Tuesday, December 11, 2012

2012 Review Part Two - Favorite Albums

The albums that comprise this list were released in 2012, went to the top of my "must listen to this all the time" list and stayed there long enough to leave an impression. They are ordered chronologically by my personal date of discovery, not release date or level of awesomeness.

There were others, of course, but I'm big into lists of three and much of what I listened to in 2012 was old news by the time I found it.

Here we go!

Come Back As Rain by Good Old War

I was blown away by Good Old War when I saw them open for Guster a few years ago. I was fortunate to be able to see them open for Counting Crows this summer and I was even more impressed. Their sound is perfect for lounging on the lawn at a summer concert. They execute such a tight and delightful harmony to music that feels down-home comfortable. Every single track on Come Back As Rain is good. If I had to pick a favorite, I would not be able to. I'd say "Oh, Better Weather. No wait, Amazing Eyes. Or Can't Go Home. No, definitely Not Quite Happiness..." and on and on.

Keep in Touch by Old Best Friend

I wasn't sure if an EP qualified for this list but then I realized that I make the rules and if I say it belongs here, it does. I saw Mike Comite of Old Best Friend play with Julia Nunes at Common Ground in July and I was rather impressed by the couple of his songs that they played. He mentioned that his stuff was on Bandcamp and so when I got home, I looked it up and sort of went bananas over it. It's a small but very well done collection of story-telling songs and I hope we hear more from Old Best Friend soon.

Smoke Signals by Dan & the Wildfire

Dan & the Wildfire is one of my favorite Twitter Bands - that is, bands that I discovered via Twitter. I'm not really sure how we found each other there but I'm so glad that we did because this album is just so good I would hate to have missed out. The sound overall is a really fantastic blend of instruments and voices --  a little meatier than Good Old War but not heavy at all. Plus, there's trumpet (!) that is just delightful. This album is very easy to listen to. Each track holds up on its own and flows pleasantly to the next. Very sing-along-able, too.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Julia Nunes with Nat Osborn

The band
Julia Nunes with Nat Osborn
The venue
Some guy named Ben's living room
December 2, 2012

Julia Nunes plays ukelele and writes songs that are emotional, silly, honest and relatable. I'd seen her once before, at Common Ground this past July. Prior to that, I really only knew a handful of her songs from YouTube. That was enough for me to know she was impressive and her live performance only built on what I already knew.

A few weeks ago she embarked with Nat Osborn (who plays guitar and piano) on a living room tour after wrapping up a stint opening for Walk Off the Earth (another band I saw at Common Ground who, by the way, were super awesome). I'd never been to a house concert before and I wasn't sure what to expect. It was a much older crowd than I imagined and I certainly hadn't considered the place would be packed full of ukelele enthusiasts but that was what we got! It was a pretty cool mix of people in attendance.

If you've never heard Julia Nunes, you're missing out. If you've heard her but haven't heard her live, you're still missing out. She made a comment during the Q & A portion of the show that she never really thought her voice was that great and she said "people always say, 'no way, your voice is great!' So don't do that." So I didn't, but now I will. Her voice is great! The girl's got pipes. It's strong and really gorgeous. Nat's voice was also really great and they sounded amazing together. As they said, they've been playing these songs together for weeks and weeks so they better mesh well by this point, but I think it's more than that, too. He was a really lovely complement to her.

Beyond sounding super great, they were also funny and play well off each other. Julia did a great Q&A with some interesting questions. It's always cool to hear an artist talk about their songs and their history and Julia just seems to have a cool personality, very engaging and goofy, so that part was almost as fun as listening to them play.

I will always try to see Julia Nunes play when she comes to town. I was disappointed that I missed her on the Walk Off the Earth tour but the living room set made up for it for sure.

Check out Julia & Nat singing "O Come, All Ye Faithful".

Friday, November 30, 2012

2012 Review Part One - The Top Three

This year I listened to more music, discovered more new music and went to more concerts than I think I ever had before in a single year. Here are the top three bands I'll always remember were with me through the highs and lows.

