Heartbreaking Bravery

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Tag: photographs

Another Two Weeks Worth of Music Videos

Over the course of the past two weeks, an impressive slew of music videos have fought their way out into the world. While a very select few will be highlighted in the very near-future, it’d be inexcusable to dismiss the titles below without any recognition whatsoever. Provided that time wasn’t such a restrictive issue, each and every one of these would be receiving a feature write-up dedicated to analyzing what makes them great. Truly, each one of these clips is more than worth several viewings, so stop reading and start clicking. Who knows? This pool might just contain a few new favorites. Enjoy.

Charly BlissGirlpool, Hovvdy, Bad Moves, The Seams, PWR BTTM, Palehound, Aye Nako, Dude York, Wilding, Big Eyes, Alien Boy, Juliana Hatfield, B Boys, Big Thief, Monster Movie, Baked, Clipping., The New Year, Dead Leaf Echo, Craig Finn, Sparks, Wolf People, Sloan Peterson, The Calm Fiasco, Hoops, Pontiak, Toro Y Moi, Dream Wife, Slowdive, The Drums, Arc Flash, LT Wade, Shit Girlfriend, Nana Grizol, Plastic Flowers, R. Ring, Future Islands, Reptaliens, INVSN, Sharkmuffin, Marcus Norberg and the Disappointments, Lexie RothStolen Jars (x2)

Bridges and Powerlines, Beach Fossils, Blonde Summer, Communions, The Wild Reeds, Little Star, Circle, Emotional, Boyhood, Akinyemi, Winstons, Souvenir Driver (x2), Hand Habits, Boss Hog, Grace Sings Sludge, Leather Girls, Trementina, Mutts, Kamikaze Girls, Hermano Stereo, Sleep Party People, Explosions In The Sky, The Buttertones, Tall Tall Trees, No Kill, Skaters, Mise en Scene, Danny Brown, Rubblebucket, Bleached, C Duncan, Slow Turismo, Conor Oberst, ShitKid, Aldous Harding, Gorillaz, Small Black, A Tribe Called Quest, and Michael Kiwanuka.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 6

Potty Mouth

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

 

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 5

Johanna Warren I

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

2015: A Visual Retrospective, Vol. 1

Radioactivity

Throughout the course of 2015 I’ve been fortunate enough to attend upwards of 100 shows, festivals big and small, and spend approximately half a year living in a city that hosted a mind-boggling amount of quality shows on a nightly basis. To that end, it’s probably unsurprising that I wound up taking over 10,000 photos this year alone. Over the course of the next few days, this site will be running seven volumes of the shots that stood out as personal favorites, whether that was due to their composition, sentimental attachment, or an intangible emotional or intellectual response. It’s been an honor to be able to take even the smallest part in the ongoing sagas of the artists in the photographs below and an additional thanks is due to the venues that allowed me to shoot (as well as the people who encouraged me to keep shooting).

Enjoy the gallery.

Exploding In Sound’s Extended Weekend: Days 1 & 2 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Stove X

It’s not even close to a secret that this site has harbored an excessive amount of love for Exploding In Sound, a DIY label that focuses on forward-thinking acts that have roots that run deep in late 80’s and early 90’s alternative punk scenes. Over the years, they’ve amassed a deeply impressive roster of acts that consistently garner critical acclaim, effectively rendering the label one of today’s leading taste-makers in music that frequently aims for left-of-center and connects with conviction. If anyone’s earned an extended weekend celebration that serves a dual purpose as a showcase, it’s Exploding In Sound- and that’s exactly what they’ve just done.

Over five days in Brooklyn and Boston, the cities where the vast majority of the label’s acts are based, the label hosted five packed shows. While I wish I could have caught all of them, I only managed to take in the first two- both of which reaffirmed my adoration for the work the label- selflessly run by Dan Goldin- is doing. The run of shows started on June 20th at Baby’s All Right with a characteristically stacked lineup that included a variety of site favorites: Washer, Two Inch Astronaut, Grass Is Green, Pile, and Porches.

Every single band that took the stage at Baby’s laid their hearts on the line, playing with an unusual vigor that suggested they were doing all they could to make the label proud. That commitment wasn’t the only recurring thread either; nearly every single band played a new song or a song that hadn’t found official release (a trend that would continue to the next night’s showcase at Palisades). Washer got things started with a ferocious set that leaned heavily on new/unreleased material but still allowed “Joe“, one of 2015’s strongest highlight, to close their time out. Two Inch Astronaut followed in a similar manner, almost exclusively playing songs from their forthcoming record (which is being recorded right now) and locking into off-kilter grooves so tightly that their precision was nearly unsettling.

