We left for our trip to New York City over a month ago. I know that I should have written this post a long time ago, but I’ve been really busy and I wanted to do it justice. I’ll start out by talking about our show and what it meant to me as the leader of this band and then move on to a day-by-day retelling of our trip. Since we largely went our own ways on this trip, the retelling will be from my perspective, for obvious reasons.
First off, my thoughts on our show. Simply put, NYC Popfest is my favorite show we’ve ever done as a band. I’ve always been of a mind that our recorded output is our true legacy, our mark on the world (such as it is), and I’m still of that mind. However, that show was the most rewarding single personal experience I’ve had as a musician. We set out to play as well as we could for people that, I think, understood what we’re about, many of whom I personally admire. And we did it. We represented ourselves and our city in a way that I feel we can take a little pride in. No, we weren’t flawless, and no, it’s not like we played to hundreds of people (probably around 80 or 90), but it was still a wonderful night that I’ll never forget.
People took video of a couple of our songs, so here those are.
“It’s Not Unusual” featuring Liz Hunt from The School on vocals
Before I forget, the band would like to thank everyone that donated to our Indiegogo, Maz Alhadid for inviting us to play, Math and Physics Club and Cassolette for lending us gear, Liz Hunt for singing with us on the Tom Jones cover, all the people who helped us hapless Idahoans get around in NYC (in my case, Kristy Gill, Howard Saltzman of the great Facebook page Indie Pop Saved My Life, and this awesome guy in a Bulls cap that couldn’t have been older than 17), Clint Vickery for driving us around and housing the Lloyds, and Jake and Lisa’s friend who housed them (I’m sorry but I don’t remember their name). I personally would like to thank my bandmates (including Marty Martin who played bass on one song) for making the sacrifice to play this show. I know I’m missing someone obvious here, so I apologize if you were worthy of thanks but weren’t included here.
OK, onto the rest of the trip then. Stop reading now if you’re not interested in a day-to-day retelling of our trip, including my thoughts on the bands that I managed to catch at Popfest.
We all flew into NYC on Wednesday the 29th of May, although, for some reason, we all booked separate flights. Despite that, on the last leg of my flight, I happened to be booked with Lindsey, our keyboard player, and her husband James. They told me that our backing singer Gia’s flight would arrive in the airport in about an hour, so we waited for her. Once we all arrived, our friend Clint, who used to play in the Boise band Spondee, but who has since moved to New York for graduate school, picked us up and took us to where we’d be staying. Thanks so much to him! That taxi ride from Newark to Brooklyn would have killed us. Here’s Gia, Lindsey, and Gia’s boyfriend Marty in the Newark airport waiting for Clint to make it to the airport through a traffic jam.
We separated at that point. Gia and Marty went to their own place, Lindsey and James stayed with Clint, and I joined our guitarist Elijah (also my brother) and our bass player Brion at an AirBnb place in Bed-Stuy. On a side note, when I booked our lodging, I figured that it wouldn’t matter where in New York we stayed as long as we were close to the subway. I was dead wrong. There were really no good restaurants within walking distance of where we were (near the Kosciuszko subway stop) and, even though Manhattan was only a twenty minute subway ride, you don’t always want to have to wait for the subway to come, especially on the weekends, where the trains are a lot further and fewer between. I just wish we had some decent eats within walking distance, but there were only deli/convenience stores and fried chicken. That’s not what we wanted to be eating in New York. Anyway, aside from the lack of good food nearby, the place worked fine for our entire trip.
On Thursday, we went into Manhattan and visited St. Patrick’s Cathedral, which was absolutely gorgeous, and Magnolia Bakery (which, I admit, I had only heard of due to the SNL “Chronicles of Narnia” song). Best cheesecake ever. Also, best food item I had on the trip. I think we got pretty unlucky on this trip, because I wasn’t blown away by any of the food we had with the exception of that cheesecake.
