learning love songs

est. 2008




Eight days ago, I had one of the finest concert experiences in recent memory at The Wiltern. I went to see John K. Sampson, one of my all-time favorite songwriters and frontman of the late greats The Weakerthans. He was opening for Frank Turner, an artist I knew but didn’t really know — not until I saw him on stage, anyway.

Sampson rocketed through favorites like “Aside” and “Sun in an Empty Room” along with tracks from his beautiful new solo LP Winter Wheat. I highly recommend it pensive listening sessions, when you need something to sink into that isn’t too aggressive but is still deep and smart. He introduced his group as “a soft rock band from Canada” and I think that’s a fine way to say it. I sang along with every word I knew from a seat up in the mezzanine, head tucked on my boyfriend’s shoulder. I felt warm and safe, comforted by the familiar voice that has accompanied so many highs and lows over the years.

Frank Turner, on the other hand, I didn’t know much about except for strolls through his discography in the week leading up to a song. When his set started with the unveiling of two big positive-negative light-up displays on either side of the stage, and his band entered in coordinating black and white suits, I knew this was going to be a show. Not just a concert but a performance, with engagement and attitude and stagecraft aplenty. And it was! Turner is an undeniable band leader, he’s got that charisma and energy to bounce him all over the stage without losing the audience’s eye once. His band played their own respective hearts out, and backed him up well during the almost-rockabilly punk tunes as much as the poppier side. I loved the keys and drums set up on risers in the back, creating a stage that looked like something out of a 1960s variety show. We’re so used to seeing bands set up in the same formation, and I like it when artists go out of their way to make a setup that feels like their own.

Frank’s songs have an emotional vulnerability to them that spoke to me instantly, and something about a crowd of thousands singing and jumping along to these introspective thoughts was quite moving. A word about the crowd: audiences LOVE Frank. It was clear people had seen him before, and first-timers like us were the minority of the group. But I’d instantly go back and see him again. The songs were that good, the performance was that sharp and the experience was that fun, a kind of suspended reality and coming together that felt light and strong and necessary. Three cheers to Frank and his stellar team, fans included, for giving me a night at The Wiltern I’ll never forget.

“Some days I wake up dazed my dear,
And don’t know where I am.
I’ve been running now so long I’m scared
I’ve forgotten how to stand.
I stand alone in airport bars
And gather thoughts to think:
That if all I had was one long road
It could drive a man to drink.

But then I remember you,
And the way you shine like truth in all you do.
And if you remembered me,
You could save me from the way I tend to be.”

~The Way I Tend To Be
Frank Turner, Tape Deck Heart


Tonight I woke up feeling lighter, having exorcised some demons with four hours of pop punk bands at The Fonda last night. The show featured one of best touring lineups of the year – Seaway, Knuckle Puck, Moose Blood, Real Friends and my all-time faves The Wonder Years. I’m pretty familiar with all these bands to some degree (and the new Moose Blood is easily in my top 10 AOTY so far) and I recently gave the Real Friends a spin as it had passed me by this May. But it was TWY that led me here, and also helped me unload a spare ticket for $30 as the show had sold out the day before. Demand was hot, and the crowd was young and hungry.

I loved the set from Moose Blood, the first that I caught for the night. I unfortunately missed most of Seaway while waiting in the line that wrapped the corner off of Hollywood Boulevard, but I could see the set streaming on a projection screen at The Fonda’s (very awesome and friendly) rooftop bar. When I got in, grabbed a beer and found my way to the middle of the pack for Moose Blood, I waited for about 60 seconds before they took the stage to cheers to play “Bukowski,” the song that made me love them. I sang along, so did most of the crowd, and their British accents made the whole thing that much more charming. It was one of the tightest pop punk bands I’ve seen in awhile, on par with The Menzingers, with every guitar solo and counterpoint riff nailed to a tee.

I caught the members of Moose Blood mingling with some fellow Brits at the upstairs bar during Knuckle Punk. They seemed like friendly and fun people. I meandered a bit before catching Real Friends downstairs, positioning myself in the back of the room to get a full view of the crowd losing their shit. Scenes like this fill me and thrill me in ways I cannot fully describe — there’s some nostalgia there, for sure, but I also just love seeing people let go. I love it when we drop our facades. I love the mysterious, symbiotic energy between a performer and an audience, a necessary ingredient for a killer shower.

