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Post-Punk on a Wednesday Night: Merchandise Live at Home Sweet Home

Merchandise Live at Home Sweet Home

It’s hard to believe that the great Post-Punk (or rather post-post-punk) explosion of the early 2000s was nearly ten years ago.  It seemed like every band wanted to add jagged Joy Division rhythms, a deep baritone, and slick Cure guitars to their sound.  And who wouldn’t want to include that? They’re good tricks that add great power and depth that all moody rockers want ultimately include in their music.  Yet, as last decade moved on naturally the trend began to die and those old timbres that sounded so new started to sound old again.  I even myself felt that I moved on from the post-punk sound that was so important for me for the second half of my teenage years, opting more for psychedelia and shoegaze as I continued through my college years.  However, on September 12th I saw possibility the best living example today of what it really means to be Post-Punk ten years after the beginning of the trend.

Merchandise played at Home Sweet Home, a small bar bordering Chinatown where earlier this year VÅR made their live debut.  I really wanted to see Merchandise at this venue, mainly because I had no idea how it would be in such a small space.  Anybody that’s been to Home Sweet Home can recount the difficult journey to the bathroom since it is only accessible across the dancefloor, a poor design choice if you ask me. Yet sometimes bands thrive in claustrophobic places, and if any band would, I figured Merchandise could.  Merchandise was born out of the Tampa Bay hardcore scene, which lead singer Carson Cox address when he got stage. “Everyone thinks we’re from Brooklyn” he said, “nobody knows we’re from Florida.”  And how could you? Any shred of their straight edge hardcore past makes no real appearance in their music, at least sonically.  To me, the “punk” in post-punk was not about sounds, but rather ethos, ideals, and spirit.  What the Sex Pistols did, most famously at that hallowed Manchester concert attended my Tony Wilson and the young men who would become Joy Division, was show a generation of disenfranchised British youth that you too could be in a rock band, no matter who you were.  But instead of lashing out against the establishment and society, post-punk tended to look inward, exposing their deepest feelings and most tragic thoughts, the most tragic being of course Ian Curtis.  However, the members of Merchandise had their time lashing out in hardcore bands and straight-edge ideal, but now they realized that the real battle is within.

Their album certainly lives up to the name Children of Desire. It seethes with sexual desperation. The music whirls and flows mimicking the hundreds of feelings that can go through a person when they make love.  Home Sweet Home, despite its flaws, really seemed to be the perfect setting for this type of music, with endless fog streaming into the small space, lending overall mood of darkness and dank.

Merchandise started their set with a strumming guitar and bass accompanied by Cox’s not quite Morrissey-esque vocals. I noticed that almost immediately several females began clutching their chests and looking adoringly at him.  They too evidently picked up on the sexuality of his music.  After a few minutes of hypnotizing the crowd, Cox kicked on the drum machine and the band went into a rousing version of track “Time.” I was pretty impressed by their set up and overall noise level they produced for being only three guys. The crowd was quick to react and started moving almost as one since there wasn’t any room for individual space.  Several of the punks started to slam dance, but the rowdiest of the crowd were very drunk middle agers who would lean against anybody and anything in an attempt to move the crowd as much as possible.  As Merchandise continued their set, the crowd fell over a few times in a wave which I hadn’t seen happen in a long time at a concert.

Cox grabbing on the rafters

Cox was truly great in his performance.  He had a particular ease about him while he was on stage. You could tell that it was his territory.  His sanctified stage was briefly disrupted at one point during the show when one of the drunken moshers got up on stage to hump him briefly, but he wore it with good humor.  Someone else threw a bottle at him as well, which he cooly dodge and responded with a simple “you missed.”  He truly broke the fourth wall when he climbed up on to the crowd and was carried throughout the venue while singing his songs.  It was exhilarating  punk showmanship draped in the moodiness and depth of post-punk’s sonics. A perfect combination if you ask me.  They ended the set with the brooding closer of their album “Roser Park.”  As the crowd swayed, they enjoyed every bit of the slow build that led to that familiar riff in the beginning of “Time.”  After they had finished for a bit, declaring that they had nothing left to play, Merchandise relented and played one more song even though it ruined the big finish according to Cox.

Cox’s head well crowd surfing

I walked across broken glass as I moved towards the the stage to congratulate Cox on his performance. As I shook his hand I said “I knew you guys were from Florida.”  He seemed to appreciate that.

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Reverb on the River: Grimes, Wild Nothing, and DIIV live at Pier 84

It used to really upset me when people called me “witch house.” And then one day I thought, “But I did make a witch house record, whether I like it or not. Boo-hoo.” – Claire Boucher (Grimes)

Another day, another concert as the old saying goes, but this time I didn’t have to find a ticket on craigslist. No, this time all I had to do was show up.  It started like any other Thursday out on the town.  I met Kyle at the 2 Bros. Pizza outside his office and quickly scarfed down two slices and a can of Coke.  Instead of being just plain hot like the day before, it was pure swamp weather in midtown.  The dark clouds in the distance grew steadily closer as Kyle and I headed towards Pier 84.  Arriving on 12th ave managing to only suffer through a quick dousing of hot rain, we were greeted by what appeared to be at the time a very grim fact: the line to see Grimes, Wild Nothing, and DIIV was long as fuck.

