had left me any messages while I had been waiting underground. He hadn’t. So with Liz coming on stage at any moment, I ran back inside, squirmed my way back to my original spot, tried to forget that I was the only thing standing between GB and his entrance to his own home and hoped that he would forgive me.

Liz came on stage with three dudes. I did not recognize them. No Brad Wood or Casey Rice from the olden days. Just Liz Phair and three unfamiliar dudes who soon melted away as Liz looked out into the crowd, shot us her familiar nervous, excited, winning smile and launched into the opening chords of 6’1”. [At this point, I am very aware of the fact that you, as a reader, really have no use for any of what I am saying if you’re not familiar with, or have at least heard, Exile in Guyville. So my suggestion to you now before you read any further is to go out and purchase it. If you need assistance with this, let me know. I will either purchase it for you or sit with you as you listen to my copy.]

Now I’m not going to do a song-by-song response to the show. The fact that she played the entire album all the way through was as more amazement-inducing than you can imagine. All the song arrangements were as true to the album’s as I’d ever heard them. This was especially exciting during 6’1” which, while a regular character in her set lists over the years, had taken on a more adult contemporary vibe a la her latest album of new material, Somebody’s Miracle. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It just hasn’t been as true to the original album version. On June 26, 2008, however, it was. So while I won't do a song-by-song response, I will provide some noted highlights, which bear a striking resemblance to a partial song-by-song response. Do not be fooled.

  • - Glory was damn amazing. The songs that feature just Liz and her guitar were easier to keep true to the album version. Glory was damn amazing. Her performance of this song took my love of this song to a whole new level.
  • - I am not a musician or a singer. Having gotten that disclaimer out of the way, Dance of the Seven Veils features a vocal jump of about four octaves. Or something like that. Thus, I was heavily anticipating Liz’s live rendition of this song. I was easily impressed, as it was off the freaking hook. So, so good.
  • - A lot of Liz Phair’s appeal for me revolves around her voice and the way she sings. She’s got this amazing, flippant, seductive drone throughout much of Exile in Guyville that she is very willing to play around with (as I cited in my expert octave observation of Dance of the Seven Veils). She falls and rises as she frolics around her vocal range and in doing so, completely changes the sound of her voice. See: Johnny Sunshine or anything she did before Exile in Guyville. [Seriously, do you have the album queued up to listen to as you read this? If not, you really need to. REALLY! Right now. Do it.] So Never Said is another song that has stayed on Liz’s set list throughout her career since Exile in Guyville, including during her Lilith Fair days. Again, she adult contemporized it a bit and during the bridge when she sings, “…so don’t look at me sideways,” one of the changes she made in her live shows in the 1990’s was to go to a higher key instead of staying at her low register. During her Exile in Guyville show, she kept it low just like on the CD. ( Behold the difference .)
  • - During Explain it to Me, Liz mis-sang a lyric. Instead of singing, "make ‘im measure up decades longer..." in verse one and then "make ‘im measure up ten times longer..." in verse two, she sang "decades" twice. The fact that it is entirely possible and likely that I know Liz’s lyrics better than she does (and definitely do in the case of Explain it to Me) is an odd and powerful insight into the artist and the art-ee. I know I’m not the only one who knows Liz’s lyrics, and perhaps music, better than she does. And the fact that this art that she made and then set free into the consciousness has touched so many lives to the extent that it has is mind-blowing. For her—the creator of the masterpiece—it’s something that she wrote decades ago and that she hasn’t really had a fixed relationship with since. She’s been making life and other music. I’ve been listening to it regularly and intimately for 15 years and continue to discover new, fresh, incredible things about it. (Thanks in large part to these .) Anyhow, I digress. During Explain it to Me, Liz also turned on the disco ball, which was reminiscent of her performances of White Chocolate Space Egg. The shimmery semblance of reflected water always heightens the experience. (And reminds me how lucky I am to even be in the pool.)
  • - Canary is a conversation that takes place between Liz’s vocals and Liz’s piano. That’s it. No drum set stealing all the thunder; no guitar taking all the glory. Liz didn’t play the piano. At first I was sad because I really would’ve loved to see her sit behind the keys and meander her way through this song. [I know you know what I’m talking about because you’re listening to the song right now.] My disappointment soon subsided, however, when I realized what it meant for one of the mystery dudes to play the piano part instead: that Liz would stand on stage front and center and bathe us all in the haze of her intimate gaze. She gently looked out at each and every one of us while she dropped lines like, “Send it up on fire/deaf before dumb...send it up on fire/death before dawn.”
  • - Girls! Girls! Girls! is another song that has the minimalist instrumentation called “guitar only." I’m running out of fancy ways to say, "this song was also off the damn hook." Perhaps, “off le damn hook [with a silent ‘h’]”. French accents usually sound pretty fancy. Like Glory, Liz’s performance of this song brought me to a whole new level of love. It was like I had dinner with its parents. As I’ve previously stated in my life, one of the things I love about Liz’s CD’s is that she backs up herself. The more Liz vocals I get, the better. And I’ve always loved picking apart her varietal vocal licks. Unfortunately, much to my chagrin, Liz has never translated this multiple-layers-of-Liz effect to the live stage. I know all of her backing parts though, and I can hear their ghosts when I hear her live. This was especially present during this song, whose CD version consists of Liz backing herself up by half-talking, half-kind-of-singing in some kind of character voice that sounds like a high version of herself trying to mess up the main vocal the way an annoying younger brother tries to mess you up while you’re counting by yelling out random numbers. And I, of course, am familiar with this high character voice’s parts. While Liz did not split her voice like Rahzel and back herself up in a way that was true to the CD version, she did throw in a backup line one time. The line was, “You better check with me, daddy." [At the 1:27 mark.] So when I sang this ghost part’s line out loud at the show, Liz sang along. I loved this. I love this. This is the crazy, tiny, detail-oriented stuff that I appreciate. I LOVED this.
  • - Divorce Song is a classic legend of a song that Liz has also played regularly at shows since 1993. The part that is never there that I miss every time is the CSSHHHH (that’s called onomatopoeia) after she sings, “...boxed it up and buried it in the ground...” The CSSHHHH sound is made with the cymbal (obviously). It made its much-missed-by-me appearance here at this show.
  • - The notes I took for Shatter say, “Shatter was amazing." Really, Jennifer? Ya don’t say. Well I think what I meant to say was that Shatter is a long jam of a tune. Nothing Phish-y about it— just ambling, angling guitars that drift in and out of the foreground and gently make way for Liz’s emotive vocals. I was really amazed at how well the atmospheric parts of the album came across live.
  • - Johnny Sunshine features a vocal octave jump akin to Dance of the Seven Veils. The randy, prominent guitar that reaches out and lassoes me when I listen to this song on the CD literally reached out and lassoed me at the live show. My notes for this one say that “Johnny Sunshine was off the hook,” (of course they do) but really it was I who was like a fish on a hook because when Liz played this song, I was completely and totally hooked. I think the amazingness of this show has caused me to go insane and break into nonsensical prattle.
  • - Stratford-on-Guy is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. When she played this song, I thought, “My jaw has fallen and it can’t get up.”
  • - Strange Loop? ends with an incredible jam session. The live rendition of this long, album-ending instrumental jam literally put me in a trance. I can now unequivocally declare that Liz Phair is a hypnotist.

