2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of My Life, Part 2

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One of the things that made 2015 such a great year, other than the sheer volume of shows, was the fact that they were at smaller venues than others I’ve been to.  I mean, my very first concert was Elton John at Madison Square Garden during his “Louder than Concorde, But Not Quite as Pretty” tour in 1976.  (For those doing the math, I was 15.)

Not so with this next show (or any of the shows this year):

Gerard Way, May 15, First Avenue Club, Minneapolis, MN; opener Nuns

The former lead singer of My Chemical Romance had released his first solo album, Hesitant Alien, in the fall of 2014, and started touring almost immediately after that.  Conspicuously absent on the US tour map was, you guessed it, pretty much anywhere in the Midwest.  I was bummed, but a friend with “inside” information urged me to be patient.  And so my patience was rewarded! 

This was truly a long-distance trip, and I made it alone.  I hadn’t been to the Twin Cities since…oh God, I have no idea.  I’d wanted to go to the Chicago date, which was the following night, but it sold out before I could get a ticket.  Plus, I probably would’ve had one or both daughters along for the ride.  This would have been more expensive, of course, but the company would have been nice.  The main reason I didn’t have my kids along is that this show was on a Friday.  The trip was so long that I decided to leave Thursday evening and stop over in Wausau, Wisconsin.  After an uneventful night in a bargain motel (and a McDonald’s breakfast when the motel food was spotty), I got on 29 west to Minnesota.

Notes on traveling in western Wisconsin: the scenery is gorgeous, but the radio stations get weirder as you get closer to the Mississippi.  They either had oldies playing, or preachers preaching–almost nothing in-between. And so, thank the Lord for CDs and a car stereo that mostly behaved.  My driving-in-Minneapolis music was Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues.  It’s only a half hour long, and was very helpful as I negotiated my way around a city I probably hadn’t visited for the better part of a decade.  Finally I rolled up to my hotel, a gorgeous new Hampton Inn about a block and a half from the First Avenue.  There was parking right across the street, which meant I could walk everywhere I’d need to go on my very short trip.

I walked to the club before dinner, and as I’d thought, there was a line.  But–dinner.  I ate a terrific Italian meal outside in the unseasonably mild weather, just across the street from the flagship Target store.  Then I suited up at the hotel and went back to stand in the (noticeably longer) line.  The day was sunny, a treat for mid-May.  Unfortunately, I didn’t really make any line friends, aside from the young ladies who held my place in line when I realized that I’d forgotten my earplugs. However, the Minneapolis line had a brief visit from Lola–a large pink monkey sort of figure who figures large in the Hesitant Alien universe, and who sported white Converse on his/her feet.  (Still some question as to who was wearing the costume.)  I managed a poorly-executed selfie (the only kind I seem to be able to produce)with Lola, so I had that at least.

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The First Avenue is probably the most well-established venue I went to all last year.  According to the slides flashing on the screen in front of the stage while we waited, the club was celebrating its 45th anniversary.  If you’ve seen the movie Purple Rain with Prince, you’ve seen the inside of the First Avenue.  There are likely hundreds of Instagram photos of the club’s exterior, painted black with white stars listing all (?) the acts who’ve played there over the decades. It looks like I’m sitting right under the star that says “Buckcherry”.  10/10, would go again; extra points for historical significance of club, despite the long drive.

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(I warned you that I suck at selfies.)

Doors were at 6, and were opened relatively promptly.  It took a little while to get inside; my place in line was around the corner from the entrance.  Of course, that meant I was way far back from the younger fans, who quickly took their places as close to the stage as possible.  I hung around the main floor briefly, comparing notes with a few other moms who’d  come with their kids.  One lady had driven with her daughter from Alabama, I think, which is a pretty fierce display of affection.  This is the type of devotion shared by so many people who are still fans of My Chemical Romance, and by extension, its individual members and their solo projects.  I decided that rather than get crushed by other folks in the pit (or the very real chance of having someone taller stand right in front of me just before showtime), I would hang out upstairs.

The opening band was Nuns (not to be confused with the 80s punk group the Nuns), a foursome from Oklahoma.  They were terrific.  My notes state that I especially enjoyed the interplay between the singer and the drummer.  I found out later that they’re brother and sister.  (And yes, I took a notebook; one of the conditions of my attendance was that I’d write a review of the show for my husband.  I always used to take a notebook when I went to Peter Himmelman shows, though.  You see, Peter always plays without a set list, and his fans always want to know.)  I can’t give you Nuns’ set list, because I’d never heard them before, but they do have a website and an album out already: Opportunities on bandcamp.