As for Real Friends, I’m so glad I circled back to them — “The Home Inside My Head” is straight-up pop punk with loud guitars and evocative lyrics, but a really melodic sensibility. It’s more aggressive than other counterparts in the new school, such as Moose Blood, but not venturing too far into screaming territory like some of their label mates. There’s a lot more maturity in these tracks compared to their past songs, and they’re at their best when they are grappling with inner turmoil in triumphant, move-forward fashion. Their show channeled this torment, and frontman Dan Lambton is a ball of energy capable of commanding an audience through a long set with his vulnerability on his sleeves. They opened with “Mess,” which is probably my favorite track from them to date. He sings: “Last year I was a trainwreck, now I’m just a mess/I’m letting go so I don’t lose myself/I’m starting to be where I need to be.”

But of course, it was The Wonder Years who kept me captivated. I spend the first three songs of their set (the acoustic title track “No Closer to Heaven,” then the upbeat “Local Man Ruins Everything,” and “I Don’t Like Who I Was Then”) about six rows back, shouting and being thrashed about with other fans I probably had a good six to 10 years on. God it felt so fucking good! I tossed any notions of age-appropriate behavior out the window and got right in the pit, at least until my shitty right knee started acting up (Don’t get old, kids). I spent the rest of the show near the right side of the room with reasonable amounts of personal space, and while I jammed and danced and jumped and sang where appropriate, sometimes I just had to stand in awe and let the performance take over.

“Cigarettes and Saints,” which is probably my favorite track of NCTH, was a stunning, emotional performance, proving Dan Campbell’s frontman abilities are only growing with time. He pushed through the screaming of the bridge and let his natural cracks and shake channel the message of a generation lost in the margins with ferocity and aplomb. Campbell is still playing around with his “choreography,” swinging mic cords this way and that, fumbling with the stand, conducting the audience when they’re singing along (not an exclusive move but a good one nonetheless) and repeatedly standing tall with arms outstretched. The band brought their A-game, and the drumroll of the “Patsy Cline” chorus gave me thrice the chills it did in the recorded version. The harmonies and back-up vocals were emphatic and clear and aggressive, and the occasional bursts of fiery-looking smoke accompanied a stellar light show from the touring lighting manager. I screamed real hard to “Dismantling Summer,” a song from 2013’s “The Greatest Generation” that pulled me through a tumultuous 2015 season.

By the time they closed the set with “Palm Reader” and “Passing Through a Screen Door,” I was too tired to mosh and lose it, so I just sort of stood their gaping and mouthing the words. Giant balloons were released from sidestage, and they bounced around the crowd to the stage and back again, as the players hit them back toward us. Some of balloons popped on top of their gear. It was weird and magical and perfect, I felt lost and utterly found. The show met my expectations musically but pummeled me with unexpected purpose, a necessary salve to wounds I thought had long ago healed. I sort of wanted to cry. Maybe I did and don’t remember. But that is the power of live performance and evocative art and stellar poetry — it will unlock the things you are too scared or too numb to feel anymore in the light of the dull, boring, ever-numbered days.

“The future feels bright
Like the glow of a city
Out across the Great Plains,
Where the closer I get, the further I feel away.
I could stay here in the darkness.
Feels like I’m wandering in circles for days.
I may never reach the gates.
I’ll keep walking anyway.
I’m no closer to Heaven.”
~No Closer To Heaven
The Wonder Years, No Closer To Heven



I’d never been to The Forum before this past Friday, and I’d also never seen so many people taking selfies prior to a show. The crowd was filling in about an hour before the second screening of Kanye West’s “Famous” video, and thanks to the live streams from the earlier premiere, most of this crowd probably knew what they were getting into. Naked celebrities, or at least their likenesses, on an arena-height screen. It wasn’t a sell-out but it was damn near close, and I was enticed by my longtime fascination/respect of Kanye West and the relatively affordable $25 price point to order a ticket online. $25 for a night out at a new venue with one of the most preeminent artists of our time, after a springtime of near-daily listening to “The Life of Pablo?” Sign me up.