Airborne Toxic Event


Airborne's reign at the top of my playlist started in late 2011 when I discovered their music and got dumped in roughly the same month. "Changing" and "Numb" spoke loud and clear to me and when I heard "Happiness Is Overrated", I knew I'd found some place I could hide out and lick my wounds for awhile.

I drove all the way to Indianapolis to see them perform before I even had absorbed their whole catalog and I remember standing there near the bar at the Vogue, the band came out on the stage and opened with "All at Once". Mikel, standing at the mic, looked up into the distance and smiled. It felt like a private smile shared with all of us in the room and I was a goner.

I had the chance to see them again in July in Detroit. They put on a great show, of course, but some of the magic was gone. Stolen, I think, by a raucous drunken crowd that couldn't have known and wouldn't have cared just how meaningful the music and being at that show was to me. I can't lay any blame on Airborne, though. They rocked out hard and sounded great and once again covered "I Fought the Law" which is one of my favorites. I'd see them again anytime and I eagerly await their next album.

A Silent Film

When I arrived at the first day of Common Ground 2012, I was having a bad day. I didn't know who was playing or when so I was just wandering around being grouchy. By the time I made my way to the stage A Silent Film was on, they were mid-song. I didn't know who they were but I couldn't look away. I can't recall everything they played. I can, however, remember that it was magical. That set definitely turned my mood around and changed my outlook on the whole week. I felt like if I could happen upon a band like A Silent Film, what else was out there waiting to be discovered?

I got choked up listening to "Harbour Lights" because I felt like it perfectly suited the weird combination of guilt and euphoria I felt in my post-breakup life. I've basked in the energy of "Driven By Their Beating Hearts". I could go on and on.

I wrote about them a little more extensively back in August after I saw them for the third time but it's worth mentioning that as time has passed, I've only grown more fond of their music. It's the kind of music that surrounds you and hits you in all the right places. The lyrics are beautiful, the music is rich and dynamic -- that's a powerful combination. Add that to their awesome on-stage energy and I'm pretty sure they're unstoppable.

Frank Turner


On May 23, 2012, I heard my first Frank Turner song. I bought my first Frank Turner album, and I bought a ticket to my first Frank Turner concert.

I was making breakfast, listening to some artist radio station on Spotify when I heard "Reasons Not to Be an Idiot" for the first time. It caught my attention right away but I think it was about the time of the first chorus that I put down my knife and thought "holy shit, is he talking to me?" It is a strange and perfect moment when you hear a song that speaks to you directly where you're at in life in that moment.

It was a long wait until his concert in September but in those months I listened to Frank's music constantly, annoying everyone in my life with my insistence that they "listen, no, really listen to this song. It's brilliant! Brilliant!" Frank's music reflects a number of things that resonate with me. One, is the desire to not be tied down or stay in one place. This is something that I've always felt but have never acted upon so I find a kind of vicarious pleasure in his tales of the road. Another is the necessity of being an active particpant in life because we're not guaranteed any amount of time here. It's urgent and imperative that we appreciate what we have and take advantage of our time on the planet. That was a lesson I was learning on my own at the time and Frank's music really helped me solidify that within myself.

I met Frank a couple of times (in Detroit and again at Riot Fest in Chicago) and I wanted to tell him all of that, how his music really made my life a better place and inspired me every day but I'm pretty sure what I said was "Uh... duh..." and looked at him like a deer caught in headlights. But maybe somehow he understood anyway. I hope so, anyway, because I don't know if I can work up the guts to try again when he comes back my way.

What game-changers did you encounter this year?

honeyhoney, Trampled by Turtles

The bands:
Trampled by Turtles

The venue:
The Intersection, Grand Rapids MI

October 3, 2012

I knew one honeyhoney song before this concert. Somewhere along the way I'd heard Angel of Death and fell in love with it, always meaning to pursue more of their music but never getting around to it. 

I bought the ticket based on knowing that one song several weeks in advance and was debating whether or not to use it when concert day rolled around. I convinced myself it would be worth it and despite nearly falling asleep at the wheel on my way to the venue, I found that I was right: It was completely worth it.