After a brief interlude, the lights went down, and the folks in the pit below jogged forward (the better to see the man of the hour).  Strains of “The Bureau” rang out, and Gerard Way took the stage.  I hadn’t seen him perform in person for quite a while, and I forgot what a compelling stage presence he has.  That whole jogging-forward thing?  I witnessed that phenomenon in 2011 at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, and it was damn scary.  Though I love being close to the music, I was kind of glad to have a good vantage point far from the madding crowd.  (I’m a coward; I admit it.)

Gerard was, as always, engaging and emotional, and in great voice.  He mentioned his upcoming Russian tour after the first song, and the crowd hollered its appreciation when he said that afterwards, he and his band would be recording more music.  (Yes, we are greedy little fuckers, to be sure.)  He sometimes goes off on weird tangents, like reflecting on what he called the “bozo matrix” after singing “Juarez”.  Then he talked about how “Drugstore Perfume” was about feeling trapped and suffocated in your hometown.  Before launching into “Television All The Time”, an unreleased track from the Hesitant Alien sessions, Gerard reminded everyone how difficult life is for transgendered people, saying, “It’s hard to be yourself, and it’s harder for them, and they need your support.”

Of course, pretty much anything he said was met with cheers and applause.  Maybe the biggest reaction was when he mentioned former MCR guitarist Ray Toro, who’d come to visit his former lead singer not long before the tour had begun.  Throughout, Gerard continued to thank the audience, telling them they were awesome, and how much he loves performing.  His stage persona is a little less flamboyant than it used to be, but that’s okay.  His band, the Hormones, is a terrific unit, but since he’s now a solo artist, there’s less interplay with them than there was with the members of MCR.

Set List:

  • The Bureau
  • Action Cat
  • Zero Zero
  • Millions
  • Juarez
  • Drugstore Perfume
  • Television All the Time
  • Piano Jam (Ambulance)/Brother
  • Get the Gang Together
  • How It’s Going to Be
  • Maya the Psychic
  • No Shows
  • Cover song: Snakedriver
  • Encore: Don’t Try

I’d hoped the set list would stray a little more from what it had been for most of this album cycle, but to be fair, it’s a lot of touring behind just one record.  However…after the show is when the fun really amped up for me.  Gerard had tweeted afterwards that he might be coming out to meet and sign for us.  In less time than it takes to write this, a very long line of eager fans had stretched around the corner, leading back to the stage door at the First Avenue.  There were no pictures allowed, since we would have kept Gerard there all night, but he would sign, shake hands, and hug his fans.  (Spoiler alert: I didn’t get a hug.)

This is where I made a bunch of line friends: girls who were jealous because I’d gone to see Frank Iero in March; others who were stunned that I had the Hesitant Alien ‘zine (which came with my vinyl pre-order); a woman about my age who was just as excited as I was to be at the show (and who’d driven just about as far); two sisters, the younger of whom kept proclaiming that MCR’s music had saved her life when she was thirteen; and finally, a mom and her daughter (whose names I didn’t get) who were celebrating the mom’s birthday.  They were all kind of in a daze at the prospect of meeting someone who’d been so important to them for such a long time.  (Me too.)  Everyone’s time with Gerard was brief out of necessity, but I know I was thrilled that he took the time to meet everyone and at least say hello.  I FORGOT: I’d picked up a copy of a Supergrass 7″ vinyl during Record Store Day, and was able to give it to Gerard when I met him.  He seemed pleased, and exclaimed that he’d “just gotten a record player!”

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Among my souvenirs: the Hesitant Alien ‘zine, signed by the author.  What a great night!

The next morning I took advantage of the hotel’s amazing breakfast, and started chatting with another mom at the next table.  She casually mentioned “the show last night” and it turned out that she (Josie) and her daughter (Shay), who’d driven from Duluth, MN, were also at Gerard’s performance.  Our hotel was the closest one to the First Avenue, and they’d been pleased to have a room so close by.  Me too.

Overall, this was a great experience, but a little lonely due to my daughters not being able to come along.  Thank goodness for Gerard’s fans being so open to talk to strangers due to our mutual love for his music.  And thank goodness for cool moms like Josie who understand that love.

