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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rumors, news, and tours

I am full of the news of big changes here at HCT. Coming soon. See this space. Hmm, it could be coming even sooner if I was working on it, instead of posting here. But I love you guys and I don’t want you to think we’ve just wandered off and stopped posting, as we so often do (none of that in the future though, I swear). And once again, if you are interested in writing for HCT, email me. This is an unpaid, though very prestigious, exotic and exciting job. What do you get out of it? Free music to review. What do we get out of it? Your awesome, smart writing. Call me, you know you want to hook up with us.

The 2nd annual Lucero Family Picnic was announced today. September 13 in, yep, you guessed it, Batesville, Arkansas. Will the HCT girls be there? Can they manage another day’s drive through Arkansas? That remains to be seen, my friend. Luckily for everyone not near Arkansas, the Lucero tour starts today. Dates are here, and while I’m super excited that I get to go right away, I’m a little jealous of y’all who get Justin Townes Earle on the bill. Seriously, Justin lives in Nashville and we don’t get him on the bill here? BOOO!! Anyway, no matter where you see them, there’s rumors of new songs to be heard, so get up, get out, and go to the show!

It is summer tour time, though I swear hardly anyone seems out this season. I’m not sure if it’s gas prices keeping our bands down or what, but don’t let it keep you down too. Get out and see some people. Even if you have to take the bus to get there. Don’t know who to go see? Might I suggest The Magpies, Hayes Carll, The Old 97s (!), Bruce Springsteen (if you are up for stadium show and you already have tickets), Steve Earle, Wayne Hancock, The Avett Brothers, Lyle Lovett and dozens of others that I am too woozy to think of right now.

The new Hank III album, Damn Right and Rebel Proud, is coming at you on October 21, 2008. That’s my mom’s birthday. I doubt she’s impressed with this coincidence. The first single will be “Long Hauls and Close Calls.” I can seriously barely contain myself. Now if only he’d play Nashville, my summer would be complete.

Everyone I know, rivers to be dragged and tragedies, new ones

It’s settin’ to be hell week or a damn good time here in Nashville. The Americana Music Association is having their big conference in town and everyone is here. No, really EVERYONE: Dale Watson, Scott Miller & The Commonwealth, Corb Lund, Will Kimbrough, Jeffrey Foucault, The Hacienda Brothers, Lisa Hayes, Wrinkle Neck Mules, Dave Alvin, Rosanne Cash, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Alejandro Escovedo, the Cherryholmes, the Derailers, Delbert McClinton, and about 700 other folks. The shows are happening all over and all at once, but we’ll be hitting as many of them as we can. If you’re in town or can get to Nashvegas, this is the time come. Full show schedule is here.

So last night I’m out on the town gearing up for this whole week of good shows and the whole place is a buzz with gossip. Rumor mongering everywhere about some “high class” male prostitute named Big Red, and how he was sent to a nice to hotel room, paid cash and then told to wait for the actual client (as apparently an intermediary was needed to broker this deal). Thunder rolled and in walked the real client demanding some rough, all night, mano a mano action that perhaps went down until the sun came up. You know what I’m sayin’?

Yeah, right so I suck at the blind item thing. The fact is sleezy tabloid reporters are going around saying how this story is going to break big! Make everyone forget all about Willie Nelson’s recent troubles. Apparently Big Red signed no non-disclosure agreement and he’s ready to talk. I’ll believe it when I see it, but if it does happen, just remember you read it here first, even if you couldn’t figure out what I’m talking about. Just don’t be namin’ names if you do.

I’m clearly all giddy from drinking too many PBRs last night and hearing too much insane celebrity gossip. I’ll spare you most of it so I can go on about my new favorite soon-to-be celebrities, The New Tragedies. They are on tour with our pal Cory Branan. You can see them both! Two birds with one stone! Check the dates:

9/22 – Fayetteville, AR – The Gypsy
9/23 – Memphis, TN – The Hi-Tone
9/24 – Louisville, KY – Rudyard Kipling
9/25 – Morgantown, WV – 123 Pleasant Street
9/26 – Baltimore, MD – Side Bar Tavern
9/27 – Richmond, VA – Gallery 5
9/28 – Charlotte, NC – Evening Muse
9/29 – Opelika, AL – Eighth And Rail
10/1 – Conway, AR – Sound Stage
10/3 – Kansas City, MO – Davey’s Uptown

And since I know some of you can’t make any of these locations, you’ll have to satisfy yourself with their charming little video. And as before, you can get all their incredibly awesome songs at their site.

In even more cool tour news, Drag the River and Lucero are going out together!!

11/13 – Philadelphia – North Star Bar
11/14 – Baltimore – Otto Bar
11/15 – Richmond VA – Alley Katz
11/16 – Carrborro NC – Cat’s Cradle
11/17 – Charleston NC – Cumberland’s
11/18 – Atlanta GA– Variety Playhouse
11/30 – Conway AR – Soundstage
12/2 – Baton Rouge LA– Chelsea’s Cafe
12/8 – Orlando FL– The Social
12/9 – Orlando FL – The Social

Also check the rest of the dates for Drag the River and Lucero. And hey, if you haven’t pre-ordered and gotten the digital download, the new Lucero album hits the stores next week.

So here it comes, my babies, starting this week a full fall season of alt.country goodness. Are you ready? Am I? It’s comin’ whether I am or not, so I better polish up my cowboy boots and y’all better brace yourselves for a bunch tales of country music goodness.