I really didn't know what to expect. What I got was a hot chick rocking out with a banjo, a dude who looked so familiar I couldn't stop staring at him, a bassist and a drummer. I'm not being vague about the last two because they weren't awesome -- I'm sure they were -- I just couldn't really see them from where I stood. They have this wicked awesome twangy rock sound that continually surprised me.

When they finished, they headed back to the merch table and so did I. Frankly I was hoping that if I saw the guitarist (Ben) up close I'd be able to place where I recognized him from. No such luck; it haunts me to this day.

I got a copy of their latest CD, Billy Jack* and chatted for a minute then went on my way. I watched Trampled by Turtles for awhile and watched the crowd for a good part of that. It was, as it always is, awesome to see a crowd so into the music. TBT was awesome as well. High energy, they sounded great and really loved the crowd. Unfortunately, fatigue eventually got the better of me and I hit the road before their set was over.

All in all, I'm really glad I decided to suck it up and go to this show. I wish I'd known more Trampled by Turtles music so perhaps I could have gotten into their set a little more and stuck it out but it wasn't meant to be and it was a great show anyway.

*Billy Jack is phenomenal start to finish and I highly recommend you check it out.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Front Bottoms, Cheap Girls

The bands:
Sean from Andrew Jackson Jihad
Small Parks
The Front Bottoms
Cheap Girls

The venue:
Mac's Bar, Lansing MI

October 13, 2012

I first heard the Front Bottoms last fall. "Maps" was playing on the Impact (Michigan State's fan-freaking-tastic radio station) and darn if it's not a catchy tune. I threw a few more of their songs into heavy rotation. When I heard they'd be in Lansing of all places I was in for sure.

I'd never been to Mac's. Despite having driven by it a billion times, I didn't even know where it was. But it was easy to find, relatively easy to park. It'd have been easier if I'd waited to park until after they announced the show was sold out and people started to leave. Thankfully, I am all about being prepared, and had had my ticket for ages

By the time I got in, Sean from Andrew Jackson Jihad was mid-set and the place was packed. I didn't know who he was but he sounded really familiar. I liked his stuff a lot. Great, sometimes bizarre lyrics and a unique vocal style. When he announced at the end of his set who he was, the familiarity finally made sense. I'm not a huge AJJ fan but I know one of their songs, and like it quite a bit, so that was cool.

Small Parks was up next. I'd never heard of them, but apparently they're local. They put on a good show and they sounded alright. I can't say I was blown away but I'd be pleased if we crossed paths again.

Front Bottoms were everything I hoped they'd be. The crowd was singing along, the band was awesome. They played most of my favorite songs right off the bat and they sounded awesome. I don't know which was the best. "The Beers", maybe. "Maps" is up there, obviously. But then there's "Rhode Island" and "Flashlight"... I really just can't say.

They encouraged people to stay for Cheap Girls, which I found surprising because I thought most people would have been there for Cheap Girls since they're from Lansing and I've heard quite a few people talk them up but the place kind of cleared out after the Front Bottoms. I stuck around for awhile out of curiosity, mostly because I'd missed their set at Common Ground. I understand why people like them; they're good. But in the end, they didn't really do it for me.

Mac's isn't my favorite venue for a super crowded show. It was about ten thousand degrees and too crowded to be comfortable. That being said, they have great bands, the sound was good and they serve Strongbow so I won't write them off just because I wasn't prepared for the space. I will be next time.

New Music: "Pretty, Sure" by Old Best Friend

I first heard Mike Comite of Old Best Friend this summer at Common Ground when he was playing with Julia Nunes. Together they played a couple of songs from the Old Best Friend EP Keep in Touch and I was sold pretty much right from the opening line of "Things That Happen." I bought the EP that day, listened to it about ten trillion times. It's fantastic.

So naturally, when Mike posted a new song a couple days ago, I was all over it. I felt like I'd been waiting an awfully long time to hear something new. I was not disappointed.

It isn't all shiny like a studio recording but it's everything I love about Old Best Friend. It tells an interesting story in a way that makes you want to hear it. Again and again, in my case. I can't wait to hear what comes next.

