Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What can music do?

A year ago, I did not know who Arcade Fire was. I did not know that weird bands made normal music. Simply, I did not know what music could do to people.

I learned a ton of shit senior year, and one of the highlights of this wealth of knowledge I received was that good music is not dead. Frankly I wasn't sure. I hadn't really checked I guess. The TV and the Radio don't really like good music I guess, because they sure as hell do play Ke$ha a lot. Regardless, I was cultured enough by new friends this year to realize that rock bands still exist, which entranced me enough to purchase a $215 Lollapalooza ticket. Let me tell you, that's f*#king expensive. Anyway, I went this past weekend. So did a lot of my friends. So did Brendan. I know you just heard about this shit yesterday. I DONT GIVE A DAMNFUCK.

I had no expectations for my weekend. All I knew is that my friends and I were leaving Springfield behind, crashing on a floor at Sean O'Brien's apartment (if you read this Sean and Michelle, which you won't, thank you for your saintly hospitality, you guys are the COOLEST), and going to concerts every day for a whole weekend. Here's the thing. On another level, I had no expectations for what two of those three elements would be like. Sean's Chicago living situation? I dunno what that's like. No supervision around to police us? I dunno what that's like. And as far as my experience goes with rock concerts? Um, the Ataris played a show here in Springfield about a month ago. They weren't very good, just very loud. I went there. Oh, and get this, the only other shows I had seen were headlined by Band Practice! No experience at all basically! I had seen Glastonbury videos on Palladia and stuff, but I had no idea what being in the crowd would be like.

It was amazing.

There were four acts that I'm going to talk about today. The first one being MyNameIsJohnMichael. First off, their space bar was broken when they submitted their name I guess. It's really unfortunate, because it makes their band name really fucking stupid. The setting of this band was at the BMI stage, a more casual viewing stage with room for an idling audience and really a place to draw in passerby's who didn't necessarily have seeing your little band on their agenda. Also it was 11:15 in the morning. They were a total throw-in. 11:15 is too early to rock out and too late to play dreadfully slow but placidly pretty music. They started the show with about ten rows of crowd, and several people lounging around the area. The band wasn't a complete stranger to me, Robert had showed me one of their live performances that was YouTubed. I watched the first twenty seconds and then went back to whatever. Regardless, I randomly decided they were a priority. I ended up getting third row due to the passively spaced out crowd (more on this in a bit) and had no idea what I was in for. The band was obviously just starting to achieve remote popularity, because this was their first time playing in Chicago (they were from New Orleans). They played perfectly. The lead singer was pitting out, undoubtedly nervous, and engagingly entertaining. They recognized their spot for what it was, a complete bonus. They weren't what anyone was there for, yet they played exactly what the crowd needed to hear. They pepped up everyone in attendance and ended with a spectacular sequence in which three of the band's five members grabbed percussion instruments (one a bass drum, another a tom, and the third a trash can. The trash can was played with a chain, the other with mallets) and, after a minute or so of atmospheric scene setting keyboard chords coupled with thin and purposefully confidence lacking guitar chords, played a booming simplistic yet heavy (and as Robert described it, eerie) beat that really put a foundation under the song. All of a sudden it was a full roar we seemed to hear from the guitar and everyone in attendance seemed taken aback by the creativity, but moreso the effectiveness of said creativity. We were all taken from groggy impatient fans who were exhausted from a full plate of music the day prior to excited and pepped up fans who had seen something different and neat to start the day. Music can be quite the alarm clock.

Rewind. Day one. I had seen four shows. The Walkmen, who I had liked, but were apparently unimpressive as far as live bands go. Who knew? From there I saw twenty minutes or so of Jukebox the Ghost, a band I had looked up prior to Lolla and found amusing and not bad. They were good, but I mean, I didn't get much as far as seeing them or how they commanded the stage. Then I went to Cymbals Eat Guitars. I disliked them because of their loud crashing drums and lack of strength behind the other band members' instruments. But seriously, they were too loud and formulaic. I left them. Then I stumbled upon the New Pornographers. They were pleasing, but I wasn't really gripped by them, and so I left to go see Matt and Kim, because a couple of my friends were there that I wanted to meet up with. Now I had not heard of Matt and Kim. Their deal? I did not know it. I knew their name and that's it. Comparatively named artists? Belle & Sebastian and She & Him. That's who I was grading them against. Then they come out with this. Needless to say, they passed with a WTF+. I ended up not being able to find Robert and Caitlin for that show, but it didn't matter. I was trying to leave for twenty minutes because I wanted to see the Black Keys as well and I had found friends their previously so I figured I could do it again (I couldn't). The reason leaving took me so long is because the crowds were packed and I was distracted by how AWESOME Matt and Kim were. I couldn't help but jump up and down and listen to their awesome inter-song shpiels (who knows how to spell that word?). Music can inexplicably give you the need to party with people who you don't care to know.

