Have you ever been to a truly amazing concert and afterwards had trouble telling people why it was so amazing? The specific details fall away leaving only your adrenaline and your emotions. That’s why everyone wants pictures, to remember what happened. Most of the concerts I’ve ever been to have been fun—really, I can’t complain about any of them. I just have never danced as hard as I did on May 7th.
On that Saturday night, my energy was high. My cells vibrated as my boyfriend and I showed up at the Wonder Bar. We knew two bands were going to stand in the way of the ones we really wanted to see and we were not looking forward to the wait, only to the reward. The doors opened half an hour after they were supposed to, letting us into the dimly lit and surprisingly small venue. A stage was situated in the corner, amps galore and two sets of drums waiting for the musicians. It hardly looked as if there were room for more than three people on that stage. Matt and I crowded the front, steadfast in our resolve to be on the frontlines when the Dollyrots and Bowling For Soup came on.
The stage lights started to work, three guys ran onto stage, and the most fantastic thing happened. They didn’t suck. They were actually kind of amazing. That’s when the dancing started. I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t remember the last time I could really feel the music this way. It was tangible. Maybe that’s because I was so close to the speakers that I could feel the sound, but it didn’t matter. I was lost in the moment of loving the sound and movement.
The first band was called Almost There. I’ll be honest; they had a very familiar sound. I almost thought that I’d heard their music at a Theater in Milwaukee. Familiar isn’t bad, though. Familiar to me spells home, comfort, and safety. It is a sound to which I will always return because it’s solid and will always be there for me. The three piece group consisted of Eddie Soles on guitar and vocals, Philip Serzan on drums, and Zachary Sicherman on bass and vocals. They didn’t believe in set lists but did believe in providing energy. Though the crowd was thin, they behaved as if it were a full stadium. I like a band with personality. Soles’ voice was rich and confident with no screaming or whining to be found and the lyrics were inventive and catchy. I used Serzan’s drums as a guide, a map to follow the song. Sicherman’s bass was what I felt the most. Vibrations rocked through me, making marks on my bones, a way to say they had been there. They take the best from bands like Taking Back Sunday, The Academy is…, and Blink 182. They have a three song EP called Silver Lake which is very well produced, clean, and polished. It just lacks the same enthusiasm as their live performance.
When the lights lost their dreamlike quality and Almost There was finished, the crowd had thickened but not by much. Patent Pending replaced them. This band was on the tour with The Dollyrots and Bowling For Soup. After being pleasantly surprised by the first band, our hopes were high.
After some waiting, several guys started moving around on stage, setting up, bringing a large screen picture to display. The lead singer took the time to introduce himself to everyone close to the front of the stage. Joe Pending created a rapport with his audience that made it really easy for us to enjoy the performance. If Almost There took long strides with their notes, feeling like a sprint through the woods, then Patent Pending was like jumping on a trampoline, always reaching up with an element of joy that was unmistakable. They were a different sound, but carried the same emotion. It was another new band that drove me to dance with abandon. Joe Pending announced a birthday, called audience members on stage for ridiculous stunts, and danced like the Backstreet Boys (which, according to someone who knows better than I, isn’t as much of an accomplishment as I thought). They were big on crowd participation, calling up an adorable and tiny red head just to throw her back into the crowd, forcing her to trust that the wave of hands would carry her home. She looked terrified, but it’s hard to say no to Joe Pending’s level of charisma. He had an ability to make you want things, to make you need them. He also held a jumping jack contest on stage, whoever made it to the end would win swag. It was impressive to see two guys jump it out. While the music was fun, energetic, and definitely dance-worthy, that wasn’t what made me dance. With Almost There, it was about being moved by the melodies. Patent Pending was about being moved by their energies. If you’re interested in getting to know these friendly and happy-go-lucky types, check out their EP I Am Not Alone.
