The last two bands I saw live were Wild Flag and Superchunk who opened for Bright Eyes at Radio City. I used to really like Bright Eyes but don’t anymore so I split before they played. Wild Flag was pretty good but I was there to see Superchunk. They didn’t play for very long but they blew my mind. Their LP Majesty Shredding is one of my favorite records from last year (not that I’m super caught up, I never even heard The Suburbs). It’s interesting, the record makes me kind of nostalgic because Superchunk is an old favorite that I listened to mostly in my twenties but it’s also really great current rock music, richly textured, expertly played and with good lyrics. Majesty Shredding is the first Superchunk record in nine years and sounds a lot like their earlier rocking stuff without being a rehash. It’s quite a feat.
I had never seen Superchunk before. They were amazing to watch. Mac McCaughan jumped around a lot but never seemed winded when he sang or flubbed a guitar line. I always thought he was an underrated guitar player but didn’t expect him to kill it like that live. Radio City is a fun place to see a show. It’s beautiful and you can sit in a nice plush seat. Does that make me sound old? I felt old at the show. A lot of Bright Eyes fans seem to be in their late teens or early twenties. My friend Matthew and I sat in the mezzanine and a bunch of young Bright Eyes fans talked all through Superchunk and constantly looked at their phones. Seeing all those phones was a big bummer. I hate seeing phones at shows (I hate seeing them anywhere). It’s one of the reasons I don’t go see live music much anymore. I don’t like seeing a bunch of zombies standing around with a blue glow on their faces from some dumb little screen. Either that or with their arm up trying to film something so they can have footage with terrible sound and picture quality so they can post it on YouTube and have strangers using aliases write sub-literate “comments.” I could go on a longer riff here but it should suffice to say that if we’ve ever hung out and you paused or trailed off mid-sentence to look at your phone and then offered a weak, insincere sorry, I just had to check this thing or that thing, or I just had to see if so and so wrote me back—if you’ve done this in my presence I probably don’t like you anymore.
In the old days I went to shows all the time. I was in a couple of bands so I played a lot of them too. One of the best shows I ever saw was the Jesus Lizard at Club Soda in Kalamazoo MI. For some reason I was sitting on a monitor on the side of the stage. The place was packed. It was the middle of summer and it was hot and everyone was sweaty. To the best of my memory the Jesus Lizard steered clear of unfamiliar material and just played their “hits.” They were incredibly loud and military-precision tight. David Yow hurled himself at the crowd. I remember he landed on a girl I had briefly dated who had given me chlamydia. She got pissed and pushed back at him and at one point, after he dove into the crowd again, bit him (he was shirtless). After the show a bunch of us went to the Big Burrito and Erin for some reason got a hot coffee and it spilled on the table and we laughed.
Another mind-blower was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. They played at the Reptile House in Grand Rapids. In my memory not many people were there. But the band gave it their all like it was Madison Square Garden. Jon Spencer was sweating and flailing and making his theramin shriek (also he’s very handsome) and Judah Bauer was like his cool, steady counterpart a few feet away. The drummer’s name is Russell Simins. Ha ha, what are the chances, I used to think. But Club Soda again: I went there one night not really expecting much, just kind of looking to get out of the house, and this band Fitz of Depression that I’d only vaguely heard of rocked the holy hell out of the place. I was high on Huber Bock beer and was so ecstatic that afterward I went into the little backstage room and started telling the guys in the band, who seemed like nice dudes, how fucking great they were. It was totally magical.
Also the time I saw R.E.M. at Pine Knob in Clarkston MI on 9/9/89, a date I took to be of supreme significance because of their song “9-9.” The first song they played was “Stand,” which Michael Stipe introduced by saying something like “this is one of the most audacious, brilliant pieces of music ever recorded.” Every song in the set sent me into further states of ecstasy, it was such sweet agony in that pause between songs waiting for the opening notes of the next one so I could get that instant flash of recognition and go nuts. Oh and I danced, actually fucking danced, wildly, unironically, unself-consciously. What a gas. Ten years later I saw Pavement at Irving Plaza in NYC and though I was insanely excited almost felt too uptight to even nod along. Was it just me? Was it the crowd? I was still new to New York then. Did I feel like I had to be cool? Well trying to be cool fucked me up exactly five years later, 9/9/94, when I saw this kid wearing a terrible bootleg Fugazi T-shirt and started making fun of him a little, and he tried to be a sport and he said good-naturedly “Who wants a piggyback ride?” and I said I did, then got on his back but didn’t realize he was drunk and the kid slipped and fell and came down on my ankle and it snapped on both sides. I was on crutches for a long time and had to have three surgeries.
When I saw Nirvana I was recovering from mono and still quite weak. I was in the front row and the crowd pinned me against the barrier and I was short of breath the whole time and worried my spleen would burst (something I had heard happens when you have mono). There was a metalhead next to me and during “Territorial Pissings” he went nuts and started headbanging and his long sweaty hair kept flying into my face. At the end of the show Kurt raised his arms and yelled “Thank you very much! I love you all!” in a way that seemed like he didn’t really love us that much and then my friend Mark and I went to Subway. A guy from our high school was working behind the counter (we were sophomores in college then). Five years earlier this guy had sold me bunk acid. He dropped a sugar cube in my hand and I ate it to no avail. A sugar cube! I should have known. He said he’d pay me back but he never did. As he was making my sandwich I said, “You know, you still owe me five bucks.” He looked at me and I said, “From the fake acid, remember?”
After Superchunk left the stage Matthew said we should stay and just sit and talk through Bright Eyes. It would have been funny, those kids would have been pissed, especially if it was a quiet part and Conor Oberst was doing that thing where his voice quivers and it sounds like he has spit all over his lips.
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