Hipsters as far as the eye can see!

I was pretty excited to see this show and it was a hell of a line up, especially for free.  First of all, it would be my first time seeing Wild Nothing, headed by Virginia’s very own Jack Tatum.  That alone was worth the trip to the West Side. I had like what I heard of DIIV as well, so why not be excited to see them?  The really crazy thing though was an opportunity to see Grimes for free.  Her four (count ’em four!) other shows in New York at the end October are all sold out. So with a line this long, was there any chance Kyle and I could get into this seemingly free hot ticket?

There’s a spaceship on that boat

Well apparently we made it in plenty of time as the line only got worst as we waited.  Eventually, it started moving pretty quickly and finally we were let into the concert area with very little hassle.  The lines forbathrooms and beer looked to be another story, so we avoided those and headed straight to the stage.  We managed to get relativity close so we had some time to admire the giant Aircraft Carrier with a spaceship on it.  We were also able to admire the giant herd of hipsters we found ourselves a part of as we waited for DIIV to hit the stage.

There’s a spaceship in that thing! (There’s a hipster at this concert!)

I had only listen to DIIV’s album Oshin all the way through once, but I enjoyed it plenty when I did.  It sounded incredibly similar to the dream-pop landscapes of Wild Nothing, but not in an annoying way. Both bands, along with being drenched in 80s style reverb that’s become so familiar in todays music that it kind of seem silly calling it 80s at all, relish in a certain sense of monotony. I love Wild Nothing and I’ve listened to both Gemini and Golden Haze a lot, but it’s still incredibly hard for me to name the individual songs. That’s not to detract from the music of either Wild Nothing or DIIV, it is rather a shared strength. It sustains a mood, which can be as equally challenging as changing everyone of your songs, and both bands do it well. Grimes does this trick incredibly well too, though she doesn’t raid the same sonic palette as the other two bands. She’s more in debt to hip-hop and R&B. Her songs kind of all sound the same, but they extend a feeling that can be hard to find in a lot other of music.  After hearing Visions all the way through a couple times though, I have tended to just go back to a couple songs when I’ve wanted my Grimes fix, rather then devote the time necessary for a full length listen. How these moods would translate live, I could only wait and found out.

DIIV rocking out

Like I said, I’ve enjoyed DIIV but I didn’t have spectacular hopes for their live show. My friends Alex and Jeremy had went to DIIV’s San Francisco show last week and had walked out after 20 minutes agreeing that it just wasn’t very interesting.  Maybe it was the low standards, but I actually thought DIIV’s performance was pretty good when all was said and done.  They all came onstage looking like they had been wearing the same clothes for a couple days in a row. Despite some technical difficulties with the bass, they started out sounding pretty strong.  At one point their drummer dropped his stick and the other band members had to scramble around onstage to get it back to him.  However, there was a certain joy to DIIV’s sloppiness that I found appealing and plus they just looked like they were having a lot of damn fun.  I also began to notice the differences in DIIV’s music when compared to WIld Nothing.  DIIV seem to have more rock muscle to their music compared to Jack Tatum’s pop structure prowess. It also seems like DIIV does more drugs. DIIV’s more rock and roll leanings were exemplified in two moments in particular.  First was a Nirvana cover that I couldn’t recognize but was greeted with one very enthusiastic middle finger.  The other was their closer “Doused” which was their most energetic and upbeat number of the evening.  It even inspired a little moshing from the so far static crowd. DIIV finished their set as the clouds continued to roll in.  Earlier there had been an announcement that if any lighting was seen, the show would be stopped.  So Kyle and I waited for Wild Nothing anxiously while puffs of cannabis smoke from the crowd mixed with the humid atmosphere over the Hudson River.

Kyle and the boat #backgroundhipsters

Of the bands last night, Wild Nothing is the one I’m most intimately familiar with.  I remember downloading Gemini the summer after I graduated college.  I had no idea who they were, only that they were on the great blog http://shoegazeralive5b.blogspot.com/ which at the time I was rummaging through to find some new music to scratch my severe shoegaze itch I had. To my shame, I didn’t learn that Jack Tatum was from Virginia until Pitchfork gave Gemini Best New Music.  After that, I delved more deeply into the album and found an incredible world within it.  Gemini worked so well as a complete statement, it was hard to believe it was assembled in a Virginia Tech dorm room rather than being a classic from dream pop’s late 80s early 90s heyday.  Yet, I still heard Virginia in it. The sense of lovely monotony that Gemini contained perfectly echoed Virginia’s still and beautiful landscapes that I’m sure Mr. Tatum had become quite accustomed to during his tenure at VT.  At the very least, it was meaningful for me to hear somebody come from mt homestate who loved those washed out British sounds as much as I did.

