Father John Misty @ Maxwell’s, May 17, 2013 – And Commotion On 6th Avenue

It’s a risk every time you leave the house.  Step off the curb…you’re hit by a bus.  Catastrophist?  Yes.  But on the way home from the Father John Misty show Friday night, we stepped off the PATH train into this.

We had finally reached the West Village after an arduous journey.  Walking down 6th ave from the 9th st PATH train stop, all we could do was exclaim how great it was to be back in New York.  Then, just in front of Gray’s Papaya…we heard a loud bang.  The block went silent for a minute.  The crew of party boys on the corner exclaimed “Yeah, that’s how we do it in the hood!”  They were obviously joking around, the consensus was that it was an M80.  There was a general feeling of unrest though, so we crossed over towards Greenwich Ave.  People seemed ready to dismiss it, but a man ran straight into traffic to hail a cop.  Within the time it took us to get to 7th st, one block south, there were 5-6 police cars on the scene.  We even saw the undercover police taxi.  If anything, it has given me renewed faith in the NYPD.

We saw no action, and had no idea what happened until the news trickled down through Twitter, but you could feel the commotion.  It was an unsettling end to an unsettling night.

The question that has come up most often recently is “What the hell is wrong with people?”  A few weeks back during a friend’s show at Brooklyn Bowl, some jerkoff unloaded a fire extinguisher during the final song.  Everyone thought it was a fog machine until it became difficult to breathe.

This lead to the venue being cleared out, 2 fire trucks called to the scene, a good portion of the venue covered in fire resistant powder, and instruments damaged.  A gigantic waste of resources at the behest of some entitled hipster fuck.  What the hell is wrong with people?

Over the past year, I have evangelized Father John Misty every chance I get.  It took a minute to warm up to his debut album, but once it connected, I was all in.  It’s a mix of great songs and showmanship, a magical combination.  And with the next New York show being at Prospect Park’s “Great Googa Mooga (which will forever have a giant shitstorm cloud hovering over it,) followed by the West Side Highway cavern known as Terminal 5, I jumped at the chance to see him across the river at Maxwell’s in Hoboken.  Despite Hoboken’s reputation as Murray Hill literally on steroids, I’ve had nothing but good experiences at Maxwell’s.  It’s so far north, that the bro’s usually find some trouble long before they reach the quiet northern streets.

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It was billed as a Solo Acoustic show, and I was willing to give Misty (Josh Tillman)  the benefit of the doubt.  Seeing songs performed by one person with an acoustic guitar is like a look behind the curtain.  If a song can’t stand up to this bare bones arrangement, then it’s just sauce without a sandwich.  So while there would be no Freddie Mercury style dance moves, we would get to the essence of the music, and I was ok with that this Friday night.

A friend’s father was a police lieutenant in Jersey City, and told us no officer wants to take the Hoboken shift, because the bro’s don’t think twice about fighting a cop.  I have no doubts about this.  I am a Hudson County defender.  As a former 5 year resident of Jersey City, there are plenty of things to love about New York’s annoying little brother.  Great food, cheaper rent, lovely views…but it’s hard to defend Hoboken.  While standing on line for the bathroom at Maxwells, I heard this exact conversation:

“Dude, we’re two short guys with muscles, we’re definitely starting a riot tonight.  Someone’s gonna wanna fight us.”

“Yeah Bro!”

Had I been a more instinctual and spontaneous decision maker, I would have left right there.

The show was sold out  – The place only holds about 200 people, and the man sold out Webster Hall, so this was to be expected.  But the crowd was still a surprise.  Usually at Maxwell’s, people who want to talk and whatnot hang towards the back, so up front you get a good experience.  But this was no holds barred. Upon taking the stage, Misty (let’s refer to him as this from now on, because it sounds better than Tillman) invited the crowd to sit on the stage.  The phrase “oooh, mistakes were made!” was uttered from the crowd.  He immediately seemed to regret the decision.  “Now, don’t abuse your privileges!” he muttered.

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An adorably sad looking girl clutched the giant stuffed white tiger, perched on a stool as a stage prop, and clung to it for the remainder of the evening, singing every word.  A more enthusiastic yet lyrically challenged girl sat directly behind Misty, throwing herself fully into only the verses she knew.  And just to her other side, the VERY bro who made the “short guys with muscles” statement, plopped himself directly on the chair set up for Misty to sit on.  The guitar tech kindly asked him to sit on the floor, much to the bro’s dismay, and he proceeded to drunkenly knock over said chair, and sit with his feet just inches from the performer.  Not the best of omens.