Pretty, Sure (Live) by Old Best Friend

Thursday, October 18, 2012

New Music: "Different World" by Nick Flora

Just to clarify -- by "New Music", I mean New To Me.

I saw someone mention this dude on Twitter so I looked him up. At first I went to his website and there were songs to download but I didn't want to make that kind of commitment so I looked him up on Spotify first. I put all of the songs on random and went about my business. I got distracted by reading and didn't really hear any of the music.

Until this song. And I thought, "Holy crap, what am I listening to?" (because I have a really short attention span and terrible short term memory). When I figured out the source was Spotify and this was the song, well, I looked it up on YouTube and proceeded to write this post. I can do some things in a timely manner.

This song is kind of like being pulled along in a current that you don't notice until you're swept away by it. Understated, beautiful.

In other words, I like this song a lot and you should probably give it a try. Just in case you like it too.

And now I'm off to find & listen to more. Thanks for ruining my evening plans, Nick Flora. Thanks a lot.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Los Lonely Boys

The bands:
Los Lonely Boys
Lynyrd Skynyrd

The venue:
DTE Energy Music Theatre, Clarkston, MI

September 21, 2012

When an old friend of mine called me up at 7 a.m. on a Friday I thought I must have pocket dialed her so I hung up. Thankfully, she knows me well enough to send a follow up text because she had extra tickets to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert that night. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?

The weather was cool and damp but that didn't seem to stop anyone from rocking out. Los Lonely Boys were, for lack of a better word, groovy. They just jammed on and on and it was a lot of fun to listen to. The people around us were really into it. Of course they played "Heaven" to round out their set which is not only a great jam but really fun to sing along to.

When Skynyrd came out the crowd went bonkers. I've never been a huge fan but I know the standards, like "Sweet Home Alabama", "That Smell", "Gimme Three Steps", etc. They played a great show. They're down to, oh, I don't know, two original members (not including the back up singers, who I think I heard were also originals but I can't swear to it) but every person on stage was rocking out and looking like they were having the time of their lives.

There was one moment where they slowed it down and the lead singer said "Now, we're living in crazy times," and I thought here it comes. We're going to get political and I'm going to get uncomfortable but all he did was send out a call of support to the troops, which of course I can get behind. They dedicated the next song to the troops. I don't recall the song as it wasn't one that I knew but watching the audience I knew it was a favorite and it was really moving to me how moved everyone else was by it. They dedicated other songs to fallen band members, as well.

Then the lights went out and we waited for the encore. There was only one song of theirs that I knew that they hadn't played. A spotlight came on, illuminating a confederate flag and a golden figure perched atop of it. Against all reason, a part of my brain screamed, "Holy crap! That's a dinosaur!" The other part of my brain, the intelligent part, countered, "No way is that a dinosaur, idiot. That's an eagle." And so it was, but I swear it did look a little bit like a brontosaurus or something from where I was sitting. The band returned to the stage and asked what song we wanted to hear. Thunderous cries of "Free Bird!" filled the air. It was a pretty cool moment, they killed the song and then it was over.

Would I go see Lynyrd Skynyrd again? Probably not and not only because it is a serious pain for me to type their name. They just aren't really my thing. But that didn't stop me from enjoying the show immensely and I will always be grateful to my friend for thinking of inviting me. It was a heck of an experience and one I won't soon forget.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Riot Fest Chicago

The bands:
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls
Larry & His Flask
Minus the Bear
Coheed & Cambria
Dropkick Murphys
Imagine Dragons
Less Than Jake
... And so many more

The venue:
Humboldt Park, Chicago

September 14-16, 2012

Riot Fest was an all-around great experience.  I had a 2-day pass and had planned out an ambitious schedule for myself. I failed pretty miserably at following it but I did hit my three must see bands: Frank Turner, Larry and His Flask and Imagine Dragons. I caught a few other acts, as well.
I still feel like a bit of a novice when it comes to music festivals so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve definitely never been to a festival like Riot Fest. While I didn’t make it through the whole day either Saturday or Sunday, I was there long enough to know that the vibe was really excellent. 