The encore Liz had been playing in the shows leading up to this one had consisted of Chopsticks, a new song, and Polyester Bride as the closer. On this night, she played Chopsticks, and then scrapped all the other stuff and asked for requests. After several, enthusiastic shouts from the crowd (I yelled “CRATERLAKE!!!” for my brother), Liz decided to try May Queen and Wild Thing— a gem from Girlysound—and ended with Polyester Bride. So we got four songs instead of three, including rough, impromptu versions of May Queen and Wild Thing. We got to watch Liz figure out how to even start May Queen with the words, the key and the guitar part. During Wild Thing, Liz invited a lucky young gentleman on stage with her! She joked about how this could be his moment and once he got up there, they exchanged a few words, and then she took off her guitar and gave it to him to play. She went back to singing to the crowd, trying to remember the words, when suddenly the dude on stage wearing Liz’s guitar busted out with the guitar part for the chorus. She turned to him and said, “...OK yeah, that’s the chorus. You gotta do the verse." He fiddled around a bit and then Liz turned to him again and said, “Start on A and then go to E and then go to G." It was adorable and spectacular.

After a show like that, I knew I had reached the pinnacle of my distinguished career . Then, Liz announced more Exile tour dates. MORE! The NYC show went from being one of a special three-city tour to one of a several-city tour. And because I am Lady Luck, she announced a show in Washington DC at the 9:30 Club. As you might expect, there are a few notable differences between the 9:30 show and the Hiro show.

