As the old adage goes, art imitates life. Music is no exception. It often reflects the politics of the era in which it is made, or the politics and personal experiences of those who make the music. Nearly everyone is familiar with the national anthem, The Star Spangled Banner. So moved was Francis Scott Key by the sight of the American flag flying triumphantly over Fort Covington that he was inspired to write a poem that instills that same sense of patriotism centuries later. Of course though, some of the most controversial music is based not on authority, but on dissent. From folk to punk to hip hop to country, dissent is a theme that runs deep through musical genres. Sometimes, we don’t even realize it. “This Land Is Your Land,” a popular song even today especially in primary education, was written by folk artist Woody Guthrie, who associated with multiple communist groups and frequently performed with a guitar that had the phrase “This machine kills fascists” painted on it. However, other artists make sure their political messages are heard loud and clear. Take, for example, the Dead Kennedys, a punk band. One of their most famous songs is titled “Nazi Punks F— Off,” a scathing condemnation of racism and white supremacy in the punk scene. Even pop music can contain revolutionary messages, such as Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way,” which arguably paved at least some of the way for increased cultural acceptance of the LGBT community in the 2010s. With today’s tense political climate, there has already been an abundance of great music that has arisen, such as “FDT” or “F Donald Trump” by YG. And that song was written before Donald Trump was even elected. It can be argued that Donald Trump is one of the most divisive president-elects this nation has ever seen. One needs only to check Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or any other social media site to see anti-Trump tweet compilations, or articles about the faultiness of Trump’s policies, or footage of protestors blocking off major city streets. Given the backlash that has taken place before he has ever even entered office, it is reasonable to assume that musicians will certainly have much to convey over the next four years, especially given that many musicians align themselves with more left of center politics. Regardless of your political views, it is undeniable that the Trump era is bound to produce some interesting artistic expressions.
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.