We started Saturday with Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls and we weren’t disappointed. There’s nothing like watching one of your favorite musicians perform live and up close. But it’s also a special moment to be a part of a whole crowd of people who feel the same as you. That’s one of the most remarkable things about Frank Turner – his ability to connect with his audience, both through his songwriting and his performance. Each of his songs tells a story and his set feels more like a conversation than a concert.

Next up was Larry and His Flask. You might think “Whoa, didn’t you just see these guys and Frank Turner the Tuesday before Riot Fest?” This is true. But they were both so awesome, that I couldn’t pass up the chance to do it all over again. LAHF once again amazed me. This was the one set, though, where the crowd was more irritating than inspiring. I’ll never understand what motivates someone to elbow their way to the front of a crowd only to stand stock still and not pay attention to the musicians who are playing their asses off in front of them. 

Following LAHF was Minus the Bear. Fortunately for MtB, the crowd was huge. Unfortunately for us, we were getting nowhere near the stage. We listened to a song or two then left in search of food and rest. I'd seen Minus the Bear before, and they were phenomenal so I both wished to stay and also felt okay about missing their set. We came back to the same stage awhile later to see Coheed and Cambria who sounded great and put on a great show. I didn’t know any of their music and haven’t listened to them since but they sounded good enough that I’d recommend giving them a listen. 

Our energy was flagging so we left Coheed and Cambria before the set was over and hit Dropkick Murphys. Again, we were miles from the stage but it was cool be a part of such a big crowd. I could see on the screens that the band was having an awesome time. Unfortunately, the sound wasn’t great and sounded a little garbled. I’ve always liked the little bit of Dropkick Murphy’s music that I’ve heard but ultimately fatigue dragged us away from the show and back to our hotel. 

Sunday we were back at it, earlier this time because Imagine Dragons had the first slot of the day. Imagine Dragons was Win’s must see and since she showed nothing but enthusiasm at being dragged to my shows the day before, I geared up, despite only knowing one of their songs. 

They were awesome! They started the set a little late, and the lead singer was sick but they put on a really great show. You could almost see the music coming from within them and the response from the crowd was actually moving in its enthusiasm. 

I wanted to stay the whole day, especially to see AWOLNATION, Alkaline Trio and Elvis Costello. Unfortunately, there’s this annoying and terrible voice of responsibility in my head that wouldn’t stop screaming that I had work and a job interview the next day so after lounging around and listening to the first part of Less Than Jake’s set, we cut the day super short and hit the road back to Michigan. 

Overall, I would absolutely go to Riot Fest again. It was a great lineup this year, laid out pretty well in a very suitable location and had plenty of porta-johns, which is pretty crucial, in my opinion. I’m curious to know how popular the carnival aspect was. It seems like a fun idea but loading a bunch of adults full of booze and fair food onto carnival rides sounds like a recipe for disaster.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New Music: "Wise Up" by Curse in the Woods

If you follow me on Twitter, it's not new news that I love Curse in the Woods. They were kind enough to point me in the direction of this post on YouTube. I'm a sucker for sweet piano intros so I was hooked right away. Jeannie Taylor does lead vocals for the band and her voice is unique and rich and carries the melody along with the music in a way that almost feels tangible. That's a trait of all of their music and they're definitely worth checking out.


Monday, September 24, 2012

New Music: "We've Been Here Before" by Old English

I was skeptical about this song for the first twenty seconds or so. It's slow to start but what it's really doing is luring you in. Then the beat kicks in and the exceptionally pleasing-to-the-ear vocals start up and you're sunk. It's a 5-minute song and when it ended I was left thinking, "Wait, that's it? I need more of that!" So I've been listening to it on repeat for a few cycles and I'm ready for the rest of the album, for sure. How long will they make me wait?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Frank Turner, Larry & His Flask, Jenny Owen Youngs

This is going to get long so I'll do my "tl;dr" up front:

Nonstop energy from the first set through the last, this trio of bands was a brilliant combination that had the crowd dancing and singing all night. A must-see.

