Monday, November 28, 2016

There is a Lifetime of Fun Stuck Between the Machinery of Your Memory, Go Get It

Depsite Braid being the band who stuck with me the most out of the Midwest's celebrated emo scene in the 90's (well, them or The Get-Up Kids, who were the soundtrack to my anxiety about relationships in university), I was, for some reason, hesitant to listen to the post-Braid band Hey Mercedes.

I think most of that hesitancy came from their name, which kind of sounds like late-aughts Fuelled by Ramen fare.

I eventually got around to listening to their album Everynight Fire Works (embedded above) while at work recently and it fucking blew me away. All the parts that make Braid part of my emo pantheon, the mathy riffs, the stop/start rhythms, and the major league vocal hooks, are still there, but delivered with a little bit more of a power-pop sheen. The songs are strong and catchy and the riffs make me eager to get home from work so that I can learn them on guitar. The album is super strong front-to-back and I feel comfortable calling it a masterpiece.

Nothing else to say, just wanted to share something that I've been really digging lately.

Also, might as well link Frame and Canvas by Braid here too, because if you are reading this and haven't listened to what might be the pinnacle of the emo genre, you really owe it to yourself to get into it:

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stay What You Are

I have gone to Pouzza Fest three times since the festival started. Pouzza 1 was on of the most fun weekends of my life. I got to see one of my all-time favourite band, Lifetime, for the only time and filled in the weekend with other great memories, like seeing Bad Astronaut with Mark and Pat, and the 3-band cover set that ended the weekend by Dig it Up!, Junior Battles, and !ATTENTION!. Pouzza 2 happened right after I joined Beat Noir and saw four American friends of mine come up for the weekend to see the Lawrence Arms play for the first time in forever at the festival. I played my first show with Beat Noir the Wednesday before the festival and then all my friends stayed at my old Dublin house, the Dude Hole, in Guelph. I got to Classics of Love that weekend and it was one of my favourite sets that I've ever seen.

This is all to say that my favourite memory from Pouzza may have come during the third edition of the festival.

Pouzza Fest 3 happened in 2013 and that year Beat Noir played it. In the months leading up to the weekend, I was very excited to play, because many of my favourite bands were playing too. I would finally get a chance to see mu330! Saves the Day! I was eagerly anticipating the release of the schedule and hoping that Beat Noir wouldn't be playing against somebody I really liked.

When it did come out, Colin psyched me out by saying we had no conflicts, when we actually played against mu330 (but that's a story for another time). I was dismayed to see that Saves the Day was playing one of the "VIP shows" that required a fancy ticket beyond my regular old weekend pass given to band members. I couldn't afford a VIP pass and also didn't want to buy a new weekend pass when I already had one for playing. I resolved "figure it out when I get there" which was really just a positive way of saying "I'm going to pretend that I'm not missing a formative band in my life because I'm the poorest I've ever been".

Regardless of me having no plan to see Saves the Day, I left Kitchener-Waterloo on top of the world. I had just moved into an awesome house with Colin, Mark, and Erik and had jut taken a road trip to Montreal. When we arrived for check-in, we saw that there was a giant stack of tickets on the table for that night's Ataris show, which was Friday's VIP. We figured that this was because the festival's tickets weren't selling well (which turned out to be true) and they wanted to fill out the room. My mind immediately jumped to the next night and wondered if the festival would be doing a similar type of giveaway for Saturday's show, Saves the Day. Colin and Erik were wondering the same thing

Beat Noir played that first night of Pouzza. I also saw Big D and the Kids Table and a secret mu330 show. It was a really good night!

Colin, Erik, and I woke up reasonably early the next morning to go and get coffee and the headed to the Pouzza registration desk to check about tickets. When we arrived, we were greeted with a huge stack of Saves the Day tickets for band members. The free Ataris tickets from the day before were a dead giveaway and I was pretty certain that we would be getting the tickets, but that did not temper the elation that the three of us felt when we got them. I was so happy to have the ticket, the 100% real concrete proof that I was going to see Saves the Day in my hands. I put it in my pocket and periodically checked on it throughout the day. It was like I was carrying around a secret item, so valuable that anyone who knew about it would no doubt try to steal from me.

