What do you get when you mix a nasty hangover, yellow tinted windows and a celebrity encounter? Me almost throwing up, that’s what. There I was this past Friday, walking out of the shop that occupies the southernmost sliver of the Third Man Records facility in Nashville, TN, holding a black shopping bag that itself held the spoils of a shopping trip that was truncated by a sallow lighting scheme that somehow magnified the gastric consequences of a night spent cavorting on Broadway, when I came close enough to Third Man founder Jack White as he was backing out of the parking lot in his Mercedes to projectile vomit all over it. Given how close I came to giving White’s black Benz an unwelcome paint job, I believe not having done so qualifies as “keeping my cool.” Clearly, I shouldn’t be allowed around famous people. Especially famous people I hold in such high esteem.
I’m just plain bad at celebrity sightings, partly because I tend to doubt my own eyes, chalking most encounters up to having seen “someone who looked just like” famous person X. But not this time.
(Editor’s note: This is the last of three posts about this past Saturday, which was jam-packed with great music. Click here for the first post, which talked about meeting the stepdad of Jeremy Salken from Big Gigantic, and click here for the second post, which chronicled the fantastic Trillions CD release show at Gallery 5.)
The world is a tiny place. It used to be big. Huge even! So huge that we didn’t even know the fucker was round! Crazy, right? Now it’s so small that I can write a blog post about meeting the stepdad of a famous musician and hear back from that musician via Twitter in a matter of minutes. And it’s so small that we can be several places at once. Thanks to the world wide web of information, just as we can watch every single game of the NCAA basketball tournament, we can now attend music festivals from thousands of miles away, and last weekend was a great example. Throughout the weekend, Coachella was webcasting performances, 3 at a time, and I was in heaven. And though I’m not going to argue that watching on my laptop beats being there in person, there is one HUGE advantage.
I’ve been to Bonnaroo twice, in 2004 and 2005, and one of the most difficult things about the monster music festival experience (aside from not showering for 3 days and being around other people who haven’t showered in 3 days) is the decision-making. One band vs. another that’s scheduled to play at the same time. It’s downright painful in the moment, and there’s around a 95% chance that you will despise your decision a few years later (Jack Johnson over the Black Crowes haunts me to this day). But there I was on Friday night, zooming from Dawes to Arctic Monkeys and back in the blink of an eye. Like I said, heaven. But Saturday was a little more stressful. As I left the Trillions’ CD release show, holding two new CDs, one sticker and a whole mess of excitement, I was also lugging around a serious sense of urgency.
In the good old days, before it was taken over by Groupon and Living Social, people used to use email for all sorts of things… checking in with friends (“Hey asshole, you still owe $50 for fantasy football.”), coordinating bachelorette parties (“I don’t want to do anything too crazy you guys, maybe just some wine tasting or a spa day and then I guess we can go out for a little later that night but NOTHING TOO CRAZY YOU GUYS FOR REAL”), even staying in touch with family (“Mom I need $50 for fantasy football can you send a check thanks love you bye”). Email also used to be one of my favorite ways to follow bands. I’ve always enjoyed Guster’s updates and studio journals, penned by drummer-who-could-very-well-be-a-writer Brian Rosenworcel (not to be confused with singer-who-wrote-a-really-cool-children’s-novel Colin Meloy of the Decemberists), but I haven’t kept up with email lists as much lately — especially since so many seem like they’re coming directly from record companies, sporting rich HTML and graphics, and don’t come close to fostering a one-on-one connection with the artist. I’m happy to say that Lianne La Havas has snapped me out of my complacency. The first few messages to her list have been refreshing in their lighthearted humor and sense of intimacy. In addition to updates about shows and releases, she imparts weekly advice, like “Eat more soup. You stay fuller for longer,” and “Remember never to swallow the snot” — both excellent tips. In her most recent email, she included a link to her hypnotic Take-Away Show, which everyone should stop what they’re doing and watch immediately, and she also reminded us that she’d be appearing on Later… with Jools Holland. Her companions on Later…’s circular sound stage last night included Bon Iver and Feist, altogether a perfect storm of “Shit… does Verizon get BBC2?” The answer is no. Or I couldn’t find it. In any case, I waited patiently for video of the proceedings to show up online, and La Havas gave a performance of her song “Age” that was well worth the wait. Standing at the convergence of two spotlights, alone on the massive Later… stage, she brought to life the song’s sophisticated marriage of vulnerability and assertiveness, finger picking an electric guitar and singing in a voice that was sultry one moment and forceful the next. All throughout, her smile and apparent warmth echoed the personality I found in her electronic correspondence, filling the studio and leaving me all the more excited to receive her next update. Check out her Later… performance of “Age” above and the version from her Live in L.A. EP below, which you can snag for the meager price of an email address (rest assured, this is one email list you won’t bemoan joining).
Lianne La Havas — “Age“
Clearly Justin Vernon reads this blog. Could he have picked a better day to release the first song from Bon Iver’s upcoming album? Yesterday I wrote about how Later… with Jools Holland opened my eyes to Vernon’s talent for transforming pain into something beautiful. To me, that performance symbolized triumph over loneliness, as if he was shouting, on behalf of broken hearts everywhere, “I’M STILL HERE!” It’s a powerful sight. So what happens next? What happens when your heartache turns into fame? What happens when you’re not just “still here” … but everywhere, instead? For just the price of an email address, you can download “Calgary” and find out. It’s a characteristically thoughtful and touching song, and it highlights the the dichotomy between his falsetto and full voices. His falsetto is so delicate, conveying notes and lyrics as if they’re imagined, more than sung. His full voice appears late in the song, waking the listener from the dreamy tone of the first two and a half minutes. But which is the dream? The falsetto that graced most of his first album, giving him a successful career and a public identity, or the earnest voice that interrupts it? The last line of the song declares, “the demons come, they can subside.” So which is which? Download the song and see for yourself.
By now, the origin story of Bon Iver’s wildly successful’ debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, has become indie rock legend. In the winter of 2006, the band’s founder, Justin Vernon, retreated to a remote cabin in Wisconsin to recover from illness and heartbreak, and ended up writing a number of bittersweet songs that captured the attention of critics, blogs, listeners and, of course, Kanye West. I enjoyed the album when I first heard it, but it was his performance on Later… with Jools Holland that made me realize what makes Bon Iver so special. Later… with Jools Holland (or just Later… for short) is an awesome show on BBC that features four or five bands each week, the artists arranged in a big circle, with audience members sitting in between the bands. For the two years immediately after college, I had access to Later… on demand and would filter through back episodes, checking out the diverse collection of performances. Bon Iver’s stopped me in my tracks. It’s a solo performance of “Skinny Love,” just Justin and a steel body guitar, and in four stirring minutes, he conjures the profound loneliness of that Wisconsin winter and transforms it into something greater, more universal, beautiful and, in an inspiring way, confident. I get the chills every time I see it. I hope you’ll check it out and see what I mean, and keep an eye out for his self-titled follow up album, which will be released on June 21.