We Get Out: Matt Nathanson, 2.19.19

So, after a bit of a winter drought, it was time again for live music.

Doctor Daughter (Emma with the PhD) and I bought tix last year for Matt Nathanson‘s recently launched solo acoustic tour, when our favorite singer/songwriter/funny guy first announced he’d be going on the road to support his excellent 2018 album, Sings His Sad Heart. I rarely buy concert tickets far in advance but my girl and I have attended Matt’s shows, together or separately, about a dozen times each, and we knew this date would sell out pronto, so we jumped.

With two other Nathansonians in tow (Carrie, another 10+ show attendee, and Elizabeth, a bit of a newbie at only 4 shows), we got to The Birchmere in time to find a sweet spot to the right of the stage, with good sight lines. (That’s why all the pics have the same angle.) The venue’s flex stage is a smaller space than Nathanson has played in some time. He’s sold out the 9:30 Club for double-date runs, and tix for this date disappeared in a day, so it’s safe to say that the place was packed with genuine fans. Why, then, would I call this the worst audience I’ve ever shared a Matt show with?

Because a few boneheads mistook the intimacy of the space as an invitation for random chatter with the man on stage. And while much of the joy of his shows is the spontaneous way Matt goes off on tangents between songs (he’s got the speedy wit of a great improv comic) he’s there for a concert, not a conversation, people! Matt tease-scolded the interrupters in his usual easy-going way but the message didn’t land. Except for the funny way a Snow Day announcement rippled through the crowd, leaving Matt confused (“Are you all students? Teachers?” It actually mean that government offices and many ancillary workers get a holiday), the unwanted give-and-take was wearying to both the player and his listeners.

Maybe it’s the presence of the giant wheel, which Matt spins to add an element of surprise to the set list (about two-thirds planned; the remainder selected by chance), but general unruliness seems to be an ongoing problem on the current tour. Matt often tweets the day after a show, full of enthusiasm for the night before. No such message appeared after the DC show, and his Twitter feed a few nights later mentioned another show – or was it two? – ruined by “a few obnoxious humans” (RT from 2.24) and “entitled, drunk audience members” (Matt’s own Tweet, from 2.25). This from paying patrons who no doubt consider themselves “fans.” One bad apple don’t spoil the whole bunch, girl, but a few can tarnish an otherwise sterling night. Sorry, Matt. You deserve better.

But you’ll never leave a Matt Nathanson show without a smile on your face, and last Tuesday was no exception. We heard a great selection of tunes old (my personal favorite, “Answering Machine,” showed up in a spin) and new (“Used to Be” is a great one from the new LP), a few cool covers (The Smiths’ “Girlfriend in a Coma” – oh yeah) and even a brand new ditty we’ll call “8-Track Tape” that he made up on the spot while ruminating about outdated technology. You can see the full list of songs at setlist.fm.

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen Matt Nathanson play. The first was February, 2004, so this Birchmere night was “our” 15th year together (I’ll call it the Vinyl Anniversary). And I was lucky to have my camera at some past shows, so if you want More Matt, here are a few links to pics and text memories:

9:30 Club, 2011

Sixth and I Synagogue, 2008

Tysons Corner Plaza (free show), 2018

And Matt was kind enough to respond to a request for a contribution for my set list site, sending a great souvenir from a Houston, TX show in 2006.

It’s been an exhausting day, watching the Cohen testimony, worrying about the decline of our democracy, and waiting for a return to true American greatness (ITMFA), so I’m calling this post, however ragged and much delayed, done! As ever, thanks for stopping by. And here’s one more shot from the Birchmere, as a ‘post-credits’ treat…

It’s like he’s looking right at us.
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New Year, New Me?

I’m a little miffed at my local YMCA. The big banner across the entrance to the recently renovated temple of family fitness shouts, “New Year, New You!”

Oh, yeah, YMCA?! What’s wrong with me as I am? You calling the current me old? Why should I change for you?

Here’s to making America sane again.

As the first month of the New Year comes to a close, I am used to writing 2019 on dated documents.  I’m a fan of the fresh start and the blank page, but have never been much for New Year’s resolutions. Goals, hopes, and dreams? Sure. But resolutions seem more like a way to set yourself up to be disappointed – with yourself. And so, while I did join the YMCA earlier this month, it was only today that I took my first class, a wonderful mishmash of aerobics, yoga and drumming that’s marketed as “Pound.” Whatever the name, it was great fun for an older woman who, as a child, used empty coffee cans of different sizes to make a drum set. (The plastic lids were the skins, and a set of pick-up sticks bound at one end with a rubberband made for a fine drum brush.)

