I’m not quite there yet, but my life now is not what it was in high school or college. My appreciation of music has transitioned through several phases. I won’t say I’m past my prime; things are just different these days. Like, let’s say a band I like is coming through town…
Colton circa 2009 would check with his three male roommates, who double as daily and nightly drinking buddies, and with his dozens of restless friends who live within five minutes’ walk, and see if enough people were stoked about the band to justify the hour-long drive and $35 ticket price, which they usually were if anyone interesting actually included Norfolk, VA on their tour.
Colton circa 2015 checks with his wife and a couple other suburbanites and debates the merits of spending an hour each way on the metro to get to the far side of D.C., where all the good bands seem to pick out the tiny clubs with terrible parking situations and still charge $35 because capital-city yuppies have money to burn.
At the show, my younger self would be jumping and sweating from the moment the opening act got the audience on their side till the headliner capped off their encore, no matter which band I came to see. Nowadays a beer break or two is exceedingly likely, since I am both of age and confident that I can spare the cost of a drink.
I keep a record of every concert I’ve ever attended: date, bands, location. When I first got my own car, I averaged a little better than one per month. (Could’ve been more but, again, Norfolk.) As I write, it’s been close to a year since my last outing.
So let’s level. Even bands I love can no longer get me to buy tickets. Fall Out Boy? Too expensive, and arena stages are too big for them. Reel Big Fish? Under threshold because I’ve seen them a few times already. Guster? They’ve fallen, man.
That brings us to today’s list: “Eight Musical Artists I Would Actually Go See, Which Is Now Saying Something.” This is super personal. I couldn’t honestly make it to ten. I went through my music library and the mailing lists I’m on and handpicked the few performers I guarantee could get me on the floor if they came through my town. Sorry if you haven’t heard of them.
Maybe I’m too late. These Swedes were pegged as one-hit wonders following 1996’s “Lovefool.” The rest of First Band on the Moon is equally upbeat and equally tragic, like ska beamed in from… I guess I’m stuck with “the moon.” Hiding in plain sight, track 9 is a Black Sabbath cover that hints at the many brilliant and preposterous things this band intended to do with pop music. Now nearly a decade removed from their last issue, the Cardigans still play a handful of shows each year, almost entirely in Europe. I payed for an A Camp concert to try to get close. It was not close. Barring a miracle, this will remain my one that got away.
2. Gatsbys American Dream
Breaking news that this defunct emo outfit’s singer and primary songwriter have reconvened as The Money Pit inspired this post. As a grad student, I coerced a friend into joining me on a 4-hour train ride to New Jersey to attend an overpriced music festival that no longer exists because Gatsbys American Dream had a half-hour set. I did not let them get away. Already older than most of the crowd, I rocked out in the hot front row and fanboyed hard at the meet-and-greet tent. No fraction of the original lineup will ever amount to what these guys were as a whole: the best band ever to come out of Seattle. I will fight you over it.
3. Vanessa Carlton
Nobody loves ‘Nessa like I do. “A Thousand Miles” is burned into America’s memory, and she speaks of it gratefully but holds it at a distance, like a beloved grandparent whose senility makes them unpleasant company. I followed every album, every note. I just missed her first live performance since she became a mother because I was out of town on business. With an imminent new EP and a full-length set for autumn, there should be another chance to catch her on the east coast.
4. The Rocket Summer
When the songwriter plays every instrument, every instrument gets an interesting part. Bryce Avary’s one-man operation won me over with composition and arrangement back before he could afford quality production. With slickness has come stronger pop sensibility, sometimes at the cost of raw originality. But the joy of engaging listeners with every string, key, and skin remains. I supported the tours for his last three albums. It’s just about time for another.
Friend of the blog Sam Behymer has maintained a steady pulse on social media. Despite several recorded albums and a growing collection of music videos, though, we’ve got no word on her next big release or a nationwide tour. As an adult, I can appreciate that these things take time. But the way her beautiful voice entices you to offer up your heart just so her stories can touch it with sadness and abandon it in a flowerbed… it makes me impatient for the great things that are due to a woman of such ability.
6. Dirty Dishes
My pet band and everyone’s pet band. Somehow, as Passion Pit waits at the gates in alt-rock limbo and national hipster press hangs on Sadie Dupuis’s very breath, there is no spotlight on the band that Boston knew was too big for their underground. So Dirty Dishes moved to L.A. Having seen them in Massachusetts, I know that what sounds good in their MP3s blows your mind live on stage. I’ll hop in line every time for another psych rock awakening.
Independent and early-career artists have always been kind to me, responding to emails and packaging surprise goodies with vinyl shipments. I still never expected that a composer and musician who has inspired and enthralled me as much Anchorage would deign to chat with me on the record for this site. In a perfect world, Caitlin Pequignot would already be supporting herself on record deals and book sales. Instead, I’m left keeping watch for her next creative output and dreaming of the day she might travel north with her violin and pedals.
8. He Is We
At home, I still explore new music and monitor proven bands and labels. Part of that work is seeing what happens to great artists after transitions. He Is We was a duo. A lot of shit went down and a lot of people tumbld about it. Now it’s probably just Rachel Taylor. The first He Is We album makes me happy when nothing else can. If I get the chance to see Rachel taking her new show on the road, I owe her at least the price of a ticket. And if the quality of her new work approaches the old stuff, that’s just gravy.
Don’t pity me for moving away from the standing-room-only scene. I picked out eight bands here that I would make every effort to see if they played within an hour of me, but that doesn’t mean nobody else has a chance. A few dozen other bands were in consideration for this post, and they’ll all be in strong consideration for getting me out of the house when they play D.C. Most of them are even still actively making music! So, my apologies to Beautiful Small Machines, Porcupine Tree, The Appleseed Cast, Punch Brothers, Korean Jeans, Pinback, Kitty, Pelican, and the many others who just missed the cut. You’re still in my heart, and on my newsfeed.
If you have trouble googling or spotifying any of these artists, let me know in the comments.