Concert Review: Gus Dapperton w/ Spencer.

Spencer., photo by Auguste Voss

DENVER – Bedroom-pop sensation Gus Dapperton made a stop at the Gothic Theater earlier this month, accompanied by Spencer., and blew us away with soaring, emphatic vocals and dancing so spicy that it should have been a fire hazard.

Starting the night off with groovy neo-soul and hip-hop-infused jamming, up-and-coming R&B artist Spencer. had our hips swaying in no time. Spencer. hails from Rochester, New York and – at only 19 – is far beyond his years. His rich, deep voice takes center stage in much of his music, and – paired with lively guitar riffs and nifty basslines – Spencer. cooks up a delicious lo-fi aesthetic that feels intentional without trying too hard. As the band jammed and Spencer. sang from behind pink, retro shields, I couldn’t help but dance along.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

After a set break that felt like forever (as they always do), Gus Dapperton sauntered onstage with a big grin and his own pair of tinted sunglasses. Donning his trademark baggy pants and a (presumably thrifted) sweater, he wasted no time, jumping right into “Verdigris” – the first on his most recent album Where Polly People Go to Read. 

Gus Dapperton, steadily picking up steam since the success of his 2017 single “I’m Only Snacking” and its endearing music video, has created an eccentric and captivating character. His music provides an intimate and emotional catharsis, with raw, seductive melodies and bouncy synth grooves that practically make you get up and dance along.

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

He kept the room dancing all night, occasionally pausing his songs to give the crowd an ear-to-ear smile, playfully tease his guitarist Yendawg, and chat with the audience in a sly, puckish tone that was the cherry on top of an already masterful persona. 

Where Polly People Go to Read is a chronological, revolving account of love and heartbreak, and the intensity was evident onstage as Dapperton belted out ballads like “My Favorite Fish” and “Coax & Botany.” 

Gus Dapperton, photo by Auguste Voss

Dapperton’s performance was a perfect mix of the raw, heartwrenching bellows characteristic of his most recent album and the goofy, endearing antics that populate his music videos.

His performance was engaging, energetic, and chaotic in the most satisfying of ways, leaving the audience clapping for more – and myself with sore calves from so much dancing.

The Lumineers’s III is an X/X

by Annie Knight

The Sparks family from left to right: (Front row) Junior, Jimmy, and Bonnie (Jimmy’s Wife). (Back row) Gloria’s husband, Gloria, Donna, and Donna’s husband.

When Wesley Shultz and Jeremiah Friates set out to write The Lumineers’ latest album III, they knew it wasn’t going to be conventional. Because of the serious subject matter Shultz (lead singer) and Fraites (drummer) choose to write about, alcoholism and its familial consequences, Shultz thought “it felt unfair to just name names,” he said in an interview with KFOG. “It felt more appropriate to me to tell a story around this. If you tell the truth within a story, I think it has a ripple effect.” Thus, the cinematic musical experience that is III was born.

On September 13, III was released in its entirety, but the group had been releasing portions of the album since May in three chapters containing three songs each, each song accompanied by a video. All of the videos were then compiled into the short film III directed by Kevin Phillips, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in early September. The album follows the fictional Sparks family through three generations beginning with the matriarch Gloria, followed by her grandson Junior, and ending with his father Jimmy. Each chapter focuses on how addiction and alcoholism follows the family across time, and its adverse effects.

III has brought about innovations for the group including their first short film to debut in a film festival, an uncharacteristically moodier sound in comparison to jaunty, boot stepping toons off their first two albums The Lumineers and Cleopatra, and a new relationship between music and film. The distinct music and video styles of each chapter characterize the members of the Sparks family and compare and contrast their individual relationship to substance abuse amidst these evolutionary changes for the folk rock band.

The videos for III are set in a run down, yellow house against an overcast sky. The color of the house and the name of the family, the Sparks, become ironic when compared with the somber content of III. The familial name brings to mind lost sparks, or potential, that was never actualized because of their dependency on alcohol.

The first member of the Sparks family we meet is Gloria (Anna Cordell), in “Chapter I: Gloria Sparks.” The songs of this chapter are characterized by lilting piano tunes like the soft, scales in “Donna,” and percussion heavy songs like “Gloria.” The bold percussion of “Gloria” distinctly mark Gloria as the matriarch of the family and the catalyst for the alcoholism we see affect future Sparks.

While the lyrics detailing Gloria’s descent into alcoholism are somber, the music backing these lyrics, major chord heavy that is generally connotated with positivity in mainstream music, provide an interesting juxtaposition. “Gloria” is perhaps the song off III that sounds most similar to The Lumineers’s earlier work. The fast paced, positive sounding music, however, has been traded as a whole on this album for darker, rawer lyrics. This results in a more touching, emotional album, certainly not something their earlier work lacked entirely, but an aspect more prevalent in III. 