The bands:
Jenny Owen Youngs
Larry & His Flask
Frank Turner & the Sleeping Souls

The venue:
Saint Andrews Hall (Detroit MI)

September 11, 2012

A little background: On May 23, 2012, I heard my first Frank Turner song ("Reasons Not To Be An Idiot"), I bought my first Frank Turner album (Love Ire & Song) and I bought tickets to this concert. That day was kind of a game changer for me, so to say I was looking forward to this concert is an enormous understatement. I had very high expectations. I was not disappointed.

I rushed over to the Detroit after work, nervous about going to another new venue alone but damn determined to get there and to be cool because I'd been waiting for this for months. It turns out that Saint Andrews is really easy to find and parking is even easier. I rolled in with ten minutes or so to spare before Jenny Owen Youngs took the stage.

I got reasonably close to the stage but ended up standing behind some tall dudes who were drinking and laughing and I know that's what you do at a show, I couldn't fault them for that, but I've had some bad experiences with people being really douchey during opening acts (see forthcoming Airborne Toxic Event post) so I felt wary.

I need not have worried. They boys were so enthused to see Jenny, it was actually pretty adorable. They toasted her when she came out on stage and in fact were so obviously and loudly into her that I thought she'd spit beer out her nose laughing. She seemed genuinely flattered and surprised and it ended up being really fun. She's great on stage, too. She's got a great voice and songs that draw you in and she's gorgeous, which is irrelevant but still true. I didn't know any of her stuff before the show but she got us new kids singing along to a nice cover of "Ring of Fire" and overall, I really enjoyed her set and I've put a few of her tracks into my main playlist.

Next up was Larry and His Flask (LAHF from here on).

If you're not moving when LAHF starts playing, I assume one of the following scenarios applies:
1. You have died/are in a coma.
2. You suffer from full-body paralysis.
3. You are standing in a state of shock at the sheer awesomeness in front of you.

There is no other legitimate excuse. I'd only listened to a few of their songs before the show but was sucked right in to it from the moment they began playing. Then when they started playing "Beggars Will Ride", I thought I'd lose my mind. Dancing and clapping and stomping my feet with a bunch of other crazy people doing the same thing was beyond my wildest expectations. Finally getting to dance the crap out of that song was a relief as I had previously been listening to it at work where busting a move is frowned upon by management.

I'm not sure what to say about LAHF. They're the real deal. The (upright) bass player will blow your mind. Straight up. The mandolin and banjos solos give you the sense that all is right in the world. There's harmonica and drums and sometimes even trumpet and trombone. There's so much going on that it's almost impossible to keep track of, especially when they don't keep still for even a second. They lay out soulful, solid harmonies over this well-constructed wonderful punk rock jamboree. I had this thought that I was just happy to be a human being who could experience their show and appreciate it.

Too soon, it was over. But the best was yet to come. Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls took the stage and the show pretty much blew me away. You have to understand that LAHF was a wild ride but I'd been living in Frank Turner's music for months. It's attached itself to my heart now, which made seeing him live kind of a Big Deal. The combination of the music being such a big part of my life, of being caught up in the crowd singing and dancing and Frank and the band sounding great and playing their hearts out on every song... it was one of those moments that stick with you. Amazing.

It's obvious that Frank Turner loves what he's doing. He's solidly connected to what he plays and he invites the crowd to connect as well. He calls for a sing-a-long but makes sure everyone knows what to do because he's "not all about the in crowd" or only long-time fans. His call to dance during "Four Simple Words" pushed the crowd to a new level of awesome from which it never descended through the rest of the show.

The Sleeping Souls really rocked. They were a lot of fun to watch. Had my bass-player gauge not just been thoroughly destroyed by LAHF, Tarrant from the Sleeping Souls would have made the top of my list of fun-to-watch bass players. I guess he can still top the list of bass guitar players because he was really beautiful to watch. I got a chance to say hi to some of the guys after the show and even got a copy of the set list (thanks Matt!).

