A lot has been going on. Personally. Professionally. Creatively.
And I'll delve into all that on my next blog post, which I swear won't be 6 months from now. But these past two weekends, I got to experience two performances by two of my all time favorite musicians, and I was reminded just how magical the show going experience can be. And how music, no matter where you are in your life, can always resurface to comfort you like an old childhood friend.
First up was Jonah Matranga who performed with The Pauses last Sunday night at the Hi Hat over in Highland Park, Los Angeles. Jonah has been a part of my life for well over 20 years. First through his band FAR, one of the late 90's quintessential post-hardcore bands that came up on multiple tours with the Deftones, System Of A Down and Incubus. If FAR had stuck together for just a little longer after their second album "Water & Solutions" had made the rounds, I have no doubt they would've been just as big as those other bands I just mentioned.
However, despite not reaching massive commercial success, they were one of the most influential bands of that period, and heroes to all of the "emo" bands that came in their wake.
Back in early 1998 when FAR's "Water & Solutions" came out, I was working as a store artist at Tower Records in Carle Place, NY. I was already a huge fan having discovered their first major label release "Tin Cans With Strings To You." And so when an advance EP single called "SOON" arrived in my promo box, I was anxious to hear what the boys had cooked up next! "Mother Mary" was the song that popped out at me instantly. And I created a massive 6 foot long foam core display using the "Mother Mary" single image. You see, back in those days, all the Tower Record locations had store artists re-create the album covers out of foam core and paint. For me, it was always more exciting to do something a little different, whether it be a logo, or an image from the liner notes; just something that would excite a fellow fan if they happened to be walking the aisle of our store and see it. So, I went with the "Mother Mary" image.
The band has seen it through our local Sony rep, and I was invited (along with my best friend Steve) to go see them open for Incubus and System Of A Down at Coney Island High in Manhattan, NY. We were able to meet the band in a neighboring restaurant beforehand and they couldn't have been more humble or nice, especially Jonah. I can still vaguely remember little bits of our conversations. I was surprised to learn that Shaun (the guitarist) was the Sunny Day Real Estate fan of the bunch, a band I was convinced was a primary influence on them all. Instead, Jonah was telling me it was The Beatles that influenced him most! I remember arguing that as great as The Beatles were (and trust me, I do love them!), they weren't flawless. I noted that "The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill" on The White Album was "annoying." And he countered (or corrected me, more accurately) by saying, "yeah, but you remember the chorus, right? You can sing it right now and know all the words?" Of course, he was right.
My buddy Steve was a die-hard FAR fan, and the main reason either of us discovered the band in the first place. I'm pretty sure he had heard "Love, American Style" on some local college radio station and it inspired him to get that first album. He told Jonah that he was going to jump up on stage and sing with him, and he encouraged him by saying, "Bring it. We'll have fun."
Cut to a packed Coney Island High. Now, this was our first time seeing FAR live. We didn't know exactly what to expect, but we knew the albums and songs pretty well. Much to my surprise, they were far heavier and more rockin' and energetic than I possibly could've anticipated! They opened with "Boring Life" and launched into this synchronized head banging back and forth sway on stage when the main riff kicked in. By the time the final chorus came up, Steve launched over my head and tackled Jonah to the ground, the both of them screaming the last verse into the mic. It was truly one of the most energetic and rockin' shows I'd ever been to. Probably top 5 of my life!
(This isn't that Coney Island show, but it's got the same spirit & energy!)
Several months later, FAR were coming around on tour again, and I had convinced the local Sony rep to book a show with them on a Sunday, their day off, so they could play specifically for the Long Island scene. This was a few short years before bands like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Bayside broke big, but a post-hardcore scene that leaned a bit more towards emo-esque bands, rather than straight forward NYC hardcore was already a brewin', and I knew it'd be a great opportunity. Plus, I really, really, really wanted my band Pretty Polly to open the show. And that was part of the deal!
However, once the other Long Island bands of the time got wind of this, the same ones that had never invited us onto their bills, everyone wanted in on that show. By the time the gig came, there were now 5 opening acts, then FAR. And guess who got to be first? Yep. My band. At 2PM. When the venue first opened and there would, no doubt, be no one there.
Before the show, I'd chit-chatted with Jonah out back and was just catching up about how I just put my notice in at Tower Records and was trying to give this whole "band thing" a shot. He said, "hey you're still making art, right?" I noted that I was bummed to be first on the bill and that no one was going to see us, and to my surprise, just as we were about to begin, Jonah walked in, stood right in front of me, and rocked out during our entire set. I've since told him that that meant the world to me, and if I never played again in my music career, that'd be OK because one of my musical heroes 100 percent came and supported me.
I also remember that this was one of two shows with James Barbella on guitar for Pretty Polly! We flirted with having a second guitarist for a bit, and we only managed to have James on board for this gig, and a backyard birthday party show. (Whole other story.) He was in a very well regarded popular hardcore band called Soulsick. And so, it was the only show I remember other bands even being remotely nice to us. I think one of the main hardcore bookers (Christian McKnight?) helped him with my amp on stage! (But never once booked us before or after.) And the band INSIDE had finagled their way on the bill just before FAR. The singer (who I can't remember anymore, rightfully so) tried to shoo me away at the end of the night when I was tried to say goodbye to Jonah and the rest of FAR. (Naturally, no one saw it but me, but whatever dude. I'm still around. Where are you?!)
Man, being in a Long Island band in that era totally sucked and felt like high school all over again. Anyways, I digress!!!