Later on in the evening, I traveled to a mystical land where anything was possible, and sexual orientation was set back to zero by one crazy ass bitch. Lady Gaga was set to perform in front of roughly 80,000 intrigued/entranced/enthralled people. Gaga made these people her own. It was crazy. I met up with Peter Racine, but we were alone in a crowd of crazy fans of Gaga monsters. She drew all sorts of different fans. Some people were there because they liked her pop music more than Ke$ha's and Katy Perry's, others were there because her radical extreme insanity was liberating to them. Others, like me, were there just to see what the fuck was going on with this chick. The concert played like a broadway musical with super catchy music. She got the crowd going and kept them going for two hours. Dancing was everywhere. It was like an acid trip where Gaga was God and everyone else belonged to her. I think that's what she's going for. I feel her act is contrived to control people and that her insanity is something she takes off when she gets back to her dressing room. But who knows? Her mind must be a very interesting place. And when I say control people, I say it not in a manipulative sense where they do things for her, but just like, I don't know, she gets the feeling of supreme power from having these people do her every bidding. If Gaga says clap, you clap. If Gaga says "dance you mother fuckers!", you dance. If Gaga says "I want you to put both hands in the air, and I want you to grab the person next to you's hand, if you don't know 'em, who cares? Make a fuckin' friend." then you make yourself a fuckin' friend (I made friends with a girl in a Pink Girl costume (derivative of Greenman)). The point is, her fans are fiercely in love with her and it seems like she's using that as a gigantic boost to her ego. I respect her ability to do that. 80,000 people dancing to the beat of one person's ridiculous drum. Music can control you.

Fast forward. The day is Sunday. The strategy is simple: go to the stage that Arcade Fire is playing at, stay there, stay there, stay there, stay there, stay there, enjoy amazing seats to the best concert we'll ever see. From 11:15 to 10:00 at night, I moved approximately 5 yards total. The day started with rain and cool breeze. We bought ponchos. The Antlers performed. They finished. We waited. We socialized. The stage almost fell apart due to a light breeze. The rain stopped. The sun came out. The sun baked our asses. Blitzen Trapper performed. They finished. The sun continued toasting. Yeasayer performed. The sun did not quit. MGMT performed (excellently by the way). The sun finally fell behind the tall Chicago skyline, yet still the air burned with intense heat. Then we found ourselves a spot on the fence, front row. And then, something great happened. The sun finally died, the heat subsided, and out came Arcade Fire. They were welcomed with such praise you would have thought it was the Justice League or something. The band played a brilliant set, masterfully geared toward live performances. The elements to the band's atmospheric sound were brought out and enveloped the audience in that atmosphere. The band's seven members hopped from instrument to instrument and each combination was just as wonderful as the last (my personal favorite being two drum sets pounding simultaneously). Win Butler's vocals were even more saturated with emotion than on the band's recorded tracks, and RĂ©gine Chassagne's perfectly imperfect voice resonated with all 90,000 that were glued to the band's performance. Simply put, the band's performance transcended all that I had pictured live music to be. Nothing was lost and so much was gained. And when Butler lied wryly telling us that "Keep the Car Running" was the last song they'd be playing, no one bought it, but yet we were filled with excitement because we knew what was to come. The band came out for an encore and Butler proclaimed "we're only playing one song, and I want 'em to fuckin' hear it in a space station" everyone knew what to do. "Wake Up" was played, and it was absolutely beautiful from start to finish. That's the most people I've ever done something together with. And it felt pretty damn amazing. I'll be able to die in peace.

Music can save your soul.

Lollapalooza was a hell of an experience. I would recommend going at least once in your life. It changed mine, and I'm pretty sure it changed the lives of the other 240,000 people that attended as well. At least most of them. Live music is something that can either annoy you or make you feel like you've never felt before, and it's something that goes under-appreciated despite how much acclaim it already gets. These were just four of the twenty bands that I saw over the weekend, and all twenty left lasting impressions on me, for more than just how they sounded. Seeing a rockstar is also quite a thrill, I have to admit. I'll probably go to Lolla next year, but I know the Arcade Fire show was the best show I'll ever see (partially because I didn't see this one). So I encourage you, if you haven't already, experience live music. It changed my life in a damn good way, maybe it can do the same for you.