I'd heard that Frank is known to hang around after a show and I was thrilled to find that was, indeed the case. Now, I'd been practicing for this moment all summer by meeting other musicians that I really admire after shows and I thought that since now I'm so cool, meeting Frank would be no big deal. Wrong. I totally pulled a deer in headlights act! Thankfully, he's a pro and he signed the things I proffered and even took care to spell my name correctly without once giving the impression that he thought I was a total tool. He did call my 30 Things To Do While I'm 30 list a "bucket list", which I hate, but he didn't know any better and since I was incapable of giving any real explanation, I choose forgiveness.

I was bummed that I didn't get to meet Jenny Owen Youngs or the guys from Larry and His Flask but hopefully I'll be able to catch them on their next trip through the Mitten.

All in all, bump this one to the top of my favorite concerts list. The energy, the awesome performances, the enthusiastic crowd that was there to sing and dance and rock out, it really came together, start to finish.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Silent Film (x3)

The shows:
July 9, 2012 - Common Ground Festival, Lansing, MI
August 26, 2012 - The Loft, in Lansing, MI
August 27, 2012 - The Pike Room at the Crofoot in Pontiac, MI

On day one of Common Ground 2012, I ambled down to the Pearle Vision Pavilion and happened upon A Silent Film performing. Which song? I have no idea. I have a terrible memory. But performing they were.

My first thought was, "That sounds really good!"
My second thought was, "Holy drummer."

Then I had to step back and take it all in. Lead singer (Robert), moving all over the stage, sometimes thunking down on a keyboard. Bass player (Ali), jamming away with a smile on his face. Guitarist (Karl), rocking out in a quiet kind of way but occasionally tossing out little grins at his bandmates, and drummer (Spencer), drumming the shit out of the song like he really meant it. I hate watching drummers who just look like they're just there to keep the beat and maybe fill in some transitions. No. You're giving the song its GD heartbeat. Own it, kid. And he does. It's a beautiful thing. 

Here's the thing about A Silent Film. You can listen to their albums, and they're good. I mean, really good. Their sound is kind of like a good croissant. Rich and layered but also light. At its loudest, it isn't oppressively weighty. It's dynamic. Lovely. But when you see them live, you can really see the layers come together. They come to the fore and fade back seamlessly to weave their songs together so they sound like the album versions only more. Better. You know, the way live music should be.

These guys hit that crucial balance between being in the music and performing for the crowd. They're performing like these songs mean something to them, and like performing them means something to them. I hope they don't lose that as they inevitably become absurdly famous. I go to a lot of shows and what I said about drummers applies to other performers as well. Hearing music is all well and good but really great music should be felt. And if you're performing but I don't catch that you feel it, then I don't understand what it is you're doing up there. You don't have to cry about it, but don't stand up there looking like you'd rather be playing cribbage, either. Thankfully, I never caught wind of any cribbage--or bocce ball--hobbies during any of A Silent Film's performances.

There is one bad thing about ASF shows. They're too short. Oh, they're normal sets. It's just that normal doesn't quite seem enough. The guys do seem inclined to hang out after the show, though, selling merch and chatting up fans. I met Spencer and Robert and they seemed genuinely interested in meeting people and were gracious, humble and enthusiastic about what they do. It was really great for a shy cat like me to get a few moments to say hello.

A couple of notes about the venues. Common Ground is a terrific festival. I'd never been before, but the sound on both stages was really good and the range of performers was fantastic. Definitely check it out if you get the chance. It runs in the evenings for a full week in July.

The Loft in Lansing is a really cute, small venue. They've had some good acts (AWOLNATION, As I Lay Dying) and have more scheduled (Mutemath, Rusted Root). It's definitely worth stopping in if you're in the area but it's nestled snugly between some bars, so look closely for the sign. Had I not seen the guys from the band go in the front door, I might've missed it.

The Pike Room at the Crofoot in Pontiac is a new favorite. The small stage forced Ali into performing some impressive Robert-evading maneuvers but also brought Spencer closer to the crowd which is never a bad thing. The Pike room is just one of the venues within the building and they seem to get really great acts. It's easy to find and parking is a snap. The staff was also super nice and gave me some music recommendations, directions back home and a walk to my car! 


A Silent Film's dynamic, energetic and emotional sound comes alive on stage. If they swing by your part of the world, they're absolutely worth checking out.