L.A. Takedown’s II a Journey Worth Taking

You don’t need to have been to Los Angeles to best experience L.A. Takedown’s latest album, II. It’s an album that’s evocative of a time and place, though it’s one that may or may not exist. The fact that it’s almost entirely instrumental (save for some lightly sprinkled vocoder in its final moments) doesn’t provide any concrete evidence. It’s an album length mystery, and one that’s worth the patience of letting it unfold.

Led by Los Angeles-based composer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron M. Olson, the seven-piece band’s follow-up to L.A. Takedown’s 2015 self-titled debut is the first release featuring the full band – keyboardists Ryan Adlaf and Jonah Olson, guitarists Miles Wintner and Stephen Heath drummer Mose Wintner, and bassist Jessica Espeleta. ‘Composer’ is not a loose term in this case – Olson studied classical music history and theory at San Francisco State.

Full of perfectly slick guitars, heavy beds of synths and keys and crisp drums, II feels less like the work of a rock band, and more like the score to a night out in one of the west coast’s foremost cities: a place where it seems permanently dusky and all the signs are neon. Effortless syncopation of guitars on tracks like “L.A. Blue” and “City of Glass” have the warmth of a Xanax buzz. Everything feels a little out of focus, the kisses are a little softer, and sleep feels imminent the minute the eye settles behind the eyelid. (It probably doesn’t hurt that the album cover is an illustration of a similar-looking pill between two fingers.)

Songs like “Night Skiing” feel like hero’s journeys – driving percussion and synths give away to the album’s loosest shredding eventually building to a climax that would get a nod of respect from the most ardent Van Halen devotees. Each song has a way of feeling like a mini symphony that fits perfectly in the whole of the album – the most 80’s dry-drum sound of “Bad Night at Black Beach” is even worthy of its place, even if it doesn’t feel much more like an extended interlude.

What L.A. Takedown have done with II is create a record that forces a listener to really feel. It’s imaginative, ambitious and in a weird way, a little ponderous. It feels like a place you can visit, look around and feel the breeze. Is it Los Angeles? Is it somewhere in the desert, or the sound of driving down an empty highway with the top down? That’s not entirely clear, and maybe it’s best not to think about it. It will take you somewhere new each time.

II is out May 12 on Ribbon Music. Listen to “Night Skiing” below.

Sorority Noise Look to the Past to Evolve on New Album

What is emo? A classicist view may lend itself to sounds like The Promise Ring’s Nothing Feels Good or Weezer’s Pinkerton, which gave way to second-generation icons like Brand New. While The Promise Ring and especially Weezer never really quite built on the successes of their early records, Brand New began as a yawpy pop-punk band that suddenly transformed into a wiry, textured post-punk punk act that felt a little less emotional and a little more devastating with each release. It’s this template that has given birth to bands like Sorority Noise, whose third album You’re Not As _____ As You Think just arrived on Triple Crown Records.

The Hartford, CT band are often mentioned in the same sentence as artists like Modern Baseball and Julien Baker, friends that they reference casually in both press and in songs. Together, these artists are part of a new wave of punk that shows a staggering propensity to grow quickly musically and lyrically with each record. Sorority Noise’s 2014 debut Forgettable is a clever (but not inaccurate) name. It only offers a preview of the promise the group – Cam Boucher’s early lyrical prowess and a few guitar atmospherics. This was refined on next year’s Joy, Departed, a record that seems less like a band with something to prove, sounding a little road-tested, adding texture to songs and having more than a few killer tracks, including the hooky self-doubt of “Art School Wannabe”.

You’re Not As _____ As You Think represents another evolution – it seems to be a little less about relationships and self doubt and a lot more of contemplating loss and death and questioning the existence of God. (Of course, there’s also ‘look-how-far-we’ve-come‘ moment for a 31-year-old reviewer, even referencing the Gaslight Anthem’s “The ‘59 Sound”. It’s always going to feel too early for that.)

Opening track “No Halo” details Boucher experiencing the loss of a friend, skipping his funeral but later on driving to his house forgetting he had passed away. “Disappeared” is straight out of the playbook of Modern Baseball’s Jake Ewald – wordy verses with something that sounds like a hook but the secret is that it’s not quite one. The most intriguing tracks are the two “Letters” songs that feel a little more like interludes – “First Letter from St. Sean” and “Second Letter from St. Julien” that Boucher uses to further the loose narrative. “Sean” talks about the emptiness of loss, while “Julien” – an obvious reference to his friend and practicing Christian Julien Baker – sounds like he’s letting us in on a personal conversation and it’s not pretty – “You say there’s a god/And you say you’ve got proof/Well I’ve lost friends to heroin/So what’s your god trying to prove?”

With maturity and a willingness to confront tough subjects on record, it’s clear that You’re Not As _____ As You Think is the best offering from Sorority Noise to date. For a band whose median age is 23, it’s an impressive record that is part homage to the bands that inspired them while also working to take chances with their sound a little more quickly than expected. It’ll be exciting to see what they come up with next. It probably won’t sound anything like this.

The Rest of the Best of 2016

Favorite Moments of 2016

1. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series. Being in Wrigleyville during the series. Being at the parade. Pure emotion. Being with Jordan when they won. Eamus Catuli switching to all zeroes. Not quite giving up hope when it seemed all but over MULTIPLE times. Continuing to ride that wave.

Katie Nixon and I near the seventh largest gathering in human history.