Perhaps the darkness has come from the band choosing to source their most recent work from personal suffering. The inspiration for the album has, in part, come from drummer Jeremiah Fraites’s older brother’s death in 2001 from a heroin overdose at age 19. Fraites’s brother, Joshua, was also a close friend of Shultz.

Editing is also used in chapter I to separate Gloria from the Sparks family members that are to follow. The songs off of “I,” especially “Gloria” are cut quickly and rhythmically, meaning the shots are cut to the beat of the song. This is most noticeable in key moments of the video highlighting Gloria’s alcoholism like when she unscrews the vodka bottle at the beginning of the video and when the same bottle is seen bouncing between the logs behind the Sparks’ house after she discards it empty. “I” is also heavily reliant on close ups. Some of the most haunting are again from “Gloria” when she throws a vodka bottle at her husband, and the tense close ups between Gloria and a stranger in a bar in “Life in the City.”

Close up of Gloria in “Gloria.”

This sound and filming style is intensely contrasted with “Chapter II: Junior Sparks.” Junior’s (Charlie Tahan) songs have a languid feel to them and use almost exclusively guitar. The omission of other instruments, especially piano, are interesting when considering Junior’s role as the only Sparks that rejects the legacy of substance abuse. The Lumineers choose to highlight this through the omission of the piano that was characteristic of “I” and Gloria herself who we see play piano in “Donna.”

The filming style of chapter “II” also contrasts that of the previous chapter. It’s full of long takes of Junior smoking cigarettes on the porch, and long shots, the most dramatic of which is Junior burning the piano in front of the Sparks’ family home. The piano bonfire becomes Junior’s most overt rebellion against his family legacy. He burns a symbol of Gloria and  replaces her vodka bottle with a match. The is showcased in parallel shots of Gloria throwing a vodka bottle at her husband in “Gloria,” and Junior throwing a match in “Left for Denver.” The alcoholism Junior could have inherited instead becomes replaced with rage.

Gloria throwing her vodka bottle in “Gloria.”
Junior throwing his match in “Left for Denver.”

Junior captivating the focus “II” is a striking choice since Jimmy Sparks (Nick Stahal) comes after Gloria generationally. However, placing Junior’s chapter between Gloria and Jimmy’s, is reflective of Junior being compressed by the inevitability of his family’s habits, until he rejects them.

This theme continues with the music distinguishing “Chapter III: Jimmy Sparks.” The songs of “III,” especially “Jimmy Sparks,” use predominantly minor chords, a sound that is associated with negative emotions in popular music. The choice to make this the sound of Jimmy suggests the antagonistic role he plays in his son’s life because of his alcohol abuse, leading to parties at their house and even a physical fight in “Leader of the Landslide.” The languid guitar of “My Cell,” similar to that of “Leader of the Landslide” from “II,” connect Jimmy with his son as an influencer. Jimmy’s sound is also, however, reminiscent of Gloria because of the piano that makes a re-appearance in “III.” Thus, Jimmy becomes a link in the chain that passes on alcoholism to future generations in the Sparks family.

The filming style of “III” is also reminiscent of previous chapters in the album and short film. Extreme close ups in “My Cell” of Jimmy’s girlfriend and the debt collector echo the editing style in the videos about Gloria. Long shots of Jimmy smoking a cigarette in “Jimmy Sparks” recall the filming style of the videos about his son. Jimmy then becomes a mixture between the past and present generations of his family and a representation of alcoholism at its worst.

Close ups of the debt collector in “My Cell.”

The Lumineers forge a new relationship between cinema and music in III. In cinema, music is traditionally used to influence the audience’s emotions in response to the visuals on the screen. However, in this case, the relationship is reversed and the visuals are supporting the music. III challenges the viewer to pay close attention to the lyrics and how the visuals provide clues to deeper meaning. This creates a more intense emotional experience and a highly effective way to translate the themes that The Lumineers want us to glean from their album.

Parallel scenes of one family member carrying another out of the deceptively positive colored yellow house let us know that across sound and generation family members can’t resist taking care of one another, even if it isn’t in their best interest. However, this incessant need to care for others that will not care for themselves because of their disease, can lead to loneliness and the rage that characters like Junior feel. Like the lyrics of “My Cell” that close to shots of each Sparks family member alone in the frame, the substance abusers and the ones that love them can tragically end up in this cycle “all alone, all alone, all alone, all alone.”


Listen to the album & watch the videos here.

