Written by: Caleb Hering
Standing Outside Ogden Theatre
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” asked a voice behind me. I turned around and saw a man in his graying years, clad with heavy beanie and a fur-lined puffy overcoat. My arms, clamped to my chest, were bare. It was 17 degrees and I had only a white t-shirt.
“Yes.” I laughed. Despite driving to Denver with a heavy jacket and beanie of my own, the ten minutes in the freezing cold was worth not having to deal with a coat-check. If I really got cold, I figured, I could just walk the 100 yards to my borrowed car and deal with the jacket anyway.
“Oh man I am so warm… and toasty…” he continued to goat.
This was how I met your father.
Well now maybe not your father, but this began the single theme which distanced me from experiencing a good and great concert. Unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the band. They were undeniably amazing. Moreover because of their decade hiatus and William Goldsmith’s broken hand drumming along as well as ever. A broken hand which had postponed their arrival in Denver months earlier, toying with my ever-growing anticipation.
And with this anticipation I entered Ogden Theatre, shivering. Whether due to anticipation or the cold, well, we can never know. I rushed down to the pit, center stage and began to wait. Inside the theatre, it was just as cold. I wondered where all the people were, the people whose radiant warmth I required. The seconds marched on; goosebumps speckled my arms. The pit was barely occupied. Yet as I looked behind me every other row and balcony was squeezed beyond capacity. Where is everyone? I thought.
Absence begets literally anything else so I hear, “So, how long have you listened to Sunny Day Real Estate?” emanate from my left. Two kids, by my lofty 21-year-old standards, stand next to me. Most likely around 15 or 16. They peer, awaiting my response. I almost laugh, however I do not prefer to offend and instead answer honestly, “Maybe around 6 or 7 years now.”
Now the minutes march by. The pit sees a small influx of traffic and a couple in their late 30s – 40s find standing room to my direct left. A tall/bald/glasses and short/leather jacket/plastic-wine-glass combination. I again look around and see a few people closer to my age scattered around, however the crowd is overwhelmingly produced by middle aged men.
The openers march out. More middle-aged men and the drummer, a lanky guy around my age with a full head of curly hair. He sits perched behind his respectably small kit with the posture of a limp noodle. Bassist, two guitarists: one with a beard and beanie, the other with a hoodie who sings. It’s The Appleseed Cast. And they were wonderful but unfamiliar.
They proceeded to craft atmosphere after atmosphere, song after song with Midwest Emo style licks and Post-Hardcore expressions of long quiet moments and intense loud crescendos. Two genres that the band lived within and through having formed in the late 90s.
I found their drummer fascinating. His posture curling limp, head almost resting ear down on his toms, eyes closed as though the minute movements he makes were not upon drums but instead a tiny whisper. His arms reach over his head, striking each beat with a precise intonation. And as each of their songs begin to unfurl into intense noise the drums gain tempo and his posture blooms like a strangled flower tasting water for the first time. His gaze skyward, possessed by the streaming lights above.
But I feel trapped by the excess of space around me like the 30 seconds it took them to tune and retune between songs. Or the unfamiliarity of their music, I attempt to tune-in with some simple head movements, but I cannot find their time. I was left feeling self-conscious in how easily I could be picked out from the crowd. Where is everyone? Why are they packed into the space behind me as though I was the one they came to watch? Where is the amoeba I know and love? Where our enjoyment of the music is bolstered by each other’s and our collective movement melds with their sound. I watch someone near me, 18-20, bouncing up and down. The middle-aged men around them, unmoving. Someone else to my left, disconnected from all who encircle, finding rhythm in another sea of still waters. And like a stone thrown into a large, still lake, their ripples have little effect.
More people began to fill the empty spaces in the low murmur of talk. Various things are removed from the stage. A few more moments pass, the members begin to walk onto stage. Who we have all come to see. Many who waited over ten years and presumably some, like myself, who simply never expected to see them at all. The man to my left with earbuds stuffed into his ears on his balding head says only to himself, and only loud enough for me to barely eek out the words, “Is this actually happening?” I suddenly see the child in him and the adult in me. Some comfort is too be found in these middle-aged men. We wait in anticipation.