2. Meeting Bruce Springsteen the day before my birthday. Also, his show at United Center on August 28. Magic in the night.

3. The Hold Steady: Reunite with Franz Nicolay, play a bunch of really awesome shows behind my favorite album of all time. The Frenchkiss reissues of AKM and Sep Sunday. Lifter Puller twice in one year, including the opportunity to stand on stage at Red Rocks. Denver meh, Chicago good and New York was wonderful but I could have done without the concussion. Great openers: Titus Andronicus, Laura Stevenson (so nice!) and Lifter Puller. Nights go on forever and guitars are cool.

4. Nashville visits, March-August (Just a few: recording in the Third Man Booth, all the food, Infinity Cat House, Doom, Tim buys a guitar, City Winery, meeting Daddy Issues and Diarrhea Planet, and pretty much everyone that made my time there awesome.)

Hanging with Emmett and Evan from Diarrhea Planet.

5. More travel: Austin, TX trip with my Mom. Hanging in Boston and candlepin bowling with some of my best people and Vineyard Youth in Pawtucket, RI. Additionally, anyone who came to visit me and had a good time.

6. Health and wellness: PRing my third 5K on the October 30 Hot Chocolate Run. Exercising regularly for the first time in my life. Reading the most books this year than I’ve read in a decade.

7. Personal: Getting the opportunity to write for Men’s Journal and interviewing Dolph Ziggler, Chad Gable, Hot Doug and Andrew Wyslotsky.

My team beat his in the World Series. I ain’t sorry.


8. Wrestling: American Alpha winning the NXT and WWE Smackdown Tag Team titles in the same year (all of the great wrestling this year, seriously.) Owens and Zayn at Payback in a total mindblower. Zayn and Nakamura at Takeover Dallas. DIY and Revival at Takeover Toronto. Meeting Jerry Lawler randomly in Memphis inside his restaurant and being able to tell him we shared a birthday.

9. Food: Qui, Parachute, Rolf and Daughters, Husk, Mitchell’s Delicatessen, Maketto, Pinewood Social, Row 34, Mission Chinese and a ton I’m missing.

10. Trash Pandas releases two EP’s and having involvement in them. They make me laugh and proud I did a thing that’s out in the world.

Shows

I saw 37 shows this year. Take a look.

Everything I Listened To

I made a playlist for every month this year of everything I listened to individually (excluding albums). Check it out.

The Story So Far (64 and Counting…)

1. October 26, 2006 – Metro – Chicago, Illinois

Filmed the Chicago scenes of “A Positive Rage”. You can see me in two brief clips. Completely dumbfounded by what I was seeing. Hooked from the opening notes of “Stuck Between Stations”.

2. January 1, 2007 – House of Blues – Chicago, Illinois

Day after a New Years Eve show. As my friend put it, “they drank until they played better.”

3. May 17, 2007 – Miramar Theatre – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Met Tad and Franz for the first time. That was cool. Only stage invasion I’ve ever been a part of.

4. August 4, 2007 – Lollapalooza (Grant Park) – Chicago, Illinois

One of my all-time favorites. A blistering fifteen-song set. I waited six hours at the front of the stage for this one with my friends. We made the back page of the local paper because of our rocking out the next day.

5. October 30, 2007 – Metro – Chicago, Illinois

First of two nights at the Metro with Art Brut. Eddie Argos fell over the monitor he was sitting on and my friend caught him in his arms mid song. . Really, this show more or less felt like a warm up…

6. October 31, 2007 – Metro – Chicago, Illinois (“A Positive Rage” Recording)

…For this one. Ridiculous. Band came dressed out as banderos, complete with fake mustaches (except for Franz, obviously). I just remember that room was electric that night. Pretty sure I heard “Citrus” for the first time here.

7. April 11, 2008 – Turner Hall Ballroom – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Kind of a shitshow. Lots of drunken assholes, and Craig left the stage toward the end of “Killer Parties” after almost getting pegged in the head with a beer can, which left Tad, Galen and Franz to do the “If she said we partied…” line together. Also, some dude tried to jump on stage, and was promptly thrown off by McQ. Luckily, Steve Barone was there to capture this moment on film: www.youtube.com/watch?v=65m274bviU4

8. June 27, 2008 – Ram’s Head Live! – Baltimore, Maryland

My first out-of-town road trip. Met a huge portion of the east coast scenesters, so that was really fun. After the show, saw some dude try to steal a lady’s purse and get taken down by an off-duty cop. Walking around Baltimore at night was scary. Got locked out of the parking garage where my friend’s car was at. Hard Corey was nice enough to let us crash with her for a couple hours until we could get it out at dawn.

9. June 29, 2008 – McCarren Park Pool – Brooklyn, New York

Ridiculous on every level. This was a free show in an abandoned pool turned sometimes venue (that eventually became a pool again). Part of a three song bill with J. Roddy Walston and the Business and The Loved Ones – it absolutely POURED during the first two bands, but then the sun came out with a vengeance during The Hold Steady’s set. Matt Jones, Emily, Katieee and Heidi, part of Bible Salesman and myself made it in the following photo for this New Yorker article: nymag.com/arts/popmusic/features/48531/index1.html. I’m the guy with my Unified Scene shirt tied around the front of my neck. Also, Matt hurt his finger really bad and something happened where his pants were so wet, he cut the bottoms of his pajama pants off and turned them into shorts for the bus ride home. Got to talk to Craig for the first time, and also met Rob Sheffield who was right next to him.

