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Concerts have always been a “big deal” to me. As I’ve written before, my first concert was The Rolling Stones, which my father took me to for my 10th birthday. The excitement I felt in the hours leading up to the show approached Christmas-morning levels and I almost shook apart in my snap-crotch bodysuit while waiting to get into that giant stadium in Birmingham, Alabama.
As someone who is in possession of literally no chill, it should not come as a surprise that am not a super-cool customer at live musical events. I dance and sing and, sometimes, cry. It’s all pretty ridiculous but also very cathartic. I also get oddly sad after a particularly good show, as if I’m mourning an experience I know I’ll never have again. (Even if you see the same band twice, it’s very unlikely that you’ll have the same experience both times.)
Below are some of the most emotionally charged, beautiful concert-related memories I have, two of which acted as bookends to my 30th birthday, and one of which I danced my face off at just last night.
Tom Petty, with my dad, somewhere in Oregon
I don’t remember the exact venue, only that it was outdoors and we were in the 19th row. I was 18, a longtime fan of Petty, and really, really excited to hear “Don’t Do Me Like That.” I got my wish, but the real highlight was when Queen Witch Stevie Nicks made her way onto the stage, swathed in gorgeous fabrics and blessing us all with her divine presence. I had not known she would be there. They sang “Stop Draggin' My Heart Around,” and I lost my shit.
Later in the car, my father (still under the spell of Stevie) sighed and said, “She is an amazing woman” in a way that can only be described as “wistful." (My father is not one for wistfulness, so it mattered.)
Belle & Sebastian at Pitchfork Music Festival 2013
I have seen Belle & Sebastian four times, and I have cried every single time, but the first time in Chicago was the most special. The festival tickets were a surprise for my husband on his 30th birthday and, though we’ve since split up, it doesn’t change the fact that it was a great trip and a great show.
We were both so excited and got to the stage six hours before B&S were slated to go on. The only other people who bothered to get there that early were three teenage boys in Dear Catastrophe Waitress shirts who were not interested in talking to the two old weirdo fans. Paranoid about losing my spot, I quit drinking water (and beer) at around 2 p.m. so I wouldn’t have to leave to go pee.
They opened with the instrumental “Judy is a Dick Slap” before launching into “I’m a Cuckoo,” at which point the tears began. The entire set was flawless, almost like it was crafted to suit our specific tastes and preferences. Sean caught the list, and we were able to get about 80 percent of the band to sign it later that evening at Rich Colburn’s DJ set.
The music and the band were amazing, but I remember feeling more connected with my husband than I had in a long time. We were like giggly adolescents sharing music with either other for the first time, and I don’t know that I’ll find another concert buddy like him ever again. Later, when we saw them at the House of Blues in Orlando, they played a new song called “Perfect Couples.”
“Who here thinks they’re a perfect couple?” Stevie Jackson asked the audience. My hand shot up.
“Fuck,” I instantly thought, “I just cursed us.”
“Yeah, I bet you’ll be different,” Jackson muttered at all the raised hands.
I squeezed Sean’s arm.
The Flaming Lips at the Orlando House of Blues
This show came at the end of the worst semester of my entire college career. I almost failed two classes, which was a new, very upsetting experience for me, and had been dealing with a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy surrounding my major and career path (which was chemistry at the time).
In short, I needed a break, and this show was the perfect antidote to all the super-serious, dour feelings I had been experiencing for two and a half months. In true Lips style, there were crazy lights, confetti cannons, giant laser hands, and animal costumes.
You may have read that I have issues talking to famous people, but this was not the case with Wayne Coyne, who sat on a bench in Downtown Disney for hours, signing memorabilia and having actual conversations with every single starstruck fan.
The National six years ago at the Electric Factory and about a week ago at Red Rocks
I have seen The National twice, and the experiences were radically different. The first time I saw them, I was 24, recently engaged, and in Delaware for an internship at DuPont. I was excited about chemistry, excited about getting married, and excited to be able to bop up to Philly for shows on the weekend. I got right up front, near one of the twins, and got spit on a little by Matt Berninger. Afterward, I said some dumb things to the drummer and had him sign the back of an old checkbook.
I saw them again, a little over a week ago, at Red Rocks with my aunt. Wanting a similar concert experience to what I had given Sean on his 30th, I impulsively bought the tickets and asked my aunt if she would go with me, as she lives not too far from the venue.
Obviously, I am in a very different place than I was six years ago, in almost every way imaginable. I’m getting divorced, no longer work in chemistry, and my life looks nothing like I expected it to. The concert itself was also very different. Instead of being pressed up against the stage at a club, I was sitting far back in a beautiful natural amphitheater. The whole thing was more polished, and less urgent feeling, but it was beautiful, and healing. It almost felt like church.
They played “About Today,” which is a super-sad song I relate to a little too much right now, and they closed with an acoustic version of “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks.” Matt didn’t even sing, letting the audience take the lead on vocals. It would have been corny with a less hymn-like song, but it was perfect.
Wolf Parade at the Neptune Theater in Seattle, just last night
I associate Wolf Parade with my last semester of college, which is the semester when I quit giving a fuck. In a fit of defiance against my type-A, overachieving personality, I decided not to write a senior thesis and told my research adviser that I didn’t want to work with him anymore. Instead of hanging out in a lab, I took a drawing class and listened to Apologies to the Queen Mary on repeat while making not very good art. It was delightful.
Sadly, the band broke up just as I was getting into them, which was devastating because I assumed they would stay broken up and I would never get to see them live.
But they didn’t stay broken up, and I saw them live last night, and it rocked my fucking face off. It was the perfect ending to an amazing birthday week. The morning after my party (at which I roasted a whole, 70-pound pig and drank a lot of gin punch), I rode up to Seattle with some friends and went to the Neptune to see the super-talented and attractive Canadian band I’d never thought I’d see.
We danced, we sang, we almost got in a fight with a super shove-y bro, and I loved every single minute of it. They played every one of my favorite songs, except for “Grounds for Divorce.” This kind of bummed me out initially, because I love that song, but also because I felt it would be kind of “fitting,” given my circumstances.
Reflecting on it now though, I’m glad they left that one off the list. Impulsively going to Seattle to see a band my ex never liked anyway and crashing on someone’s couch made me very happy, and it marked the first time I felt pure, enthusiastic joy about being single. I felt free and I felt young. In fact, even though I had just turned thirty 48 hours before, I felt younger than I had in a long time. So I’m glad they didn’t play “Grounds for Divorce.” I think about divorce enough already, and I’d rather spend my time thinking about Dan Boeckner.