Grass Is Green re-emerged after a long dormant period, likely due to guitarist Devin McKnight’s commitment to two other acts affiliated with Exploding In Sound (Philadelphia Collins and Speedy Ortiz) and started slow but worked themselves into a fervor. After finding their strengths in the barbed dynamics and unrelenting guitar attack, the songs went from sounding placated to downright vicious and it was a thrilling transformation to watch unfold. It also set the stage for what was arguably the evening’s main draw: Pile. Last fall, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Pile in Chicago while they toured on the 7″ that wound up topping this site’s list for the format and, as a result, knew exactly what the band were capable of delivering. Or at least I thought I did, until Pile went ahead and exceeded those expectations.

Over the course of what felt like a headlining set, Pile managed to whip the previously gentle crowd into a mad frenzy, with several people in the front having to brace themselves by pushing back on the stage to create a supportive balance. As the band had before- and as it always does on record anyway- “Special Snowflakes” (an easy contender for song of the decade) sent chills running down my spine on more than a few occasions, as did You’re Better Than This highlight “Mr. Fish“. By the time the band was signaled offstage, the majority of the crowd was in a state of rapture. Porches. brought the first night to a graceful close in a hail of light effects, their signature brand of pop (light and sensual), and conviction. All of the songs they teased from their forthcoming record easily ranked among their best work and as they were packing up, the entire room seemed more than a little satisfied.

The second night, held at Palisades, felt a little truer to the label’s grimier sensibilities and a DIY ethos was on full display throughout the night. To kick things off, Exploding In Sound presented one of their better coups: Palm. After Palm’s revelatory set at DBTS a few months back, anything less than spectacular would have been a disappointment but the band seemed even more masterful this time around, immediately eliminating any doubts. A live band through and through, they navigated every hairpin shift with an uncanny togetherness that bordered the telepathic. Unsurprisingly, it was a crowd-pleasing start and things only got more intense going forward.

Stove, a band born out of the ashes of Ovlov, took the stage next. While the current iteration of Stove features Washer as their rhythm section, the sound (understandably) veers closer to where Ovlov left off. With Steve Hartlett in command once again, the quarter offered up enough riches to constitute a treasure, from the micropop of “Stupider” to the sprawling track contained in the video embed beneath this post’s photo gallery. With several plans for a release (or a handful of releases) in the works, the band played like it was fighting for its life, providing for more than a few moments of genuine exhilaration. Towards the end of the set, Hartlett also ceded the spotlight to Washer, who played one of their songs with the benefit of a dual-guitar attack surrounding them in bass/vocals/drums mode. The set wound up being one of the strongest highlights of either night and all but guaranteed Stove as a name that will be appearing with an alarming regularity in the near future.

Hot off of a US tour with Basement in support of an extraordinary 7″, LVL UP took to the stage with an unparalleled hunger and seemed extremely intent on proving their worth. Opening with the live debut of a monstrous behemoth of a new song (again, included in the video embed below the photo gallery) that segued straight into “Ski Vacation” left most of Palisades sold out audience breathless- and likely more than a little speechless. Keeping up a pace that was dangerously close to reckless provided a handful of reminders of why the quartet’s become one of this site’s most celebrated bands. Even putting aside the top ranking that Hoodwink’d earned last year, the band continues to occupy a very niche space in an already niche pocket that directly correlates with what this site was designed to support. All of their best qualities were brought to the forefront on the Palisades stage and by the time everyone’s clothes had grown a shade or two darker in the sweltering heat of the venue, LVL UP had managed the impossible and endeared themselves even further to an already adoring crowd.

After a set that felt genuinely huge despite a mid-bill placing, it would be tough for most acts to follow up with anything worth remembering- but most acts aren’t Big Ups (a band whose shirts were being proudly worn by a few members of the bands playing the show). Of the 10 bands that played the first two nights, this was the one I was most excited to see, having never previously caught a set in person despite praising their live show a number of times via Watch This. Animalistic in nature and deeply impassioned in the throes of execution, Big Ups’ live show is nothing short of incendiary. Pair it with an obscenely strong discography that includes Eighteen Hours of Static, one of 2014’s finest releases, and the band’s a veritable Molotov cocktail. Tension and release, whisper and explosion, the band balances volatile dichotomies with ease and constantly hits their mark. A magnetic live presence carries them to the pantheon of today’s greatest live acts with ease and their set was a perfect example of how much they’re able to coax out of decidedly minimal trappings. By the time the quartet was letting their final bursts of feedback draw back to silence, they’d comfortably delivered another powerhouse set that would put most other bands to shame.

