From the MoSS? Pit: Sharon Van Etten

sharon van etten

Sharon Van Etten and her band gave the crowd at Gabe’s a great show Oct. 13.

There was this one time at Gabe’s when things got kinda awkward. I want to tell you about it.

I was seeing Ted Leo and the Pharmacists. It was a great show: Ted and the band were rockin’ out, the crowd was sizable and into what was happening, and everyone was feeling good. And at some point between songs, Ted decided to tell some story about the long-running TV show Law & Order. And he even specified that he wanted to talk about the really early episodes.

To my mind, that was a good thing, because I really liked the episodes with Michael Moriarty. For one, his Ben Stone character wasn’t nearly as melodramatic as Jack McCoy. Two, the show didn’t feel it necessary that the DA’s office rack up a win-loss record that would rival Perry Mason; in fact, it seemed like Stone and Robinette were unable to get convictions on about a third of their cases, which led to some serious philosophical conversation on the courthouse steps between the defeated prosecution team and then Stone would flag a cab while Robinette stood there looking mad/sad and you could only imagine what sort of witticism DA Adam Schiff would have spouted had he been standing there.

adam schiffAdam Schiff (at right) was the best, by the way.

Anyway, for those of you not steeped in Law & Order trivia, Michael Moriarty pretty much talked his way out of his L&O role because he was angry that Janet Reno was critical of violence on TV and Moriarty felt that she was overstepping her boundaries and feared government censorship (or something like that). Producers cited his “erratic behavior” for his eventual dismissal, not Reno, but I think they were/are part of an elaborate cover-up!

So I decided this was the perfect time for me to yell the following: “FUCK JANET RENO!”

I didn’t stop to think about how that would sound as a lone voice coming from a crowd in a venue that isn’t exactly world-renowned for its acoustics. Not the criticisms of a former attorney general, but how what I said would get lost in translation, so to speak, as the sound waves went forward toward the stage.

So Ted Leo stops mid-sentence and says, “Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh did someone just say FUCK TED LEO?”

Suddenly everyone’s head swung around to look at me. It felt a lot like this:

kids pointing and laughing

I screamed out “NOOOOOO! JANET RENO!” but it was too late. Killed the entire vibe. Ted finally says, “Ah never mind, I don’t want to tell the story now.” And everyone glared at me again and I pretty much died right then. Only thing I remember after that is having tinnitus for about a week because Gabe’s.

sharon van etten with guitarAnyway, I bring this up because as good as the Sharon Van Etten concert was at Gabe’s on Monday night, one of the main takeaways was how awkward it got for a moment or two.

And once again, we have a Music or Space Shuttle member to thank! Not me this time, though!

Before I give you the lowdown on how Sam got in trouble during the concert, I’ll quickly give you some thoughts about the evening in general.

We had a pretty sizable gang out for the show (seven of us, all told) and most of us were able to make our way to the very front of the crowd. I was right along the stage, in fact. The view was great, of course, and the sound was actually quite nice from that angle. Sharon and the band seemed to be in a good mood, talking about how Doug the guitarist was celebrating a birthday and how they enjoyed their pre-show meal at the Motley Cow. It wasn’t the longest show in the world but they played most of what I wanted to hear.

“Taking Chances” and “Break Me” are two of my favorite songs and they both sounded great. “Serpents” was pretty cool although I think there were some technical difficulties or something with Sharon’s gear as she shook her head a time or two and kinda toe-tapped her pedals in a slight show of frustration. It still had a great aggressive feel to it and really it’s the vocal in that song (the way she holds the words “my mind” in the chorus) that does it for me. “Afraid of Nothing” was a great start to the night; “Your Love Is Killing Me” ended the main set very well. We got a two-song encore that included a song that didn’t make the last record but not for lack of quality, based on the rendition we heard.

Sharon seems genuinely appreciative of the fans; we noticed this at her Pitchfork set in July as well. It’s a weird juxtaposition sometimes, hearing her happy moments of gratitude before heading back into songs that pull at heartstrings, but it’s a cool trait that we like about her.

The set by opener Tiny Ruins (what we caught of it, anyway) was good. A bit more subdued than what Sharon and her band do, but they seem rooted in the same philosophical vein. I liked what I heard and need to seek out some more.

Non-concert thing: I’m still not a big fan of Toppling Goliath putting everything they have into bottling, consequently taking Golden Nugget off the taps of Iowa City drinking establishments. Lagunitas is picking up the slack, though.

OK, so let’s talk about Sam.

I have been making a conscious effort to stay off my phone during shows anymore. Not completely, but I try to get any photos or videos out of the way in the first three songs (this is a common grace period that credentialed media have for shooting photos, the first three songs). I can get a few shots, perhaps get one song worth of video, and then put the phone away. Worked out for me at the Cure at Riot Fest, as they played “Fascination Street” second overall, the song I wanted to capture. So that’s what I did: took maybe 10 photos of Sharon during the first song, sent one of them to Todd with a report about the crowd, and that was that.