CONCERT REVIEW: Noname at the Ogden Theatre 3/6

In his long printed cardigan and sweats, Noname’s opener Elton Aura emanated a calm confidence that set the tone for a night of powerful lyricism. He knew exactly how to excite the young audience as he lit a joint on stage and passed it down (to be immediately intercepted by the stage security) after taking a few puffs himself. Elton concluded his set how he began it, having us repeat after him “Elton! How it do!” and then exited the stage to loud cheers. The audience hummed with energy as we began the wait for the person who had brought us all to the Ogden Theatre this Wednesday night.

As Noname’s band slowly set up their instruments I was struck with how vulnerable they were in that moment. Only feet of distance between us at the front of the crowd and the band members shuffling equipment around the stage, the lights were too bright and the room too quiet to create the invisible barrier of power that usually separates an audience and the performers.

The crowd screamed as the band finally began to play, slipping easily behind their instruments. The lights lowered and the neon sign that emblazoned the back wall lit up pink to read “ROOM 25” (the name of Noname’s new album.) Noname then entered rapping,

Maybe this the album you listen to in your car when you driving home late at night / Really questioning every god, religion, Kanye, bitches

The crowd jumped around singing along. Waiting for the line we all knew was coming and then screaming it in unison with her as she reached it:

“YOU REALLY THOUGHT A BITCH COULDN’T RAP, HUH?”

Noname calmly danced across the stage as she rapped in a loose white dress with a black flower print, black leggings, and red converse. Her long curls were stretched and tucked behind her ears, showing off her round youthful face. She seemed much younger than her 27 years. When she finished “Self” she greeted the cheering audience with smiles and warmth. She made her way through a set of hit after hit from both Room 25 and her 2016 mixtape Telefone. Everyone in the house danced and struggled to keep up with her quick voice. The night was punctuated by a few moments of quickly-relieved tension. Frustrated with a perceived lack of enthusiasm, Noname halted the show early on to teach the audience how to show that we appreciated her performance.

“If I spit a bar that you think is especially hot, give me an “ooooh.”

 

She started to rap again, her first line was met by a loud “ooooh” from the audience.

She stopped again.

“No, that was nothing,” she said, “that line was nothing. Let’s try again.”

She went back into the song, now seemingly satisfied with the crowd’s responses and continued with the concert with a smile on her face.

There was no lack of enthusiasm when we heard the opening bars of “Diddy Bop.” This song was my favorite part of the concert. That’s not a very revolutionary thing to say—it is her most popular song by far. But for good reason! Besides the catchy beat, the lyrics are beautifully sweet and nostalgic—a love letter to the Chicago of her youth. The crowd of majority high school and college students couldn’t relate to growing up listening to B2K, wearing FUBU, and hitting the diddy bop but it didn’t matter. The song creates a warm feeling of happy wistfulness and reminds me of my childhood despite my memories being so far away from that of Noname’s. I love that Noname doesn’t shy away from the specifics of her experience in an attempt to make her song more relatable. The essence of her song, of being young and being intent on taking advantage of the fleeting chance to be irresponsible, resonated with all of us.

Noname kept her performance short and sweet, exiting the stage after less than an hour. The band packed up their instruments and walked off stage, but the lights stayed down and the audience stayed in place, eyes glued to the stage expectantly. Then, Noname returned to the stage and gave us one last song, sans music. Her roots in slam poetry were especially evident with just her words filling the room. That final encore left the audience reminded of the poetry that exists in hip-hop, especially in Noname’s music.

On April 5th Noname is releasing “Song 32”, a follow up to her track “Song 31” and she is currently finishing her international Room 25 tour.

Photos by Kenneth Hamblin III

CONCERT REVIEW: Still Woozy 1/31

Still Woozy started as a solo project by Sven Gamsky, who is based out of Oakland, California. Since then, he’s produced songs with a few other artists and has begun to play with other musicians during his sets.

Outside of Larimer Lounge, people stood in line, cold and excited. A woman held a sign, begging everyone for an extra ticket. A man came out of his car, chatted with her for a while, and then headed inside.

“I think that was Sven,” a man behind us said. “That was totally Sven.”

We all realized he was right. For the rest of the night, Sven and the other artists he was playing with maintained the personal, friendly demeanor that was evident from the moment Sven stopped to talk to people waiting in line.

Larimer Lounge is cozy and personable. We were close to the stage and pushed up against strangers. Sweaty and excited, a friend of mine came running down from the bathroom.

“I met Sven in the bathroom! We hugged!” he said. I found myself smiling. I’d never been to a concert with that many run-ins with the main act.

Dreamer Boy, based out of Nashville, Tennessee, opened for Still Woozy. Zach Taylor and his guitarist Bobby Knepper make up the duo. They introduced themselves–being from Tennessee made integral to their identities early on.