With all four bands racketing up the evening’s consistency level, a lot of pressure can fall on a headlining act. Then again, Exploding In Sound’s resources are surprisingly vast and its talent pool runs extraordinarily deep. Those resources and that talent pool also include Krill, who have steadily amassed a cult following and are enjoying a period of heightened interest and universal acclaim following their excellent A Distant Fist Unclenching. The trio had been in excellent form on both occasions I was fortunate enough to catch one of their shows earlier on in the year but something about this particular set felt different. The band’s been slowly working on new material as some of the members move from Boston to NYC and they used the occasion to showcase some of what they’ve been shaping while making sure to make enough space for recent career highlights like “Torturer” (their opener), “Brain Problem“, and “Tiger” (their closer). At one point, for a brief run of song, bassist/vocalist Jonah Furman swapped out his bass for a guitar (one that was immediately put through a rigorous effects setup) to add a new depth and several more layers of dimension to the band’s already impressive dynamic approach. In all, the set played like a greatest hits victory lap, with the band playing in a manner that felt deeply impassioned and incredibly alive. A triumph from start to finish, the band went above and beyond exceedingly high expectations to guarantee everyone that their headliner placement was the correct call.

Ten great bands, two great venues, and one incredible label all came together over the course of two days to create and support something that felt inherently special, something bigger than any one of its individual parts. A sense of camaraderie was constantly present, musicians from other internationally acclaimed bands drove several hours to see some of these shows and all of the most uplifting, prevalent themes seem to have carried all the way through the five-day weekend. While I can’t definitively speak to the final three nights, the first two reinforced every aspect of what makes Exploding In Sound such an incredible cultural institution. On top of all that, these first two nights felt like so much more than a night out with good friends listening to great music; this was something that had historical value. As is always the case with any of Exploding In Sound’s projects, it was an honor and a privilege to watch it in motion.

View a photo gallery of the show here and a video containing performances from each of the bands that played at Palisades. Enjoy.

 

Swirlies – Live at The Silent Barn – 7/4/15 (Pictorial Review, Live Video)

Swiries VI

Fourth of July, traditionally, is an American holiday that’s characterized by pride and excess. A clear amount of both traits were visible in the lead-up to the celebration that was hosted by Silent Barn, an event hosted by adhoc and headlined by Swirlies. Over the past decade a feverish, cult-like dedication has been granted to Swirlies, whose impressive body of works deserved far more acclaim than it initially received.

Now, there’s a renewed interest in the exact type of music Swirlies excelled at- and possibly even perfected- when it was distilled into their career highlight, Blonder Tongue Audio Baton. Before they took the stage to a diverse, adoring audience, those in attendance were treated to two excellent opening sets. ADVAETA had the first slot and they wasted no time in setting the tone for the evening.

Kaleidoscopic guitar work, frenetic drumming, off-kilter composition, and an impressive pop sensibility permeated throughout the trio’s set and it was evident that they were pushing themselves to deliver at their absolute best. It was an impressive display of fireworks that seemed perfectly suited to the date. Krill followed up as the second opener and anyone that’s kept even an irregular eye on this space knows exactly how this site feels about Krill. To succinctly quote bassist/vocalist Jonah Furman: “Krill forever.

Swirlies took to the stage amidst a flurry of technical problems and eventually decided to forego the opening noises of Blonder Tongue Audio Baton, opting to imitate them vocally instead of attempting to sort out that particular issue. After that brief hiccup, the band was off, playing with a very palpable love for their songs, the album, and each other- a despairing rarity in today’s musical landscape.

If a note was flubbed, they’d smile and push forward. They invited fans to the stage to play the radio and a string of brief CB-style exchanges poured out of the PA, ranging from mundane to hysterical. Following a deeply impressive run through the record that climaxed with a beautiful rendition of the record’s closing track, “Wait Forever”, the band was successfully called back to the stage for an impassioned one-song encore.