Colin, Erik, and I then walked back to our dorm that we were splitting with the rest of The Decay and Beat Noir. We immediately started fantasizing about potential setlists. They will no doubt close with "At Your Funeral", "But what if they opened with this!?"

Erik said that he had been looking at Saves the Day setlists from the past year and saw that they had been opening with "Firefly", the closing track of our unanimous pick for best Saves the Day album, and one of my favourites of all-time, Stay What You Are. We all agreed that this would, no doubt, be the best possible way to begin the set and started repeating "I said I'd walk you home!" ad nauseum.

Pouzza Fest 2013 was, for all of its great parts, also pretty annoying. After hanging out with friends for the first part of the day, I headed to Foufones Electroniques, Montreal's preeminent punk bar and venue, to catch the first batch of bands I had lined up for the day. When I held up my wrist to show my band pass, which permitted me to see any "non-VIP" shows, I was stopped by security because upstairs had apparently reached its capacity for band passes. This seemed weird to me, because I assumed that my band pass was the same as a general festival pass. That's what the organizers told us. How could the venue be full at 4 PM? With all due respect to Direct Hit!, who were the band I was trying to get in and watch, the biggest bands of the festival, who would attract those capacity crowds, were slated to play until much later.

Our friends went upstairs and then told us that the venue was pretty much empty. So the venue was empty, but you weren't letting bands in? When we asked about it, the festival said that yes, there was capacity restrictions on band passes, but we could circumvent them by buying a "special weekend pass" priced at $20 for band members. We had noticed that attendance at the festival had been substantially less than the year before, so we took this to be the organizers trying to squeeze extra money out of the people who were already there. Most of the bands that people wanted to see would be playing in Fouf's and they knew this, so they tried to shake down the members of the smaller bands, who made up most of the lineup of the festival, for extra money to get the festival closer to breaking even.

It really sucked and left a bad taste in all of our mouths. We didn't get paid for playing the festival. We drove two vehicles and all of our gear 5 hours there and back. Our remuneration for doing this was receiving a weekend pass to the festival. This was a really shitty thing for the promoters to do.

I saw a few bands at other venues that afternoon (not the ones I was planning on or wanted to) and then decided to just head to the Saves the Day show I had a ticket for early because I had nothing else to do.

The first band was a punk band from Montreal that had pretty much nobody there to see them. The next band was a pop-punk band that had a Pennywise shirt-wearing bass player. Make Do and Mend followed and though I love Bodies of Water much more than any of their other output, they put on a really tight set.

Braid was set to be the final opener before Saves the Day headlined the show. A very drunk Kyle from Wayfarer started berating me about seeing mu330 the night before, saying "Ska sucks man. How can you listen to that shit? You should listen to Braid." missing that I was waiting in the crowd with him to watch Braid.

Braid is really good! The sound kind of sucked for their set, but it didn't change the fact the band brings loads and loads of energy to their performance and that their songs stand up as maybe the best emo songs.

Saves the Day then came out and started to set up their gear. Though I still hang on to to my anger about Pouzza Fest treating us, and all the other bands, so badly, that was erased in the extended moment of me seeing one of my favourite bands live for the first time, surrounded by a group of my closest friends. Erik peeked at the setlist that they taped on the stage and immediately whipped around smiling. I told him to hold off on any information, preferring the moment of surprise when they started.

The band had some gear issues while setting up, but then Chris Conely said "Fuck it." into the mic and decided to play the whole set sans pedals, with his guitar going right into his amp. A small gesture, but a sign of him being a performance veteran who knows how to please a crowd nonetheless. That "Fuck it." was quickly followed by Chris approaching the mic again and singing


Erik, Colin, and I immediately jumped all over each other shouting along every word. We had talked all day about this and it turned out exactly the way we had hoped it would, which is something that so rarely happens. It was exactly what all of us needed after that shitty of an afternoon.

The band proceeded to run through a set of classics from their first three albums, mixed with an occasional later song. They even played the most premium deep-cuts "Sell My Old Clothes, I'm Off to Heaven" and "A Drag in D-Flat"! It felt like everybody else in the room was just standing there bearing witness to the three of us having the time of our lives. A unique experience in friendship for me.