They played some of their biggest hits first: “Orange Girl,” “Lavender,” and “Falling for the Wrong One.” During those first few songs, everyone in the audience seemed to be enjoying their set and the chill, vibey tone of the songs they were playing. At the point when the songs shifted and became more autotune heavy, the audience seemed to become less enthused by Dreamer Boy and their set, which started to feel dragged on. The audience also seemed to be tired of Zach’s frequent breaks between songs to yell a call and response, Tennessee-influenced “Yee-Haw!” at the audience.

When Dreamer Boy’s set ended, there was a pause for a few minutes as the stage was prepared for Still Woozy. When the lights dimmed and the band came on, the audience cheered and pushed up against the stage. They played “Lucy” first and then went through their entire repertoire of songs. They also played two new songs and did a few covers. Throughout their set, they seemed to be in constant communication with the audience. They paid attention to the different chants the audience started and walked down into the crowd to dance with and hug their fans multiple times. At the end of their set, their attempt to thank everyone who had attended was interrupted by the loud chanting of “encore!” that came from the audience. Considering that Still Woozy is still a relatively new band, they only have about 6 released songs. They acknowledged this, laughing and telling the audience, “We don’t have any songs left!”, but they offered to replay some if the audience was interested and then asked which songs we’d like to hear again. They ended up replaying “Goodie Bag,” their biggest hit.

When the show was over and the lights came up, Sven and his bassist spent up to an hour walking around the venue and speaking to the fans that were still there. They thanked every person for coming and supporting their work by signing T-shirts, giving out hugs and taking pictures. When I headed out, they acknowledged that I was leaving and gave me a hug goodbye too. I really enjoyed this personal relationship they cultivate with every person that comes to their shows. I found the way they carry themselves to be very evocative of the vibe of their music. Just like his songs, Sven and the people he plays with are fun, laidback and incredibly welcoming to listeners.

Concert Review: Mick Jenkins At The Bluebird Theater 1/15

If you are a music fan from the suburbs, the way you initially encountered music is ugly and quotidian. Instead of encountering a music scene in proximity to where you live or some wise man running a cool record shop, your taste is formed by Guitar Hero, the radio, and copying your siblings. My brother’s taste in music was centered around rap. He became obsessive about it, delving into more obscure rappers through the internet, embarrassingly blaring his mix CDs in the car as we rolled into our high school parking lot. At first I elicited the classic younger sibling response by pretending to hate his music, but this is where the art of copying your older sibling formed an important part of my music taste and maybe even my personal growth. I seemed to gain something from his music that the long haired indie-rock bros of my own music library couldn’t provide me. There was a sense of authority specifically pertaining to a marginalized voice that invigorated me. Both of us needed this confidence to survive being awkward brown kids at an athletic, white public high school.

To this day, I continue to copy my brother’s music taste. One of my favorite rappers I listen to because of him is Mick Jenkins, and I decided to make up for being an annoying copier by giving him a free ticket to the show as I reviewed it. So during a listless winter break day, my brother and I ventured north of our suburb to see Mick Jenkins perform. Mick Jenkin’s newest album Pieces of Man is too introspective of a work to not reflect on yourself when you experience him performing it. We both felt old and nostalgic, which was due to a combination of listening to Mick Jenkins’ own self-reflection and our crusty 20-something-year-old selves back at The Bluebird Theater, a vital setting of our adolescent weekends. To amplify this feeling was Mick Jenkin’s intensity, wisdom, and piecing together of himself on stage. In introducing the song “Ghost,” he told the crowd that these days he is focused on his work and relationship, emphasizing his need for personal space:

“You never really see me out, I be on the road
Or I be in the crib, when I’m not on the road
I’m working on my penmanship, and my relationship
I put in hard work, you cannot fake this shit”

While his lyrics were introspective and seemed to reflect a wish for a quieter life, his set still had the high energy of a good rap concert. He was backed by an amazing live band, and his audience reflected the high energy back. The juxtaposition of his reflective lyrics and the band’s energy made his set complex and enjoyable. A highlight to the concert was his talented opener Kari Faux. I had first encountered her via Insecure’s soundtrack and instantly became a fan of her relatable lyrics and catchy beats. Her set was more carefree than Mick Jenkins’, yet I still resonated with the themes of her songs on a serious level. A favorite of mine was her performance of “Fantasy,” an anti-muse bop. Overall the concert was as fun as a good concert should be, but also made me think. Mick Jenkins piecing together of himself was a reminder of how integral memory is to music and the ritual of performing it. I can’t write about music without exorcising some reflection of my mundane past and putting moments like these in a sort of lineage and continuation of it.