So during the third song (I believe), I was kinda bobbing my head to the music, eyes half closed, when I swore I heard Sharon sing, right in the middle of the verse, “Get off your phone!” I shook my head, wondering if I imagined that, then went back to being the solemn hipster in the front row.

So at song’s end, Sharon went on a bit of a rant about people engaging during shows. About being on cell phones during shows. About how people can take photos and videos if they want, she doesn’t care, but it really sounds like she does care, and again, if you want to be on your phone, go ahead and do that, just don’t stand up front and do it, let other people up there, OK rant over let’s play music again.

I do believe that a guy two spots to my left recorded the whole thing on his phone, so he could correct any creative license I’ve taken with my paraphrasing.

Needless to say, at this point I would not be fulfilling the request I received during the second song, via text from Jess (Todd’s better half), hoping for video of “Your Love Is Killing Me.” And that reluctance was hammered home later in the set, when Sharon AGAIN ranted about cell phone use. Jesus, I thought, who the fuck set her off?

So after the show ended, I turned around to chat with the others: Michelle, Travis and Annie, Sam and Devon. They were all in the vicinity of the front row (Michelle was next to me; everyone else was one or two “rows” back).

“So you know that cell phone rant?” Sam says. “That was me.”

What?

Apparently Sam was texting a friend, letting him/her (I never asked for clarification) know that Sharon’s set had just started and there was still time to get there to catch the lion’s share of the show. I’m guessing the glow from his phone illuminated Sam’s sexy mug in such a way that Sharon couldn’t help but notice. And when a guy like Sam isn’t paying attention to you, you let him know that he’s fucking up!

sharon van etten and sam

They were apologizing to each other at blurring speeds, apparently.

The story has a happy ending: Sharon hung out after the show, and Sam went over to apologize. He said she was apologetic herself by the time the conversation neared its end.

This isn’t the first time Sam has annoyed a musician in my presence at Gabe’s. Some 12 years ago (give or take) he and I were hanging out at Gabe’s to see the Donnas. I believe there were four bands on the bill, so there was plenty of time to kill.

This was in the golden age of coin-operated bar-top games like Trivia Whiz. Apparently Sam and I weren’t the only people who liked playing that game, as two of the Donnas (Donna R the smokin’ hot guitarist and Donna F the bass player) were back there playing. So we hovered, partly because two Donnas were playing but partly because we are trivia nerds.

So we’re watching over their shoulders and eventually Sam starts chiming in with answers. Of course he’s right every time, but it’s like when you’re playing solitaire and someone comes over and says “Duh! The 8 can go on that 9!” or something like that. You want to turn around and punch the guy in the seeds.

And Donna F the scary bassist gave a look that sort of conveyed that message. This photo of Donna F found on the Interwebs is pretty representative:

donna f

So perhaps out of guilt or perhaps as a way to flirt with Donna R, Sam ended up getting like $40 worth of quarters and gave them to the two Donnas playing Trivia Whiz, saying “If I’m going to blurt out answers I should at least pay for your games.” And much like his conciliatory conversation with Sharon, things worked out. They let us join in and it was good fun. The other two Donnas dropped by at some point, which was also pretty cool (I thought Donna A the singer was kinda cute or whatever). A little while later, they put on a really fun rock show.

I should clarify a couple of things: one, Sam didn’t really get $40 worth of quarters to play Trivia Whiz with the Donnas. He can tell you the exact amount in his inevitable defense statement in the comments of this post.

Second, I didn’t witness the Sharon conversation where they made up or whatever. I had already had my own conversation with Sharon during the show. Toward the end of the concert, she mentioned how she had a really shitty morning at the airport, where she and a grumpy airport worker had gotten into a bit of a spat. Sharon said she felt horrible about it but the airport worker kinda had it coming or something like that.

So it got kinda quiet and I seized my moment to interject, “What, was she on her phone or something?”

To which Sharon, to her credit, said without missing a beat, “No…but I did text a bunch of people about it.”

Good show.

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I have pretend girlfriends, and they are hot

sleigh bellsI’d like to apologize for omitting “Comeback Kid” by Sleigh Bells from the February 2012 Music or Space Shuttle? mix tape (which is still fucking awesome; listen to the whole 10-song extravaganza at bit.ly/AqO7Ou).

Here’s the thing: it was a calculated move. I didn’t want the song to dwarf the other nine inclusions on the mix tape; I wanted to devote an entire post to singing its praises…or more specifically, praising the video.