The Popfest show that night was at the Cake Shop in Manhattan, a venue I had heard of before. This was the show I was most looking forward to at Popfest because it was the US debut of The School, one of my favorite bands of recent years. We (Elijah, Brion, and I) got there about half an hour before they opened up the doors to the venue, which is in the basement. While we waited, I had the pleasure to meet the guys in Math and Physics Club as well as Jesse and Ciera from Cassolette, the guys from Swiss Alps, friend/fan/blogger Mike Rosen, and Kristy Gill, who had contacted me about an interview for Candy Twist zine. Kristy, as you’ll see later in this post, was very helpful to me throughout Popfest and I now consider her a friend. Anyway, I also got to see my old buddy Chris Mac from Jigsaw Records again. Yay! So, it was at this time that I heard that Charles, the singer of Math and Physics Club, was dealing with some pretty bad laryngitis. It was only one night before their show and he had no voice at all. I felt horribly for those guys, but this story has a happy ending that I’ll talk about later. In any case, they had previously emailed me about playing keyboard on a few songs with them. I was looking forward to that. They had told me what songs they wanted me to play on so I practiced those and I was ready to go for the show.
Soon thereafter, doors opened and we got to watch four great bands, though I did unfortunately have to miss Grand Resort due to the fact that humans need to eat periodically. (It was great pizza from the place across from Cake Shop.) I’ve since heard really great things about their set. First up were Thee Ahs, who are one of my favorite new young bands, and they did not disappoint. They delivered boundless energy and great songs that somehow combine twee (though I know they hate that word) with jazz-tinged pop. Swiss Alps were great as well. Literature blew the freakin’ roof off the place, and The School, well, I don’t have words for how much I loved their set. They played all of my favorites (“Valentine,” “Where Does Your Heart Belong?,” “That Boy is Mine,” “Baby Won’t You Stay With Me Tonight,” “Never Thought I’d See The Day”) and they played them so well. It’s the absolute best seeing bands I love in little clubs. I love to be that close to the action. Best show of the festival in my opinion. Here’s a clip from the show:
After the show, I got a bit of a chance to visit with Liz from The School (who had sung on a song for our new EP), Mike Perry from the now sadly defunct Manic Pop Records, and some of the guys/gals from Thee Ahs. Great people all.
On Friday, Elijah, Brion and I started out the day by going to the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and it was wonderful. I think anyone who’s been there will attest to that. Van Gogh, Miro, Gauguin, Picasso, Oldenburg, Monet, and countless others. I had a really, really difficult time stepping away from Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” I didn’t bring my camera because I assumed they wouldn’t allow them. However, they do allow them and everyone was snapping photos left and right. You just have to have the flash turned off. D’oh! Anyway, even though I didn’t have any photos from our visit, I can’t recommend MOMA more highly.
After the museum, we had to get ready for our show at the Knitting Factory. It was kind of a pain to get there. The closest we could get to the venue by subway was about 15 blocks. Fortunately, we were borrowing all of our equipment except for a laptop and a small keyboard. We got everything set up and soundchecked, and then waited for a while. During that time, Math and Physics Club told me that Charles’s voice still had not improved much, but that they were still going to do a short set with various people filling in on vocals. They asked me if I would sing one, so I agreed to do “Darling, Won’t You Come Home?” My other band, Baffin Island, had recorded a cover of that song, and my songwriting partner in that band, Mel Whittle (from The Hermit Crabs), had sung that song with them when they played in Glasgow. Given all that, it seemed pretty fitting for me to sing that song with them.
So, after a bit, we went on. There were probably 60 people when we started and 80 people or so by the end of our set. I’ve already talked about what a great experience it was to play the show, so I won’t go into that again. After us was Cassolette, who were just so much fun and were great show(wo)men. They also had a keytar. Woo-hoo! I particularly enjoyed their cover of The Primitive’s “Crash.” Next up, was Math and Physics Club. After they explained their situation, they did a great job. The crowd was really appreciative and enthusiastic even though the show wasn’t happening under ideal circumstances. It was a really neat thing to see. Here’s a video clip of me filling in on “Darling, Won’t You Come Home?”