As quickly as they arrived, the stage was dismantled to make way for someone new, The Dollyrots. By then, I was tense with excitement. I adore The Dollyrots and that’s no secret. Kelly has one of the most amazing voices I’ve ever heard. I fell for them through a Kohl’s commercial—I’ll admit it. They played all of their singles, their best songs, new songs, and covers. Kelly’s voice is lilting and charming, capturing her listeners. Luis plays right alongside her, losing himself in his own work. He plays so hard, I wasn’t sure he knew where he was after a while. Meanwhile, Chris is content behind the drums leading the charge. Adoration made my feet move and my body sway. My love for this band drove the music home and made it come to life in my blood. I felt charged, powerful, and able to stand against anyone. I’ve heard them hundreds of times through my headphones, my car stereo, singing in the shower, but it was nothing like being right in front of them. None of that compared to standing right there and watching as they shook the foundations of my head and heart and wormed their way through the cracks. Their latest album is called A Little Messed Up. Here is where the test of recorded versus live comes in. Recorded, they sound polished and clean; it’s easy to hear everything. Live, they are raw, louder, and harder to hear, but bold, bright, and shining. Does the visual element make it somehow more enjoyable? Before this could be answered, they were gone. We were left to wait for the main attraction.
The audience boiled over with anticipation, all of us packed tighter than ever before, pushing towards the stage. Then, some of the funniest men in music came out onto the tiny stage. When Bowling for Soup appeared, it was as if someone had thrown a match onto gasoline, we lit up with excitement, buzzing and vibrating, unable to wait anymore. I had seen them once before, but that didn’t prepare me for this show. They played their classics, 1985, Girl All the Bad Guys Want, Phines and Ferb’s Theme, and so much more, including their hits from their latest album Fishin’ for Woo’s. It felt as in everything in my life was leading up to this moment. I danced my way through every song, through the jubilation of sound that came at me from all directions. Their recordings could never match up to the way they made me feel live and in person. Their music always made me feel happy, no matter what was bothering me, now I see it’s because the musicians themselves are vessels for joy and happiness. They punctuate their set list with funny quips and stories, making fun of each other the way friends should. It’s their reality and their humanity that made them such a joy to watch and listen to. I couldn’t have been any happier than I was at this show. This show outranked all other shows I have ever been to. While humor is their bread and butter, they also manage to wrest honest emotion from us. Turbulence is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. While they weren’t afraid to inject the show with a slow moment, they picked it right back up and ended with a dance party.
When I ask my friends what they think about recorded music and what they think about live music, it’s hard to keep them separated. I’ve heard recorded music is more reliable, recordings of live shows are mixed improperly and fail to get the energy across, live shows are hit or miss, etc. While the recording is more reliable (it will stay the same, only you will change), the live show has potential to be a powerful experience. I suppose it’s the courage that cinches it for me. These musicians are brave and vulnerable; they are the emotions that we need to feel more than anything. This concert experience has made me sit and really think about the way I feel when I listen to music and how those feelings change based on my atmosphere and environment. Now I try and dance, no matter where I am or how I’m listening. Now I open my heart and feel.
Music has always been an expression that I could never really understand. I knew how I felt when I listened to a song or to a whole album, but I could never put my finger on how it was done. I’ve watched people create music in hundreds of locations, their bedrooms, garages, on stage, in an alleyway, on a train, and on busy corners in the middle of the night. I’m much better at dissecting a sentence and telling you why it works than I am at explaining why one chord is better than another; that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it all the same. Music became present when I was thirteen, that’s when music started to matter. It defined who my friends were, who I was, and what we were meant to do. It became a conduit for how I lived life and how I communicated love. Music helped me find love. Since this concert, I’m starting to wonder what else music can help me find. What can music help me lose? The night of this concert, I lost my inhibitions and found self confidence. I can’t think of another situation that would have allowed me to be that open.
Earlier, Matt Storm posed the question “Do you speak music?” In some ways, this is my response. Perhaps I don’t speak music, but I sure as hell am trying to learn.