Inside the arena, the movie screen showed a brimming orange sunrise, vibrating with a countdown clock. Somehow it served as a reminder it was Kanye’s own celebrity that drew us here, that we were all here because he had made something epic to show off. Showing up early was a good call, as I was happy to wander The Forum and observe the crowd,  united in our infatuation with Yeezy. Looking around the audience filling in, most people had their phone in their hand, snapping and texting proof of their whereabouts to their friends. I had to follow suit. Then, one minute before the video, all heads and phones turned to face the soundboard in the front row of the balcony, where Kanye and his wife Kim, as well as Khloe Kardashian, had entered. We shouted, we waved, they smiled, and then it was time.

k&KThe crowd cheered and jeered throughout the video, snapping pics and videos all the while. “Famous” is one of the stronger tracks on “Pablo” and the video’s close-ups emphasized its edginess, while a pause in the song gave way to heavy breathing and snoring before the song’s final, memorable Sister Nancy and Swizz Beatz outro kicks in. The last few moments where the camera zooms out to show the entire bed and all its members, mimicking the painting “Sleep” by Vincent Desiderio, were polished and poised compared to the night vision of the previous shots, a dramatic and glamorous finish to what previously felt voyeuristic. The credits turned into a popularity contest as the names of the pictured celebs flashed one by one: huge cheers from this crowd for Kim K., Caitlynn Jenner, Rihanna, and Ray J, boos for Donald Trump, except for the guy in front of me inexplicably wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.

Every move Kanye makes is controversial and the “Famous” video proves no different. Particularly his use of Taylor Swift, who I imagine might be considering legal action over the rights to her image as some sort of apex to their ongoing feud. According to unnamed sources, she is horrified —  and rightfully so. A lot of people are calling Kanye an asshole for what he did. If I were Taylor, or George W. Bush for that matter, I would be mortified. What gives this artist the right to use my face, my image, in his video without my permission?

Maybe he doesn’t have the right. But maybe that’s exactly why he did it.

Kanye’s move provokes all sorts of questions about the culture of celebrity, its trappings and the secondary influences. We don’t think about people like Taylor Swift and Donald Trump and Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West having to to pump their own gas in their cars, worry about their credit scores, or shuffle around their wallets for their grocery store discount card like the rest of us. But their lives have the added inconvenience of a constant microscope: Taylor can’t post on Instagram without the entire catalog of entertainment magazines and blogs seemingly jumping on it. Donald Trump has propagated his own fame by putting himself in the running for president, which is a position that merits more scrutiny than being a musician , but the end game is the same: reactions from the world to all his thoughts and moves. But how different does that make them, really? They do have bodies, they do have their physical selves, which are made of no more or no less components that rest of us. Flesh. Bone. Muscle. Blood. Breasts. Limbs and lips and eyes.

kanye1So what’s the consensus on the privacy of celebrity skin? Are they just like us, or is the fishbowl of fame our twenty-first century culture imposes on a certain few a transformative force? Is a person the same as they were before when their every move will be looked at, criticized, commented on, thought about, copied, hated on or a million other public reactions? How difficult it would be to *not* be conscious of that along the way.  But while the limelight has notoriously caused the injuries and illnesses and even deaths of artists or thinkers who found themselves in its equivocal cast, it is still how we define our upper echelon of society.

Kanye knows this. And he wields it. For forty minutes after “Famous” aired at The Forum, he DJed a playlist of some of best tracks from Pablo and otherwise — songs like “Power,” “Streetlights,” “Waves,” and the newest single “Champions.” He bounced his arms, the crowd bounced his arms, he paused the track before a line, the audience shouted it back. Kanye smiled and we smiled. Kanye whispered in Kim’s ear, as she beamed her mysterious and coy smile, and we wondered what they shared.

So many people like to say Kanye isn’t an artist. I vehemently disagree. Art is about creating what it is you want to create, regardless of the reaction from others. Art is about pushing boundaries, either yours or the world’s or both. Art is about staying true to yourself, and no one can accuse Kanye of caving or compromising on any of his creations or values. Yes, he showed a complete lack of respect for the personal space of his fellow celebrities, but that was his choice he made in course of deciding what kind of artist he wants to be. I imagine he’ll suffer the consequences with aplomb.