10. July 19, 2008 – Pitchfork Music Festival – Chicago, Illinois

I think I waited in the neighborhood of ten hours at the front of the stage for this one, and definitely was one of the first people at gates for Pitchfork that day. Saw sets by the late Jay Reatard, Fleet Foxes, Vampire Weekend and finally, THS. Lots of confetti was thrown. THS came back for an encore it was so well received, finishing with a brilliant version of “Killer Parties”.

11. July 21, 2008 – Majestic Theatre – Madison, Wisconsin

Second show of a four day string. Met some longtime friends at this show, spoke with Dave Hause and was even introduced to Galen’s mom.

12. July 22, 2008 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Holy moly. This one was nuts. As the screen rose, “Let”s Go Crazy” by Prince started playing, as evidenced by this video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EnRVVJK2Dk. The stage crush was insane. I remember Steve Barone accidentally knocking off Craig’s glasses towards the end of the show and the venue passing out Fla-Vor-Ice popsicles for us who were extremely dehydrated in the first few front rows.

13. July 23, 2008 – Fargo Theatre – Fargo, North Dakota

Middle of nowhere. Steve Barone apparently fell asleep on the bus in Minneapolis with one of his shoes missing and accidentally made the ride to Fargo. At the end of the night, he held out a sign that said “I NEED A MIRACLE” on cardboard. I’ve got that picture somewhere.

Weird venue with seats and this pocket that opened up in the front where you could stand. Directly in front of the stage, however, there was an organ. Franz rose from the floor to play “Both Crosses”. It was awesome. Also, first time I ever heard “The Ballad of the Midnight Hauler”. Blistering.

14. November 13, 2008 – Bluebird Nightclub – Bloomington, Indiana

First show I picked up on the “Rock and Roll Means Well” tour. We drove five hours and THS played first. I remember hardly eating or drinking anything before the show and therefore I was completely gassed halfway through the first song.

15. November 14, 2008 – Riviera Theatre – Chicago, Illinois

Another favorite. At that point, this was the biggest place I’d seen them play in Chicago outside of a festival setting. I don’t like the Riv much, but that night it was pretty magical. I remember all members of both the Drive-By Truckers and The Hold Steady on stage for a few songs, including “Let There Be Rock”. Awesome. Just awesome.

16. November 15, 2008 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, Minnesota

I remember this one was cold. And that we went to Pizza Luce in Minneapolis afterwards. THS opened that night and covered “History Lesson, Part II” by the Minutemen. I took a video of it. www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLsIKSKEnYY

17. November 16, 2008 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, Minnesota

This one I liked more than the night before it, but I don’t remember exactly why. We got “DJ’s” and a “Lookout Cleveland” cover. Those were awesome.

18. January 15, 2009 – House of Blues – Chicago, Illinois

Fully prepared to wait several hours outside in sub-zero temperatures, but that ended up not being the case. They let us hang out inside. In my scene report from the show, I noted this: “CF had not one, but TWO bras thrown at him, one Starter sweatband, and a couple of beer cans. Dusty was prompt with cleanup.” Tom Morello opened for the band. This was a show for the Chicago Cubs Charity.

19. March 29, 2009 – Recher Theatre – Towson, Maryland

This kicked off a string of seven shows in ten days. I remember this was a free one sponsored by Jack Daniels. It also was the first show of the videoblog series I did in 2010-2011 with a string of shows. Those are still on YouTube.

I met Jersey Mike in person for the first time at this one. I miss him.

20. March 30, 2009 – The Fillmore at Irving Plaza – New York City, New York

I believe someone from Make-A-Wish, or a similar organization wrote the setlist to this one. It was a fun one. Fun fact: It’s also the least amount of time I’ve ever waited outside in line at a Hold Steady show.

21. March 31, 2009 – Valentine’s – Albany, New York

Extraordinarily low ceiling, really low capacity venue. Super intimate. “Milkcrate Mosh”, people.

22. April 1, 2009 – Tralf – Buffalo, New York

This one was inside of a mall. Buffalo was completely desolate. Raucous version of “Hot Fries”.

23. April 3, 2009 – Illini Courtyard Cafe – Urbana-Champaign, Illinois

Well, this was just stupid. For some reason the school decided to hold the show in the Student Union cafeteria, which was not at all suited for a rock show of this caliber. The only barricades they had were the retractable ones you’d see at movie theaters or something of the like. Also, a good portion of the underage audience was already VERY drunk by the time they got to the dry show. As soon as the band kicked into “Constructive Summer”, everyone barreled forward, leaving everyone to hang on for their lives. I spent most of this show holding on to a monitor. Some girl was so drunk that she passed out headfirst into Franz’s keyboard, breaking the stand (he didn’t miss a note) and severing the connection to Craig’s monitor midway through “Stations”. Dusty McGyvered the thing back together in five minutes. Everyone was pretty bruised by the end of this one.

24. April 4, 2009 – Jake’s Nightclub & Bar – Bloomington, Indiana

“Two Handed Handshake”. Come on! Also, a couple cool shout outs here. “Milkcrate Mosh”, too. This placed turned into a dance club IMMEDIATELY after the show. It was super weird exiting the venue. The scene ended up at a place called “Waffle House”, that was NOT A WAFFLE HOUSE. One of the menu items was “Fried Mush”.

25. April 7, 2009 – The Picador – Iowa City, Iowa

This place was super small. but holy crap, what a setlist. “Knuckles”, “Citrus” and “Midnight Hauler” for the second time. My notes tell me that there was an awesome “Killer Parties” speech. It really was.

