i never thought i’d yell ‘i get wet’ in the presence of a string quartet

Prior to arriving at San Francisco’s Swedish American Hall on October 7, 2009, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Andrew WK, guru of partying hard, was on tour with the Calder Quartet. Would it be a night of tracks off AWK’s new piano album, 55 Cadillac? A strings-enhanced rendition of “Party ‘Til You Puke?” My guess was closer to the latter, but nothing I’d imagined prepared me for the majesty of the evening ahead.

As I entered the venue, I was handed a print-out for the evening’s program. I walked upstairs to the performance space and discovered it was set up recital-style – neat rows of chairs with a center aisle, leading to a small stage backed by a red velvet curtain. After taking my seat on the aisle, near the back, I read over the program. Alongside Andrew WK classics such as “I Get Wet” and “Party Hard”, there were songs by Bach, Philip Glass, and John Cage’s infamous “4’33″”. Excellent.

After a faux-rocky start (AWK approached the stage looking tense and nervous, “messing up” his first piece as a segue into the conversational  “Friendly Gestures #4 and #3”), things hit their stride with the Calder Quartet’s performance of “Interface” –  amazing and a touch avant-garde. As the CQ played, AWK often sat listening with eyes closed, appearing genuinely moved by what was happening. AWK’s odyssey into spontaneous solo improv was up next, and incorporated coughs, sniffles, and the sounds of scooting the piano bench around and rubbing the mic on the ground. Though the performance elicited giggles from many, I’m certain Andrew WK was quite serious about what he was sharing with the room. Rounding out the first half of the program was the intense and captivating “Honey Flyers” – a three-movement piece that reminded me a bit of the Kronos Quartet’s collaborations with Clint Mansell.

The second half included an understated Philip Glass piece and another improvisation by Andrew WK. The program then took a more raucous turn with the Calder Quartet helping Andrew WK rocket through a sing- and clap-along medley of hits. It was hilarious hearing a roomful of people yell out “I get wet” while being accompanied by violin, viola, cello, and piano, and exciting to see people celebrate classical form with whoops and smiles as opposed to the staid golf-clap so commonly heard in symphony halls.

The night’s final piece was John Cage’s “4’33″”. For those of you unfamiliar, it is a song that consists of nothing but silence. Many in the crowd thought it was a joke, many were confused, and many laughed, coughed, or shifted uncomfortably in their seats, unconsciously contributing the piece. Those who knew what was happening insistently shushed those who were making noise, making their own contribution.

For me it was thrilling to see the worlds of rock and classical unite. The crowd comprised members of both worlds, and likely exposed each to something outside their respective spheres. It was clear that both Andrew WK and the Calder Quartet do what the like (and like what they do), and from the amount of applause it appeared the crowd concurred.

SET LIST: Prelude in C Major/Ave Maria (JS Bach), Friendly Gestures #4 and #3 (Fred Frith), Interface (Tristan Perich), Spontaneous Solo Piano Improvisation, Honey Flyers (Christine Southworth), Company (Philip Glass), Spontaneous Solo Piano Improvisation, I Get Wet, Party Hard, I Love New York City (redone as I Love San Francisco), Dance Party, 4’33” (John Cage)

no need for reminding, you’re still all that matters to me

One lovely August day, an unsolicited package arrived on my doorstep from Vagrant. Having not the slightest clue as to what it could be, I was ecstatic to find it was The Get Up KidsSomething to Write Home About reissue. When I saw that the enclosed note included tour dates, I was over the moon. In 2005, I drove seven hours to see their June 9th stop at the Metro in Chicago for their farewell tour. That night they ended their set on “Long Goodnight” and I stood by the sound booth, tears streaming down my face as I listened to the band deliver heartfelt thank-yous while they vamped. First seeing them on December 11,  2001, they’d quickly become one of my favorite bands to see live and I was devastated that I’d never get to see them play again. I’m glad to say that last night, September 21, 2009, that wrong was righted at the Fillmore in San Francisco, CA.

Opening the evening were Pretty and Nice and Youth Group. While both bands had their merits (Youth Group’s cover of “Forever Young” by Alphaville was wonderfully dark), neither was stylistically what I wanted to hear. In all honestly, the only thing I would have found acceptable is Saves the Day playing Through Being Cool in its entirety (please get on that, STD).  By the time Youth Group had finished and the waiting began, I was anxious and antsy. After what seemed like a ridiculous and masochistic wait following the changeover, the lights dimmed and The Get Up Kids took the stage.

Kicking off with “Holiday“, Something to Write Home About‘s opener, the band was immediately greeted with a massive and enthusiastic sing-along. I was pleased to find that the lyrics came flooding back to me, and was surprised by the accompanying emotions. Throughout the show, there were several times I felt myself on the verge of tears – partially from the surge of memories (my friends Jon and Danielle explaining that it was crucial I download “Anne Arbour” and “Red Letter Day” one day while waiting for our English class to start, late-night dance parties to “Close to Me”), and partially from the sheer joy and gratitude at being able to hear these songs live and sing them aloud with a thousand of my closest new friends, transient though they may be.

Perhaps most important was that seeing The Get Up Kids again reminded me why I love music, and why it continues to be so central to my daily existence. The Get Up Kids and Saves the Day were among the first shows I went to that were not in a big arena. They were small, sweaty, and personal. For the first time, I could see the faces of the performers without the aid of a Jumbotron. The crowds were populated by other people my age, and I didn’t feel self-concious singing, laughing, or screaming with glee because I had a parent sitting next to me. Crushes were born over the exchange of mixtapes featuring newly discovered bands, and friendships were solidified while we pointed at the stage, locking eyes with the person next to us as we both yelled our favorite line of the whole album.

Before the show last night, I had no idea that seeing The Get Up Kids again would affect me so deeply. I was wildly excited to see a band I’d been missing, but had not realized how deeply rooted they were in my identity. Upon reflection, I’m not particularly surprised, but I am heartened to know that music really does matter; it really does change lives (if only my own).

PARTIAL SET LIST: Holiday, Don’t Hate Me, Action & Action, Valentine, Close to Home, Mass Pike, Woodson, Overdue, Walking On a Wire, Campfire Kansas ENCORE: Close to Me, Beer For Breakfast, I’ll Catch You, Ten Minutes