Once the set ended, Erik forced his way to the stage, ripped the setlist off of it, and shoved it into my chest:

We drove home from Pouzza on Sunday night, with half of The Decay, Jeff Kenney and I doing an all-night caravan directly after The Decay played their set. I was pretty drunk that night and fell asleep basically as soon as the van pulled out of the driveway in Montreal and then woke up at 7 AM in Mississauga. We got home and passed out immediately. That was the end of Pouzza Fest in 2013.

The Saves the Day set was all that my friends and I could talk about for the whole summer, to the point that Erik, Colin, and I considered getting matching Saves the Day tattoos. We were going to get old-style lightbulbs with fireflies inside of them, coupled with a Saves the Day lyric. Erik initially suggested "I said I'd walk you home", but followed that immediately with "Maybe, that's too cheesy." (it was). We settled on "Stay what you are" accompanying the lightbulbs and were 80% serious about all going to get them. We made initial plans about making appointments, but never went through.

Though the tattoos never materialized, the feeling that inspired them is still very real. It will always stay.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Roller

My favourite Against Me! song is "Even At Our Worst We're Still Better Than Most (The Roller)" off of the album Searching for a Former Clarity. Like most of my favourite songs, I have a vivid memory tied to it, which kinds of cements it in my personal pantheon of songs.

While living in Kitchener, my friends and I used to drive to a quarry halfway between Guelph and Kitchener late at night. We could only go at night, because it was private property and you would the cops called on you otherwise. Once there, we sneak through a fence, trek through a bit of brush and then go and jump into the quarry and swim. It was always dark and hard to see, which made it incredibly scary to jump into the water, but also made it that much better once you did it.

The water was always cold, but getting out and walking back to the car felt amazing. Everyone's hair would look a little silly because we had just gone swimming and we would be a weird bathing suit/band t-shirt crew. It felt amazing because we were doing something that we weren't supposed to be doing. It felt like we were part of the counterculture and that being part of it was what binded us together.

I didn't know many people when I first moved to Kitchener and these quarry trips were a big part of me becoming friends with people who I now treasure dearly.

After the first quarry jump of my first summer in Kitchener, we got into The Decay's van (which later became Beat Noir's first van) and I sat in the back row. Erik was sitting shotgun. We listened to Bleed American by Jimmy Eat World, but that had finished on the trip there. Erik picked up the iPod plugged into the stereo and put on "Even At Our Worst We're Still Better Than Most (The Roller)", which caught me off-guard because it is the 11th track on the album. We rolled down the windows and played the song at full volume while driving extremely fast down an small, empty highway at 2 AM.

My reaction to the music was absolutely visceral and physical, so I tried to hide any reaction I was having to it. Fortunately, it was dark and I was in the back corner of the van.

This type of thing has only happened to me a few times and I think it occurs when I hear the perfect song for a moment that also happens to be intensely emotional for me. One was "Chicago" by Big D and the Kids Table while walking home in the rain and also listening to "Felt Just Like Vacation" during a snow storm while walking down Edwin Street in Guelph while extremely sad. I guess they're all moments when the feeling the song stirs in me is overwhelming. They can be good or bad, but they're all equally strong.

For me, the song's lyrics are a testament to believing in your band.

We'll give the money back, to the record label. Fire the agent, fire the manager.

Let someone else take our place, let them be your entertainment.

You know they're waiting to tear us apart.

You realize at a certain point in being in a band that you either do things your way and stay unsuccessful, or do them somebody else's way and be successful. I don't mean this in the typical "sign to a major label and sell out" way, but it's more that you find that you're sort of forced to make minor concessions to a lot of different people along the way. A lot of very small things that seem inconsequential at the time add up eventually.

But fuck that. Stick to who you are.

You can also read the lyrics as a typical punk manifesto of "Fuck them all. Fuck their rules. We'll do it our way. We don't care if we fail." and I think the tropiness of that message combined with the fucking ferocious and perfect delivery of the song by Laura Jane is what makes this song perfect.

Fuck them all.

Fuck their rules.

We'll do it our way.

We don't care if we fail.

And, most of all, you can't stop us.

Some people would maybe look at that message as juvenile, but those are exactly the fucks who never really understood what they were being told in the first place.

I couldn't find the actual version of the song, which is why I put the kid covering it at the top of the page. I was expecting it to be a sub-par cover, as most acoustic videos on the internet are, but it wound up being great and I think that a young kid screaming the lyrics while playing his guitar speaks profoundly to the message I was just talking about.