Beaming, exhausted, and grateful, Swirlies made their final stage exit of the night, having just provided an explosive finale memorable enough to surpass just about any state, county or city’s airborne exhibitions. All the bald, middle-aged man standing next to me could do was stare out blankly and shake his head in awed silence. I had to agree.

A gallery of photos from the show can be found here and an embed containing performance captures of various songs in each band’s set can be found below. Enjoy.

1. ADVAETA – Come With Me
2. Krill – Brain Problem
3. Krill – Turd
4. Krill – Purity of Heart
5. Krill – Torturer
6. Swirlies – Bell
7. Swirlies – Jeremy Parker
8. Swirlies – Wait Forever

Meredith Graves – Took the Ghost to the Movies (Stream, Photos)

Meredith Graves XXII

One of the things I’ve been looking forward to about 2015 is the gradual unveiling of Meredith Graves‘ solo project. It’s something the tirelessly creative artist has had in the cards for more than a year. Now, after a near-torturous developmental stage marked by immovable deadlines and increasingly heightened expectations, the first look towards what that solo project might wind up sounding similar to has arrived. “Took the Ghost to the Movies” is Graves’ side of Kevin Devine’s  Devinyl split 7″ series. As an evolutionary step in Graves’ solo career, it’s full of intrigue. Bridging elements of her past projects- the damaged romanticim of the lo-fi folk outfit Mouse and the Love & Light Orkestra and the feral intensity of the wall-of-noise acolytes Shoppers, to create something that’s extremely representative of the trials Graves has faced throughout her personal life and her professional career.

I make that last claim with the benefit of knowing Meredith, who has consistently remained one of this site’s most avid supporters since the outset of the project, and her empathetic ideals. “Took the Ghost to the Movies”, more than anything else she’s done, has reminded me of specific moments that I’ve been fortunate enough to have with Graves. Whether it be letting an interview devolve into a Skype hangout session, letting our brains melt into nothingness on a small hammock in the middle of Pitchfork last year, the way she greeted me at NXNE when I showed up (relatively) unannounced in another country, NXNE’s tensest moment, staying up forever on Jes Skolnik’s couch waiting for food to be delivered, spending a summer lost in a cavalcade of exchanged calls and messages, or trading solo demos of new songs in an effort of encouragement to lessen the burden of the near-herculean task she was faced with while coming up with songs for her solo project.

All of those moments are present once again when I play through “Took the Ghost to the Movies” (something I’ve done more than 10 times at this point) but the one that sticks out most is the demo exchange. One of those demos stands out clearest. Having never heard any of Graves’ rawer material it was almost startling to hear a song coming from her stripped back to its barest essentials (nothing but acoustic guitar and vocals). The song itself was a serene ambient folk number with multitracked vocals that was devastating in its tranquility. It was a song I took with me; listening to it in secret through headphones on road trips or out in places where bodies of water met land and rock(s). Several storms were soundtracked by that small, humble recording throughout the summer and listening to it always felt like a warm embrace from a friend.

That song would become “Took the Ghost to the Movies”.

In its original stage, “Took the Ghost to the Movies” was entirely unexpected and inexplicably gorgeous. Over the past year, the song’s morphed into a sprawling beast of a song, finding its identity in a heavy shoegaze bent that was only hinted at in Shoppers. Opening with a gentle misdirect, “Took the Ghost to the Movies” suddenly unloads a series of brutal snare hits that sound like a slow-motion machine gun while a sprawling, dense, ambient guitar creates an atmosphere that’s both impossibly ominous and completely reassuring. In the SPIN feature where the track premiered, Graves brings up her appreciation for My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, and Nothing, and the dichotomies that earned each of those bands their vaunted reputations (and, in My Bloody Valentine’s case, legendary stature) are reflected to some degree in Graves’ first outing bearing only her name.

Graves has endured a vile resistance that’s still (infuriatingly) the common norm when a powerful non-male voice emerges and is willing to fight for things that matter (just look at any of BrooklynVegan’s comment threads on literally any post involving Perfect Pussy or Graves for further proof). With that fight and those experiences come burdens. Regret, self-doubt, sadness, anger, frustration, and a whole host of other inherently difficult barricades to happiness. Fortunately, Graves’ skin is thick and she’s been able to find contentment, happiness, and- more often than not- vindication. It’s something that Graves’ troubled past has prepared her for and it factors into why she resists the things she finds harmful. It’s also how she can create things that sound as formidable (and as damaged) as “Took the Ghost to the Movies”.