(Picture credits to Trey Karson http://bolderbeat.com/photo-galleries/2019/1/16/mick-jenkins-at-bluebird-theatre-021519)

Best Albums of 2018

Here are some of the SoCC writers’ favorite albums this year in no particular order:

Be The Cowboy – Mitski

If you can believe it, I didn’t like Mitski (of Bury Me at Makeout Creek era) at first. I thought her sound was too rough, too grating, somehow a little too angsty. Fast-forward two or three years, and songs from Be The Cowboy occupy at least a quarter of my weekly music rotation. I can’t give Mitski all the credit for that transformation; I’ve grown enough to learn to love Bury Me at Makeout Creek and Puberty 2. Still, Mitski’s own artistic development is crystal clear to everyone engaged with her art–– for proof, google Be The Cowboy and count the number of “Best of 2018” lists the album’s included in.

This album shines so brightly because it feels so honest. We know most of the songs are persona songs; few contain any autobiographical information about Mitski at all, and yet almost every lyric feels intensely personal & soaringly sincere (i.e. “and I am the idiot with the painted face/ in the corner taking up space”). Musically, Mitski experiments more on Be The Cowboy than ever before, which is explicitly evident on “Nobody” –– a disco-Daft-Punk-circa-R.A.M. track that is both extremely energetic and emotional, a panic attack coated in glitter.

I could write about this album forever, except I can’t. I’m about to get on an 8 hour plane ride, during which I will listen to Be The Cowboy in its entirety at least three times. I don’t necessarily suggest you do the same (your Mitski tolerance might be a little lower than mine), but you cannot sleep on this album. If you do, you’re depriving yourself of the joy of feeling validated in your own experiences through a voice, and an artist, from the realm of the divine.

– Paulina Ukrainets

abysskiss – Adrianne Lenker

 

You might recognize Adrianne Lenker’s stunning voice from the songs she’s sung with her band Big Thief. Her solo album abysskiss, released this October, is a hushed, focused, and beautiful account revolving around intimacy, death, and nature. Because her airy voice and finger-picked guitar are the album’s only audible sounds, her emotions are palpable and the listeners feels as if they’re sitting in the recording studio by her side. The album’s highlight is the song “symbol,” an ambiguous love story in which Lenker explores phrases and imagery as she echoes sounds with the words: “fly make flea, make haste, make waste, eight makes infinity / times I’ve tried to make breaks, embrace for the enemy”. During a year marked by seemingly incessant chaos and negativity, Lenker created a space for introspection, appreciation, and imagination with her stripped down musings about life.

– Mimi Norton

Isolation – Kali Uchis

While there were great albums that came out this year, the album that completely commanded my attention was Kali Uchi’s pop masterpiece Isolation. Uchis’ debut album Isolation has a nostalgic tinge that made it warmly familiar. While nostalgic, it strays from solely being campy throwbacks through its hybridity of genres. The sound is an entirely new animal in its eclectic fusion of soul, funk, and reggaetón. Isolation’s lyrical content is apt for the times, speaking to a year of political distress, escapism, and loneliness. While the instrumentals are upbeat, her melancholic voice and lyrics throw each song askew. This album has been the soundtrack of my year as a relatable emotional landscape and a source of empowerment. A song that particularly jumps out for me in the album is “Dead To Me” with biting lyrics that make Uchis diva of the year. She is taking pop in an entirely different direction, opting out of the sonic trends of 2018 and delving into the past to make an entirely unique sound.

– Maya Day

I’ll Be Your Girl – The Decemberists

If the lyrics “…Everything, everything, everything, everything, everything is awful” aren’t relatable to a college student experiencing a minor inconvenience, I don’t know what is. This song, aptly titled “Everything is Awful,” is the seventh track on The Decemberists’ newest album, I’ll Be Your Girl. The nihilism continues with lead singer Colin Meloy’s plea, “Oh, for once in my life…could just something go right?” on the first track, “Once In My Life” (also aptly titled), overtop synth beats and chords reminiscent of the music of New Order and Berlin. Questions of doubt, life’s meaninglessness, and embracing despair pop up in tracks throughout the album while also, inexplicably, appearing alongside “Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes,” an eight-minute ballad about a mermaid (I think). “Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes” returns me, a seasoned The Decemberists listener, to the lengthy epics “The Mariner’s Revenge Song,” “The Crane Wife” parts 1 through 3, and their insane rock opera The Hazards of Love.

My favorite track, “Sucker’s Prayer,” showcases that good-old-Decemberists commentary on unrequited love, present on their older albums, with cheery chords opposing this chorus: “I want to love somebody, but I don’t know how.” That lyric, followed by “I want to throw my body in the river and drown,” presents an image so painfully full of aching, desire, and self-hatred. I may be very dramatic, but I almost fell out of my chair when I first heard it. “Sucker’s Prayer” thankfully brought me back to some earlier Decemberists tracks that have now been occupying my mind and Spotify queue for weeks. Overall, I’ll Be Your Girl, despite being an eclectic mix of songs experimenting with new styles and sounds, nonetheless draws from the best of their old music and projects their ideas towards the future and cements itself as one of my favorite albums of 2018.