26. June 8, 2009 – Bowery Ballroom – New York City, New York

Four nights in two venues in New York. LilHan comes to America. The show STARTED with “Killer Parties”, as everyone came on stage one at a time, starting with Bobby on drums. The confetti was thrown REAL early that night.

27. June 9, 2009 – Bowery Ballroom – New York City, New York

All of “Separation Sunday” (albeit out of order), beginning with “Crucifixion Cruise”.

28. June 10, 2009 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Everything pales in comparison to the “Rosalita” moment. If you have not seen it yet, you really owe it to yourself.

Here’s the story: The show ends as “Thunder Road” plays over the venue’s PA. There’s about 150-200 fans sticking around, belting out the song, and then it segues right into a live version of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)”. At that point, a spontaneous dance party breaks out lasting the entire length of the song. The band came out to watch us, and after it was all over, came down to shake hands. Magical.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=TJ3Ql1qBHqs&list=UUzHQ-kr9XSmxApXfmp0d05Q&index=15

29. June 11, 2009 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Craig publicly apologized for spitting on us.

30. June 21, 2009 – Taste of Randolph Street – Chicago, Illinois

This was a cool one, and Tad did a guitar spin, which at that time it was sort of rare. Started with a “Positive Jam” that night.

31. July 10, 2009 – Majestic Theatre – Madison, Wisconsin

Wasn’t particularly feeling this one for some reason. I remember “Girls Like Status”, though.

32. July 11, 2009 – Basilica Block Party – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Huge outdoor show with a gorgeous Basilica backdrop. The crowd was sort of aggressive and it made it a little less fun than I’d hoped. By the end of that summer, the sheer volume of shows in a short amount of time was starting to cause a little burnout, I think.

33. September 26, 2009 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

First time in Toronto, and that was exciting. “Barfruit Blues” that night, as well as an early version of “A Slight Discomfort”. “Goin’ on a Hike”, too!

34. September 27, 2009 – Lee’s Palace – Toronto, Ontario, Canada

I liked this one more than the previous night. Waited out in the rain for a while in this one, chatted up a nice dude about Springsteen, and he recommended me the 1978 Winterland show. “Sweet Payne”, an early version of “Our Whole Lives”, and “G’s Conversion”, which I think is “Gideon’s Conversion”.

35. October 17, 2009 – The Lion’s Pause Main Stage, St. Olaf College – Northfield, Minnesota

I’ve never seen so much security for a college show. Last show I saw with Franz in the band. Two Cow Garage opened and they RULED. Got “We Can Get Together”, you know, before it was a thing.

36. April 13, 2010 – Beachland Ballroom – Cleveland, Ohio

First with the six-piece lineup including Steve and Dan. Hands down the most violent THS show I’d ever been to.

A pack of hooligans were at the show celebrating their friend’s 21st birthday, and they were on a whole new level of drunkeness. They tried to push and shove their way to the front, injure limbs, scratch and claw their way up. Some people got ejected. Ironically, Craig stopped the show during “Barely Breathing” to ask “Is it really worth it?” No one wins at violent shows.

37. April 14, 2010 – Diesel Club Lounge – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Weirdest club ever. It looked like something out of someone’s 80’s dance club porn fantasy. Weird blue lighting. I’ll never forget the look on Whiskey Daisy’s face when they played “Arms and Hearts” in HER city. It was the first time she’d heard it live, after years of hoping. Really happy moment.

38. April 15, 2010 – 123 Pleasant St. – Morgantown, West Virginia

I liked this one a lot because the venue was so small that the band had to essentially come through the crowd to get on stage. Really intimate vibe. “Criminal Fingers” was played here about three years before it’s actual release.

39. April 16, 2010 – The Abbey Bar – Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

In my near- seven-year history following this band, this probably was one of the highest points of Unified Scene history.

This one was Jersey Mike’s baby. All of it, down to the hotels we stayed at, were all perfectly coordinated by that dude. (Upon check-in, we were given ‘Steadhead” pamphlets) So many out of towners came in. I don’t know how to put this into words, but everyone involved kind of left that one feeling changed, I think. It was really, supremely wonderful. Every song just hit right. There were confetti cannons, oh yes, but they didn’t go off. It didn’t matter.

40. April 17, 2010 – Bowery Ballroom – New York City, New York

Record Store Day, which meant the early release of “Heaven is Whenever” to coincide with it’s release, the band played two shows in one night in two boroughs. To date, it’s the only time I’ve left a Hold Steady show early (before the encore.)

We ran outside the venue, jammed a bunch of us in a cab and then…

41. April 17, 2010 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

…Arrived in Brooklyn for the second show, and managed to still get front row, just as we were at the other show. Galen would remark about this briefly in a series of videos the band did for Heineken that are available on YouTube. They had special lighting for the cameras that were placed at arm level on the stage, which made it impossible to rest them on stage without burning yourself. That was rough. All in all, a good time! This was the conclusion of a six show in five day stretch. I got home and I couldn’t hear. Turns out I had a really nasty ear infection that had went without treatment for some time. Fun fun.

42. July 1, 2010 – Summerfest – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

The next series of four shows were my final hurrah in the midwest before I moved to New York on July 6, 2010. An outdoor festival show, I waited eleven hours in front of the stage for this one, enduring one crappy band after another. It was cool, I had buddies with me. I have never waited that long to see them anywhere, and don’t think I can ever do something of that magnitude again. Really, no one in their right mind should.