Returning to guitar for the first time since Shoppers seems to have reinvigorated Graves’ quieter aggression. In Perfect Pussy, she’s allowed to be uninhibited in her presentation of that aggression thanks to unrestricted motion and an emphasis on, well, emphasis. For “Took the Ghost to the Movies”, the reintroduction of guitar has allowed her to tap into something otherworldly that enhances the atmosphere rather than punctuating the reasons it exists. It’s a subtle change of pace but it suits the song incredibly well, even as the drums threaten to destroy everything (and, in turn, create a slow-burn tension that propels the song into stunning territories). While Graves’ vocals are still buried, so is some of the pain that they illustrate. Not everyone that’s faced the things Graves has faced has made it out to tell those stories; it’s only natural that some of it’s a little more hidden than expected.

Triumphant, defiant, and inescapable, “Took the Ghost to the Movies” is as boldly confident as anything Graves (always and forever this site’s patron saint) has done, and it provides no shortage of hope for the songwriter’s future endeavors. Uncompromising and defined by slivers of hope in the midst of a surprisingly bleak landscape, the song gives Kevin Devine a lot to compete with for his side of the split.

Pre-order Devinyl Splits No. 2 from Bad Timing here and listen to the final cut of “Took the Ghost to the Movies” below. Underneath the embed, revisit a collection of photographs of Graves that have previously run on this site in conjunction with this site’s coverage of Perfect Pussy. Enjoy (and don’t hesitate on that pre-order).

NXNE: Day 4 + 5 (Review, Photos)

Courtney Barnett XIV

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: Once again, apologies are necessary for the long drought of material. I have been organizing, writing, shooting, editing, and attending more events than usual. This has taken up a considerable amount of time but Heartbreaking Bravery hasn’t been forgotten. In fact, most of it has been for the site and will be posted about shortly. Full attention will return shortly and regular posting will resume along with it.]

NXNE is now more than a month in the past but it’s difficult not to keep returning to those shows. The last two days of that Toronto trip were made up of some of the most explosively visceral and gratifying shows anyone could possibly ask for. Two of those shows won’t be accounted for in this review as they weren’t official parts of the festival. Both shows will be given their own full reviews following everything here. Now that all of that’s out of the way, onto the shows themselves.

Day 4 of NXNE kicked off at Sonic Boom where noise/hardcore duo Creep Highway immediately set about providing as much sonic destruction as they possibly could. The duo, led by guitarist/vocalist Michael DeForge, played a fierce, ragged set that saw inflections of powerviolence weaving in and out of their songs. It was an arresting start and both DeForge and drummer Patrick Kyle looked exhausted, but happy, when the last bits of feedback were finally cut off. After happily enduring their onslaught, it was a mad dash over to The Great Hall for Perfect Pussy, looking to avoid another unfortunate situation.

Not two steps were taken into a crowded Great Hall before hearing Graves’ earnest “Hi, we’re Perfect Pussy” led the band straight into their usual chaos. Only this time, unlike the (admittedly mesmerizing) performance not even twelve hours prior, everything went off without a hitch. Their levels were mixed well, Graves’ confrontational pleading was audible, Greg Ambler’s bass- and bass amp- were both in tact, and the audience fed into the band’s energy with a strong display of their own. All of the usual highlights remained extraordinarily strong moments (“Interference Fits”, in particular- still as much of a contender for “song of the decade” as it’s ever been) and by the time Shaun Sutkus’ loops were turning into decays in the epilogue section of “Advance Upon the Real”, Graves was sitting onstage with her backpack, entranced by her bandmate, and looking deservedly pleased. All in all, it was over in about twenty minutes and wound up as another strong example of their live prowess.

After sticking around to hear a few enchanting songs from ANAIKA and leaving with Graves for a very revealing conversation about the previous nights events, it was off to the Ryerson University outdoor stage for an enchanting set from Frankie Cosmos. Graced with good weather and good sound, the young (and very prolific) singer-songwriter delivered each of her songs in high spirits to a small but appreciative crowd. Fan favorite “On the Lips” proved to be an easy high point; it’s as sweet and startling as it’s ever been. All of Cosmos’ bands played off her to near-perfection, each seeming like a natural extension of her songs themselves. By the end of the set, they were all miming their respective parts before falling down in a memorable bit of unassuming humor that wound up being the perfect capper to what was one of the festival’s most endearing performances.