Next up was The Monochrome Set, who are a legendary UK band dating back to the late 70s. They were excellent. I was getting a little, OK, a lot, bit tired, and so I didn’t see their whole set, but I did catch at least 40 minutes. It was after their set that I finally got a chance to meet someone I’ve known on the internet for a while, Jed Smith from My Teenage Stride. I had a really nice conversation with him and his bandmates for a while before it was time to head off.
After the show on Friday there was an indiepop dance party at a place called the Loft. Knowing that my chances of going to an indiepop DJ night in Boise were next to zero, I went. Most of The Very Most went. (Thanks to Howard for helping us find the place.) Liz Hunt from the School was spinning. Somewhere around the time she played “Nothing to Be Done” by the Pastels, I couldn’t help myself, and, for the first time in probably a dozen years I actually danced on a dance floor. I’m sure I looked like a gal durned fool, but I still had a great time. Liz’s was my favorite DJ set I’d ever heard (though Maz’s set the next day gave her a run for her money).
On Saturday, we took full advantage of the fact that we had no where to be, and we slept in until 10 or so. Maybe even 10:30. We (Elijah, Brion, and I) decided to eat lunch at a Thai restaurant in Brooklyn. Little did we know that trying to reach said restaurant would take hours and not minutes. We plotted out a course on the subway map, but found that, on weekends, trains came about one-fifth as often and many of the lines were closed. We left our apartment at around 12:30 and, by 3 I realized that, if I didn’t get to the venue quickly I would miss the Popfest show. So, I left my compadres and walked through Bed-Stuy, got some directions from a nice man, and, hailed the world’s crabbiest cabbie. Seriously. This guy was angry at the world and had no problem using hapless out-of-towners as an outlet for that anger. Either way, I got my first look at the famed Home of Hipsters: Williamsburg. It definitely was a step up the hipster ladder from Bed-Stuy. I remember a lot of really clever business names, atypical (for lack of a better word) restaurants, and shiny, metal-y store fronts. I wish I had had more time to explore around there, but I didn’t want to miss any more of Popfest. The crabby cabbie dropped me off and I made my way in. I saw Howard, Mike, and Kristy. Howard informed me that he, Kristy, and a couple other people were planning on splitting a cab to get to The Bell House for the second Popfest show. I asked if I could get in on that, and they said yes. Huzzah! It’s always nice to avoid a huge ordeal if at all possible.
So, unfortunately, with my transportation difficulties, I missed Silkies and probably about half of Making Marks‘ set. What I did see of Making Marks’ set, though, was really great. Excellent jangly pop, fantastic between song banter, and a really great cover of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” that featured members of The Smittens and Tigercats as a snapping choir. Here’s a clip of that cover:
Next up was a band I truly love, have loved for years, and never thought I’d have a chance to see live: The Smittens. They were so great. Energetic, funny, with great harmonies, and of course, amazing twee tunes. (By the way, I love how they’re one of the few indiepop bands that don’t shy away from the term “twee.”) Here’s a clip from their show:
The last band at Spike Hill that afternoon was The Ballet. Not really my bag, but that’s OK.
After The Ballet finished, the five of us crammed into a cab and went to The Bell House for the second Popfest show. As soon as we arrived there, Howard and I figured we’d get some food. The other three people didn’t want to miss the first band, but I knew that if I didn’t eat something I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the bands anyway. There was a barbecue place nearby that looked decent, so we went there. It was called Fletcher’s, and, although the food was good, it took FOREVER and was really overpriced. Howard, who hails from Dallas, told me that real southern barbecue happens in real time. The food takes hours to cook, but the meat is ready to go before people even get to the restaurant. Furthermore, your order is always ready by the time you get to the end of the line. Not so at this place in Brooklyn. Oh well. It was good to get a chance to hang out with Howard since I don’t make it down to Texas, well, ever.