43. July 2, 2010 – LCO Casino, Lodge & Convention Center – Hayward, Wisconsin

This takes the cake for the weirdest place I’ve ever seen them play. I remember the bathrooms there had receptacles for hypodermic needles for those who need to take their Insulin while gambling. Some 8-year-old kid made his way to the front row with a wooden guitar, mimicking Craig the whole set. It was awesome.

44. July 3, 2010 – Cabooze Main Stage – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Another outdoor show. Blisteringly hot, but got really nice as it progressed into the evening hours. Pretty much a “greatest hits” set, with “Sweet Payne” coming in the encore.

45. July 4, 2010 – First Avenue – Minneapolis, Minnesota

Fourth of July, and this was broadcast on the radio in Minnesota. They passed out American flags for us to wave. I remember the encore of Positive Jam – Weekenders – DJ’s – Killer Parties’ being otherworldly. I haven’t been back to the Twin Cities since.

46. October 1, 2010 – Vic Theatre – Chicago, Illinois

Started out with a super atmospheric “Both Crosses”. Spooky, too. I had a great time at this one. Relentless energy throughout.

47. October 4, 2010 – 9:30 Club – Washington, DC

First show of a four shows I did out east that I traveled entirely by Megabus. Cost me $23 for the whole thing. It was really cool to get to see them at this venue. Just a totally great place to catch a show in general. “Ascension Blues” is notable from this one.

48. October 5, 2010 – Trocadero Theatre – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Some dude tried to get up on stage during this one and got taken down HARD by the crew. Like he could have been injured. First time I officially heard “The Smidge” live.

49. October 6, 2010 – Royale Boston – Boston, Massachusetts

Rainy and cold that day. Crowd was kind of aggressive. Still pretty good.

50. October 7, 2010 – Beacon Theatre – New York City, New York

Besides show number one (which I was second row), this was the only show I have not been front row for. I had seats in row 12, but as the lights went down, I found an open spot in row 3 and stood there the whole show. It was such a great night for the band – to be playing a place that big and have all those people sing those words out loud. Felt really good.

51. October 8, 2010 – Apple Store SoHo – New York City, New York

Special acoustic set that became, well, “Live at SoHo”. This show was especially personal for me, as I worked at that store at the time. Had a hard time explaining to co-workers that this isn’t usually the kind of show they did. Galen’s mom and sister were in the row behind me.

52. October 24, 2010 – The Met – Pawtucket, Rhode Island

Pawtucket was a ghost town. This place was cool. The Figgs opened and tore the house down. “Separate Vacations” this night.

53. January 30, 2011 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Debut of the five piece lineup after Dan left the group. Lots of adjustment at first to have the songs without piano. Still rocked. Spent that night at the hospital with my friend who fell ill during the show. No bueno. She was good to go the next day, though.

54. January 31, 2011 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

Another fun one. “Adderall” kicked off the set. “DJ’s” closed it out in the encore.

55. April 8, 2011 – Terminal 5 – New York City, New York

Word going around for this one is that it was going to be the last one for a while, and it kind of felt like it. It was sort of a bittersweet night. Ended with a perfect “Killer Parties”, of course. They wouldn’t play another show until August (ironically, in Chicago) and I wouldn’t see them for another one year, two months and nine days.

56. June 17, 2012 – Taste of Randolph Street – Chicago, Illinois

Just very happy to be seeing them again. Met some nice folks, hung with old friends, heard “Teeth Dreams” and “Wait Awhile”.

57. September 28, 2012 – Live on King Street – Madison, Wisconsin

Another nice outdoor show outside the Majestic in Madison. “Teeth Dreams” (now “The Only Thing) and “Wait a While” were the new jams again of this evening.

58. September 7, 2013 – Live at A.V. Fest/The Hideout Block Party – Chicago, Illinois

This was a show with a long wait but THS had some cool bands before them – The Walkmen and Superchunk to name a few. Nowah and I basically held it down in front for this show. I remember the band playing impossibly tight – also with a great rendition of “Runner’s High” that night. Rocked out so hard and forgot to eat the entire day, I only had pretzels and water. On my way out I was recognized by a total stranger (spanishjohnny, I believe.) Got back to my girlfriend’s and housed a sandwich and thai food and promptly threw it up. Dumb? Yes. Hardcore? Absolutely.

59. February 6, 2014 – Music Hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, New York

As if everything came together at once. This was the first show of the band’s I’ve ever flown to. Over two hours, 28 songs. Brilliant evening, total Unified Scene reunion Saw so many old faces. It felt so celebratory, so wonderful. Heard bits of the album ahead of the show and we even got the chance to do little mini-video booth interviews too. The jams were incredible. Also, during “You Can Make Him Like You”, Craig sang “If you get tired of your boyfriend’s scene/There’s always other scenes/There’s always other boyfriends” right to my girlfriend’s face.

I got trolled by The Hold Steady.

60. April 23, 2014 – Crofoot Ballroom – Pontiac, Michigan

Pontiac sucks. The town is horrible. Kind of a fun show for 60 – I went alone and literally knew no one – I met Luke from the boards here and most of the people around me were new people. Got a nice shout out before “The Swish”. Thanks, dudes.