Seeing Jason Isbell perform for the second time tonight. I almost didn’t buy tickets – stupid, I know! – in an attempt to be fiscally responsible and see if any freebies or friend offers came may way. But last night, with neither of those plausible chances coming to fruition, I made sure to secure myself a seat and I’ll be there in six hours or so, on the third deck of the Benedum Center balcony, so I can hear the genius Isbell and beautiful Amanda Shires play the highlights.

There’s a 110 percent chance I’m leaving in tears, the quiet, hot kind that you try to hide but can’t stop because you’d rather feel through your emotion than lock it up for the sake of saving face. Something about his songs – both melodies and words – cuts to the quick of what moving songs are supposed to do. He can channel the heartfelt without overplaying its effect. He can evoke memories you never knew you had. Few artists in this wide open music scene have the literary way with words that has made Isbell’s records such a classic —

“I’ll throw rocks at your window from the street
And we’ll call ourselves the flagship of the fleet.”

Jason Isbell, Something More Than Free

–not to mention the things he can do to a guitar, extending solos into mini-epics, playing each note a little clearer, a little truer, a little longer than the last. Hearing him for a couple hours tonight promises a respite from the rest of the world, just as it was last February, just as his albums from my speakers provide the most solid soundtrack, appealing to the better parts of my taste and humanity.

“It’s a strange thing to write a love song,” he said during a live session on WYEP today.

Strange, but beautiful.


Saturday! SaturdaySaturdaySaturday. On Saturday I finally get to see Marianas Trench, one of my most favorite bands due to their musicality and lyrics and being an all-around good time. I’ve been binging a little bit, in the middle of putting Kanye West’s discography on repeat in anticipation of “Waves.”  The contrast is a little rough, but energizing through long, grey days nonetheless.

While I’m expecting a total barrage of hooks and harmonies from “Astoria” during this Marianas Trench tour, my fingers are crossed for some special covers and old favorites, perhaps like this “Iris/Good for You” one. It’s a pretty simple transition, nothing fancy, the connection is all in the chords and the sentiment. I could do without the crowds screaming along, but I can’t say I won’t be acting in a similar fashion in four days time.

And I don’t want the world to see me
‘Cause I don’t think that they’d understand
When everything’s made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am….

Everyone’s around, no words are coming now.
And I can’t find my breath, can we just say the rest with no sound.
And I know this isn’t enough, I still don’t measure up.
And I’m not prepared, sorry is never there when you need it.

And now I do want you to know 

I hold you up above everyone.
And now I do want you to know 

I think you’d be good to me
And I’d be so good to you

~Iris/Good to You, as performed by Josh Ramsay  


“And you’re, you’re the kind to hide your eyes from the sun
And in your world the strong survive
But won’t you lay your body down
Yes and now, now’s the time to wrap your ears around the sound
Of your train coming round
You’ll have to lay everything down.”

~Arms Like Boulders
The War on Drugs, Wagonwheel Blues

Tonight I get to see one of my favorite bands of 2014, The War on Drugs, perform here in town. I’m crossing my fingers for a setlist full of “Lost in the Dream.” I will give myself a present if I don’t break down in tears during “In Reverse.” Or maybe, if I do, that will be a present of its own kind.

I am taking this day as an opportunity to revisit some of their older tracks, which carry much of the same aesthetic with less of the study. The story of how hard Adam Granduciel worked on this album for a year in and out of Philadelphia studios became intertwined with its own success, told and retold in celebratory reviews. Rightfully so, I’d say, as I like it when critics recognize and reaffirm the work that goes into creating something worthwhile. This album is full of shadows and light, woven together with seemingly off the cuff lyrical content, from daylight observations to silent musings alone in the dark. These are not words, or melodies, that try too hard. Patience is the key to this album’s success– it is also the biggest difference from past releases, and it is in this self-actualization and realization Granduciel found commercial success. A dream, indeed. 

It’s easy to write, when you know how to. Writing well is another matter entirely. That takes a different kind of concentration and focus, one that’s hyped up and hurried by intensity and insanity. I’m hoping to see some of that on display tonight. I need to see some of that on display tonight. I want that reminder of how working hard is worth it every time, trusting yourself is not a risk but a challenge, and while giving up is for losers, getting lost isn’t losing at all. 