They open with Pillars, the opening track of their 1998 album How It Feels To Be Something On, a personal favorite. My heart races but my body stays relatively still. As do those around me. We nod along in time as though we were playing on stage with them. But they are much more energetic. Of their three guitarists Dan Hoerner is dancing, running and jumping on stage while Jeremey Enigk, frontman/guitar combo, looks on with a faint and matured smile. My excitement builds with each well known and predicted crescendo, and fall. By the end of the song I am intensely interested in what may come next, anticipating my favorite songs from Diary, their 1994 debut.
Yet the next song, One, is lesser known to me and the sonic support of Pillars wanes as I feel as though I am hearing this song for the first time. It is great, but I cannot predict the changes and I end up lost in a labyrinth of thoughts. A stagehand jogs onto stage at the song’s end, handing Enigk a different guitar for the next song. Presumably, this guitar is tuned to D, the other to E, as the setlist suggests. A technique much preferred over the 30 second re-tunes of earlier. Another song begins to play, still only faintly familiar.
Anticipation and expectation yet again beget an unsatisfactory reality.
A Little Analysis Before the Crescendo
This is obviously due to my limited knowledge of their discography having stayed within the bounds of only three of their albums. Two of which, however, I became obsessed with. And maybe this obsession set forth this dissonance. What you know is what you expect to such an intense degree that what you experience becomes too far from the limited truth you created to induce catharsis. Or something like that. And maybe it is their style of playing.
Emo music, for which Sunny Day Real Estate played an essential establishing role, developed from Post Hardcore scenes which were tired of the Black Flag type aggression. They found the limited sound and pacing of the Hardcore sound difficult for expressing a multiplicity of emotion. The most famous scene of which developed miles from my hometown within the confines of D.C. spurring the notable and influential band Fugazi. Still, however, I am attracted to the Hardcore scene and predictable Punk sound because it is capable of itching some form of personal expression that I find best within the excited movements of a mosh pit. A space where the hidden chaos bubbling under the surface of life dominates, and still yet people make more of an effort to pick up someone who has fallen down with this sea of strangers than many others might undergo in order to pick up a piece of trash to save the environment. What might seem chaotic serves the rhythm which inspired it, sonic laws the mosh cannot transgress. And there seems to exist more unity in each body playing bumper cars than in a courtroom, some relationships, or a team sport. And I simply find it hard to stay still when the rapid drums and percussive bass line inspire movement like jolts of electricity. Of course, jumping around is about the only sort of movement that can work with the music, however. Though you can always remain still or bang your head along on time. The sonic narrative is simple and accessible.
Post Hardcore and Emo—in seeking out its namesake: emotion—allowed for a little more creativity. Bands seek more varied expression with the soundscapes they create in longer songs which build, peak and fall multiple times. Somewhat akin to Classical music. The best bands of which achieve intense reactions from their listeners, and Sunny Day Real Estate is, for me, the best. So why did I feel so trapped?
At the concert, surrounded by people all listening to some of the most emotionally resonant songs we know and love—it is why we bought the tickets—but nobody seems to be moving. There is no inspiration within those around me, minimal energy feeding off the band besides maybe being awestruck. What I have come to believe is less a criticism of Sunny Day Real Estate and more an observation of their sound and genre.
Due to the ability of a good Emo song to produce an emotional narrative which largely ends where it begins in silence and reflection, the heavy, moshable crescendo(s) interspersed within this narrative are resolved sonically, leaving little room for the physical resolution required of the traditional Hardcore formula and audience. Hardcore expresses only conflict or the immense existence of latent energy without any sonic resolution of its narrative. It is stating a condition. When this music is enjoyed by the audience, absorbed by them, the condition becomes a narrative within their interpretation, attaining some beginning, middle, and requiring an end. It is then their physical response which attains a resolution.
This is just the same with many pop songs, too. They project the statement of a specific energy or emotion and do not resolve it within the song, but instead champion its existence for the enjoyment of those listening. It is then upon those listening—given their agreement to the emotion—to express and resolve this emotion physically with dancing.
Returning, The Crescendo
They announce that the next song will be their last and I feel a little frustrated. My thoughts have been too focused on the experience to really experience anything. Besides little, special and significant moments. But then they begin to play, and from the first sounds they produce I instantly recognize the song: Seven. The first track from Diary, my favorite album, and one of my favorite songs. My heart heaved, there would be some resolution after all. And it is all over too soon, they walk off stage.
But that can not be the end, right? The crowd waits. And awaits. And it was not the end. They return to the stage for a four-song encore including what might just be the best song they have ever produced: In Circles. And did these stone-faced middle-aged men move an inch? I have no clue because I was too busy enjoying myself.