So, we went back to the venue, and the first band I saw was The Proctors, and they were superb. Beautiful, jangly, powerful stuff. I picked up their Shelflife seven inch immediately after seeing their set. Here’s a song from their set:
Next up were English band The Hobbes Fanclub, who I had gotten a chance to see when I played with Baffin Island at Glasgow Popfest. I’ve also talked a bit with Leon, the band’s songwriter/singer/guitarist, on Facebook, so it was great to see them. Their first four songs were just what I would have expected given that I really enjoy their recordings: fast, poppy, walls of guitar, bass, and drums. Sort of reminiscent of Wedding Present or maybe a bit of Rocketship. Totally up my alley. The fifth song is when things got a little interesting, and not necessarily in a good way. Someone from the venue told them that this would be their last song, and the band got very upset, and understandably so in my opinion. They couldn’t have been playing for more than 15-16 minutes and they were already being asked to stop. It was ridiculous, especially when you consider they had come at great personal expense from thousands of miles away. At that point, both Leon and the dummer told the venue to eff off (but the real word) repeatedly throughout the course of their last song. The sound guy also turned Leon’s amp way up so it was much noisier and fed back a lot more. It was an angry, chaotic finale. The whole situation obviously made them quite upset, but it also made me, and probably every other musician in the room, upset. When a show is running behind, you don’t force one band to cut their set in half to make up the slack! You have every band cut one or two songs. You distribute the pain evenly. Apparently, the stage manager was pretty upset when someone from the band was a little snippy at him when he asked them to hurry up. Wow. What a pro. He can’t handle it when a band gets a little snippy after being badgered to set up in an impossibly fast time frame. Fortunately, the story has a happy ending since Popfest gave them a second set at Sunday’s show.
Next up was Flowers. If Popfest gave an award for “Best New Band” (or any award for that matter) I think they would have won it. Several people told me how blown away they were by Flowers, and, for a lot of those people, myself included, that came as a bit of a surprise since they hadn’t heard much about the band before Popfest. The female vocalist was outstanding. She had such a strong, pure, clean voice that floated over the fuzzy, reverbed-out guitar washes and the propulsive, tom-heavy drums. She played bass for a few songs, and I thought it was pretty clever how she taped over the top three strings to make it easier for her to play and sing at the same time. Anyway, great set. Definitely one of the highlights of a highlight-packed festival.
Tigercats was the next band, and they were tons of fun. Really tight, with elements of maybe afro-pop, just a little? Sort of reminded me of a cross between Allo Darlin’, Vampire Weekend, and Los Campesinos.
Last up was legendary New Zealand indie band The Bats, and let’s just say they are legendary for a reason. Everyone loved it and they played most of my favorite Bats songs. It was so great that they made NYC Popfest a stop on their tour this year.
After the show Maz DJ’d a fantastic indiepop set that nearly reached the level that Liz’s set had reached the night before. Actually, you know what? I think I’d have to say that the two sets were equally great, since Maz was able to play a song by The School (a luxury Liz didn’t have). During Maz’s DJ set I was hanging out with Liz, Ryan, and Harri from The School, and it was great fun. It was also nice to meet Liz after a few years of being in contact on the internet. Here’s a photo of Liz and I.
After The School took off, I hung out for a while waiting for our cab-splitting group of homies to finish at the after party. While waiting, I spoke for a little while with Matthew from the Skatterbrain blog, Tobias from Azure Blue (who I unfortunately didn’t get to see because of the timing of their set), and Kip Berman from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. It was nice to meet people that I’ve only seen/had contact with over the internet. Eventually, Kristy, Dan (from February Records), our friend from Puerto Rico (whose name escapes me because it’s very Spanish. Hey! He was supposed to send me a Facebook friend request. If you’re out there, friend from Puerto Rico, please send me that friend request!), and I got in a cab with the world’s most incompetent cabbie. This was not a good day for cabbies. I’m glad he charged us a flat fee because Kristy confirmed via smartphone map that he was driving in circles. Eventually he got us to within walking distance of our apartments. It was at this time I realized that Kristy, Dan, and friend from Puerto Rico’s AirBnb was only a block from mine. Crazy!