61. April 25, 2014 – The Vogue – Indianapolis, Indiana

I should mention I did these shows alone, and battling an unknown stomach virus. The day before this I was really ill and pretty much didn’t leave my bed all day. I bounced back the next morning, took some meds, ate a decent lunch and then went to the venue. Right before doors, I started feeling it. I tried to hold on for most of the show and during the encore, the guitar and bass amps were too much and I threw up over the barricade. Shortly after, I was ejected during “Killer Parties” with Deer Tick. That kind of sucked. But it was a memorable one regardless.

62. July 2, 2014 – Concord Music Hall – Chicago, Illinois

There are nights when everything seems to connect and feels a little different than a normal show. This was one of those nights. “Hoodrat” into “Banging Camp” to begin. That was something. New friends that hadn’t seen the band, old ones that had before but I hadn’t seen in years. Just being a part of something like that at home was pretty great. Confetti. I don’t know. I can’t put my finger on it, but it was wonderful.

63. July 3, 2014 – Radio Milwaukee – Milwaukee, Wisconsin

This was a cool radio performance where the band did a few songs stripped down. I was supposed to make the Summerfest gig later that day but had to take off. Sat in the third row and watched everyone enjoy it. Different and really fun.

64. July 10, 2014 – The Waiting Room – Omaha, Nebraska

I loved this show for so many reasons. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in six years, met new ones, and heard some great songs. “Saddle Shoes”, “Sweet Payne”, “Most People Are DJ’s” and “Oaks” in the soundcheck, all but “Saddle” live. Also, Craig started singing “Just Can’t Get Enough” after the last line of “Payne” and someone threw a Stevie Nicks shirt on the stage before “Multitude” and it was audible into “Stevie Nix” instead. Pretty great.

New York – 16
Illinois – 14
Minnesota – 7
Wisconsin – 8
Pennsylvania – 3
Indiana – 3
Maryland – 2
Canada – 2
Iowa – 1
North Dakota – 1
Ohio – 1
West Virginia – 1
Washington, DC – 1
Massachusetts – 1
Rhode Island – 1
Michigan – 1
Nebraska – 1

Getting Up Seems Impossibly Grand

With the year in its final days, I’m giving some last thoughts to all of the amazing stuff I’ve been able to do this year.

I saw the Rolling Stones. Ate amazing food. Went to more live professional wrestling shows than I’d like to admit to. I even learned to appreciate certain types of mayonnaise.

But that’s nothing, really. I don’t think there’s anything I’m more proud of this year than getting back on an airplane for the first time in almost five years.

It wasn’t always like this. My first flight was at two-and-a-half weeks old in December 1985 when my mother took me to New Jersey. My grandmother was terminally ill and it was one of the few opportunities she’d have to meet me before she passed.

The first I remember was another trip out east a few years later. My mom surprised me after a day trip on a Metra train in preschool. When she went to pick me up, she asked; “Do you want to take an airplane too?” She had packed my bag and we went straight to the airport. I remember sitting in the window seat staring out the window, looking at the ground below and wondering where the adventure would take us. Taking a plane was always something special. We didn’t do it all too often, but when we did, it was always very exciting. Little did I know that some people I knew didn’t have that opportunity until they were older.

But when I turned 21, it changed in an instant. On another trip out to New Jersey (I apparently don’t go anywhere else), I was with friends that were several rows in front of me. I’d never been by myself where someone I knew wasn’t arms length of me on a plane. The anxiety started to build. The sensation of takeoff – what seemed like a ceaseless climbing feeling was unbelievably intense. Every synapse fired. I gripped the armrests and my palms sweat. Slight turbulence was heartstopping. I have no idea how I got there and back. I managed to fly two more round trips the following year, and after that, September 28, 2008 would be the last time I’d get on a plane for four-and-a-half years.

I’m positive that after that flight I didn’t actively decide to stop flying, but after abruptly canceling a plane trip that December it started to come into focus that it wasn’t going to happen.

After that, I wove an artful tapestry of excuses and devised alternate routes of travel to get me where I wanted to go. Oddly enough, these were the most active travel years of my life so far, as I saw The Hold Steady perform nearly fifty times in cities across the United States and Canada. I’d carpool with friends, take Amtrak or make creative and elaborate Megabus itineraries. One time I even took a 40-hour train trip from Chicago to Spokane where my friend from Vancouver picked me up, and then we drove the eight hours back to Vancouver. On the way home, I took the same train back, only to stop in Minneapolis before taking another bus ride. It was not for the faint of heart.

For that first year it was easy to say that my travel-by-ground scheme was cheaper since we were going to so many cities in such a short time to see one band. But after that, it was a hinderance. It became an avoidance of a very obvious fear. I was openly admitting I didn’t like to fly. It was a way of life. In 2010, I moved to New York. Every time I came home it was a 20-hour Amtrak ride. Once was in a car, but the trip was cut down only by a few hours. I had lost touch of the problem. I’d lost the feeling of what it was like to be up there. All that was left was bad memories and a lot of wasted time.

In retrospect, this was a relatively innocuous personal issue. By 2011, my health took a serious downturn. I was also deeply depressed and made the decision to return to Chicago and seek help. The first six months of my illness were the most difficult. I was very paranoid and fixated on fears that had no bearing on my current situation. A major focus point? You may have already guessed.

Flying.

At this time, I was unemployed and spent most of my time watching reruns of “The Wonder Years”. That was most of my day. If I wasn’t doing that, I would be thinking about flying. If I could do it again. If I could go anywhere, really. I wasn’t much for leaving the house at that point either. I knew it was time to go back into therapy.