This blog entry would not have been possible without the help of the youtube channels of imshychey Grant and YouAreMySenpie.  Their video footage allowed me to recall many details I would otherwise have forgotten, and made me smile as well.  Thanks, ladies!

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2015: The Most Punk-Rock Year of My Life, Part 1

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That sounds weird, right?  Especially for someone “my age” (I’m 54) to be saying?

Well, as anyone who knows me can tell you, I don’t really give a shit about my chronological age.  Aside from the occasional tug in my back, my weight gain, and the inability (on weeknights) to stay up past 11, I don’t really feel 54.  For quite some time, when I was about 30 lbs lighter, I apparently had the enviable ability to look quite a bit younger than I really am; which to be quite honest, was nice.  In my current state, almost nobody would say to me now, “Really?  No…!” when I tell them my age.  (NB: if someone tells you they’re not vain about that shit, call them on it; they’re lying.)

Ah well.  Youth isn’t meant to last forever…on the outside, at least.  But the inside…now, that’s a different story altogether.  On the inside, I am somewhere between 19 and 22.  On the inside, I am just as crazy a music fan as anyone under the age of 30…maybe even more so.  On the inside…I am, to quote my friend Deb, “the world’s oldest fangirl.”  And I don’t see anything wrong with it.  But as usual, I digress.

As mentioned in a previous post, I no longer send holiday cards, and so no longer regale my friends and relatives with concert-going news as part of the yearly roundup.  In 2015, my kids and I saw more shows than I think I have been to since I was single.  Which is a lot.  I mean, once upon a time, my cousin Cheryl and I were seeing bands almost on a weekly basis, sometimes more often.  Best time ever: on one memorable weekend (not sure which year; 1987? 88?) we saw the Smithereens on Friday night at the Stone Pony (Asbury Park); the Bongos Saturday night at the Green Parrot (Neptune); and La Bamba and the Hubcaps Sunday afternoon at Bar Anticipation (Belmar).  Those were the days!

 Anyway, getting married and moving away from the New Jersey of my misspent youth meant, well, different forms of entertainment on the horizon (my first Wisconsin wedding, woo-hoo!).  Since I now live somewhere that artists don’t normally visit, seeing live music has been more difficult, with much longer car rides.  Especially when my oldest was into various bands, we’d travel to the Chicago area with alarming frequency.  (It got us out of the house and gave us something constructive to do while my husband was out of state.)  We’ve tried to keep the show attendance to a low roar, but 2015 saw so many people I love getting their acts together and taking them on the road…well, it got harder and harder to say no.

So we didn’t say no…a LOT.

This was going to be one long post, but it would have taken me years to complete.  So herewith is the first date of 2015:

Frank Iero and the Cellabration, March 1, Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago, IL; openers Modern Chemistry and The Homeless Gospel Choir  

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In case you’ve been living under a rock, Frank Iero was one of two guitarists in My Chemical Romance, who called it quits in 2013.  I’d gotten his solo album, Stomachaches, a few months prior to the show, and I loved it more than I ever thought I would.  Before I got it, I guess that, being a “singer” person, I always thought Frank’s voice was a little too rough and untrained.  However, as I’ve had to remind myself time and again, roughness in a singing voice doesn’t mean that person isn’t a good (or great) singer, or that said voice doesn’t exactly fit the song being sung.  Also, Frank had admitted recently in interviews that he wasn’t too keen on becoming the center of attention; but there he was, out on a headlining tour after being support for Taking Back Sunday.  And doing a great job.

This show was a family affair: my two girls and I, plus my niece Jenna, all traveled to Chicago on a chilly Sunday.  The club was right near Chicago’s Chinatown, so we walked around in the snow in our Converse and got something to eat.  Then we hoofed it to Reggie’s, just a couple of blocks from the restaurant.  Then we stood out in the snow and damn near froze our fucking feet off waiting for the doors to open.  (We did have a little comic relief, though, listening to a girl spouting MCR “trivia” that was so off-base and just so wrong that it cracked us up–when we weren’t muttering about shutting her the hell up.)

At last the doors opened, and we crowded in with everyone else.  (Did you know your feet hurt while they’re warming up after being frozen into numbness?  True story.)  Reggie’s is a relatively new enterprise; they apparently have several businesses, including a pub-type eatery and a record store.  The place has great sightlines, a coat check on the upper level, and clean bathrooms.  Plus their DJ was spinning some amazing shit while we waited for the show to begin.  9.5/10, would definitely go again (points lost for trying to freeze their patrons to death when they didn’t open the doors on time).