First of all, at Hiro Ballroom, as I looked around, it suddenly occurred to me that the woman of my dreams was probably standing there in that very crowd. I mean, the commemorative Exile in Guyville show??? She had to be in there somewhere, right? Well, I’m not sure. Maybe. If she was, I didn’t talk to her that night. So when the 9:30 Club show rolled around, I figured that the woman of my dreams must really be in the room. Like, for real this time. Well again, maybe she was, but if so, I didn’t talk to her that night. Or at least if I did, I didn’t know it was her. Oh well.

Prior to the age of the re-released Exile in Guyville, nostalgia was sad and unpleasant for me. I didn’t like the feeling of missing things, so I avoided it whenever possible. Now, in the aftermath of the re-release, I find nostalgia quite comfortable. (Indeed, warm light on a winter’s day.) At Hiro Ballroom, I saw all kinds of groups of friends that had come together to go to the age- defying show. I saw one group that looked like they were right out of a prequel to Sex and the City. They were so happy and excited with their cocktails and cute outfits and trendy bags and carefully sheared hair. I was there alone and suddenly wished I had my own cast of Friends friends to enjoy the show with too. I thought about my middle school and high school friends and how Liz had so willingly revisited her old stomping grounds to make her Exile in Guyville Redux DVD. There was a huge emphasis in the air on remembering and commemorating 1993. I thought, “Should I contact all of these people that I haven’t seen or talked to in years?? Should I tell them that I’m thinking about them and wish they were here with me???" In the end, I decided that they might find my sudden enthusiastic reappearance a bit abrupt and confusing since they weren’t going through the same bout of nostalgic affection that I was. So I settled for just the enjoyment of watching (in a non-creepy way) groups like my favorite Sex and the City crew bond through their collective step back into 1993.

In DC, I didn’t have to do that. The main and blinding, glaringly wonderful difference between the two shows was the fact that for the 9:30 Club show, several old faces from middle/high school came along for the ride. Old faces (that still look quite sprightly and fresh) for whom Exile in Guyville was also a defining part of their 1990’s.

It was a truly amazing joy to experience that night with all those friends from the past, and the brother responsible for my hearing Liz in the first place. The major difference during the show revolved around Flower. In NYC, Liz had a singer named Blake Lively do the backup vocals. She did a fine job and since she was integral to creating an arrangement as close as possible to the one on the album (Liz’s classic backing-up-herself technique is all over this song), I welcomed her presence and performance. For the DC show, Liz did not have a Blake Lively. So she announced early on in the show that she was going to invite someone on stage to sing with her. My friends leaned into me and said, “We are going to cheer so loud and get her to pick you." The purist I am replied, “But the backup parts on Flower are the really high parts! I can’t sing that high! I’m an alto!" My friends looked at me like I was insane and said, “Who the hell cares?!? It’s LIZ!" Of course, they were right. It’s LIZ! Who cares if I can’t sing high! Then I’ll just sing her part! Whatever! I’d be on stage with her! I’ll sing Happy Birthday! If I could manage not to throw up, it would be a shining moment of my life! So when Flower came up on the set list, Liz made the call to the audience for her backup singer and my friends did me proud with their hootie hoo’s and highty ho’s. Liz looked directly down and to her left, which was completely and totally not in my direction. She chose two ladies, one of whom I talked to outside the club before the show. I won’t talk anymore about how they did because since I’d made the transition from thinking I couldn’t go up there and sing, to really wanting to go up there and sing, my sadness and disappointment that I wasn’t chosen clearly clouded my vision and opinion of those lucky girls. Dammit.

And then, of course, there was the part when, in a gorgeous, conscious moment, Liz asked what time it was and said that (in addition to the night of history she was currently making), she wasn't going to let us miss the other history being made on August 28, 2008. "Not on [her] watch," she declared. Really? Does it get any better?

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that at the age of 41, Liz looked damn incredible. At one point during the DC show, I realized that I was consciously restraining myself from yelling, “Take off your pants!” And I’m not even like that! I'm not some sex fiend! The fact that Liz is smokin’ hot has always been icing on the cake, not the actual cake. Or even the filling between the layers of the cake. (In my defense, her top appeared to be the top half of some kind of swimsuit or bodysuit, so if she had dropped her bottoms, I think she would have been respectably presentable.) Still, after 15+ years and two Exile in Guyville shows, it is plainly evident to me that not only does Ms. Phair still got the look—more importantly, she’s got the sound.