Over the years, Jonah has continued making his own music. Sometimes in bands like New End Original, Gratitude, and most recently Camorra; other times as a solo artist or under the moniker of onelinedrawing. I recently read his autobiography Alone Rewinding: 23 Years Of Fatherhood & Music, and it was incredibly emotional for me to hear about the history behind all that music I'd listened to for the last two decades. I actually listened to his audiobook version on a long drive to see my family in Arizona, and would stop periodically to listen to the album he had just talked about. If I didn't have it, I'd buy it from his Bandcamp page and listen. It made the whole thing incredibly interactive and intimate.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of FAR's seminal album "Water & Solutions." And while the band itself couldn't find a way to get back together, which happens when people are in just different points in their personal lives, Jonah decided to celebrate anyways with a tour touted as "Jonah and Friends play Water & Solutions."
Let me cut to the chase, this show was exceptional. It wasn't totally packed but there was a healthy amount of people there. They played the whole album, but in a different order than it appears on the album, and Jonah told stories, sometimes reading straight from his book, before certain songs. I've heard these tunes a bunch with the band FAR. Having The Pauses play as his backup band & reinterpret them gave these songs a slightly different, unique and exciting energy. I mean, it was pretty rockin' to see a female bassist rocking' the F out to FAR songs. Slowly but surely, the group standing at the front of the stage started dancing around and screaming aloud. I captured a few video snippets. These days, I try my best to concentrate on the show itself rather than experiencing it through the screen of a cell phone, but I limit myself to two snippets a show during my favorite songs.
He told a funny story early on about when FAR opened for the band Monster Magnet, and how their audience hated them with a white hot ferocity. But... there were always a small group of weirdos dancing below the stage that "got it." And now, all these years later, these are all those weirdos gathered together. Strength in numbers, and a celebration of being weird. That was our audience.
About 10 years after their initial breakup, I had the opportunity to interview Jonah for my then-offshoot of Icons Of Fright.com, Icons Of Punk. (Sadly, it no longer exists, but you can read that epic chat right here on this very blog!) He totally remembered me from that Long Island show, and we later crossed paths again when I interviewed him for my upcoming documentary project ANALOG LOVE. We've kept in touch sporadically over those 20 years. After Sunday's set, I went to say hello at his merch table and he gave me a great, big gracious sweaty hug and told me how great it was to see my face in the audience. It's moments like this where no matter where you are in life, you believe in that magic of music bringing us together.
I held onto the glow from that show for a few days into the work week. Something that rarely ever happens to me these days.
Then this weekend, I got to do it all over again, in a different context. Jeremy Enigk, the singer/songwriter for the band Sunny Day Real Estate was embarking on a tour to celebrate his first solo album "Return of The Frog Queen," technically 22 years old now. It just got a fancy new re-issue, but he planned on performing this album in its entirety, with a full band, including some orchestrated instruments. And I couldn't be more thrilled!
I ended up going with my buddy, and talented director, Nick Simon. He just finished shooting a new movie, and the last time we'd gotten together to catch up and shoot the shit was at the last Jeremy Enigk solo show a year back! So it seemed only fitting.
I won't go into details of my sudden stomach problems prior to the show, or the LA Pride Parade that prevented us from finding dinner for a solid hour, or the poor choices I made in beer through out the evening. Ask me again if I see ya in person. You'll laugh at the punchline to the end of the night. Thankfully, Nick brought Tums! But the show itself...
I'd seen Jeremy perform with a full orchestra way back in 1996 when he first released this album, and it was, by far, one of the most intense periods in a performers career. I've since seen him several times over the years for other albums, and while always great, he's mellowed out a bit, and didn't freak out the F out during key points in songs, which I always found thrilling and awesome. For example, this show from Knitting Factory in NYC from 1996. Watch at the 3:27 mark!
I actually have a video that my friends and I shot from a much better angle of this very show on VHS. I'll have to dig that one out one of these days and digitize.
Anyways, this set came close to capturing that same spirit, and was truly special.
Here's a few snippets I got on my phone last night. (Again, I only allow myself 2 short clips per show.)
While not the same as actually being there and feeling the music and strings pulsing through your body, you can watch this video of his current live band performing the majority of their set below.
What is it about music from this time period of the 90's that still gets me right in the center of my heart?
Is it nostalgia? Is it just that this music was, in fact, more genuine than anything any current artist is capable of putting out into the world? Is it a reminder of a much simpler time in my life? (Which at the time, sure as hell felt complicated.)
While I understand the need to document every aspect of our lives, the one thing I do miss is the days when you didn't have a phone at a show. Granted, I'm guilty of this too. Checking my phone repeatedly before the set begins, trying to find a way to help the time pass. But last night, and at Jonah's show last week, there were several times where I just stood in place, closed my eyes, and let the music take me over as I sang along. Then when I'd open my eyes, I'd see several people around me filming the entire thing on their phones. Again, I get maybe capturing a few seconds of the night to relive later on, but the whole thing? What's the point of being there then? Watch it on You Tube later!
So, I don't know. Maybe my few snippets will inspire you to go and spend a little time with your favorite musicians. Live in the moment. Remember that this connection between artist and listener is a two way street and the energy you give them only fuels the energy they give back.
Jonah came out and played several songs as an encore, even after his bassist put her bass down on two occasions! Just felt right to do a few more. Jeremy played the entire "Frog Queen" album, and then came out and did an additional 5 songs for an encore! Much more than I'm used to, but this crowd was far more enthusiastic and vocal than the last time he came to town and played only acoustic tunes from his yet-to-be-release album Ghosts that none of us really knew.
Do yourself a favor. If you're not familiar, start with FAR's "Water and Solutions," and then explore all the incredible music Jonah has done since via his Bandcamp page. (I recommend AND.)
And for Jeremy, you can't go wrong with "Return Of The Frog Queen" (embedded below) and then find whatever you can via his Bandcamp page. You can also check out my extensive 2008 interview with him right here.
Take that journey back to the late 90's. We could use it more than ever in the present.