When Frankie Cosmos’ set had come to a close, it was difficult to keep up (any serious festival attendee or reporter will attest to how exhausting the most extensive can be) so there was a dead-zone until Swearin’ took things over at Smiling Buddha. After dealing with some unfortunate mixing situations the previous night, it was a thrill that bordered on catharsis to enter a venue and hear the band in fine form, mixed to perfection. Once again, they offered up an incredibly balanced set that had clear highlights in particularly fiery renditions of “What A Dump”, “Dust in the Gold Sack”, and “Movie Star”. By the time their set had drawn to a close, they’d thrown down the perfect reminder of why they’ve earned so much critical adoration and fan loyalty. Swearin’ are one of the best bands out there- not an easy claim to make, but an impossible one to ignore after seeing a set like that one. A perfect way to end the official festival portion of Day 4.

Day 5 would be split between two venues and only one of them was an official NXNE showcase, which is why this is being included here instead of given separate billing. That showcase took place, once more, at Sonic Boom (and was graciously hosted by the inimitable Chart Attack– who had hosted the previous day as well). It began with a rousing set from one of Australia’s finest exports, Courtney Barnett. An early crowd had formed for the on-the-rise artist and Barnett delivered the way she always does; with warmth, grace, and an endless supply of smiles. No one in the band seemed able to contain their happiness or gratitude and were even smiling through their technical difficulties (which were expertly maneuvered into noise sections that fit the songs so perfectly that it almost felt like they should be integral parts of the band’s sound/records). It was a surprisingly ragged set (made even more ragged by Barnett’s virtue of refusing to use a pick) that sounded as blissed-out as the band looked, even in some fairly startling heaviness the band’s adopted into their palette. Everything about Barnett’s set pointed to one thing: her name isn’t one that will be disappearing anytime soon.

Local band Army Girls‘ bluesy post-punk leanings were next to be featured and the duo lived up to the promise of their recordings. It was one of their first appearances in a while and if there was any rust, it didn’t show. Between seriously impressive displays of fretwork and control from guitarist/vocalist Carmen Elle and drummer Andy Smith, Elle would offer up some biting banter before launching into the next song. Nearly everyone in Sonic Boom couldn’t seem to take their eyes off of them; even Courtney Barnett was dancing in between the aisles and shouting between-song encouragement. She wasn’t alone. Army Girls’ set had an even, practiced feel to it that warranted both attention and investment. If this band ever decides to make a serious run, it’ll be one to keep both eyes on. That their set was the last official NXNE showcase to be taken in felt appropriate; it was another perfect example of the independent spirit that the festival built itself on- and of the city that hosted it. Here’s to NXNE XX- and here’s to looking forward to the 21st installment.

The photo galleries of both days can be accessed below.

NXNE: Day 4 (Photo Gallery)
NXNE: Day 5 (Photo Gallery)

NXNE Day 3: Perfect Pussy (Review, Photos)

Perfect Pussy XLV

This was it; this was every single reason I came to NXNE. A band that means so much to me that I refuse to write about them from my usual distant vantage point headlining a bill stacked full of personal favorites. A finale where vocalist Meredith Graves, whom I love dearly and have called the patron saint of this site, shed her skin so completely that you could see her soul. A set that literally set an amp head on fire. A split crowd that was as violent as it was enchanted; both sides frozen to their spot, shouting out insults or silently praying for the well-being of Graves as she sank to the floor, adjusting the microphone with her. A bass that was split in half over the knee of Greg Ambler, broken out of frustration, regret, and helplessness.  A kiss on the cheek. A small but meaningful exchange several minutes before the chaos that Perfect Pussy has so capably controlled in the past finally reared its head and did its best to consume them; the unfailing resilience of three people desperate to fight back. A fierce performance that turned into an unforgettable event. A religious experience.

