We here at Shows I Go To apologize. Sometimes, we get too drunk, stoned, excited, sweaty, smelly or just too fucking busy. While our brains (until soggy with whiskey,) remind us to snap a picture at the show, record a snapchat or write a review hastily etc… Our hearts remind us to put our phones down and dance our cute little butts off. As journalists, it’s important to carefully balance the head and the heart. That balance allows a reviewer to personally get the most out of a show, while still being able to encapsulate the performance and pass it on to the masses. Music is our passion; from Slayer to Bieber (we somehow employ fans of both.) We want to bring you to your favorite artist’s show through our glazed over, bloodshot eyes.
We are so honored and extremely privileged to be working with and involved with so many amazing people, bands, venues, and corporations. There are many vessels that have granted us opportunities in the world of music many of us could never have dreamed of. We realize whole-heartedly that we are lucky to be doing what we do, and strive to do so more efficiently. So, here’s to all the shows we had too good of a time at, to all the shows which were literally indescribable, and to all the shows which came exactly when we needed them. Thanks to all the incredible artists who create these escapes. We are eternally grateful to the beautiful artists and people who we are so lucky to meet along the way. 2016 was a big year for Shows I Go To, including a ton of giveaways, interviews, reviews and even a fucking documentary. So please forgive us for forgetting, binge drinking, and working our asses off, but these are the Shows I Go To 2016 LOST REVIEWS. Please enjoy (at your own risk.)
In and out of my afternoon coffee buzz, I tie up my chin length ash blonde hair into a half bun, lower my hands down, cranes to the keys, readied to write in what feels like forever.
The inspiration is less than desirable, I admit. Scrolling through the “gram” as one does, amidst other mid-morning mediocrities, a blue-toned tour poster pauses my attention span for a moment, Ms. Julien Baker–anything the just above 5’ tall musician does makes me pause, though.
The Instagram picture is also being used to promote a new 7” out in March.
It’s not the prospect of a new vinyl or new music, though this prospect is alluring, which sets me off.
“Couldn’t be more honoured to join @matadorrecords to make some new art and put it into the world which is sincerely all anyone could hope for!”
My stomach starting flipping, sinking down into my pinky toe, making the water I’ve been rowing this guilt boat through the past couple of months feel even more like a molasses-filled river. Every time I attempted to sit down and write about a show, I’d get one measly, selfish, half-assed introduction which afforded the reader no information about the show, only an insight on how sad I was that day. (“Hey, isn’t that kind of happening right now…?” I know, stay with me, please. I got this.) All the words, all the sentiments kept coming out wrong. Everything felt selfish and self-serving to an already oversaturated media space filled with shitty subjective opinions. I felt lost for a purpose in sharing. The sharing felt gross. What was the point of contributing? Sleep came less and the worrying became more frequent. All the unshared files began to stack higher in my chest. I just didn’t even feel compelled to write any more until happening upon that quote; which then reminded me, I had some work to do.
November 4, 2016.
I found out Julien Baker, Pinegrove, and Kevin Devine were coming to The Social(?!) two days before my birthday in August and considered all other forthcoming presents as bonuses. This was all I needed and when the day finally arrived in November, the buzz was palpable. My central nervous system was shot. All the messages which were supposed to be firing to my brain were short-circuiting for some reason. What was I afraid of? That the show wasn’t going to live up to my expectations? Doubtful. That I was going to run into someone I didn’t want to see? Probable, but not cause for worry. I couldn’t pin down the point of this internal struggle. I pushed it down. (Coping mechanisms in 2016 = 100%)
I was photographing the show that night as well and had some reservations about being able to capture the essence of the music which picked me up on so many wounded occasions. Pinegrove was first.
Pinegrove absolutely blew me away in July at Will’s Pub. Embarrassingly enough, I went to the merch table before the guys and gal performed to buy vinyl and didn’t realize I was buying it from none other than frontman Evan Stephens Hall, himself. As soon as he took the stage, I felt red hot with the kind of guilt only a Catholic mother could induce. The tomato color receded from my cheeks when I instantly recognized so much of myself as each chord progressed. Their Social performance was no different. It was a different energy as the room was a bit bigger, but no less packed. They played songs from their latest incredible record, Cardinal, the likes of “Old Friends,” “Cadmium,” and “New Friends.” The latter of the songs which can be found on 2015’s Everything So Far, their first record, as well.