“And I don’t mind you disappearing
When I know you can be found
When you livin’ on the dark side of the street, damn?
We just livin’ in the moment, making our past, losin’ our grasp through the grand parade.”

~In Reverse
The war on Drugs, Lost in the Dream


This is my favorite Black Keys song of late, though it’s not new. I suppose I first heard it on a breeze-through listen of El Camino after its release, an album I appreciated but never listened to much, as I always favored the older stuff. “Little Black Submarines” re-entered my consciousness as a radio edit in mid-August. Now it is a weekly, or daily, obsessive listen.

It’s classic Black Keys in the best way, dreary and aggressive, composed and chaotic. They performed it during a magnificent spectacle of an arena tour in Pittsburgh earlier this month, and I felt stunned by Dan Auerbach playing solo in spotlight. I felt shaken by the kick kicking in at the bust, enraptured by the newfound attack of the hook. Subtle tambourine and synth harken back to this band’s earlier days, the ones of rebellious distortion and analog glory. Then everything collides, a punishing offensive of one loud-ass guitar and a little of everything else backing it up. Auerbach’s effortless cool is trademark, and rugged, and I can’t think of a better sound than his vintage pedal-fuzz to accompany this hardening of hearts. Lyrical brilliance has never been this band’s strong suit, though it has never needed to be with this kind of blues-rock feeling, and yet here they hit their mark with dead-on aim, with a story of a desperate broken heart sullen and thrashing in its own misery.

Vulnerability never sounded so tough.

“Little black submarines,
Operator please,
Put me back on the line.
Told my girl I’d be back
Operator please,
This is wreckin’ my mind

Oh can it be,
The voices calling me,
They get lost,
And out of time,
I should’ve seen it glow,
But everybody knows,
That a broken heart is blind.
That a broken heart is blind.

Pick you up, let you down,
When I wanna go
To a place I can hide.
You know me, I had plans,
But they just disappeared,
To the back of my mind.

Oh can it be,
The voices calling me,
They get lost,
And out of time.
I should’ve seen a glow
But everybody knows
That a broken heart is blind

That a broken heart is blind.

Treasure maps, fallen trees,
Operator please
Call me back when it’s time
Stolen friends and disease,
Operator please,
Patch me back to my mind.

Oh can it be?
The voices calling me
They get lost
And out of time.

I should’ve seen a glow
But everybody knows
That a broken heart is blind
That a broken heart is blind
That a broken heart is blind.

~Little Black Submarines
The Black Keys, El Camino


Today I get to see my favorite band play for the first time. Since 2010,The Wonder Years have been my link to the past and soundtrack to the present, the kind of pop punk that touched upon everything that made me love the genre way back when in the first place, deepened with an of-age maturity perfectly matching my own struggles, trials, inner demons and dreams. Dan Campbell and company created a tremendous force in a genre ever-shifting, ever-changing, ever running from its own stereotypes without sacrificing their own progression. For this, and for the countless hours spent singing at the top of my lungs, I love them. Check out the tag at the end of this post. You’ll see.

I get to see The Wonder Years today, and it’s mostly because I live in Pittsburgh, a major market with a devoted community of promoters who work hard to deliver the best of the scene, and one-of-a-kind events like the Four Chord Music Festival. It’s been such an improvement in my exposure to bands and overall quality of life to be able to find out a band is touring and know there’s a pretty good shot they’re coming through a local venue, after I spent a year and a half missing out due to having to travel to D.C., Philadelphia or Baltimore to see the bands I love.

Shows were immensely important to me growing up. They were the only place I felt sort of cool – at school I was an over-achieving nerd, at ballet class I was a tortured young artist, but in my basement blasting Taking Back Sunday or The Early November, I felt alright, understood. Thee early 2000s eruption of indie, emo and pop punk bands gave me an anchor, and I clung to it. Going to see the bands I loved live meant dancing and yelling and gaping in awe like a fool, but it also meant being part of a crowd I didn’t have to run from or morph in front of to fit in. I saw kids like me, and older ones with tattoos and cigarettes I’d one day emulate, in my own way. My fascination with stage and performance developed, learning to hear the acute differences between guitar parts and memorize set lists. The fixation eventually carried over to other parts of my life, when wearing band shirts and listening to headphones in the hallways led me to some of the best friends I ever made.