Wild Nothing

Once Wild Nothing came on stage, the threat of lightning was all but forgotten. I had heard that Wild Nothing’s early live career had gotten off to a shaky start, which is understandable considering his dorm room beginnings. However, last night they sounded great as they played through old cuts off of Gemini and new ones from their forthcoming album Nocturne.   Jack Tatum’s voice sounded strong, confident, and a bit more raw live which I thoroughly enjoyed.  While the new stuff sounded tight and solid, it’s not all that different from Gemini.  Despite this, you can tell though that Jack Tatum is growing as an artist.  With his growing confidence I predict that his next album is going to be the one that really shows us what Wild Nothing can be. A highlight for me was when they played a thrilling live rendition of the title track off their Golden Haze ep, my favorite release of theirs actually.  “Shadow” off the new album sounded equally as strong with it’s pounding drumbeat driving the song forward into time and space; it could be the “hardest” song Wild Nothing’s ever written. Of course they played “Live in Dreams,”  the opening track off Gemini which got the crowd singing and dancing.  Tatum ended the set by announcing the last song and exclaiming that he was going to “take a big drink of my drink then I’m going to play that song.” After a leisurely sip, he went into the appropriately titled “Summer Holiday” with it’s rousing chorus and jingle jangle guitars.  Leaving the stage as nonchalantly as they walked on, I felt excited that us Virginians can offer our own take on a sound aesthetic that I first began to fall in love with almost a decade ago.

Crowd waits for Grimes

Now it was about time for Grimes to hit the stage.  It seemed like original listings for this show had put Wild Nothing in the headlining slot, but as great as Wild Nothing are, they can’t really compete with Grimes in terms of internet buzz right now. And of course there are those four sold out shows I had previously mentioned.  While I would have gone to the show regardless of Grimes playing or not, it was pretty clear that she was crowd favorite. As show time drew near, Kyle and I got more and more packed into the crowd as people tried to make their way closer to the stage. You could sense the anticipation on the pier as the roadies brought out Grimes’s equipment.  I personally was trying to be cool with it, but I was excited to essentially see a sold out show for free. Also, moments like this tend to capture a time even if the artist hasn’t quite endured the buzz long enough to know whether she will rise above it or succumb to it.  To many I’m sure this will be the summer of Grimes even if they won’t be pulling out Visions for regular listens in the future.  With the buzz in mind and my natural tendency to reject it, I tried to be open to Grimes and see what she had to offer.

Grimes and backup dancers

Once her gear was set up, Grimes came onstage and the crowd let out a roar.  Interestingly enough, the girls next to me starting screaming at her to “take it off”  which seemed like a strange request to someone who markets vagina rings, especially coming from the same sex. Very casually she walked up to microphone and thanked DIIV and “Cloud Nothings” for opening for her.  I’m sure it wasn’t the first time Wild Nothing’s been called that, but it still kind of a bummer that she hadn’t taken the time to get to know my favorite home state band.  Grimes then got started making her beats and loops, however when she started to sing “Symphonia IX (my wait is u)” I gave up all my previous misgivings I had held towards her.  To put it simply, her voice sounded incredible.  On record, even when it wasn’t being heavily manipulated, her voice still had a pretty thick slab of ambience covering it.  Live though it was pristine, clear, and impressively otherworldly.  As the show continued she would later add her signature vocal effects, but for the first moments of her set she sounded truly angelic.  As she continued into the next song, it started to make more sense to me that those girls felt a certain sexual affinity to Claire Boucher.  She’s incredibly talented, artistic in several different ways, and extremely independent and while she bopped around onstage turning her knobs and changing the pitch and tone of her voice to make her sound like at least a dozen Grimes, she was creating all the noise by herself.  Also, the music itself is sexual, whether she means for it to be or not.  Her pulsating rhythms and transcendent voice imply an unfilled desire that naturally makes people long for a climax, and what’s not sexy about that? Plus, she looks and acts like a Canadian nymph siren, pig tails, bangs and all. Once she started  playing “Circumambient,” two back up dancers came onstage and really began to kick the party up a notch. As the show went on, Grimes demonstrated her prowess for live mixing messing with the arrangements of the songs in an incredibly satisfying way.  She even included a dubstep bass drop on the end of  “Oblivion.”   It was after that the pit began.  It all started when I saw two very clearly drunk bros storm through the crowd up to a few rows in front me.  Once the beat started up again, they began to swirl and push trying to start something more appropiate for a punk concert than an electronica show.  However, other people seemed to be into it and got moshing too.  There were also a couple of crowd surfers, including one girl whose ass got thoroughly  and satisfyingly dropped.  I’m not against that type of stuff, I’ve been in plenty of pits in my day, it just seems odd that slam dancing as become the default mode for enjoying a concert for some people (and by people I really mean bros), especially when the music calls for you to shake your ass rather than push the guy in front you and wait for him to push back.  Grimes ended her set a bit abruptly announcing that she didn’t have anymore songs to play. Despite this announcement she managed to play two more songs, including a new one which sounded like it could be promising given time to develop.  All and all though, I was thoroughly impressed by Grimes performance and I feel safe in saying she lives up to the hype.  I now think in time she will overcome the buzz that’s been a double edge sword to so many before her.  I would say go see Grimes if you get the chance, but that might be awhile unless you have your ticket already.