-Jane Harris

NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES – Metro Boomin, Travis Scott, 21 Savage

Metro Boomin’s sixth studio album, NOT ALL HEROES WEAR CAPES, redefined rap in 2018. The album’s sharp beats over ambient instrumentals forms a futuristic, yet familiar Atlanta sound.

 

[TOP SONG: Don’t Come Out the House (with 21 Savage)]

– Emily Faulks

Aviary  – Julia Holter

With the resurgence of vinyl and physical forms of music, the album as an art form has come back into style. Julia Holter’s latest album Aviary is not only a work of art; it stretches our ears into unknown shapes and sizes. Each of Holter’s songs feels like an album in itself. One moment we are wrapped in electronic, orchestral swirls, and then we land in a glitchy, spooky folk fairytale. Although it is hard to isolate individual tracks, “Voce Simul” exhibits this transformation of time through delicate sonic manipulation. Her songs are in constant conversation with one another. This is an album that I could write or think about for hours on end, discovering endless secrets embedded within pockets of sound. Holter guides us through the terrifying beauty of “Everyday is an Emergency”, which reflects on various sounds that occupy daily life, and how something as simple as a siren can affect us in multiple ways. These soundscapes are only strengthened by Holter’s usual thought provoking lyrics: “Firm in your mystery/ Will you remember the body?/ And what does it do to you?” Melding genres together with lucid craftwork, Aviary is so progressive that will certainly not be left behind in 2018.

Listen to when: you are ready to experience feelings that you’ve never had before.

– Lena Farr-Morrissey

 

Concert Review: Kamasi Washington at the Buckhead Theater on Nov. 17

As the lights dimmed in Atlanta’s Buckhead Theater, James Brown’s “Get Up Offa That Thing” played overhead and members of Kamasi Washington’s band walked on stage and received a warm welcome from the audience.

Once Kamasi stepped on stage, we were all transfixed by his presence – immense, towering, powerful. The audience yelled and hollered and even I, being relatively new to his music, felt I was in the presence of a real demigod. In fact, Washington has been referred to as the “savior of jazz,” but he’s always been too humble to accept the accolade.

Photo credit: Krists Luhaers, https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:POS17_@Kristsll-409_(35194970423).jpg

FlyLo and Thundercat have made a name for themselves as more electronic musicians, but Washington doesn’t feel the need to stray too far from traditional jazz. He’s emulated and expanded upon the music of his jazz heroes and proved that he can do it bigger and better than perhaps any other jazz musician at the moment.

I was blown away by the power and energy that Washington packed into his performance. I was expecting a relatively mellow night, but Washington and his band delivered super funky bass jams, an epic drum-off between his two drummers, and soaring vocals from his vocalist Patrice Quinn that got the entire theater dancing.

After a few songs, he introduced Quinn by saying “Patrice is one of the best singers I know. You can tell some people are good by the way they talk, but Patrice, she sounds amazing even when she’s cursing at you.”

After Washington introduced Quinn, she launched into the most powerful song of the set: “Malcolm’s Theme,” from Washington’s debut album, The Epic. The songs lyrics come directly from Ossie Davis’ eulogy for civil rights icon Malcolm X. The moving lyrics, paired with Quinn’s emotional, powerful, and beautiful delivery gave everyone goosebumps.

My favorite part of the set was when Washington’s stand-up bass player, Miles Mosley, played his incredible funk epic “Abraham.” I was blown away by Mosley’s ability to create such otherworldly and groovy sounds. Here is a link to a performance of Mosley’s playing “Abraham” that I suggest you all watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c73NCDr5ACo (skip to 3:30 if you’re limited for time).

After being mesmerized by Washington for almost two hours of free-jazz digressions and thoughtful, intricate pieces, I felt like I’d been to a different universe and back. Just like the legendary Pharaoh Sanders who I had the chance to see earlier this year, Washington’s music transcended all of us to another realm of experiencing. Washington confirmed that jazz can be as lively, engaging, and fascinating as any other genre, if not more so.

Concert Review: FIDLAR at Gothic Theater 10/26

When I tell people FIDLAR is one of my favorite bands, they look shocked. The thought of a small basic-looking girl liking punk rock blows minds. But FIDLAR isn’t just like any punk rock band. Their tongue-in-cheek lyrics over heavy guitar riffs seems to be a product of their west coast skater lifestyle and embodies their acronym: “Fuck It Dog Life’s A Risk.” FIDLAR’s carefree but angsty attitude captures youth sentiment in a palatable way while touching on systemic issues that are reminiscent of early punk music.