I’m no longer a mousy girl in checkered Vans with a button-covered messenger bag waiting outside the back door of The Bug Jar, but that feeling that drove me there never left. In some ways, my ability to satiate it has only increased with the time and resources adulthood can provide. Sure, I sometimes feel old (there was that time I went to the Touche Amore concert in my work clothes and high heels) but I’m so grateful to be able to indulge this part of myself, now more than ever. So, cheers to the Pittsburgh music community for giving me an outlet again, for enriching my 2014 with so many incredible shows, sounds and memories, for giving me another spin with that all-time favorite companion, distraction and medicine of live music.

Should be a great show.

“I’ve been acting like I’m strong
But the truth is, I’ve been losing ground
To a hospital too crowded,
A summer winding down,
I hadn’t seen a heartbreak until now,
I hadn’t felt a heartbreak until now.”

~Dismantling Summer
The Wonder Years,The Greatest Generation


“Honey we came to dance with the girls with the stars in their eyes…”
~We Came to Dance
The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim
I saw Gaslight Anthem last night in D.C. Well, two nights ago, technically, by the date, but just a little over 24 hours. It was everything I wanted and more. 
Venue, the 9:30 Club, got sweaty, but it was a pretty beautiful place, charming architecture with dirty floors. The audience was hip, and liked to mosh. Didn’t expect that but it thrilled me. There were action figures and red candles settled on the amps, kind of felt like what the set up must’ve been in their Jersey garage back when. The setlist was pretty impeccable, I could’ve heard “When We Were Young,” but they opened with “Mae” which broke my heart in just the right way. After that, a black scrim dropped down, showing a fierce bird/dragon emblem.  I really appreciate their song choices. “Handwritten” tracks sounded fresh, those guitar melodies just sliced the air and locked in a revelry as the album would have you believe. Truly impressed by the layers and precision, definitely got the feeling that touring over the last few years have given these guys a good handle on the kind of riffs that can just energize a crowd. Bass tones were solid, I couldn’t see Alex Levine play too much from where I was standing and its mix wasn’t too balanced from where I was standing unfortunately, but sounded good if not too intricate. Alex Rosamilia and Brian switching off on lead guitar melodies works well, they really have different feels and gear preferences that gives you a good blend of metal-inspired riffs (fastfingers!! I watched them as close as I could over the heads and iPhones) and sustained  chromatic notes that are all feel (goddamn those semi-hollows sound great, I would want one if I had money to burn and better shoulder muscles to show it off cause they’re damn heavy).
“There you go, turn the key and engine over 
Let her go, let somebody else lay at her feet…” 
The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten
Dudes in the band seemed like lovable punks; think they’d make good friends if I happened to find myself friends with them. As lead vocalist and MC and de facto spokesman, Brian Fallon was not ashamed to be a jerk – calling himself a liar, and a bad friend, and yelling at some dude who said “Fuck You” after he had declared his New York Jets allegiance (“Isn’t my life terrible enough?” he shouted back). He told a cool story about Bon Jovi texting him (with a great line about filling 20,000+ capacity stadiums that to me revealed a certain ambitious insecurity I immediately recognized) that could’ve been seen as douchy if he didn’t seem like the kind of guy who didn’t care if you thought he was douchey. We all hear his songs, so we know he’s a sentimental old fool at the core. He didn’t talk too, too much, just enough, I think, to give you a feel of who he wanted to present himself to be that night. Guy seems existential as fuck, but if he read that he’d probabyl tell you that’s just my perception of him and I don’t really know. You could speculate, maybe, if The Gaslight Anthem will just be Brian Fallon someday —  I’ll bet his bandmates do, given the media attention he gets — but I do not predict that in the near future because this band gives you a show, a mood, a scene, and that generally can be more profitable in many ways including the obvious financial ones.I would like to see them stay around for awhile more. As for his singing – he did what I’ve seen him do with live footage, tinker with the higher melodies to make them more comfortable, cause night after night that can get pretty taxing I’d imagine given how raspy his voice is a lot of the time….however, a gift for melody and counterpoint seems to work in Fallon’s favor here, surprising his audience with more complex parts on even the most familiar of tunes.

“Well, I wonder which song they’re gonna play when we go. 
I hope it’s something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.”