Pinegrove, from the bits I caught from nearby friends’ conversations, are one of the most technically sound bands around right now. “Their ability to change tempo/time and control pace are insane,” I hear a friend marvel. It’s not that I don’t concur, however, my musical makeup is more about how something makes me feel through sound, rather than how it’s particularly played, so I always find it interesting to take notes on the technical aspect. The New Jersey band is as fine as they come. Evan’s vocal ability is untouchably pure even when he yells, “but if I don’t have you by me then I’ll go underground!” on the achingly relatable track “Aphasia.” His voice breaks slightly and sends home their message of simple, honest communication and friendship as life’s greatest treasures. They were the perfect preface to the toast of the evening.
Julien Baker steps out onto the stage, ascending the ramp from the side of The Social and greets us with shy fervor. Her nerves might be coming from the fact that the room is already unusually quiet, save a few “whooo’s” and “ow’s!” from the crowd. She has our full attention.
I cower in the stage left corner with my camera and almost forget that I am supposed to be taking pictures. Julien has the distinct talent of transferring her energy to an entire room with a few single finger picks. “Sprained Ankle” starts delicately and you would think The Social was filled with 100 bassheads who all just peaked at the same time when their neon God dropped the almighty and banging beat. Never have I seen so many people get a little rowdy to what several male friends have described as, “sad lady music.” Gender, sexual orientation, race, age didn’t matter in that space, though. Baker is adamant about creating a safe, warm environment at all of her shows and that November night was swaddled in the embers of musically raw moments and good company.
Several staff members and I stood on the steps aligned with center stage and wept, except I didn’t. Didn’t cry. Couldn’t cry. I tried, (pathetically) like I needed saltwater gratification to justify my closeness to this music. The truth was, I was so happy. Happy even when she sang “Rejoice.” Happy when she tilted her head back and echoed, “I rejoice and complaaaaaaain” through the 400 cap venue. Happy when what she was saying was bone-chillingly sad. The truth was in a t-shirt the artist herself wears frequently, “sad songs make me feel better.” Her set was sonic medicine for the soul. Anyone who might have only seen the crowd’s reactions would’ve thought a very different genre of music was playing. People were moshing slightly and much to the chagrin of the humble, pink-cheeked tiny powerhouse onstage, scream-singing the words back to her. I couldn’t be sad. Not when singing the words which healed me slowly over the past year since discovering Sprained Ankle. Not surrounded by the people I love the most. Not when the chemicals within were so quiet, only a slight sloshing of insecurities could be heard in the distance, soothed from the surface. It was magic.
We’re taught magic from books, from films of grandeur, boasting wizards and enchantresses from different realms. We’re asked to seek magic as a means of unrealistic escape from the daily drolls our very ordinary, “unmagical” lives. Perhaps, most magic is found by castles inside the pages of a favorite science fiction novel. Maybe dragons guard the damsel in distress who sits at the top of the tallest tower. Maybe the moat is filled with sharp-teethed sea creatures with a penchant for pathetic human flesh. Or maybe, it’s a damsel who doesn’t need any rescuing. Who stands alone with a single guitar and amp front and center building her own tower. A tower not made of stone but instead, constructed with simple chords and under the pretense that sharing, even when you’re scared, is the best thing you can do. The magic is in the moments you allow yourself to give into vulnerability and share what’s inside. Julien Baker makes that magic happen.
I didn’t cry like I thought I would, but I did shed so many heavy layers weighing on me that evening. And isn’t that ‘sincerely all anyone could hope for?
I think so.
“It is only when we start to question the validity of our art that it begins to lose its value. “
-Idk who said this or if anyone actually did, but it sounds like something I heard before and I sleep with this notion like the snot-filled blanket my childhood best friend’s Mom gave me which no one will ever get me to throw away.
Do it. Everything that’s in your heart. That’s all you can ask of yourself.
Julien Baker Pinegrove Live Review & Photos by Sarah Schumaker, edited by Matthew Weller.
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