--Eliot Sill

The Summer of Brendan (Not Mada)

If you're not legally blind, then you've probably already made the discovery that I, Brendan Cavanagh, will be taking over Mada's post (so to speak) for today. Sorry guys, I know you're expecting her, AND this post is really long, but I've been patiently waiting for this moment all summer. Bear with me.

I'd like to write today about a particular theme that has run with me throughout the last few months: me. LOL! The instant I walked out of SHG's doors for the last time (a moment later diluted when I ended up having to go back to school over the next few days for errands), I declared, a la George Costanza, that the three months preceding my departure for college would be my best, the Summer of Brendan. Looking back over the numerous significant events that have transpired this summer, I'd say I was successful in realizing my goals. But it didn't start out that way.

Sometime in the middle of April, I got a callback to my seasonal job at Illini Country Club, in the Pro Shop (that's a golf thing, for those not in the know). Initially I was thrilled to have my job back, for multiple reasons: It gave me something to do, other than watching crummy movies on Turner Classic Movies or Independent Film Channel all day (which I grew to appreciate recently); There are free staff meals provided by a chef next door in the clubhouse; And the job wasn't too demanding, to my knowledge. When I worked there last September and October, it was never too busy, and my managers and fellow employees were easy to get along with.

However, hardly anything about my job last year played out this time around! First of all, I began to find that I had very few days off, and due to the bumbling inefficiency of my manager/scheduler, my hours at Illini began to overlap with my shifts at Carrie McMenamin's dad's law office, where I perform "general office duties" and take part in "political research." As a result, I constantly had to reschedule my shifts both at Illini and Dunn & McMenamin, often having to cancel my shifts at one place or the other. Or I went towards the opposite end of the spectrum, and pulled a shift at both places. One day in June I worked from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Illini, then 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Dunn & McMenamin, and finally closed the day from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. with a bonus shift at Illini's Casino Night, where my exhaustion was soon diminished after I made $75 in tips for my extraordinary ability to do look the other way while the players at my blackjack table shuffled chips and cards around to enable their success.

And the reason work was never busy is because when I worked there last year, it was the end of the fucking season! And it rained every day! How I deluded myself coming in this summer. It was super busy all the time, and one of my managers, who inexplicably hated me, mumbled like a fiend (I'm fucking haring impaired, man!), and I just felt insecure and hassled all the time. Also- and this is a big deal- the free staff meals were done away with! The chef who specially made the meals for us was fired and Illini was all, "Ohhhh we couldn't find anyone elssssssse dammmnnn."

Anyway, you get the point. I worked a shitload. Why did I whore myself for most of the summer to a couple jobs? Easy. I had to financially fuel my three big trips for the summer, save for college and provide myself with a steady amount of spending money throughout.

Continuing on, June is a bit hazy in my mind. Working so often sort of fused each day together so the entire month seems to me like one massive, sweaty day. June also saw me devoting an immense amount of time to my new friends, a ragtag collection of misfits from Sacred Heart-Griffin, Springfield High, Glenwood and Pleasant Plains. This was great- I greatly enjoyed seeing these somewhat new faces every night and making memories with them before college. Unfortunately, my feelings of accomplishment and happiness were spent at a weighty price: almost no time did I spend with the people I had gotten close to and established bonds with over the last few years, my best friends from SHG.

The truth is, most of the time I sincerely did not want to hang out with them. That sounds pretty cruel, but I was sick and tired of the same old shit every night. It seemed like these people, as corroborated by my buddy last night, locked themselves into this small group so tightly that they were rendered unable to meet new people or forge new relationships unless somebody new just happened to walk in on one of their get-togethers. And these get-togethers mainly comprised of drinking every night. And hey, I like drinking, I do, but I prefer to keep it casual and possible to remember what happened when I wake up the next day. Most of my friends drank themselves into oblivion repeatedly, thinking the only way to properly get drunk is to black out. And I admit, I've made that mistake before, but I've learned my lesson after a couple regrettable, sporadic instances, whereas my friends continued to do it night after night.