For just shy of an hour, a bunch of free-in-the-late-morning, mostly later-in-our-lives women and, judging by his shin tattoo, one brave, graying ex-Marine, jumped to hard pop and light metal tunes while flailing around and smacking the rubber workout mats with regulation-size but neon green plastic drumsticks. These are the times when I know why Five Seconds of Summer or Def Leppard have made successful careers, much the same way being in a booming dance club commands me to appreciate the disco sounds I disparaged back when I was a New Wave purist.

Music makes me move, thank god(dess). And since a winter like this one – yesterday, Chicago literally had to set fire to the railroad tracks to keep the trains running – is too easily spent in slug-on-the-couch stagnation, I need music more than ever.  

Shamefully, I admit that I haven’t been to a live show yet in this new year. (I did see a ballet at the Kennedy Center.) I came close Tuesday, when I was invited to see a 17-year-old singer/songwriter, Ethan Sak, open for an act I also knew nothing about, Hey Monea. The kid’s one streamable song, with a happier Sam Smith feel, was catchy and the headliner’s web-site seemed friendly and fun, so I was up for the adventure and looking forward to taking some concert shots again.

But that was the first night of the pre-Polar Vortex snow, at a venue that I was also at on the night of 2011’s infamous Snowmaggedden, when it took me eight hours to drive eight miles home. (That’s no joke. And neither is peeing in a cup.) So I stayed home.

BUT – and here’s where I get back to business (is that what this is?)  – I have been working on processes for keeping up with new releases and reviving my web presence. After a year of neglect (see previous post for explanation), WhatchaGonnaPlay.com, my pet project devoted to set lists stolen from the stage and concert shots taken from the pit, is back. There is a new landing page and interface, and I’m still testing different graphic themes, so what you see today may be different from what’s there tomorrow. I’m anxious to start adding new materials; meanwhile, the old site has been archived so all the previously gathered materials, including musician interviews, are still clickable.

New business cards are also being designed (it helps when your daughter is a talented artist who has a job at a print shop) to bring together the Close Personal Friend and WhatchaGonnaPlay “brands.” And I am preparing stories, reviews, etc. to post here to make up for the fact that my relationship with AXS.com ended with the old year. (They wanted me to sign away rights to my photos. Ain’t gonna happen.)

So, things are happening. I resolve (that word!) to be back soon and often. I hope you’ll come along for the ride. Happy Belated New Year!

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A Year of Loss and Learning

Hello again. Whoa. But for that little teaser about having an explanation for my absence, it’s been over a year since I wrote a blog post. Yeah, it’s been quite a while.

The ticker on the left says 425 people follow this blog, which makes me wonder:
Does that number indicate real people? How many of that figure are just ‘bots?
Who reads this? Why?
Are my personal anecdotes a bug or a feature?
One day I’ll do a survey to find out more about you, dear reader. In the meantime, feel free to shoot me an email or leave a comment.

But now, at the risk of TMI of a personal nature, I’ll tell you about the last 12 months in the life of your Close Personal Friend.

It was a year ago this month, almost to the day, that, while my sister and I were helping my 92-year-old mother in the shower, we discovered a small lump above her left breast. Three days before Christmas 2017, the doctor confirmed that it was inoperable breast cancer. With thanks to whatever great spirit watches over us, my mom felt no pain, and we made the holidays happy in spite of the news. A week in the hospital and a series of radiation treatments took up a large part of January.

Throughout the winter and spring of the new year, my mom enjoyed the loving care of many family members, friends, and hospice care professionals who helped to keep her comfortable and gave me great emotional support. Life went on, but my attitude toward work changed.

It’s not that music became less important to me. Au contraire! It was my solace, my escape, and my comforter. I still went to shows and took photos, and posted stories to AXS. But when it came to tracking new releases, following trends, or staying up-to-date on my social media postings, I didn’t have the bandwidth to worry about it.

Writing about music is not how I make a living. (If someone knows how that can be done in these days of free content everywhere, please advise.) I do it for the love of it, like a musician traveling in an old van and sleeping on floors for the thrill of a few hours of live music that reaffirm my faith in the power of sound. Taking a long break didn’t affect my budget and, to paraphrase the wonderful Courtney Barnett, nobody really cared if I didn’t come to the party.

In late May, I drove my mom to upstate New York, to the summer cottage that is her happiest place on earth. She spent the next few months sitting on a screened porch that looks out on Lake George, a gorgeous Adirondack vacation destination, and watched old musicals while sipping on root beer, slowly losing the ability to recognize the many people flocking to visit.

