last night i closed my eyes
I sort of knew, but didn’t actually realize until I showed up that The Basement is literally the basement of my favorite record store in town, Grimey’s. If Grimey’s is dust covered and nostalgic, The Basement is dark and unpretentious, and amazingly clean for a venue. First appearances can be a little tricky, because the front porch looked so dilapidated when I pulled up that I was afraid it would collapse under me. But walking in, it was like the perfect combination of intimacy and awesomeness. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
About a month ago, I emailed Mike Grimes about the show. Dave’s blog showed a stop at The Basement, but The Basement’s Web site didn’t mention it. Mike said yes, the show was a go, doors were at 8:00, show was at 9:00, cover was $7. In an effort to be fashionably late, yet not too late to get a decent parking spot/not be forced to be squished in the back of the crowd, I left my apartment at 8:30.
When I showed up, the doors were being held because the band was still doing some setting up. I was one of five people present. I was the only girl. So I hung out on an old church pew that doubled as a bench on the front porch, tried not to shiver too much, and picked at some renegade nail polish (props to Katrina, Euro Trash was the perfect color) to combat my impatience.
About five minutes after I sat down, the door opened and a scraggly, dark-haired guy with a bottle of beer and a pack of Marlboro’s walked out. I think my jaw hit the floor when I realized that Dave Bielanko was planning on just taking a quick smoke break and hanging out with his few fans that showed up way too early. He was wearing over-sized camo pants, a gray and red striped shirt, a leather jacket, and his ridiculous winter hat with that skull on it. I was in love.
He made a quick chat with a couple other smokers, someone made the joke, “Hey man, that’s bad for your vocals,” then he went back inside. My shivering had abated a little, but luckily we were let in pretty soon after.
I’m the kind of girl that doesn’t mind going to gigs alone. In fact, I almost prefer going alone to dragging along someone who isn’t familiar with the music just for chit-chat’s sake. (Still, it would have been nice to have my Scottish BFF in attendance. Perhaps we’ll find a gig in September!) I made my way (all fifteen feet of it) to the bar, sipped gin, and wished like hell my new clutch had had room enough in it for my Moleskin. It would have been the perfect place, and the perfect atmosphere, to take notes on.
The Basement was tiny, black, and the ceiling was covered in flyers from previous shows. The stage was set up in the south end of the room, just a few amps, a drum set, upright bass, keyboard, and a collection of guitars (and a banjo!). I texted Libby to inform her of the crowd’s lacking and she replied, “Well, that’s…intimate.”
And it was. Even as the crowd started to fill in, and the hour got later and later and still no one was on stage, the whole place just had this air of familiarity and elbow-rubbing. I got up to go to the bathroom and when I got back, the guy sitting where I had been said, “I was just saving this for you. You can have it back.” It was nice of him, but I declined and went to stand closer to the stage, taking in the surprising lack of human diversity in attendance.
Let it be said that I really must not belong in Nashville, because I was the only girl not wearing a dress and cowboy boots. (I ended up in hideous maroon skinny jeans and a loose-fitting t-shirt and my yellow pointy flats. I pretty much looked awesome.) I was the only human not drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon from a can. (I kept lawl-ing to myself, thinking of that joke, Pap Smear Ribbon.) People-watching in a crowd like that gets boring pretty quickly, so I turned around to watch the door. When what to my wandering eyes should appear…?
But Dave, standing alone at their merch booth/bar, doodling on the gig poster!
Under the pretense of examining their t-shirts (which he totally saw through), I went over and tried to act casual/downplay the OMG SQUEE FAN GIRL that was threatening to bubble out of me. We made awkward eye contact and I was just tipsy enough to say, Hey, How’s it going?, and he said, Good. We talked for a few more minutes, about the new album (releasing in early summer!), about Nashville, about Serge’s new daughter (named Violet!), and about him being an uncle. I exited stage left and ran to the bathroom to have a jumping-up-and-down attack.
By this time, it was wayyyy past 9:00 and still no Row Craven on stage to open the show. I went back to where I had been sitting and found the guy who had saved my seat for me. I had an entertaining conversation with him, a fully-bearded guy named Barry, and his friend B.J. about tattoos, DC, the Marah break-up of 2008, and Jesse Malin. Shockingly, neither of these guys knew of Jesse and I’m not sure they appreciated as much as I did the fact that Jesse’s bassist was playing with Marah. I felt a brief pang of love and affection for Nashville, being in that environment, with seemingly awesome people, and feeling the undercurrent of anticipation for my favorite band to take the stage.
Row Craven finally took the stage, to minimal appreciation, I think. He was decent in a lo-fi, painfully indie kind of way. He brought his hugely-bearded friend (Is this a new thing? There were like a million guys with huge beards last night.) on stage to sing the closer, and then was done.
