I'm thisclose to breaking down and paying for an upgraded Spotify membership. What is it — like, $10 a month? Fine. I've found myself relying on the free version of the streaming music service more and more in order to discover new (or new-to-me) music. Surely I'm not the only person you know (do you know me?) who's sung the praises of their Discover Weekly playlist that uses an algorithm (which I'm convinced is a euphemism for "network of spies") to introduce you to songs you'll probably like. So I think it's about time I did some discovering without the dog food ads.
But seriously, how did people find new favorite songs before Discover Weekly? Well, they found them on the radio, I guess, but how did people find great music that wasn't necessarily on the radio? And without the Shazam app to name-that-tune whenever you're out and about and happen to hear a song you want more of? Jesus, how did I even have ears before I was 30?
Well, personally, I relied on three sources for discovering new songs and artists: friends who insisted on controlling the music in the car, commercials, and lucking into great opening bands when I'm seeing a headliner I already enjoy. And really, that last one is the most special way. You're already there to see a performer you love, and then you get a bonus free set from a band you didn't even know you loved? It's like a Payless BOGO sale but with less synthetic-upper smell and more willingness to tell people that you attended.
It happened to me for the first time in a long while when I went to see Frightened Rabbit at Le Poisson Rouge just this past Monday. I wasn't even an official fan of Frightened Rabbit, to be honest; I'd only recently come to like them after my boyfriend (a huge fan of theirs) played one of their albums while we were painting the apartment (so I guess that's another way to discover music). But before they hit the stage, the opening act did, and I was immediately smitten — jolted in that way only the realization that you haven't heard any great new music in a while hits you. And, clearly, I was also inspired to round up a few of the best bands and singers I've become fans of in exactly this way.
These two guys are the aforementioned band that opened for Frightened Rabbit, and they're just the best kind of scruffy, scrappy charmers. After I got over the vapors from guitarist/harmonica-ist/lead singer/half the band Lou Nutting's Joaquin Phoenix vibes, I managed to focus on their "What if Bob Dylan joined Wolfmother?" sound, and I loved it.
For some reason, I thought they were from Virginia, but they're definitely hunkered down here in Brooklyn, so I'm making a point of seeing them play again soon. And then again after that.
I always feel lucky when it turns out that an opening act is right up my alley, but I feel especially lucky to have found Clem Snide because they opened for Ben Folds in 2002 at the one show of his I saw that didn't end in personal disaster.
If you had described Clem Snide to me in the way I'm about to describe them to you without letting me actually hear their music, I would have hard-passed. A bunch of guys wearing suits playing kinda twangy songs with a kinda twangy-voiced lead singer whose lyrics are kinda obtuse in a poetic yet totally-fucking-with-you wink-wink way.
AND YET! Those songs, that voice, those guys — they knocked my ear socks off.
Sadly, Clem Snide hasn't made any albums lately, but lead singer Eef Barzelay is still doing the twangy-winky-singy thing.
Because I was so taken with Clem Snide, I went to see them play shortly after as headliners in Brooklyn (which, in 2002, for me, was a big, intimidating deal). And it was like they were paying it forward, because their opening act was Martha Wainwright.
Before I could enjoy her folksy, viscerally honest songs, I had to forgive myself for not knowing she existed. I had been a fan of Rufus Wainwright, her brother, for several years, and I didn't realize that he had an equally talented sibling.
There are so many songs of hers that I love, and I admit that I need to catch up on some of her more recent work, but if one thing is truly consistent, it's her uninhibited voice, which, if voices could dance, dances like no one is watching.
And sentences like that last one, my friends, is why Martha Wainwright is a songwriter and I am not.
Grand Ole Party
They're not together anymore, but I still listen to Grand Ole Party's devil-centric 2007 album Humanimals on a regular basis. I downloaded it as soon as I got home from the Rilo Kiley show they opened, because I was just so impressed by their drummer and lead singer, Kristin Gundred, who went on to form Dum Dum Girls with the new stage name "Dee Dee" a few years later.
I kept trying to explain to anyone who would listen that Liza Minnelli and Karen O had a little drummer baby, but you really have to see her in action to appreciate the combination of belting and keeping the beat.
I knew that I couldn't be the only person who's discovered some of her favorite bands by showing up early to a concert, so I asked my fellow XO editors about their opening-act discoveries.
Jane: Mine is a big duh, because it was when REM was opening for Steve Forbert at the Cleveland Agoura.
Dan: I’m not a big concert person. It just doesn’t appeal to me, OK? I go to concerts, from time to time, but I’ve usually been coerced to do so by friends. When I was a teenager, my good friend was really into concerts. And mosh pits. She would take me to concerts where everyone just piled into a room, got real close to one another, and nodded their head along to the music. I think that’s where I discovered Coheed and Cambria. I can’t even remember who they were opening for. Either way, I liked them.
Jamie: LCD Soundsystem, definitely. I went to Randall’s Island to see Arcade Fire in 2007 (because that is what one did as a 20-something in New York City in 2007), and Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, and LCD Soundsystem played first. I knew a few LCD Soundsystem songs already, but after the show I became OBSESSED. Since then, I’ve seen them several times, including the “final” show at Madison Square Garden in 2011. I’m a total James Murphy fangirl — I live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and I’ve seen him a few times at restaurants and at a movie theater. He was hanging out with his wife and baby at his new wine bar, the Four Horsemen, when I checked it out for the first time, and I had to try REALLY hard to play it cool, like, "whatever, I drink orange wine around James Murphy all the time, no big” because I love his music so damn much. Sound of Silver takes me right back to 2007, when I listened to my iPod everywhere I went in NYC, and I could listen to "All My Friends" every day for the rest of my life and never be tired of it because it is lyrical genius, and also, I miss my old friends from college every day. “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision for another five years of life…"
Caitlin: Lisa Prank! I saw them open for Tacocat at Palisades, and they were just the most charming thing. I think there's a distinct moment when people stop trying to get a beer before the headliner goes on and start paying more attention to who's on stage, and that happened right at the beginning of their set. I love bratty female-fronted bands anyways, but how can you not like lyrics like: "at first I thought that you were shy / I dreamed of all the ways yr words would blow my mind / but I am finding out / the reason nothing's in your mouth is / yr long hair hides a waste of time / oh baby, let me write your lines"?
And now it's your turn to save everyone else the trouble of stumbling upon your favorite opening-act band the way you did. Who became an instant favorite band of yours when you just happened to see them before the headliner?