After spending most of that year learning how to refocus and deal with my issues in a proper manner, I started to focus on smaller issues and knew in my heart it was time to face my fears. I had bought a ticket to WrestleMania in November, and by the time it came in April, I wanted to be on a plane to New York to get there.

It helped that my Mom would be joining me on the flight because her sister lives nearby in New Jersey. So, I wouldn’t be alone. My therapist and I strategized about what exercises I could use to preoccupy myself when I got on the plane. I have never told anyone about this, but I watched videos on YouTube of people secretly recording takeoff so I could remember what it sounded and looked like. Lastly, I got a low-dose prescription to help settle my nerves and curb a potential anxiety attack.

April 3, 2013 came quickly. I remember waking up very calm. No real nerves. As we rode to the airport, I sat quietly and stared out the window, and noticed a plane in the sky. I realized that would be me in a few short hours. It was here. It was happening. No turning back now.

We sat at our gate for what felt like forever. As we boarded, I remarked how little room there was between rows of seats. It seemed so much more compact than I remembered. Soon after, the plane taxied down the runway and time stopped. The moment was here. The rumble began, it moved forward. I stared out at the ground, and almost effortlessly, we were in that “precipice between groundlessness and flight”, as Ani DiFranco once said. I was in disbelief until I saw Allstate Arena below me out of a window on the opposite side of the plane. It was over. I was in the sky.

It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to do something that absolutely terrifies you. The moment you cross through that passage is like nothing else on this Earth. It’s a revelation. Any construct you have immediately crumbles. It empowers you. You’ve conquered it.

I’ve flown three more times this year – home from New York and a round trip to San Francisco. For the most part, it’s been fine. Flying takes you places you could never go any other way. Or maybe that it’s simply convenient and time-saving. There’s many ways to look at it.

For me? I suppose I’ll be staring out the window, looking at the ground below and wondering where the adventure will take me.

My Top Ten Events of 2013

By far, 2013 was my most active year in terms of the number of different events I’ve attended. Here are my favorites.

1. The National at Riverside Theatre (Milwaukee, WI) – August 5, 2013

The National are all about subtlety – until you see them live. It’s entirely different than what you hear when you play one of their records. While those brood, crest and fall, the live performance is visceral and at times, in-your-face. The Dessner twins play their guitars with deadly determination and the Devendorf twins combine as an on-point rhythm section. Let’s not forget singer Matt Berninger, though, ambling around the stage, wine bottle in hand, prodding, mashing, stumbling.

This night was no different. A perfect setlist of ragers like “Abel” and the majesty of “The Geese of Beverly Road” (a perfect wedding song if i’ve ever heard one) and of course, “Mr. November” where Matt took off into the crowd and ran all the way up into the seats. There are moments at a show you marvel and moments you lose yourself. Screaming “I WONT FUCK US OVER, I’M MR. NOVEMBER!” is the latter. Many moments may seem bigger on this list, but none struck a nerve quite like this one.

2. The Replacements at Riot Fest Chicago (Humboldt Park, Chicago IL) – September 15, 2013

Riot Fest was enormous drag. Too many people, too crowded of a space and on the third day, it basically rained the entire time, which was miserable. But not too long before the ‘Mats took the stage, it stopped, and it stayed like that. Then there they were. There were the songs. Pretty much all of the ones you’d want to hear, too. We celebrated, sang and screamed.

The fact that this even happened still dumbfounds me. I never once thought in my life I’d have the opportunity to see The Replacements (or what’s left of them) play for an audience ever again. Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson. I’m typing those names out because it still seems preposterous.

To put it in the words of the guy you can hear on the bootleg recording of the show after “Alex Chilton”: “I just peed my pants. It was totally worth it.”

3. The Rolling Stones at United Center (Chicago, IL) – May 31, 2013

The Stones have been on my band bucket list for over eight years since the end of their last tour. Our seats were nosebleed-terrible, but it really didn’t matter by the end of the night. A bunch of seventy-year-old dudes BROUGHT IT. We got the hits. We got “Shine A Light” – my favorite Stones song – which voted by fans to be included on the setlist through the band’s website. Mick did his classic moves. Keef sang. Mick Taylor was there and Sheryl Crow even showed up. It was way better than I could have ever imagined and I’m happy to say I was able to see them on what could be one of their last full-scale U.S. tours.

4. San Francisco, California – November 16-19, 2013

Earlier this fall, my girlfriend surprised me with a trip to San Francisco, where neither of us had been. To put it simply, it was great. In a two-and-a-half day timeframe, we went to Haight-Asbury, Amoeba Music, Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf, In-N-Out Burger, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge into the Marin Headlands, explored Chinatown, saw both the “Full House” and “Mrs. Doubtfire” houses, walked through Union Square down to the San Francisco Ferry Building, walked up more hills than I’d like to talk about, saw the Cable Car Museum, rode a cable car, and ate lots of great food. It was a lot of fun and I’d most certainly like to go back sometime soon.

5. The Chris Gethard Show at MNN El Barrio Firehouse Community Media Center (New York City, NY) – April 3, 2013

If you haven’t heard of The Chris Gethard Show yet, go right to the show’s website and start watching episodes. Simply, it’s televised quicksilver. A late-night show on New York City public access that’s streamed globally is a dazzling array of high-concept comedy bits mixed with a low-budget mentality. It’s DIY TV personified. In it, is comedian (and sometimes actor) Chris Gethard, UCB stalwarts and more (hilarious) fictional characters than you can count present episodes with entirely different themes. A recent AV Club review said “This low-budget talk show has plot twists as thrilling as Breaking Bad’s”. Perfect.

