focus your audio: understanding in a car crash

In M|H’s weekend feature, focus your audio*, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite songs. Some I haven’t listened to in years, some I keep in regular rotation, but all having in some way informed my life, my taste, and and how I view music.

Thursday – Understanding in a Car Crash

The second concert I ever drove myself to was Saves the Day at the Crocodile Rock Cafe in Allentown, Pennsylvania. The show was on November 20th, 2001, the day after my 18th birthday. This was significant because it would be the first show I didn’t have to worry about leaving early to be off the road by 11 PM – Pennsylvania had what was colloquially referred to as the ‘Cinderella license’ and anyone between 16 and 18 couldn’t drive after that not-so-magic hour.

After falling down the punk and emo rabbit hole by reading lyrics by Dashboard Confessional and Saves the Day in a friend’s AIM profile, Saves the Day had quickly become one of my favorite bands. I looked forward to the show for months and had such a singular focus in seeing them that I didn’t bother to check out the opener ahead of time, some band called Thursday. While waiting in line for the show, freezing in my hoodie in the November air, word made it through the line that Thursday had cancelled. Several dudes in black t-shirts got out of line and went home upon hearing the news, and the club responded by pushing back the door time and leaving us to freeze outside. Someone started a fire in a dumpster for warmth/in protest, and I recall the bouncers flipping out because if the fire marshall came they’d be shut down – in those days CrocRock was notorious for over-selling shows and breaking the fire code by stuffing itself to the gills with tiny, teen-aged bodies. The fire was extinguished and the show went on and I was happy because I got to see Saves the Day.

Not too long after the show I came home from school one day to turn on the TV to MTV2. The video that was on looked like it’d been filmed on someone’s camcorder and featured quite a bit of screaming. I watched, rapt, getting my first taste of screamo that didn’t drive me up the wall. I anxiously awaited the song info to appear at the end of the video, and when Thursday appeared on the top line my heart sank. This was the band that cancelled? I missed seeing this? I then understood why so many people had dropped out of line. Thursday sounded nothing like Saves the Day. But they were damn good. They showed me that screaming didn’t have to equal noisy racket and opened me up to a lot of bands I probably would have ignored after the lackluster bands I’d encountered prior to hearing Thursday’s shouts.

A couple years later my roommate Cara and I would have a deep obsession with the band’s third release, War All the Time, but that’s another story for another day.

*This feature was formerly called songbook, but we’ve always felt terrible about ripping off Nick Hornby and finally stumbled across a phrase that better encapsulated our idea.

pondamonium 2012 part one: i’m only happy when it rains

“It began here; it could end here. I can think of worse places to die.”

As rain poured down on the crowd at Pondamonium 2012, hosted by the Madison Mallards at their Duck Pond stadium on August 9th, 2012, Garbage’s Shirley Manson joked about slipping and breaking her neck. Storming throughout the day, the rain held itself off in the early evening only to open in a downpour within minutes of Garbage starting their set.

After seven years away, the band sounds re-energized and as good as ever. I had first seen them in 2005 at the Orpheum, but my love for them began ten years before with the release of their self-titled debut. I lived in a small town outside of Madison, which as a sixth-grader felt much farther away than the seventeen miles that separated my home from Garbage’s. Even as a sixth-grader I was music-obsessed, watching MTV every chance I got and listening to the now-defunct 92.1 WMAD.

The first time I saw the music video for “Only Happy When It Rains” I fell totally and completely in love with the band (further detailed here) and that head-over-heels feeling hasn’t really subsided. While shooting the band in the photo pit at Pondamonium I was the one singing along when not grinning ear-to-ear or staring slack-jawed at the idol of my teen years.

For their homecoming, Garbage played an ideal set: a fair amount of new songs bolstered by the best of their previous releases (including, much to my friend’s and my delight, “#1 Crush” off the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack). I was impressed with how undated their songs remain – no one sounds like Garbage and they don’t sound like anyone else, yet their sound continues to evolve. The first time I heard their new album’s lead single “Blood for Poppies” was by catching an instrumental bit while using the scan feature on my car radio. Within seconds I knew it was Garbage. The new material sounded polished and melded nicely into the band’s catalog – none of the awkward ‘waiting for the new song(s) to be over so they’ll get back to the hits’ that sometimes happens when an established act comes back after a long hiatus.

Nearly as entertaining as the music was the band’s love affair with Madison and the fans. Said Manson, “I didn’t go to school here. I didn’t fall in love here. Oh, yes I did. Oopsie!” She then proceeded to offer up each member of the band, forcing them to say a few words about the occasion. Drummer Butch Vig offered gratitude for the career-spanning support he’s found here, from his bands Spooner and  The Know-It-All Boyfriends to his and guitarist Steve Marker’s Smart Studios. Marker also offered thanks, and hometown fixture Duke Erikson expressed more through the look of joy on his face while performing than with the kind he words he shared at Manson’s insistence.

Regardless of where Erikson, Marker, Vig, and Manson take up residence, the Pondamonium show made one thing clear: Madison will always be Garbage’s home.

Check out more photos from Garbage’s set here. | Next up: The Flaming Lips at Pondamonium 2012

songbook: baba o’riley

In M|H’s weekend feature, songbook, I’ll be looking at some of my favorite songs. Some I haven’t listened to in years, some I keep in regular rotation, but all having in some way informed my life, my taste, and and how I view music.

The Who – Baba O’Riley

(studio version here)

“Baba O’Riley” came on the radio the other day and I was immediately nostalgic for the summer of 2004, aka The Best Summer Ever. In (and for) a short time I became very close with a new group of people, playing in the sun, having arts & crafts and movie nights, and, more often than not, turning every outing into a dance party. Sometimes our friends played host, and sometimes we would end up at semi-random places and literally take over the sound system and the living room. One friend, Jamie, always had a messenger bag and in that messenger bag was a mix CD. I’m fairly certain I’ve danced through that CD a hundred times. The disc was filled with great jams and turned me on to bands like The Rapture, !!!, and Ratatat. There was one song that was different from all the rest, though – The Who’s “Baba O’Riley”.

It stood out because it worked. It wasn’t a dance song but was totally danceable. Somehow everyone knew the words. Classic rock was the new white belt. For most of the song there was lots of lunging and fist shaking and people doing their own thing, but when the breakdown kicked in at 3:35, everyone knew what to do. A circle formed, clapping began, and people started bouncing up and down. At 4:25 the stomping started. Stomping that shook the floor, rattled the pictures on the wall. As the tempo picked up, so did the pounding. From 4:55 on there was jumping and whooping and spinning until a final crash at the end of the song ten seconds later. It went like this without fail every time.

Whenever I hear “Baba O’Riley” at a bar or some other public venue, I always expect to see people gathering in circles, ready to stomp – but it never happens. I’m glad that, for a short while at least, I knew the people who knew what needed to be done. “The happy ones are here / let’s get together / before we get much older.”