I began to rapidly become disenchanted with the lack of change in my friends. And as I expanded my friend base, I learned that my interests and ideals were quite different than I previously realized. Once I allowed myself to hang out with new friends, friends who are outgoing and artistic and musical and talented, my interest and participation in certain fields began to flourish. It's as if I had been stunted in my pursuits throughout most of high school. Sure I had fun, but it's only now I realize how much I could have taken part in had I allowed myself to meet new people and adequately examine my interests. Instead, I spent most of my time talking shit, feeling exalted over others (but not the popular kids, of course) and waiting for opportunities (girls...) to come to me. So I decided to use Summer Dub Ten! to become more active and hopefully feel a sense of accomplishment.

So what I did first is I took a train to St. Louis and stayed with my cousin and his family for a week. My cousin is 19, an an incoming sophomore in college, and he's my best friend. The week I spent in St. Louis this summer was full of bonding, not only with my cousin, who was going through a messy breakup, but with his close friends, some of whom I feel comfortable calling my friends now. I can't really articulate what that week meant to me, but basically, it was a welcome respite from the side effects of overwork and the banal circumstances that began to take place in my social life by the end of June- you know, that time when the fresh feeling of summer begins to fade away and you spend most of your boring nights in random parking lots across the city. Anyway, my first major accomplishment, one of the three trips I mentioned earlier, was going to St. Louis, and it was fucking awesome. So awesome, in fact, that on the train ride home, I cried for the first time since I was, like, nine (and I'm excluding the time in eighth grade when I was going to SHG to shadow another cousin and my parents wouldn't allow me to wear jeans and a t-shirt, instead opting for a cute pair of khakis and a striped polo. I was so upset with them I teared up a bit, no big deal). Yeah that's right, sometimes I cry, big fucking deal!

My second major trip of the summer came towards the end of July, less than a month after my return home from St. Louis. I had the opportunity to take part in Westminster Presbyterian Church's Mission Trip to New Castle, Pennsylvania with the members of the WPC Youth Group and some of their parents. This was a week spent doing service for some of New Castle's needier residents (though mine lived in Youngstown, 20 minutes away...) during the day, and devoting, like, an hour at night to God and stuff, while all the rest of the time I got to hang out with friends, old and new. You might think a week without a cell phone and iPod would be tough (how do I pretend I have a text message during an awkward point in the conversation, Eliot?), but no no no no no no no. I spent that week auditioning for a talent show with P. Race (we performed one of his original raps, and lost the spot to some freshmen nerds and a pair of girls with Down's. That sounded mean.), playing frisbee, swimming, freestyling daily at the same round cafeteria table, drinking a shitload of LEMONADE and learning how highly other people think of me (and no, I was unable to make myself cry, but damn it if I didn't tear up every four seconds). I learned that eating, sleeping and showering with the same people caused me to become incredibly close to these down-to-earth, kind, intelligent, funny, cool people. It was a week-long dream as far as I'm convinced, and coming back to town was the hardest way to wake up (I knew I shouldn't have seen Inception the day before I left; it planted erroneous notions in my head all week, causing me to question the trip's existence). But the fact that twice this summer I had come home so reluctantly after making new friends made me realize, hey! I'm ready for college. It's something I've been trying to tackle all year, but I think going out and doing new things has adequately prepared me for severing my bonds to Springfield.

But that's not the main point of this post. Let's save that for the other member of Classic Brian. The final hurrah of summer, of Springfield, of youth came just this weekend, and I think the two people who read this blog probably took part in it, too, and can agree with what I say. Lollapalooza, man. Fuck. That was a frenetic five-day weekend. We saw a shitload of music, risking shin splints, dehydration, starvation, claustrophobia and hurt feelings in order to see some of our favorite bands. But honestly, about as important as the music itself was the feeling of autonomy, or at least small-group collaboration minus adults. Other than being provided with a place to crash each night (which we literally did) by Conor's uber-hospitable brother and his girlfriend, we were on our own for finding food, water, transportation and...other stuff (remember when we did a favor for some people locked on a balcony in return for free alcohol? No? You probably weren't there). We learned a lot about ourselves, how we handle situations and freedom in a big city, and about each other. Sure, at times we pissed each other off as a result of too much time spent together and lack of sleep and all, but I think, looking back, that stuff''s pure pettiness. We bonded (at least, anyone who was present for Arcade Fire's "Wake Up"). None of us would take that weekend back for anything.