That evening’s episode was titled “Royal Rumble of Twister”, which couldn’t have been more perfect for a professional wrestling fan like me. It featured indie professional wrestler (and Chicago native) Colt Cabana as a guest. Chris and Colt as well as the show’s cast of characters spent an hour playing Twister, while fielding phone calls from all over the world. Hijinks and hilarity ensued. Seriously, just watch it.

It was awesome to get to see a show that’s been appointment TV for me every Wednesday night in person. Having the opportunity to the cast members as well as Colt Cabana after the show made it perfect. While it’s time on cable access may be over, the fact that they’re making a pilot for Comedy Central is great news. We’ll see what happens from here. But I won’t forget this one.

6. WWE Payback at Allstate Arena (Rosemont, IL) – June 16, 2013

This is damn near impossible to explain to non-fans, so I’m just going to go for it. I went to a lot of professional wrestling this year (More on that later.) This was my favorite.

Without a doubt, Chicago (okay, Rosemont) is the best town to see WWE. Some fans would like to argue that maybe New York can compete, but those fans are soulless and hate everything cool. For this event – broadcast live around the world on pay-per-view, it showed that the crown was rightfully ours.

The card was unique in the fact that many of the matches weren’t rematches from previous pay-per-view events (save for the main event) and that Chicago native CM Punk was allegedly about to make his return after a two-month absence to face Chris Jericho. No one was sure he’d actually show up until his music hit that evening. When he did, the roof exploded. Punk was decked out in Chicago Blackhawks tights. This was right in the midst of the Hawks 2013 Stanley Cup winning run and he couldn’t have been any more popular, despite the fact that the angle he wrapped before his absence was that of an ultra-bad guy who stole the urn of the Undertaker which may or may not have contained the remains of his former (and dead in real life) manager.

Curtis Axel won the Intercontinental Championship that night – Father’s Day – the very same championship his Dad, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig won 22 years prior. Daniel Bryan (arguably WWE’s number 2 or 3 top good guy now) was beginning to ride the wave of enormous popularity that shot him to stardom, leading all 17,000 people in the area to chant “YES! YES! YES” (his catchphrase) back at him in unison.

TL;DR: It was a really fun way to spend three hours. Go to a WWE show and tell me that you didn’t find at least one moment that you didn’t enjoy. It’s impossible.

7. Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z at Soldier Field (Chicago, IL) – July 22, 2013

Two modern-day icons at the height of their powers alternating songs at a machine gun pace, attempting to outperform each other in a football stadium. Absolutely bonkers.

8. WWE WrestleMania 29 at MetLife Stadium (East Rutherford, NJ) – April 7, 2013

WrestleMania is professional wrestling’s Super Bowl, and WWE’s most important event of the year. There’s nothing like it. In a good year, WrestleMania showcases the culmination of long-simmering feuds, resulting in the biggest matches of the year. Of course, that was the case with this year’s installment.

Headlined for the second year in a row by The Rock and John Cena, WrestleMania 29 was attended by a staggering 80,676 people. It is the second highest attendance for a WrestleMania behind III in 1987, which was the highest-attended indoor sports event in the world with 93,173 people, a record that would not be broken until 2010.

I’ve never been anywhere with such an enormous number of people. The show itself was all about pageantry, fireworks, high-definition video screens and of course, top notch wrestling talent. While the matches may have not been my absolute favorite, being in a football stadium with a set designed to look like the New York skyline (complete with the Statue of Liberty above the ring), watching wrestlers put their bodies on the line for our enjoyment was one of the more ridiculous situations I’ve found myself in this year.

9. Paul McCartney at Miller Mark (Milwaukee, WI) – July 16, 2013

I saw a Beatle.

Paul is seventy-one and he played a thirty-eight song set. THIRTY EIGHT SONGS AT SEVENTY-ONE. Beatles songs. Wings songs. Songs from his solo records. Two encores, and a lot of fire (and fireworks too.) From that, you should know how it went.

10. Harmontown Live at UP Comedy Club (Chicago, IL) – January 22, 2013

Dan Harmon, best known as creator of NBC’s “Community”, had a brief wilderness period after being dumped from the show for it’s fourth season before eventually rejoining for it’s fifth. During this time, he took to the road with his podcast featuring regulars from the LA version of the show. I can’t remember a night where I laughed as hard as this one. It was looking into the mind of a (rather hilarious) madman.

It all seems like a blur. It actually pretty much was. Probably for him too. I remember “Dungeons and Dragons” being played with cast members. Some drunk dude had an awkward back and forth with Dan, and a 16-year-old was invited on stage to chat with him but ended up rambling on about Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. But at some point it devolved into audience members rap battling with him and ended with Dan crowd surfing while singing the podcast’s theme song.

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Honorable Mentions:

Titus Andronicus at Metro (Chicago, IL) – May 4, 2013

The Mountain Goats at Lincoln Hall (Chicago, IL) – June 17, 2013

Run the Jewels at Pitchfork Music Festival (Chicago, IL) – July 21, 2013

Superchunk at A.V. Club Fest/Hideout Block Party (Chicago, IL) – September 7, 2013

The Hold Steady at A.V. Club Fest/Hideout Block Party (Chicago, IL) – September 7, 2013

WWE Monday Night RAW at Allstate Arena (Rosemont, IL) – September 23, 2013