Sunday was the day that was the most frustrating for me personally. There were two bands in particular that I really, really wanted to see at Popfest that day, Alpaca Sports and My Teenage Stride. Because I heard an address wrong from my bass player (Degraw ≠ Dekalb), I missed not only My Teenage Stride (a band I don’t see coming though Boise any time soon) but also the “second chance” show for The Hobbes Fanclub. A huge bummer. Big thanks to Kristy Gill who texted me to make sure I wasn’t lost and then provided me the correct address for the venue when I told her I was. Unfortunately, in addition to making me miss two bands I really wanted to see, the whole fiasco cost me approximately 40 dollars in cab fare. D’oh! Oh well. I tried not to let it ruin the day for me, but I have to admit that I did manage to share my sob story with most of the people I spoke with at the venue.
I did get to see the tail end of The Orange Peels‘ set. I was a fan of their late 90s-early 00s output, but hadn’t followed much of what they’ve done since then. I only heard two songs of their set, but they sounded good. Next up was Alpaca Sports. I had gotten word that only three of the six members were able to practice together prior to popfest, and that the remaining three members had practiced by themselves to mp3s, sheet music, chord sheets, etc. They didn’t have a chance to do even one full band practice. With that knowledge, I couldn’t help but listen for little mistakes, but I only heard a few small flubs. They were probably tighter than most of the bands at Popfest, and it goes without saying that the music was wonderful. Well done Alpaca Sports! Here’s a video of their song “I’ll Never Win”:
Next up was The Secret History. Really tight, lots of energy and great power pop-ish tunes. Lots of songs with the name “Johnny” in the title. The male singer was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a hip-hop-style hype man in an indiepop band. He contributed brief bursts of backing vocals and danced around a lot. He also provided lots of good between song banter.
French Films was up next. They were loud, fast, super tight, and, unfortunately, not my cup of tea. They were really great at what they did though. The crowd was really, really into them.
The Wolfhounds followed French Films. Since they recently released a single on Manic Pop, we’re labelmates. It’s so cool to be labelmates with a legendary early indie pop band that appeared on the C86 compilation. Anyway, they definitely did not disappoint. A big wall of noisy, poppy sound. No muss, no fuss. (And with that cliched phrase, this is the point where I realize I’m not particularly cut out to be a reviewer of live shows. Oh well.)
Last up was Close Lobsters, a band I’ve been a fan of for close to 20 years (though, oddly enough, I didn’t know they were Scottish until I heard the singer talk). I never thought I’d hear those songs live, especially since they’ve been broken up for nearly as long as I’ve known about them. They totally nailed it and provided the perfect ending for NYC Popfest.
After the show, Kristy, friend from Puerto Rico, and I found our way back to our respective AirBnbs together via subway. It took forever, but oh well. At least I was with nice people. I said goodbye to those guys and got a decent night’s sleep.
Monday was my departure day. My plane left Newark at 5 or 6, I think. Elijah and I decided to take advantage of the Top of the Rock tickets we had bought as part of a package deal with our MOMA ticket. Top of the Rock is the observation deck at Rockefeller Center, and it was pretty amazing to see most of Manhattan and a lot of Brooklyn and Newark (I think) all at once. Here are some photos:
After the observation deck, there was nothing left to do but start the long journey home. I took the bus to the Newark airport from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The first leg of my flight was delayed, so I missed the connecting flight to Boise and had to spend the night in Salt Lake City. It didn’t bother me much, since that meant I didn’t have to be right into work the next day, which would give me a chance to see my kids a little before work.
Overall, though there were a few frustrating moments (Degraw versus DeKalb being the worst) NYC Popfest was a great experience for us. We played well to an appreciative crowd. We met some really amazing people and got to experience a lot of the kinds of New York things you’d expect. For me, it was well worth the sacrifice of money, time away from family, and vacation time. Thanks so much to everyone that helped make this happen.