I saw FIDLAR in D.C. after their album “Too” came out during my sophomore year of high school. My first punk concert was one of confusion, excitement, and fear. This can be said for all my girl friends that I have dragged into FIDLAR’s mosh pits. The mosh pit can be a dangerous place, especially for small girls. But honestly, if you aren’t moshing at a punk concert what the fuck are you doing.

The mosh pit is a place where people come to express themselves and confront emotional experiences as a community. Although I interpret FIDLAR’s lyrics as mostly sarcastic, they lay down some hard facts about social and institutional issues in America as well as reflect on personal struggles with relationships and drug abuse. These insights are usually buried in satirism, but never seem to be lost on the crowd. FIDLAR’s upbeat guitar solos and screaming chorus remind me that I don’t have to be alone with my problems. I’ve never felt so supported in a crowd of strangers than I have at a punk concert.

As soon as I saw that FIDLAR was on tour, I immediately raced to my computer to get a ticket and, with some bribing, took my friend’s truck down to the Gothic Theater in Denver with two other girls. We made our way to the front as the opening band Side Eyes jumped on. The pit immediately erupted into a sea of smashing shirtless bodies and flailing arms in response to the lead singers siren-like screeching. My friends and I looked at each other with a what-the-fuck-did-we-just-get-ourselves-into look as we watched a group of older kids hardcore moshing with fake blood coming out of their eyes and ears. This was just an opener. The energy mellowed out when the next opener, Dilly Dally, came on with an eerie ambience in the lead singer’s voice and bass guitar chords.The pit was still very much alive, but my guard was lowered as I soaked in the wailing chords and the most quintessentially girl punk screams ever.

The crowd started closing in as people on stage started tuning the arsenal of guitars against the pile of old TV’s on the stage. My friends and I agreed that we would try to keep our spot next to the metal gate at the base of the stage and mosh only if we were really into the song. This agreement was shortly broken after the guitar chords for “Alcohol’ emerged from the back of the stage. I felt the force of the entire crowd pressing on my back when the mosh pit began to push towards the front as Zac, Max, Brandon, and Elvis casually strutted onto stage. There was no introduction, just a small smirk from Zac, then an absolute explosion from the mosh pit as he began to sing FIDLAR’s hit song “No Waves.” I decided to abandon my post and join my people. I have never been in a mosh pit so chaotic; about 40 or 50 kids pushing and shoving each other so forcefully that it was common that groups of people would have to be picked up off the ground. I couldn’t tell if I finally found a crowd of true punk enthusiasts or a group of belligerently drunk men who needed to expel a lot of pent-up testosterone. Either way, I embraced FIDLAR’s acronym and assumed an athletic stance before throwing myself into the pit.  

Mosh pits are generally a very male-dominated space because of the physical dangers as well as their stigma. It felt very empowering to occupy this space with other girls and completely own it together. I befriended a few girls when I was moshing who were also struggling with the combative nature of the pit. It seemed like the band picked up on this issue because right after I was forcibly separated from my friends, Zac grabbed the mic. He told the pit to create an aisle down the middle and then announced that the space created was for a girls-only mosh pit. I weaved through the crowd of skyscraper-sized men and jumped into our pit. We screamed and laughed and moshed the shit out of “5-9.” I gained so much respect for the people around me that night. I don’t want to admit how many times someone pulled me out of an uncomfortable place in a mosh pit or caught me when I was about to fall, but I would like to say how much compassion I felt by FIDLAR and their fans. Near the end of the show, I told a girl I met that I wanted to crowd surf FIDLAR, and next thing I know, her boyfriend had rallied a group of people to pick me up and sent me across the crowd. The gratitude I felt for that couple I met and the FIDLAR community while crowd surfing was indescribable.

The pit never lost steam, and continued to mosh even after FIDLAR ended their set. After a lot of screaming and pushing, FIDLAR came back on for an encore to perform “Blackout Stout” and then absolutely killed their final song. Zac ordered the pit to sit down on the floor so we were forced to sit on top of each other and quietly waited as the looping guitar riff introduction for “Cocaine” teased us. The pit burst to life as soon as Zac screamed the first lines: “you take Sally and I’ll take Sue/There ain’t no difference between the two.” Everyone emptied the rest of their emotions and energy in the pit with that song. I left the concert feeling like a weight had been lifted off my soul, but redistributed onto all my bruised limbs. Honestly, it’s worth the trade-off.

FIDLAR continues to be one of my favorite punk rock bands. Their emphasis on gender inclusivity aligns with the ideology of punk rock. I encourage everyone -especially women- to go to a punk concert and join its wonderful community of strangers at least once in life. The people that I have met in the pit become less like strangers and more like friends after sharing even a moment of moshing together. FIDLAR recently announced that their third studio album “Almost Free” will be released January 25. No tour dates or locations have been announced yet, but I am already looking forward to seeing them and the FIDLAR community again!

