Against Me! is for me and probably for you too

For a few years, I went to shows 2 or 3 times a week (the heyday of HCT). I live in Nashville, so something’s always playing somewhere. For a few concurrent years, I worked in a venue that has live music every night.

I confess: I got a little burned out. Like all good things, you can even have too much live music.  I hate being at a bar where a unique experience is possible and I’m not genuinely appreciating it. I’m now extremely selective. Even if I really love a band, sometimes I’ll skip a show if I’ve seen them before.

I’ve been anticipating the new Against Me! album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues—so much excitement that I got the release date wrong. Then last week while disconsolately browsing, I discovered that Against Me! was already on tour and in my fair city on Sunday night. I fretted. I pouted. I am old and must be at work far too early on Monday to manage a late Sunday show. Then, miraculously, for the first time my work gave me Monday off for MLK day.

I immediately bought tickets and anticipated the Against Me! show all weekend. I invited friends. Both my first and second invitees ended up too busy working to go with me and no one spoke up in the desperate round of texts I sent at the last minute. I decided to go alone. Sigh. And then I started my period. At 8:45, before a 9:00 show, I was sitting on the couch crampy, dejected and ready to eat the cost of the tickets. But I rallied, put on a clean shirt and tie, swiped on a little lipstick, and drove over the river.

I knew I’d made the right decision immediately. Inside the door were eager young men desperate for one more ticket. Hooray, I had one! They bounced around me like happy puppies, and into the crush of the sold-out show we went. Drink in hand, I found a place to stand with pretty good view. I missed the first act because of my wibbling, but the second opening band, The Sidekicks, was great. By the time Against Me! came on, I had shifted to an excellent spot: a great view and no one crashing into me.

I’ve been to shows alone, but it’s always when I know the band, where I run into people I know. This time, I didn’t even look for people I knew. The room was packed and dark, and I settled to focus entirely on the stage. It was so good: no friends talking through unknown but good opening bands, no wrangling over who’s going to the bar. Isn’t that what happens when you’re out with friends? Even when you’re busy watching the band, there’s all this peripheral activity. Can they get you a drink? Is someone going to the bathroom? Did we lose someone? No, she’s over there talking. Is everyone okay? Is anyone too drunk? It’s always something. But at the show alone I finally felt like I was able to really pay attention and whoa, did I pick the right show to finally be present for.

Photo by: Rebecca Smeyne, from Spin.comLaura Jane Grace is charismatic and electrifying on stage. I’ve never been so engaged in a performance or felt so emotionally connected to a performer. She seems so happy to be performing and I felt so happy to be receiving that performance, grinning like a fool every time she smiled. Without hyperbole, this was a transcendent, life-changing experience for me and I couldn’t have done it any way but alone.

I rediscovered what I’d been missing from live music—not just enjoying the music and performance, but the sense that I’m living through a unique experience. A door opened to a room I’d forgotten was in my house, a space filled with feeling and music. A large, lost piece of myself has been wedged back in place.

You’re sitting there thinking, “But Cricket, what about the damn music? Is this entire post about you?”

Well, friend, here it is: The music is a fucking emotional chainsaw, ripping right through your soul. The songs tap straight into a base sense that something isn’t right in the world, in ourselves. The rage, isolation and despair that so many people feel comes through the music, raw and incredibly intense.

The songs are new on this album, but many have been performed for awhile now. The audience seemed to know all of them from shows or advance album copies or the magic of the internet. After the show, jonesing for more, I spent an hour on YouTube finding recent performances so I could get more of that potent fix.  (Here’s some for you: Dead Friend, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, Unconditional Love.)

As I write this, I have the album on repeat. Transgender Dysphoria Blues is a love letter to those dark places that you manage to rise above. Like all Against Me! albums, it speaks to my rage and sense of injustice, but this time it’s more personal, because this album leaves me feeling understood. It’s a spectacular feat for a songwriter to take something as personal as gender dysphoria and make it universally accessible.

Laura Jane Grace managed to put hope into every single song. I wept through my first full listen to the album and came through ready to get up and fight, get up and face the world again. I feel an undercurrent of joy through all the bleakness of this album. But then again, after seeing Grace on stage being as she was born to be, experiencing her incredibly joyous energy, maybe some of her joy stuck with me.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues is available for a listen on NPR.

You can buy it everywhere now, but I suggest buying it from the band.

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I’m living in a country music graveyard

Because Nashville is, well, Nashville, everything in this video after the 2:45 mark was filmed in my backyard.  Not my metaphorical, my neighborhood, kind of backyard, but literally the property that I own that is behind my house.

The grave is still there, you can clearly see the rectangle outline of it.  I get great pleasure of pointing it out to guests, that it’s a grave, and then not explaining anything else to why there’s a grave.  Now the secret is out, it’s where I made Shooter bury himself in my back 40.

SXSW < CXCW

I think I spend more time trying to ignore SXSW than actually thinking about it.  Because I’m jealous.  I’m not shy to admit it.  I mean like holy smokes today from noon to 7pm there’s a party with John Hiatt, Richard Thompson, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Corb Lund, and ♥Austin Lucas♥.  Do I want to be sitting in my office, whining about how cold it is in Nashville and wishing today was Friday already, or do I want to be drinking bourbon in Austin and seeing a damn show like that?  Why did I even ask that as a question?  Sigh.  So maybe I’ll suck it up and go see some Nashville music tonight.  Raise a glass with my fellow music lovers who for one week a year are in the wrong town.  Tomorrow’s hangover hopefully will come with enough perspective to realize why Nashville is the best the other 51 weeks of the year.

Because I’m not the only one feeling left out, there’s the awesome Couch by Couchwest.  Which has the exceptional John Phelan from Truckstop Darlin’ singing and exclusive song called, “Remember Me.”  The last time John was on my couch I did not get a song out of it.  Something that will need to be rectified the next time he’s down this way.

CXCW also has my friends, Eric Brace and Peter Cooper, singing a new song, “Ancient History.”  If you aren’t familiar, I highly recommend catching them live if they ever show up near you or follow the Red Beet Records site which often has live, streaming concerts from these boys.

There’s also my neighbors, Doug and Telisha Williams (though by this definition, Eric Brace, Peter Cooper, and Austin Lucas are also my neighbors) playing, “Kitchen Light,” in their car right before heading out to SXSW.  My jealousy is only alleviated by the fact that I know they have to come back home and I’ll see them soon, hopefully right around the corner from me.

Sam Lewis, oh Sam, come back to Nashville and break my heart.  It would be totally worth it. Sigh. Sam might be on his way to stealing the hearts right off Austin Lucas’ name in my posts (never!)  Sam’s been recently out with the Kenny Vaughan Trio for but you can see him sing “In My Dreams,” on CXCW.  In my dreams indeed.  Come sing for me, Sam.

Plus CXCW has all these bands waiting for you to discover them.  I’m falling all over some kids who aren’t my neighbors, who I don’t know, from Florida, Have Gun Will Travel, singing my favorite Muppets song, “Rainbow Connection.”

And bonus, ♥Austin Lucas♥ (who kicked off the first ever CXCW) singing “Alone in Memphis.”  Sigh.  Oh to be at that party in Texas today.  But if you can’t go lose a few hours at Couch by Couchwest, they’ve got you covered.

It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood

Okay, well it’s actually grim and rainy in my neighborhood, but it does smell more like spring than winter so that’s something. It is however and beautiful day for music being created.  Austin Lucas and Amanda Shires are both celebrating birthdays today.

Austin is probably considered country by the punk folks and punk by the country folks, but he’s a really shockingly good blend of both.  And we all know there’s plenty of that to go around, but Austin’s brand is exceptional, so if you haven’t discovered him already, get to it.  He’s on tour in Europe soon with Glossary, so even more of the world will hopefully discover, embrace and adore him like I do. (Buy directly from Last Chance Records.)

Amanda “Pearl” Shires is perhaps one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met.  It doesn’t hurt that she sings like an angel, writes great songs and is charming and funny too.  I’ve never seen anyone introduced to her music (or her personally) that wasn’t completely taken with her.  I Love her last two albums, but most especially the song “Mariann Leola” off West Cross Timbers, because it makes me remember my own grandmother and feel both weepy and joyful.  Even the saddest of her songs uplift me in someway, even if it’s just knowing someone else once felt the same way.  She has a new album in the works and I can’t hardly wait for it!  (Buy from iTunes or Amazon.)

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Here’s some amazing things that hopefully you didn’t miss but just in case you did:

Shaky Knees Music Festival – Line up includes The Lumineers, Band of Horses, Drive By Truckers, Jim James Band, Gary Clark Jr., Dr. Dog, Lucero, Murder by Death and Robert Ellis.  And who doesn’t want to go Atlanta in spring?

Chris Pureka on Daytrotter – I’m not shy about admitting my soft spot for insanely hot, lesbian folk musicians, but Chris has got even more going on than that.  Her voice is amazing, her lyrics smart and deep and there’s such a gripping emotion in everything she does that it’s worth giving her a listen even if you don’t usually go in for folk music.

The Road Most Traveled – Chuck Ragan’s excellent compilation.  I know it’s old news to some of you but I’m just getting to it now and if you missed it you should be getting you one too.

Bruce Springsteen Playing Max’s Kansas City In 1972 – I still maintain that Nebraska is one of the best albums of all time.  And if you think you don’t like Bruce because you didn’t like Born in the USA when it came out, maybe you better try this and see how you feel now.

Hard to believe, but true: we’re coming back!

Did you ever think, at like 4 pm, that you really needed to just close your eyes for like 15 minutes? And then when you woke up it was dark and you weren’t even sure where you were or what day it was? And when you got it together you realized it was like 11 pm and you’d slept for like 7 hours and totally screwed up your whole evening?

Yeah, um, our three year hiatus was kind of like that. In fact, let’s just say that we’ve literally been asleep for the last 3 years. I think that’s best, then I don’t have to reveal the torrid details of what really went down.  It’s been dirty, y’all, the low down kind, and all full of the things country songs are written about.  Luckily I was asleep, so I missed how bad it really was.

But hey, we are back.  Back back.  Like for real back.  And shiny and new. Got a new crew, a whole new format, and tons of good stuff coming your way in 2013.  Are you excited?  I’m excited.  Let’s raise a glass of Kentucky’s best to that and settle in for the ride.