Welcome to Because You Missed It, where we at Never Nervous fill you in on the things you might have missed, and more importantly, why it was worth seeing to begin with. Over the last several years, I’ve debated the value intrinsic to live performance: what is the audience supposed to take away? When I was young, there was a sense of urgency and importance to every show, like I was somehow Uatu travelling to an important location to monitor and record a momentous event. Soon thereafter, I became a performed myself, so the energy I felt was relative to the pride I felt for the art that I’d made.
The older I get, the more I question this value as anything other than masturbatory. Are shows what the performer does to achieve a sense of validation? Are they just a commercial to promote a physical release? If so, is this trend archaic, outdated like the record industry has become? Grandpa Syd’s ideal show would involve some kind of seating, preferably with a cup holder so I can put my Stout (Hefeweissen in the summer though), where the music played between bands is kept at a conversational volume, and where the bands work extra hard to engage the audience. Since I was weaned on punk rock and not Frank Sinatra, I don’t get what I want very often, and instead I stand around for hours at a time, and have to shout at people between songs so that I can communicate. As all things at Never Nervous, we would seek to not just document an event for some kind of historical posterity, but to address why it’s worth remembering in the first place.
This last Saturday, I was fortunate enough that the perfect storm of band’s happened, one that both my wife and I like and that doesn’t start after midnight, when Shannon Wright and Young Widows took the stage at Zanzabar. I was super stoked to take my wife out on a date, so I had a predisposition to enjoy myself from the start. But there was something in the air that night, and I don’t think it was Phil Collins hiding out on a dock and watching a murderer or anything, but I could be wrong. I don’t hang out with Phil Collins (or Philly C as I call him) all that often. I guess you could say that I was prejudiced to like this show from the start, but I can try to remain objective.
Young Widows took the stage, and didn’t start too late. This to me is a fantastic sign, that ostensibly a band is not so into themselves that they feel obliged to wait until the perfect crowd to play, while the rest of the crowd waits in abject boredom (or not boredom, since, you know, we were in a bar, drinking and talking to friends). There set up hasn’t changed in years, but for some reason the sheer enormity of their amps adds a monolithic feel to their stage presence, backed in no small part from their sonic aesthetic, which has evolved from a comparably straight forward Jesus Lizard punk, to a Swans-inspired, melodic thud of their later material. Young Widows look as big as they sound, and that is a plus.
Their set was energetic, as energetic at least as a show meant for 30-somethings who are more apt to stand crossed armed than to react to what is heard in any way. Still, they brought a much needed momentum to the evening, making it seem impossible that the talented Shannon Wright could compete with such a vigorous introduction. From a performer’s standpoint, their set was composed of material that was about 1/3 new material, and 2/3 a cross section of their various career highlights. Missed is the rage inducing screed “Formerer,”my favorite of their older material, but they still managed to at least play “New Forest” and “Took A Turn,” in my mind both indispensable songs in their repertoire.
The last time I’d seen them play was at Ear X-Tacy about a year and a half ago, and it wasn’t quite as exciting or engaging, serving then almost specifically as a commercial for their then recent “In and Out of Youth and Lightness.” They were polished then, but if I want to hear a record I’ll just turn it on. This last Saturday though, they were raw but not sloppy, and definitely captivating of their audience. While talking to the crowd isn’t always a necessity, at least acknowledging them goes a long way for me. That Slint show at the Brown in 2005 came off as incredibly boring and pretentious, due largely to the fact that they said nothing, not even thank you, played their songs flawlessly, and moved on. I love Slint, but I have that album already, and I don’t need to pay to see it played, which is certainly not what Young Widows were about.
All that said, Shannon Wright did very little if any talking on stage, which she somehow managed to make seem mysterious and foreboding. And goddamn but her set was intense, making this audience member remember what it was like to be a kid and have the adult’s show me how it’s done. Joined by the incomparable Todd Cook on bass and Kevin Ratterman (who fucking slayed) on drums, Wright is in town now recording an album, and took this moment to play an impromptu show. Something about the immediacy and unexpected nature of the whole event imbued this as a special occasion, rather than just another in a long stream of shows.
Unlike Young Widows, who leaned a little heavier towards their newer material, Shannon Wright played almost exclusively older songs. I am so, so pleased that she played stuff from her absolutely brilliant album “Over The Sun,” which is one of her heaviest albums. Songs like “Portray” and “W/Closed Eyes” were particularly memorable, and even more so when you realize that she doesn’t uniformly have the same band for each performance. That means that while her back up band was/is damned good at what they do, all of the intensity of her music comes from Wright, who can bring it regardless of who she is backed by. That Louisville was privy to such a tightly put together and well attended show is as invigorating as it is inspiring.
While there wasn’t anything fresh happening here, nothing extraordinary to report in terms of visuals, it was the dynamic atmosphere, where all the performers seemed to care less for whatever gratification may come with their performance, and more for the emotional release that they have when they play. That so many bands seem to fall short on this may be a testament to the state of the music industry as affected by an internet culture that is ever ready for more, more, more, or perhaps it’s just a reflection of my relative indifference to what’s out there. It was nice to have a reminder that people are passionate about what they do, and that remaining vigilant to that is the secret to forever feeling like it’s your first show. That was my take away. If you were there, share yours in the comments section below.
And a quick note: sorry for the length of this piece. I set up the existence of this column, and then wrote it, all in one giant essay. I’m the worst there is at what I do, like a Bizarro-Wolverine or something. Forgiveness, please?