Alexis Krauss staring at me with her big-saucer eyes! Those shorts! Those jeans! (Even if they were stolen from Joe Elliott’s 1988 wardrobe!) The right amount of leg visible under that bathrobe! Those cheerleading moves! That spiky jacket! Alternating between her cool sunglasses and those sexy eyes! That longing look as the song reaches its conclusion! Did I mention those shorts?! That lucky deck chair!

Madeline Follin[Madeline Follin of Cults enters the room]

Madeline: What the heck is going on here?

Chris: Oh, hi, Madeline Follin, my rock ‘n’ roll girlfriend.

Madeline: Why is Alexis Krauss on your computer screen?

Chris: Um, I was just mentioning to the adoring Music or Space Shuttle? readership that I think this video is kinda sorta cool. I mean, it’s no “Abducted,” but it’s not bad—

Madeline: What’s so great about this video?

Chris: Derek Miller’s In Utero shirt is pretty cool. That mustard toss was pretty epic. His John Bender-esque fist pump at the end is pretty awesome.

Madeline (frowning): You’re dumping me, aren’t you?

Chris: Um, well, yes.

Madeline: Go outside.

Chris: [sigh] Great tune.

Madeline: No, get the fuck out of here.

Chris: Oh.

And so another rock ‘n’ roll relationship ends. Madeline Follin, who last summer stood just a couple feet away from me as she performed before a rapturous crowd in St. Louis, finds herself kicked to the curb in favor of another raven-haired vixen. Madeline’s got company; I’ve loved me some rock women over the years. Some have been mega-popular; some are girl-next-door types. For example…

Donna A (Brett Anderson)Donna A of the Donnas

When was this?: early 2000s

Initial appeal?: liked the Ramones-style songs in the beginning; liked her look around Get Skintight

Real encounters?: Well, sorta. When they played Gabe’s in Iowa City in 2002 or something like that, my buddy Sam and I were hanging out in back during the opener, having a brew, when Donna R (Sam’s obsession) and Donna F came by and started playing Trivia Whiz. Sam kept yelling out the answers, which may or may not have annoyed the two Donnas. So Sam did the chivalrous thing and gave them $2 worth of quarters; that way he could keep yelling out answers/flirting with Donna R with a clean conscience. At some point in this display of cerebral excellence, Donna A and Donna C came by. I went to say “hi” to Donna A and managed to get out “Durrr-ahhhh-hey!” It was magical.

How did it end?: Once the Donnas became less like the Ramones and more like butt-rock, I was done with Donna.

Janet WeissJanet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney/Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks

When was this?: mid- to late 1990s

Initial appeal?: She reminded me of Maura Tierney (what? I liked NewsRadio…)

Real encounters?: None…I never saw Sleater-Kinney live, nor did I see Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks during her tenure as timekeeper. I did have some college classes with a girl who looked a lot like Janet Weiss and played the drums. She was kinda cool. (And of course I was petrified to have anything to do with her other than bum smokes from her after class now and again.)

How did it end?: That girl from Portlandia seemed jealous.

D'Arcy WretzkyD’Arcy Wretzky of the Smashing Pumpkins

When was this?: early- to mid-1990s

Initial appeal?: A blonde, too-cool-for-school girl who was a member of one of my greatest musical obsessions…yeah, this was a no-brainer.

Real encounters?: Not really. Saw them twice in 1994; got close to the stage the first time. I remember one of my friends throwing a hotel-sized bar of soap at D’Arcy. His intent was that she would catch it/pick it up and use it as a pick, but realized the millisecond after it left his hand that she might take it as a statement of insult regarding her body odor. (No, I haven’t had a real encounter, but wanted to share the soap story.)

How did it end?: The Pumpkins started to suck after (during?) Mellon Collie, and perhaps I foresaw this image.

Gloria EstefanGloria Estefan

When was this?: mid- to late 1980s

Initial appeal?: What, you haven’t seen the video for “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You”?

Real encounters?: I was, like, 12—that would have been awkward. And I didn’t really want to have to meet the Miami Sound Machine.

How did it end?: As it turned out, the rhythm did not get me. (And I started listening to heavy metal, and, aside from an obligatory liking for Lita Ford and the ladies of Vixen, became asexual for a while.)

Madonna in the early daysMadonna

When was this?: mid 1980s

Initial appeal?: the song “Burning Up”; the videos for “Borderline” and “Lucky Star”

Real encounters?: Back then I think I saw many a teenage girl trying to look like her (and failing miserably). I also lived vicariously through that boy in the “Open Your Heart” video—does that count?

How did it end?: Who says it did? She still looks great.

If you have any quirky rock ‘n’ roll loves, tell me all about them in the comments. (Ladies, feel free to chime in, too. Perhaps you can ask my better half about her Jimi Westbrook thing.)