The best day of my life occurred on Friday the 13th.
That was the day I saw my favorite band, The Front Bottoms, in concert.
The Front Bottoms have never been just a band to me. Amongst other things, the band is a time capsule, each song bookmarking a certain chapter of my life. For me, their music encapsulates the worst year of my life: the year that the girl who made me realize that I was a lesbian left me after two years together, the year my grandmother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, the year that we had to bury her. It was also the year I fell into the most severe depression I’d ever experienced.
When I listen to their song “Maps,” I am transported back to a tiny bedroom with bright blue walls in my grandparents’ townhome, playing that song on guitar while my mother tended to her mother in the next room.
“There is a map in my room, on the wall of my room, and I’ve got big, big plans,” I would sing, not even knowing my plans for the next day, let alone the future. Yet I held on, waiting for the day when I would truly believe the words I was singing, when I would be able to make big, big plans instead of being preoccupied with the present.
When I listen to “Lipstick Covered Magnet,” I remember nights spent huddled in the darkness of my bedroom, feeling nothing where my chest and stomach should be.
“I’m scared I’m gonna die as lonely as I feel right now,” I would repeat over and over, feeling abandoned and betrayed by the friends I thought I had. A depressing mantra, perhaps, but one that brought me comfort. It let me know, in the words of the band, that everything I felt was common, even though I had never felt so alone. People might leave, but music was always there for me.
Listening to “Twin Size Mattress” brings back similar memories, but where “Magnet” was an anthem of sympathy, “Twin Size” was one of salvation.
When I saw the song performed live, the lead singer screamed my favorite lyric with desperation, as if he knew that it was a pivotal moment for me.
“I will help you swim, I’m gonna help you swim!”
I started to cry, but not with the same tears I had cried alone in my room all those times before. For the first time in a long time, I was happy just to be alive.
The Front Bottoms have never been just a band to me. In that moment, they were the future itself, the future that had always been distant and unimaginable but had finally manifested. They were a time capsule, a three-minute therapy session, a life saver. Because of them, I know now that I am not going to die as lonely as I felt when I was 16. Because of them, I have big, big plans. I am no longer the painfully awkward freshman who was afraid to even hold hands with my girlfriend in public, who would spend brunches and lunches crying under a secluded tree at the back of campus because upon coming out, all of my friends had left me. Now, I am fully engaged in my passions– I’m an editor on the school paper, I have a lead in the upcoming school play, and I’m president of the Gay Straight Alliance, where I mentor kids who are the very image of who I used to be. I know now that I want to be a writer, to give a voice to those who do not have one, to show that words can change lives, just as they changed mine.
Because of them, I am afloat.
*Image credits to Shea Stadium, Youtube, The Key, and Monkeygoose Magazine
Before this show, I hadn’t been to a proper concert (a.k.a. one not in my friends’ garage) in a long time– a long time being like, 2 months. But for someone who thrives off the experience of live music enough to run a blog about it, that’s a long time.
Ever since I committed to Hofstra University, which is located in the NYC metropolitan area, I had been excited to explore the local music scene. As an LA native, I have no shortage of great local music, but just like almost every aspect of life, the NYC music scene is vastly different from the scene at home.
I was so excited, in fact, that over summer, I bought tickets to three concerts in the area. While that might seem excessive, indie concerts are thankfully much less expensive than say, Beyonce concerts. And since all three are local artists, the most expensive ticket of the three that I bought was $26.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, I wasn’t able to attend the first show for which I bought tickets. It wasn’t any great loss– the bands were some that I’m only marginally interested in. The second show, however, was this Friday, and it absolutely lived up to (almost) all of my expectations.
As you have probably been able to ascertain from the title of this post, the show consisted of the bands Lisa Prank, Vundabar, and PWR BTTM. I got into PWR BTTM this summer, and quickly fell in love with their small but excellently crafted repertoire of punchy pop-punk tunes with a queer overtone (I mean, the name is short for “power bottom“). I had long been fascinated by videos of their glitter-infested live performances, as well as their captivating social media presences, so naturally when they announced that they were playing Brooklyn in a tiny venue with a 200 person capacity called Shea Stadium, I bought tickets immediately.
Due to popular demand, the venue later changed to the Market Hotel, a slightly larger venue. Two weeks ago, though, Market Hotel was shut down by the NYPD for operating without a liquor license, though this was very much a technicality. This is not the first time the venue, one of the few all-ages DIY venues in the city, has been shut down, and hopefully it will rebound just as it did before. That aside, this show, and all upcoming shows previously scheduled to be held at Market Hotel, were moved to Villain, a venue which my friend described as looking like a “sketchy-ass warehouse.”
On the day of the show, I covered my face and my friend’s face in vibrant eyeshadow and glitter, and we embarked on the journey to the venue. We disembarked from the L train in Williamsburg, a decidedly not sketchy area. In fact, Williamsburg is so not sketchy that on the way to the venue, we passed by the biggest and most bougie Whole Foods I have ever seen in my life. It had multiple stories and sold lobster tails on a stick, but most bougie of all was the fact that there were ACTUAL PAPER TOILET SEAT COVERS.
Anyway, the space itself did indeed appear to be a “sketchy-ass warehouse,” rather far from the center hub of the neighborhood. But then I spotted some chalk art on the wall of the venue advertising a Thrillist oyster sampling event. It was almost as if we had never left that glorious, shining Whole Foods, or rather, that the Whole Foods ethos permeated all of Williamsburg.