Nearly all of that happened in the band’s final ten minutes and that was nearly every participant’s takeaway. Accusations started rolling in almost as soon as the band was forcefully escorted off of the stage by the same staff that refused to help them when their bass amp finally gave out. “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band”, “the singer can’t handle pressure”, “that fucking sucked”, “this is exactly what happened at the bridge a few months ago at SXSW”. Wrong, wrong, and wrong. Wrong again. I’ll get to all of that in a moment but not before I get to what nearly everyone writing about this has seemingly forgotten: prior to that point, while still struggling with some sound issues (most notably bass and vocal levels), Perfect Pussy was careening headlong into their set and had whipped an audience- that had previously been almost uniformly gentle- into an outright frenzy. Bruises, cuts, and blows were given and earned at roughly the same rate. No one had any intention of stopping as the band, as they do at their best, ceased resembling a band and instead became more reminiscent of a white-hot wrecking ball. All of the songs came at a blink-and-it’s-gone clip, one after another: “Driver”, “Bells”, “Work”, “Big Stars”, each song inciting a new aggressive push in the audience- and in the band.

Then, everything was broken wide open; smoke started emanating from the bass head as the circuitry caught fire, a visibly shaken Graves looked out into a spot of nothingness and repeated “I don’t know how to ask for help”. A guitar that was re-purposed as a bass was split over a knee and handed off to a hungry audience (the instrument was no big loss- Ambler hadn’t expected it to last the weekend). Then, a few moments of confusion passed, looks were exchanged, and without warning Graves, drummer Garrett Koloski, and noise extraordinaire Shaun Sutkus all started to sink their teeth in as Ambler and guitarist Ray McAndrew exited the stage. What, just moments ago, had been an explosive set was now taking on new life as performance art.

It didn’t take long for the jeering to begin: every variation of “you suck” and “get off the stage” were directed at the surviving trio. Most damningly, though, was the repeated chant of “fuck off and go die”. Initially, after hearing Graves’ exhaustion in a short exchange before their set, I was filled with concern for my friend as I watched her tremble, on the verge of tears, before her exaggerated breathing fell in line with the rhythmic propulsion provided by Koloski and Sutkus. As Graves seemed to pull herself further inward, she began to fall into a quiet desperation and began repeating the mantra of “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” (this same mantra is buried within the recesses of “VII”, the outstanding album-closer from Say Yes to Love). As this was happening, I stopped taking pictures. I considered jumping the edge of the stage to embrace my friend (a few of the people attending this with me urged me to do the same); someone who I was convinced was on the verge of a complete breakdown. My feet were cemented to the spot, I’m not sure I could have moved if I had tried.

Then, it clicked. I saw something in Graves’ eyes- a certain determination that is unique to her. It’s that same determination that’s helped make her one of the most compelling performers of this generation (a claim I don’t make lightly and one I’ve firmly believed since well before our first few talks). After receiving that small reassurance, I pulled my camera back out and began documenting- still concerned but no longer overcome with fear and anxiety. Once again, I found myself surrounded by a pool of silenced onlookers and unfiltered vitriol; the critical-commercial contrast of Perfect Pussy come to complete and total fruition. That contrast is one of the things that drove me to the band in the first place, two extremes so vocally present in two separate mediums: the content of the article vs. the comments section. Only that night, the two audiences that stood in contrast to each other weren’t critics and readers; it was the actual audience vs. the band itself. And all of the sudden, that mantra “jealousy, anger, hate, regret, fear” took on a new, layered meaning.

The five qualities contained in that mantra are the five you’re supposed to live without. It’s a philosophy that Graves has embraced- only on the night of June 20, 2014, she got hung up on one: regret. Graves would eventually break the mantra to repeat “regret’ over and over, taking as few breaths as possible. I would find out later, as she repeated the word each time, she was crawling back into her past and doing her best to address and forgive all of the regrets that she was still clinging to. Reality began to flirt with art once more and a newfound sadness crept into Graves’ repetitions. As each breath became shorter, each new face inflected with more pain, and each word grew more impassioned, the microphone was drawn closer to the floor. A few minutes into this brutally rigorous self-examination, the moment took hold of Graves and the weight of it drove her incrementally down until, finally, she was kneeling on the stage, flush, short of breath, a few tears escaping, and doing her best to manage her demons.

In those moments, everything around me felt quiet, even though the chants continued. Graves didn’t have that luxury; she instead chose to fixate on that harrowing “fuck off and go die” chant coming from at least one person. “Fuck off and go die”. “Fuck off and go die”. “FUCK OFF AND GO DIE.” Each new iteration was what Graves chose to take from the audience in front of her- and she obliged it. Graves would steal me away for a beer and talk about this at length the next day, which is a conversation where I’d learn new lengths of her empathy and understanding: “Fuck off and go die?” “Okay, if you want to see me die, I’ll destroy myself in front of you. Maybe then you’ll finally find some happiness.” This, in a nutshell, is one of the strongest reasons for my celebrations of Perfect Pussy. That dedication to compassion for all sides, a trait exhibited most strongly by Graves and adamantly reinforced by the best of the band. There’s an earnest quality to Perfect Pussy that stands in direct opposition to the apathy so prevalent in music earning acclaim today. This performance, more than any other offering the band has given, cemented their conviction.