Modern Chemistry was the first opener, and my older girl really loved them.  “I think I found my new favorite band,” she told me after their set.  While we waited for the second opener, I decamped to the ladies’; when I came out, The Homeless Gospel Choir–otherwise known as Pittsburgh native Derek Zanetti–was commanding the stage with just himself and a guitar.  And he was great.  He kept making us laugh with the proclamation “This is a protest song” (in his great Pennsylvania drawl) before pretty much every song.  He played for quite some time; I think he sang every song on his latest album.  (I got his latest vinyl shortly thereafter.)

Then we waited for Frank and his band–brother-in-law Evan Nestor on guitar, Rob Hughes on bass, and Matt Olsson on drums.  Suddenly the lights went down a bit, and there was a little screaming from the crowd.  Then a recording of a song in French came over the sound system, melting into “All I Want Is Nothing”, the lead track on Stomachaches and the first song of the night.  I didn’t want to get crushed (having survived a few MCR shows), so I stayed on the stairs, back from where my girls were.  Soon, however, I saw the crowd was behaving pretty well, so I found my little crew and we hung out for the rest of the night.  The band was amazing–really tight–and Frank was a joy to watch.  He kept the between-song chatter to a minimum, but looked like he was having a pretty good time.  Derek got up on stage about mid-set to sing a Jawbreaker song with Frank (I don’t know their music, but it got a great response).

I would give you a set list, but I wasn’t making notes, and I can’t find one online–je regrette.  I will tell you what happened after the show was finally over.  When the lights came up, there was some buzz about whether or not we’d be meeting the musicians afterwards, so people were lined up.  I did see quite a few stern-looking (or bewildered) parents standing around with unhappy looks on their faces, waiting impatiently for their offspring to get the hell out of here, you have school in the morning!  I was glad not to have to be one of them, though I was getting tired (and was also surely one of the oldest people in the room at that point).  But we stuck it out, and then heard the announcement that we’d be meeting the bands.  The caveat was “one picture only per person, and have your camera ready” and “no weird shit!”  While we waited, Evan and Rob came to the front of the stage and chatted with us while they were packing up their gear.  Evan told a hilarious story about the filming of the “Joyriding” video, which starts with the band all in white, and ends with them drenched in (fake) blood: “We were standing outside, freezing, getting hosed off in Frank’s back yard!”

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Eventually our line led to all the musicians, who shook hands and signed whatever we asked.  My niece Jenna had a pair of hand-painted shoes she’d made herself, and so she had all the guys sign them.  I got a handshake and a picture of myself with Frank, which, despite how terrible I think I look, was a definite highlight of the night.

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Correction: I look just as awful as I thought.  But oh, whatever: I am standing next to Frank!

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Among my souvenirs: Detail of signed poster from this show. Awesome.

And I should give props to Frank, et al, for not only putting on a great show, but hanging out for hours afterward to meet anyone who could stay.  Which was most of the crowd.

What an amazing and gracious bunch of people in those bands.  They helped make so many fans happy that night, our little group among them.

Next installment: May 15, Gerard Way, First Avenue, Minneapolis.

Roast Chicken & Potatoes

Holy crap, was this good.  I posted a FB picture and people are asking for the recipe.  Thanks to Cook’s Country, here it is.

Serves 4

Use uniform, medium potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest, plus lemon wedges for serving
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 (4-pound) whole chicken, giblets discarded
  • 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, ends squared off, and sliced into 1-inch-thick rounds

Instructions

1.  Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Combine 2 tablespoons oil, thyme, paprika, lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in bowl. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and use your fingers or handle of wooden spoon to carefully separate skin from breast. Rub oil mixture all over chicken and underneath skin of breast. Tie legs together with kitchen twine and tuck wingtips behind back.

2. Toss potatoes with remaining 1 tablespoon oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Arrange potatoes, flat sides down, in single layer in 12-inch ovensafe nonstick skillet. Place skillet over medium heat and cook potatoes, without moving them, until brown on bottom, 7 to 9 minutes (do not flip).

3. Place chicken, breast side up, on top of potatoes and transfer skillet to oven. Roast until breast registers 160 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest for 20 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, cover skillet, return potatoes to oven, and roast until tender, about 20 minutes. Carve chicken and serve with potatoes and lemon wedges.