I scooted my way up to the front of the room, and went toe-to-toe with the amps. A couple people jostled me around, and even though I’m short, I can hold my ground pretty well. I dug my Nikon out of my purse and tried not to be obnoxious with it, but 365s call.
Dave must have done a wardrobe change, because when he hopped on stage a few minutes later, he was wearing a ridiculously gig-inappropriate coverall Dickie’s thing, with the front unzipped just enough to show off his skinny, white boy chest (which would almost instantly be coated with sweat).
I’m not going to be able to do the performance justice, really, because I was way too overwhelmed with happiness to remember much of the specifics. (But the photos can be seen here.) The set list is gone from my memory already. I do know that they played Angels on a Passing Train, Angels of Destruction, Walt Whitman Bridge, and So What if We’re Out of Tune, which Dave introduced by saying, “This is a chick song. This is a song to get the chicks.” (He’s right. At least, he’s right about this chick.)
Nick Hornby was absolutely right about Marah–even if he was writing about Marah as a non-broken-up five-piece. They are the greatest band I have ever seen live. It was a combination of the venue, the crowd, the intimacy of the stage, and their unbelievable energy. The confluence was amazing and all sense of time and place was lost on me. All I could do was stand there and feel the music. I needed that, I needed to see them and feel it.
My heart just about stopped when Dave grabbed a new pick and said, “This is a song called Round Eye Blues.” It couldn’t have been more perfect. He didn’t change it or rearrange it or mess with it. He jumped on a speaker on the side of the stage halfway through and screamed the chrous. I shook like Proud Mary through the entire thing. Maybe I cried a little, too.
After that, I just relaxed and listened. They were so Nashville, it was perfect. A few songs later, a girl standing next to me yelled in my ear, “Come on! Let’s go dance on stage!” I was nervous and hesistant and afraid, but I was just tipsy enough to yell back, “I will if you do!”
She grabbed my hand and pulled me with her. We spent the rest of the set dancing between Dave and Christine and Johnny Pisano and they genuinely seemed to enjoy having us up there with them. Dave looked over at one point and said, “I’m really glad you chicks are up here. I feel a lot more comfortable now.” And he was serious. It was awesome. Even Christine, who I kind of assumed would be snobby and upset about it, was actually amazingly friendly. She let us sing into her mic with her, she offered us the upper hand of the keyboard, she let Jenny play the tamborine, she danced along with us. Johnny Pisano put his arm around us both and said, “All I ask is that you don’t touch the upright!”
I didn’t think my night could possibly get any better. I was seeing my favorite band. They played my all-time, top ten favorite song. I was dancing on stage with them.
And then, very unexpectedly and very surreally, my night got instantly much, much better.
I was standing next to Dave when he said he was glad Jenny and I were on stage with them, and he ended that comment by turning towards me, and leaning forward with puckered lips. And I didn’t even think about it, I just leaned in and kissed him smack on the mouth.
The crowd applauded, I blushed, took a big drink of gin, and then went back to dancing.
They closed out the set with Wild West Love Song and they didn’t even bother with the pretense of leaving the stage before the encore. They just did it.
The crowd dissolved pretty quickly while the band packed up. I thanked Christine for letting us hang out on stage and she hugged me. (On a side note, I have to admit that I kind of initially assumed Christine would be to Marah what Hill-ay! was to The Minor Leagues, with her sour-puss face and tights and go-go boots and fringed dress. But I’m really glad she wasn’t.) I paid my tab at the bar and talked for awhile to Jenny’s husband, Jay, about Marah’s b-sides and how it’s disappointing that Grimey’s only carries Marah on CD and not on vinyl.
I made my way back to the merch booth/bar to say goodbye to Dave and Christine again. I shook their hands and said they were amazing and great and I probably blabbed a lot longer than was necessary. But I ended up buying a shirt for ten bucks and I’m probably not ever going to take it off. Dave hugged me from across the bar and I smiled the entire way home.
It is incredibly unfortunate that the only person who would have truly appreciated my OMG SQUEE moment lives six times zones away. I accidentally woke Lis up way too early with an unfortunately urgent-sounding text, and when she called (at 7am her time!) I gave her a slurred and exhausted version of Dave’s amazingness. And then she Tweeted (is that a word?) me to say she was unable to fall back to sleep. Woops!
Somehow, I’m still trying to process everything from last night. I do know that these maroon skinny jeans are probably my best clothing purchase ever and I will probably be wearing my new t-shirt everywhere that isn’t the office. Normally, after a gig, I stop listening to the band for a while, but not so with Marah. I am writing this post to their soundtrack and I am enjoying them just as much as I usually do. Possibly more.
I’m exhausted, but very happy.
Filed under: music | 7 Comments
Tags: Dave Bielanko, die happy, gigs, Marah, OMG, Round Eye Blues, The Basement