Graves would later go on to say that during her reactionary exchange with the bold heckling, she couldn’t stop thinking of Serbian performance artist Marina Abramović- her piece “Rhythm 0” in particular- and it’s hard to blame her. The parallels that she’s had to endure are eerily similar; it’s never easy to be subjected to a public trial when more than half of the audience seems intent on doing their best to make you aware that they can end you. I’ve been back to Perfect Pussy’s performance in my head time and time again, each time with a little more contextual information. Nothing can ever fully duplicate what it was like watching everything unfold but each revisit’s provided at least one more new answer or one more stray thought. My certainty about some aspects increases while my curiosity about the rest of it grows exponentially.

At least those accusations that were quoted above can all be dealt with simply: “The bassist is abusive to the rest of the band?” No, Ambler’s “hissy fit” wasn’t pure impulsion; everyone in the band had done all they could to warrant attention to some potentially venue-threatening problems, he did what was quite literally one of the only things that they could have done to finally get it. “The singer can’t handle pressure?” No. That’s what most of this piece has been about; it’s also worth noting that I shared a few words with a guitarist from The Kickback, who had come for Spoon but secured a spot for Perfect Pussy, who may have put it most adeptly: “I loved it. It was in your face and you just had to deal with it. They made you deal with it. It was what punk’s supposed to be.” Ambler’s bass-breaking was certainly a far cry from his flinging a previous bass off a bridge in Austin during SXSW– while it’s true both instances were motivated in part by frustration and both took place at music festivals, that’s literally their only connecting threads. “That fucking sucked?” I know I can’t definitively state whether something’s good or bad- but I will do my best to argue that particular assumption every time I come across it.

One part that keeps haunting me, no matter how many angles I approach it from, is how the set ended. It didn’t end on the artist’s terms and felt like a total violation of artistry in general. It was the pinnacle of an evening that was full of behind-the-scenes hostility. Whether it came from ill-mannered heckling, whether it came from a beer being literally grabbed out of one of the previous performer’s hands backstage by the crew that was on hand for the evening, by the (likely unintentionally) overbearing nature of the marketing campaign to let just about anyone know that Spoon was the “secret” headliner well before doors, and the ever-present corporatization of a lineup full of artists that do their best to champion independent ideals. Then, in a final egregious public manifestation, that hostility took on its most present form by way of NXNE security marching onstage to remove the three remaining members of Perfect Pussy by force.

First they came to Sutkus, who looked at them with some disbelief, heard something and shook his head “no” before wordlessly exiting the stage; Koloski followed roughly the same routine while throwing his hands up in mild disgust. I’d find out later that they were both asked to escort the now crumpled-on-the-floor Graves from her position at the microphone. They came for her last, as she was still shouting “regret”, visibly shaken and deep inside her own thoughts: “Regret!” “Regret!” “Re-GRET!” “REGRET!” ringing out more clearly than ever, now with no synthesizers to back it- only some light, propulsive drumming. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, more furiously than ever. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGRET!” Now, on its own, with only jeers and stunned, apprehensive silence serving as the backdrop. “REGRET!” “REGRET!” “REGR-“. A hand on the shoulder, a look up, a sad acceptance. A snapped trance. A return to real life with a new lease. A stunned audience.

And then, as Graves was being forcibly helped off the stage by the same staff that refused to help her when she needed it, she flashed a bleary smile, in one final and defiant act of heartbreaking bravery.

All I could do was applaud.

An extensive photo gallery of this set can be accessed here.

NXNE Day 5: Courtney Barnett, Army Girls (Photo Gallery)

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A note: All night tonight Heartbreaking Bravery will be running photo galleries from the recent Toronto trip. All of these galleries will have full reviews to accompany them in the near future. The preceding galleries all came with additional notes out of necessity but this will be the short reminder that runs with the remainder. Enjoy the photographs below and keep an eye out for the upcoming reviews.