So finally, as I've once again reluctantly returned to Springfield, I am again faced with the guilt of ditching my old friends for a new set of comrades. It's something I think about every day. Therefore, I used this one convenient down night, while everyone who went to Lollapalooza convalesced, to meet up with my old chums at a little shindig at Dom's house, a prominent location in my memory. And though I was worn out and terribly nervous of how my arrival would go over, surprisingly, things went rather swimmingly. In fact, nothing changed (except for the appearance of two Italian friends of Carter's). Logan still emitted putrid stenches without notifying anyone in his vicinity, Dom still drank his weight in vodka, and Griffin was just...Griffin. It was like having my best friend again (literal friend, cousins excluded). Everyone was genuinely pleased to see me, and it just killed me to think that though I was a jerk and ditched them all summer, they still appreciated my presence and expressed rather emotionally how much they missed seeing me all the time. I'm glad I went. If I'm unable to see most of them again before we head our separate ways, I'm glad I could reconcile and allow their last memory of me be one of companionship and happiness.

Though I nearly severed my ties with some of my best old friends, I still think the summer of 2010 has been a success. In that summer, I worked (a clever euphemism for making money), traveled, made new friends, solidified my pre-existing friendships, made music, got a tan, grew several beards, had a little more luck with the ladies due to my new found confidence (beard), painted three kitchens, two bathrooms, a dining room, a house's foundation, a patio and a hallway (with a little bit of this thrown in there), made at least seven thousand trips to Sno Bizz for my beloved honeydew (Are you doing anything right now? No? Wanna go to Sno Bizz?), read at least a quarter of the book I vowed to finish, saw my favorite bands live, quit smoking at least ten times, somehow did not struggle running afterward (SPORTS!), and was finally asked to contribute to Classic Brian!

Fuck college, I'm going to keep doing cool shit until I leave.

Monday, August 9, 2010


So, let's say all my favorite bands get together and decide to do a SUPER PROJECT. Like the Justice League, but for music instead of crime fighting. Who do we include? We've got to make sure it is PERFECT in every way. Let's start with the writing.

Lyrics and Musical Arrangement: Colin Meloy (The Decemberists) and John Darnielle (The Mountain Goats)

We have to start with my favorite lyricists. Colin and John both write the most articulate and interesting lyrics around, and their songs are always awesome in general. With these two organizing, we're assuredly in good hands.

Vocals: Colin Meloy (The Decemberists), Adam Gardner (Guster), Neko Case (The New Pornographers)

I have to give Colin Meloy a vocal slot in addition to writing. His voice is unusual but also beautiful. Please note that Adam Gardner is probably not who you think of when you think of Guster; Adam is master of subtle harmonies. You can hear him in the background of most Guster songs if you listen for him, and his somewhat deeper voice and graceful harmonizing would sound awesome with Colin Meloy's singing. Meanwhile Neko Case delivers an energetic touch, and adds a female voice along with improved octave range.

Bass: Nate Query (The Decemberists)

Last Decemberists choice, I promise. While there are certainly close competitors for my favorite bassist, what puts Nate leagues above the competition is the double bass. His steady and talented bass playing, combined with the amazing double bass performance, make him my favorite bassist of all time.

Guitar: Jack White (The Dead Weather, The Raconteurs, The White Stripes)
Runner up: Todd Fancey (The New Pornographers)

Jack White has an intense and very melodic sound to his guitar playing. His technical ability is extremely impressive, and his melodies are always well done. I'm hesitant to include him here because I worry he would overpower the rest of the band, but his qualifications are just too good to pass up. Todd Fancey gets an honorable mention, but I can't include him because he simply isn't as consistent as Jack.

Drums: Danny Carey (Tool)
Honorable Mention: Brian Rosenworcel (Guster)

I know Tool isn't a band most of you probably care for. And honestly, I really don't either. But I have to recognize that Danny Carey is simply the best drummer. I love everything about his drumming. His parts are always fascinating, ever-changing, and complex. And his style is very different. I don't know that I've ever heard him play a drum fill; he just holds the song to an ever-changing rhythm so that his drumming never needs to break structure. He also is the master of time signature changes; Schism changes time signature 47 times. Guster's drummer should also get an honorable mention here for his awesome hand drumming.

Piano: Ben Folds (Solo, Ben Folds Five)
Violin: Andrew Bird (Solo, Andrew Bird's Bowl of Fire)

It would probably be a little overwhelming to have every member of our imaginary band playing during every song; but Ben Folds on piano and Andrew Bird on violin would definitely be awesome every once in awhile where warranted. There's not much else to be said for these two because they simply dominate the competition in their respective instruments.

So in conclusion, I hope we've all learned a valuable lesson today. A lesson about music, and how awesome it would be if these people played it together.