On Top of the World: Louisville, White Reaper, and I

My old Kentucky home is the land of many of the world’s superlatives. The world’s greatest horse racing, the world’s best bourbon, the world’s most influential boxer, the world’s largest baseball bat, and also the World’s Best American Band, White Reaper. Both White Reaper and I hail from the same city, Louisville, unknowingly frequenting the same restaurants and music venues for years before I discovered them. They put out their first EP in 2014, three years before I would first register hearing their music, and four before I would meet them and grow to be a huge fan. I must admit that I have not been a fan of White Reaper’s for long, but nonetheless, their music has grown to become a significant part of my life.

The author’s signed White Reaper album. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

My relationship with White Reaper’s music started on Record Store Day a year ago, when I was lucky enough to stumble upon a DJ set by the Wilkerson brothers, twins Sam and Nick, who make up the rhythmic section of the band. They play bass and drums, respectively and amazingly. That day I also met Tony Esposito, lead vocals and guitar, and Ryan Hater, who rocks harder than any other keyboard player I’ve seen live. (This experience left out Hunter Thompson, an incredibly talented guitarist who ironically has the same name as a Louisville icon though he is the only band member who is not from Louisville). At the record store I remember picking up one of their records from the “W” artist section, looking at the picture of the band on the sleeve, holding the record up to my face right next to the band members in real life, and doing a double-take. Within five minutes the record was purchased, I already had their signatures, and was engaged in conversation with the boys. From multiple interactions with the band members it is with ease and certainty that I can say they are some of the most genuine guys I’ve met in the music scene today. I acknowledge my bias as a fellow Louisvillian, but their onstage charm translates offstage as well. Their fan base is so dedicated partly because of how personable they are. They’re cool guys making cool music.

(from left) Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Nick Wilkerson, and Hunter Thompson rocking out at Louisville’s Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

“The World’s Best…” is a title I would readily give them if they hadn’t already given it to themselves. Their second studio album, The World’s Best American Band, cements their self-fulfilling prophecy as one of the new, upcoming “greats” with tracks that rock, and don’t stop. Listening to the album I was immediately seduced by “Judy French,” as all other listeners are. Soon my favorite off their sophomore album became “Daises,” and before I had exhausted The World’s Best… I was already deep into their earlier tracks: first album “White Reaper Does It Again” (funny, right?) and self-titled EP. Fast forward a few weeks from the day I met them and all my “Spotify heavy rotation” tracks belonged to White Reaper—some personal favorites are still “Alone Tonight,” “I Don’t Think She Cares,” and “Tell Me.” Go a couple more weeks into the future and I’m getting whiplash in the front row at their concert.

Ryan Hater, Tony Esposito, Sam Wilkerson, and I at Forecastle Festival 2018. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Headbanging and moshing to White Reaper’s music is easy with their catchy guitar riffs, strong rhythm, and especially Esposito’s piercing and unique vocals. You can listen to any White Reaper track once and then be able to pick out Esposito’s voice again, that’s how unique and profound in a strange, ambiguous way he sounds. In combination with their recognizable sound, their stage-presence as some sort of self-proclaimed rock gods also entices and draws in a dedicated audience and fan base. Their energy is pure and contagious. They easily bring everyone to their feet—with songs like “The Stack” it’s impossible not to dance. In this song Esposito sings the truth, “If you make the girls dance, the boys will dance with them,” but White Reaper doesn’t need to make people move because the audience is already dancing. The songs on White Reaper Does It Again, though the production can sound fuzzy at times (something I think adds to the character of some of the more eccentric tracks, like “Friday the 13th”), end as strong as they start. Listening all the way from their first EP to The World’s Best… it’s fun to watch the band grow, gain members, and develop a sound that has potential to fluctuate, develop, and continue to excite. Saying I’m excited to hear new tracks from them in the future would be an understatement—their music makes me feel at home.

(from left) Nick Wilkerson, Hunter Thompson, and Sam Wilkerson during their Forecastle set. Image Credit: Jane Harris.

Strangely enough, of all the things to be proud of about my city and state, White Reaper is at the top of my list. I’ll never forget the first time I saw them live in Louisville—how genuinely proud I was to be a fan of their music, proud of the great Louisville music scene they’re helping to develop, and proud of them being great, compassionate people. From my new, small room in Colorado Springs, listening to White Reaper takes me back to Kentucky in the fall. While blasting White Reaper I’m driving fast around Louisville at night, hanging out with my friends, and feeling like I’m strong, opinionated, and on top of the world.


You can listen to White Reaper’s discography on this handy playlist I’ve made of all their songs on Spotify: