Friday, March 22, 2013

Caren Explains 400 Concerts

Tonight marks my 400th concert (yup, I keep track of them all... I'm even nerdier than you thought).

By my even nerdier calculations, that means I've spent approximately 1.39% of my life at gigs. (You're welcome, Live Nation). Malcolm Gladwell believes that if you invest 10,000 hours in something, you're an expert at that thing... so does that make me an expert in concerts? I'm putting it on my resume.

Much of my gig-going was inspired by my parents, who are also music fans and would drive me to shows when I was in junior high and high school. At numerous HFStivals, Dad would sit in the upper levels of RFK Stadium and work on budgets and other grown-up things, while my friends and I roamed around from stage to stage. So long as we checked in with him every few hours, we could see as many bands as we wanted to. I always appreciated that my parents trusted me and encouraged my love of music. I'd say it's paid off.

Here are some highlights from all the live music I've seen so far...

The first concert I ever went to 
(a great icebreaker question, if you ever need one)
The Monkees @ The Patriot Center at George Mason, Fairfax, VA, 1996

In 1996, my parents took me and my sister to see The Monkees reunion tour in Virginia. I went home that night and wrote my first concert review in my lock-and-key diary, which I published here for laughs.

The furthest I've ever traveled to see a concert
Robbie Williams @ FILA Forum, Milan, Italy, 2003

My dear friend Maddie and I were both HUGE Robbie Williams fans, which is notable because we were American and no one in America seems to know who Robbie Williams is. Unfortunately for us, that meant the chances of seeing him perform in America were slim. So during our semesters abroad in Europe, we bought travel packages to see Robbie play in Milan. I remember showing up in the city without much of an idea of where the heck we were going, yet somehow finding our way to a bus that took us to the FILA Forum.  It was a special memory (and boy, can Robbie put on a show).

The first concert I ever planned
Paste Rock'n'Reel Festival @ East Decatur Station, Decatur, GA, 2005

This was an ambitious undertaking and my naiveté was consequently a good thing. While the crowds didn't turn out in droves like we'd hoped, there were some amazing musical moments for the music fans that did show up, including beautiful sets by Low, Brandi Carlile, Anathallo, Cary Brothers, Buddy Miller and Mindy Smith.

The most surprising concert
Zac Brown @ The Rock Boat, the Atlantic Ocean, 2004

I was a college senior and had, through a totally random series of events, ended up on The Rock Boat (a concert cruise) over my fall semester break with my friend Kristen. I was interning at Paste during that time and was excited to be around dozens of musicians and thousands of fans. Throughout the week, I tried to see as much music as I could, which brought me to a small stage at a sushi stand, about three levels below deck. There were a few fans dancing around to a catchy song about fried chicken. After the set, I talked to the singer, who also lived in Georgia, and mentioned that I worked for a magazine. He gave me a homemade CD, with his name and cellphone number scribbled on the front. I unfortunately never listened to it. Sorry about that, Zac, but I guess you've done okay for yourself.

The "I can't believe I saw this at a dive bar" concert
Janelle Monae @ Lenny's Bar, Atlanta, GA, 2008

In 2008, Tim and Leila Regan-Porter had been singing the praises of a local artist named Janelle Monae. We all went to see her at the dark and grungy Lenny's Bar in Atlanta (R.I.P.), where you were more likely to see a metal band than a future superstar. Janelle and her band played as if they were performing for an arena, yet still managed to play to the dive bar crowd (this is a hard balancing act and if you've seen it done badly, you'll know what I'm talking about). It was clear her star was rising and that we'd never see this future Cover Girl at Lenny's Bar again.

The worst concert I've ever attended
I don't even remember the artists name @ Red Light Cafe, Atlanta, GA, 2006

When people woo you to shows with promises of free wine, be weary. At one record label showcase in 2006, the moody singer-songwriter took the stage an hour late, performed a mediocre set and, when she caught me quietly yawning, yelled at me from the stage. "What, is this BORING you? Am I not ENTERTAINING enough?" she asked. Needless to say, you've never heard of her.

The concert I didn't go to, but should have
The Nightwatchman @ Smith's Olde Bar, Atlanta, GA, 2007

I was never a huge Rage Against the Machine or folk fan, so in 2007 I sold my tickets to see Tom Morello as The Nightwatchman. That night, at Smith's Olde Bar in Atlanta, Bruce Springsteen was also in the small crowd. Doh.

The "I'll tell my kids about this one day" concert
Mumford & Sons DJ Set @ Public Works, San Francisco, CA, 2011

Whey my friend Kate won tickets to a "Mumford & Sons DJ Set" at a scenester dance club, I expected we'd see Marcus hitting 'Play' on an iPod playlist and nothing more, if even that. Imagine our surprise, then, when said "DJ Set" was actually an acoustic jamboree with members of Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show, on the eve of their Railroad Revival Tour.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

New albums to add to your playlist: The Last Bison, Satellite, Hey Marseilles

It's a pretty stacked day for new releases today. Here are three I've been looking forward to that you should give a spin.

The Last Bison - Inheritance 

Wikipedia tells me that, in 1909, chamber music was first explained as "music of friends." It's an apt description for what The Last Bison has made. Fronted by Ben Hardesty, the band includes Ben's father, sister and close friends, all from colonial Virginia. The music maintains the rustic nature of the environment in which it was created, which, in an age of over-production and computer-powered soundscapes, is refreshing for both the soul and the ears. 

Standout track: "Switzerland"

For fans of: Mumford and Sons, The Decemberists

Fun fact: Six of the band's seven members were homeschooled (like some of the coolest people I know). 

Get it on Google Play

Satellite - Calling the Birds 

I first heard about Satellite from To Right Love on Her Arms and just loved Steven McMorran's voice. It haunted you long after a song ended. On this new album, what could have easily become generic and glossy radio rock instead feels like a series of fragile and honest confessions about love, loss and our mortality.

Standout track: "Brooklyn"

For fans of: Switchfoot, Mat Kearney

Fun fact: The band recently moved from Los Angeles to Nashville. 

Get it on Google Play

Hey Marseilles - Lines We Trace

A few months ago I got to see Hey Marseilles open for Sea Wolf and wondered how the heck all its members fit on the stage with their instruments and still played so well. It was graceful, not chaotic, as is this poignant album. 

Standout track: "Heart Beats"

For fans of: DeVotchka, Blind Pilot

Fun fact: Most of the band has lived in the Seattle house where the album was written.

Get it on Google Play