~The ’59 Sound
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound
Older tracks, like a personal faves “We Came to Dance” and “Drive,” as well as an extended intro version of “Angry Johnny and the Radio” were rehearsed really well, obviously, to the point of reinvented solos and Brian turning his back to the audience to jam out with the long-haired bearded drummer, Benny. Benny did not seem like a super-master technician trick wise, but he was all feel, all dynamics and pocket and drive and push that really propels a lot of their song structure. “Here’s Looking at You, Kid” was so good to hear, so so so so so good to hear, even though they took a break before the last verse to give Brian a minute to talk about the ex-girlfriend in the third verse.  Following a one-song acoustic break with the opener that I had missed, there were some cuts from “American Slang,” including the title track that made me want to run away and do all kinds of things and see all kinds of things and have no cares in the world other than what the day might bring. Continuing that theme emotionally and musically, “Diamond Church Street Choir” was dead on with the backup vocals and all. Actually I was really impressed with how they used backup vocals overall, including those of the third guitarist, Ian. Really clear balance and really retro at times, especially in “Here Comes My Man.” Love seeing simple harmony backsup in a rock band…again, retro and quite pleasing sonic-wise.

“They’ll find me beat down out in the universe
Though I’ll never forget where I’m from…”

~The Diamond Church Street Choir
The Gaslight Anthem, American Slang

Overall, they presented a really cohesive catalog, and message, and feel. Condensing four LPs into an hour and half show isn’t the easiest task, but you can tell they’ve learned what tracks from past albums have real staying power and played a role in crafting their sound as it exists today. You can tell they’re proud, and still having fun. Still in some shock at their fan base. Personally, I was unbelievably happy to hear so many songs I loved, get a better feel for where these songs are coming from in terms of both inspiration and persperation. 
And of course, it just made me think about how different my life would be today if I follow different dreams, if I wound up at club after club and bar after bar night after night.  
“And the only thing we know is it’s getting dark and we better go
And the only thing we say are the despairs of the day, 

And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers,
And if you’re too tired, go to sleep, my brothers
I’m alright to drive”

The Gaslight Anthem, Sink or Swim
There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they made me feel, and how it seemed they were making a lot of other people feel — from the toe-tappers on the mezzanine in their glasses and vests … the youngish looking girl with a huge smile dancing her ass off to my left and the guy in front of me with the bald spot who kept turning around and looking at me out of the corner of his eye … to the big dude in the Menzigners shirt who kept crossing back and forth though where my friends and I were standing….and I could say a whole lot abot those people who stand so fucking still at concerts I have no idea why they’re even there….and what about those sweet amazing couples, hugging and swaying and kissing, so intimate admist all this ruckus? Quite interesting to me to the blonde girl sitting and nodding her head to the beat, (tour or venue crew?) so controlled and composed as she looked on from what I can best describe as a private fenced-off box stage right that I would’ve given a pinky toe to be sitting in. The romance, the lust, the draw, it was there in every corner no matter how disguised among the crowds of D.C.’s apparently varied population of music fans.

“Now do you blow it out come Friday night?
See if you wanna, you can find me on the hood under the moonlight
Radio, oh radio, do you believe there’s still some magic left
Somewhere inside our souls?”

The Gaslight Anthem, Handwritten

There is a lot more I could say, about these songs and how they make me feel, about how many years I’ve heard this band and how that cutthroat honesty, unafraid of drama or cliche, gets me every time..a lot more I could say, but I have a sleep debt and a long, long week to shine on through. Here goes nothing, again – if there was any other takeaway from last night, it’s that truly anything is possible, no matter how frightening or far-fetched.

“I’ve never felt so strange
Standing in the pounding rain
Thinking about what my mother once said
Maybe I should call me an ambulance”

~The Patient Ferris Wheel 
The Gaslight Anthem, The ’59 Sound

Sidenote: We’re going to see a lot of lists soon, it being December and all. I am a little too zonked right now (whatever that means) to process my top 10 albums of the year, but I will see that when I read quick briefs of album reviews of those I haven’t encountered, it’s really easy to make me not want to listen to the album, and that’s if you state the obvious. Lyric excerpts are too often used as crutches. Tell me why I need to listen to this and why it is better than anything else, don’t give me meeting minutes. Fuck if I know anything about music writing, though.

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