Mom passed away in her sleep on August 19. Our sorrow was tempered with gratitude that she died peacefully and surrounded by loved ones in her own home. We’re still dealing as a family with emotional frayed ends and tedious realities of finances, property, etc., but life is settling into new rhythms.

So, I’m an orphan now? Strange thought. My father died 13 years ago, after a long and difficult hospital stay. A few months after he passed, I was at a Death Cab for Cutie concert when the lyrics to “What Sarah Said” hit me like a sledgehammer:
“Love is watching someone die.”

I did that. It’s a cliché to say I have a new perspective on life, but many clichés exist because there is a truth to them. My head is full of new thoughts and stories and insights, and I’ve slowly worked my way back to where I feel like writing again. I look forward to blogging more regularly, redesigning this web site, relaunching WhatchaGonnaPlay.com and pursuing a bunch of self-publishing ideas.

Watch this space.
And thanks, as ever, for listening.

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Explanation to follow

Yes, it’s been a while. And while you might not think I owe you an explanation (or maybe you do; I have no idea who follows me!), I have a better one than usual. Which, in my best manner of procrastination, will come later.

For now, I just wanted to say hello, prove that I’m still alive and writing, and share the following graphic from the people hosting the Governor’s Ball festival. When I first glanced at it, I felt really old since I didn’t recognize any of the musicians playing.

Then I realized it was a list of food vendors for the event.

I felt better (a little) and then thought that there are actually a lot of very good potential band names here…gov's ball

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We Get Out – Niall Horan at Fillmore Silver Spring, Nov. 4, 2017

I would like to write a long, chatty post, and catch y’all up on recent musical doings, but I’m preparing for some travel and time is tight. So I’m just dropping in with a link to my latest review – Irish cutie, Niall Horan, once (and, hopefully, again in the future) of One Direction. I took pics and wrote words for AXS.com.

Niall Horan at Fillmore Silver Spring.

At the show, I gave out a few CPF biz cards to a few nice fans, and I want them to see the review if they drop by the site. More soon!

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I’m Down with…Other People’s Photos

If you’re a regular follower of this blog (thanks!), you know I love taking concert photos.  If I can get a photo pass, I bring my good SLR camera and get up close in the pit. If not, I take along my “non-pro” point-and-shoot and, if all else fails, I’ve got my iPhone.

Yes, it’s important to Be At The Show and not just view life through a screen. I do that, too, but it adds to my enjoyment and is often part of my “job” (or is it a paying hobby?) to capture visual memories. It’s a recurring joy to look through my collection of photos and an ongoing challenge to improve my skills (alas, I am terrible at the technical end, but I think I have a good eye for composition).

I also love looking at other people’s concert photos, especially now that I realize just how hard it can be to get that one amazing moment, in sharp focus, with the colors right and no stray mic stands in the way.

Yesterday, a publicist sent me a gallery of shots from last weekend’s first inaugural Mempho festival, held at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis. I was blown away by the beautiful images. I pitched a story built around the gallery to an online editor, but was told that, since I wasn’t actually at the event, it wouldn’t be right for the site.

OK, then. But I can’t let these beautiful photos – of Cage the Elephant, Jason Isbell, Cold War Kids, Bishop Briggs, Robert Randolph, Southern Avenue – go to waste. You don’t have to like, or even know, the acts, to appreciate the shots. I picked my favorites from the nearly three dozen pics in the event gallery, and here they are – with photog credits, of course! – for your edutainment…

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ICYMI: Dashboard Confessional, et al.

As I mentioned in the last post, Dr. Daughter and I had a great night earlier this month, at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, for a triple bill of The Maine, All-American Rejects and Dashboard Confessional.

I finally wrote the review, with photo slideshow, of Dashboard, for my AXS.com column and it would please me mightily if you would check it out.

Since I didn’t write much about All-American Rejects, I’ll take this moment to say that I was surprised I actually knew four songs by the band, which I had thought of as little more than one-hit-wonders.
(I will now give you a moment to see if you can name some AAR songs. Are you ready?)
“Dirty Little Secret,” “Move Along,” “Swing, Swing” and “Gives You Hell.”

Tyson Ritter is the band’s strutting rock star frontman – lots of f-bombs and exhortations for the crowd to get wild – which would be really annoying if he didn’t also seem to be self-aware about how ridiculous that role can be.

Anyway, since The AARs didn’t get any photo love in my review, here are a few pics of them in action:

 

That’s all for now. Thanks for dropping by!

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