Despite a few weird sound adjustments in the beginning of the set, it was great to see these stripped down arrangements.  The hits were just as exciting.  Also a slew of new material was performed, and it’s fun to guess how they will sound on record.  It’s reassuring to see that he’s still a magnetic performer in this setting.  There were times when the rowdy crowd was enraptured, unable to text, talk, or take Vine’s with their smartphones.  The highlight of these included a slowed down version of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” which is not one of my favorites from the record, but tends to be favored as the one to belt out at the show.  But slowing it down without the admittedly awesome broken sounding electric on the record, the song came through. And that’s a great chorus.  Even the meat head enthusiastically erupting with laughter at every remotely sarcastic lyric was stunned silent.

The performer was aware that the vibe felt off.  The on-stage-chair-knocking-muscle-bound-tiny-bro began talking to the girl next to him.  And texting.  While on the stage.  Yeah.  Misty had had enough.  He turned around before a song….

“Oh my god, SHUT THE FUCK UP!”

The little stout and surly fellow looked stunned, and shifted uncomfortably.  While tuning, Misty paused again….

“You’re SO close to me right now.  SO CLOSE!”

It continued this way for a bit.  When someone is on stage with an acoustic guitar, and there is a sold out crowd there to see them, just use some fucking manners.  That’s really all there is to it.  Yes, sing along at the big parts.  Laugh at the jokes between songs.  But relax with the fucking iPhone videos every song.

Recently, I’ve begun to turn the brightness on my screen all the way down before the show.  Then, I allow myself a few quick photos.  I don’t take videos, and it’s not hella distracting.

It was a startling evening.  The fashion/freak  show that is Washington Street in Hoboken on a Friday after midnight is astounding.  It was a mad dash for the PATH.  Couples were fighting (possibly about who was more tan,) dudes were sniffing each others asses and asserting alpha male dominance.  Something is in the water over there.

Closing the night with a hate crime shooting in the West Village…well I don’t know what to think about that.  At least we made it home unharmed.  I’m going to let it stir for a minute.

Festivals and Streaming: Coachella And The Death Of Dealing With Sweaty People In A Field

Festivals.  Let’s talk about them.

On the one hand, it’s the Costco/Music Mall/Best Buy of shows.  Every band you’ve heard anything about on many stages across a vast landscape.  Sets are truncated (sometimes severely due to scheduling,) and the first few songs always sound terrible due to lack of sound checks.  Food and water are impossible to obtain, you will either bake in the sun, or be covered in mud from hours of torrential downpours.  Your fellow attendees will be hallucinating, screaming, passing out, and just generally being all up in your space, and you will get no rest, because the partying goes all night, and the hot sun will wake you up at the crack of dawn.

On the other hand….You get to see every band you’ve heard anything about in one location, and maybe a few of those will be pretty good!  That’s about all I have for positives…I’m not one for endless groups of people for days on end.

In my younger days, I was a festival enthusiast.  These mostly existed in what one might call the “Jamband” scene.  The Gathering Of The Vibes in Bridgeport CT was a prime example.  A few years in a row, it was a utopian experience.  Easy parking and transportation, not a massive crowd, good lineup, friendly people.  As it gained popularity, it literally became a shit show.  That’s literal…during a storm which included tornado warnings, porta-potties overflowed on a massive scale.  It was also pretty much a farmers market for sketchy drug dealers, who heard there would be some hippies in town.  Not good vibes.

What, you don't want to hang with these people?

Years later, at my final festival as an attendee, I went to the Phish IT event in Maine.  The drive was 12 hrs from New York, then 12 hours once we got to the location, on the mile long road leading to the festival entrance.  It was a not so fond farewell to a music I was not longer in love with.

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In 2010 I was fortunate enough to play the Winnipeg Folk Festival with the band Depedro, in Winnipeg Canada. The other side of the coin looked completely different.  As a performer, you were driven with your gear to stages by golf cart, people carried equipment for you (photo above,) you were fed great meals at any time of day, shade and seats were readily available.  We saw tons of great music, made great friends, played Beatles songs in the hotel ballroom at all hours of the night….the complete opposite experience.

Well, this weekend, we discovered the middle ground.  And not surprisingly, it appeared like a desert oasis thanks to technology.  Streaming.  It’s pretty much the answer to everything (media related anyway,) and festivals have become Youtube enthusiasts.  I’ve tried to access some streaming events in the past to some dismay – probably due to wonky internet connections…but it seems to be making some progress! Coachella, the hipster paradise and its own desert oasis to some, decided to stream nearly the entire festival.