The space consisted of a stage set up in a large central room, with plenty of exposed brick and mood lighting. My friend and I took our place among the crowd, and before we knew it the MC, Patti Harrison, was on. She came onto the stage wearing a box on her head that read “I’M CIS,” shorthand for “cisgender.” She riffed hilariously for a few minutes, covering topics from how glad she was that the audience was all cisgender, heterosexual people, to killing the bands. (In actuality, she is a trans woman of color, the audience was most likely almost entirely LGBT, and the bands were very much alive.) Then, she took off the box, remarking upon how different the “acoustics” were, and introduced the first opener, Lisa Prank.
She played power chords on a pastel mint green electric guitar as a backing track played in the background. All the songs were originals except for her adorable cover of Blink-182’s “Dammit,” complete with a chiptune-esque rendition of that iconic guitar riff. That cover was fairly emblematic of Prank’s aesthetic and sound; super cutesy and soaked in ’90s nostalgia, just like her namesake.
Next up was Vundabar, who came onstage and started performing immediately with no fanfare. With just a three-piece band, they somehow managed to craft incredible songs that shifted from calming riffs to walls of sound. The guitarist and lead vocalist switched between the two with almost disconcerting ease, though there was a certain flamboyance (or maybe just weirdness) that slipped through in certain aspects of their performance. They’re definitely one of my new favorite bands.
Then finally PWR BTTM came on, in all their glitter-covered, thrift store dress glory. Despite being a garage punk band, their performance was so antithetical to every punk show I’ve been to. The environment, just like the physical venue, was so warm and intimate, and though people were dancing, there was no moshing (to my slight disappointment). And of course, there was the duo themselves. The glitter and the thrift store dresses, though somewhat reminiscent of the ’90s riot grrrl scene, is completely out of place in the typical punk scene. Between songs, the duo have a constant, campy rapport (including jokes about member Liv Bruce and their supposed sexual relationship with other member Ben Hopkins’ father). Though at this show, interspersed with the moments of camp, there were also moments of authentic emotion. As the band currently resides in Brooklyn and considers NYC to be their hometown, the amount of people at the show meant a lot, considering that PWR BTTM, in Hopkins’ words, began as a joke. One of my favorite moments was when, upon playing their new single “Projection,” people sang along, and mid-verse, Hopkins said “what the fuck?” in sheer awe that a song they had released just a few months ago had been memorized by so many.
PWR BTTM are more than just a band; as they said themselves, there is an intentional community around them that is slowly changing the face of the alternative scene. In a genre that has typically been dominated by hypermasculine, cisgender, heterosexual men PWR BTTM and their camp and glitter and dresses are revolutionary. They are showing that you can be gay and gender-nonconforming and make amazing rock music, that your tastes as a feminine gay person are not limited to pop divas (though I love them too, don’t get me wrong). They are showing that it is possible to have a DIY scene that is characterized by love and community, not violence and toxic masculinity.
Though after the show it took me 3 hours to get back to my dorm, it was almost 100% worth it, and though it wasn’t quite the rough-and-tumble experience I was expecting of a punk show, I am left not with bruises but with warm feelings every time I think back to the intimacy of the show.
For as long as I can remember, music has been a central part of my life.
I distinctly remember walking around the playground with a clipboard in 5th grade, attempting to prove, through a poll of my classmates, that the Beatles were better than the Jonas Brothers. (I succeeded.) I find this funny now, not just because of the sheer novelty of being a 10-year-old caring that much about the Beatles, or the novelty of a 10-year-old conducting a poll on the playground to prove a point, but because as an adult, I now have a newfound, only semi-ironic appreciation for the Jonas Brothers. I stand by my opinion that “Lovebug” is one of the best love songs of all time. Ten-year-old me would scream.
Since my stint as a 40-year-old classic rock fan stuck in a prepubescent’s body, my music taste has only expanded, to acts both highbrow and “lowbrow.” I still love the Beatles, but I have just as much of an appreciation for Lady Gaga and her contributions to pop music and culture. I hesitate to even use the term “lowbrow” when referring to pop music and pop culture. I firmly believe that some (not all) pop music has genuine artistic value, just as some (not all) music of more “serious” genres has genuine artistic value. My appreciation for Lady Gaga, as with other pop idols and with bands such as My Chemical Romance, is one that is deeply earnest and unironic. That’s not to say, however, that I don’t enjoy the occasional meaningless, repetitive song i.e. One Direction, Katy Perry, Mac Demarco etc.
I’ve also grown to appreciate music not just as an aural experience, but as a performative experience. I think that’s where a lot of my appreciation of Lady Gaga comes from– she captures the performativity 0f pop culture and pop music, and parodies it in her music, her aesthetic, her live shows.
Beyond that, I firmly believe in the power of live music. I believe that every live performance reveals a small piece of the person performing, whether that be in a garage filled with a dozen people, or in Madison Square Garden. Performing music, especially music you’ve written yourself, is an inherently emotional experience. At every concert I’ve been to, I’ve experienced some kind of catharsis, and it is magical. The concerts in huge arenas filled with thousands is a great experience, but the best experiences I’ve had at shows were the ones in the venues that hold a few hundred people or less, where you’re packed like sardines in a bar or basement or club, standing just a few feet away from the act onstage.
One of the things I was most excited about with my move from Los Angeles to New York was exploring an entirely new, different music scene. I’ve made it my goal to find a venue that I love as much as I love the Echoplex back at home. It’s literally underground, a 700 capacity standing-room-only kind of place with a disco ball dangling above the floor. Sometimes it hosts Emo Nite LA, a monthly-ish event where people dance drunkenly to emo songs from the 2000s. The venue and the experiences I’ve had there are so important to me that I wrote my personal statement about a concert I attended there– and here I am at Hofstra today.
So obviously, there is some merit to the idea that live music has meaning. I firmly believe that these experiences, regardless of who’s performing or where they’re performing, deserve to be documented, and that is what I intend to do through this blog.