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Sunday night, after a day of biking, a trip to Smorgasburg in DUMBO, and  an obligatory visit to 16 Handles, we retired home to the comfort of our livingroom to watch Father John Misty do his evening set at Coachella.  There were a few hickups in the stream, and the sound was a little weird during the first few songs….but would it have been much better in a windy desert?  No one was standing in front of me, no drunk idiot looking up the lyrics on their phone to sing along (which happened at a previous FJM show) no line for beverages…..all in all, pretty good!

FJM via Brooklyn Vegan
FJM via Brooklyn Vegan

Yes, you can call it COUCH-ella.  The Office already did that a few years back in a surprisingly well timed joke! Give it a little time.  The picture looks great, there are no commercial interruptions, and the sound mix gets better as the performance continues.  I’m sure as bandwidth becomes less of an issue we’ll move to higher resolution, but I’m not complaining.  If they decide to charge a bit for it, that’s fine.  If the quality increases, its totally worth it.

Yes, nothing can replace the live experience.  But As I get a little older, the experience as a whole is what’s important.  The band needs to be great, but I just can’t deal with all the other shit that goes along with it.  Hundreds of people holding up  iPhones for entire songs.  Drunk pushy people.  The Talkers.  It’s endless.  I’ll venture out if its a favorite band at the right venue, but you just never know.  Even the Village Vanguard attracts “Bro Dudes On Date Night” from time to time.

Somehow I don’t feel guilty about this at all.  As I said, I’ll pay to stream shows, I don’t care.  As long as musicians can all be in the same room playing together, Music will continue.  Just the thought of having to rush to get tickets when anything goes on sale, only to be defeated by The Bots, then have to worry about a shitty experience even if you do get in….it’s just too much to take.  I sound old, and I’m pretty OK with that.

We Have The Technology

The email arrived this morning…..

Introducing Pro Tools 11!

Thank you Avid, for your rapid advancement of technology, soon to make all previous versions obsolete and incompatible.  If you are not in the audio world, Pro Tools is the software used to record nearly every album made, mix the sound in almost all films, most radio and TV shows, and so on.  It’s pretty popular.

Avid, first known for their digital video editing software, is the massive death star of the audio world.  They recently laid off 20% of their staff and installed a new CEO.  Sonic Scoop detailed it very well Here and Here.  Their customer service is notoriously unhelpful, and their website is a mess.  New versions are expensive, and working out the hardware/software/OS combinations will shave years off your life.

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This is not about editing software though. This worries me about technology as a whole.  My inner Jewish 80 year old is just dying to come out.

Updated versions improve our lives, but also make previous versions obsolete.  If the software updates are free…we eventually buy new hardware to support it, and Simba is held from the mountain top, because the Circle Of Life is complete.  You think thats why apple called it OSX Lion?

They say we’re in the Wild West, technologically speaking.  This is a common theory, but what does the future hold?  Will there be some giant unified platform we all use to communicate, network-socially, buy stuff, consume media, and create content of our choosing?  Or will it become further fragmented, each application refusing to support other platforms, until we’re all basically slinging 1’s and 0’s at each other with a makeshift slingshot, until the new version of that slingshot is released, and it no longer flings the previously issued 1’s and 0’s?

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It shows up everywhere.  How many people held onto IOS 5 because of the Apple Maps debacle?  I did!  I want some shit that works!  New stuff seems to have the opposite effect on me.  I’m researching cameras, and I totally want this Fujufilm X100S….but the S is the updated one!  What happens if they release an even better X100STUV???  So I just hold out.

I end up feeling like an out of date traditionalist.  I don’t feel the need to apologize though.  Since becoming an avid (no pun intended) Spotify user, I’ve heard a lot of new music.  The platform is fantastic, and I don’t mind spending $10 a month for the mobile use alone.  But most of the stuff I’ve heard is just mediocre.  It’s not terrible, it just doesn’t grab me.  Especially when in one click, you can hear ANY other song.

The Father John Misty album has brought me joy since I heard it in the early fall.  It’s a beautiful album start to finish, maybe like 4% filler 96% killer.  But I wonder what will happen next.  Will his next release hold up?  I hate that I even think that way about it, but I do.  I do look forward to it though.

Where does that difference come from?  With technology, I just want something that works.  With music, I don’t have time for anything that is not the perfect sound for the moment.  Yes, there are different expectations – One helps you accomplish simple and important tasks in life, while the other is purely entertainment, but we’re probably not that far from a convergence.

I want everything to be fantastic and amazing all the time.  Yes, I do.