Readjusting to living in New York has been a fairly smooth transition, all things considered, but every once in a while I have a moment where it hits me what a different life I lead in France, and it feels like coming home. Last night’s sold-out Passion Pit show was one of those moments. Before I left for Europe, I probably saw a concert at least once a month–I’d go with friends or on my own, scour the calendar for my favorite venues ages in advance. If I could, I’d spend every penny I own on live music–and that’s because I can’t think of anything else that makes me feel the way a great show does.
The first show I went to was the 1997 HFStival, which was an incredible line-up of late ’90s alternarock from Live and the Goo Goo Dolls to the Chili Peppers. At 14 years old, I was too nervous to brave the crowd for most of the day, but made it down to the stadium field for Live’s set–and what I remember most is how comfortable I was, the sensation of someone gently moving me aside to get closer to the stage, dancing to “Lightening Crashes” and feeling connected to a crowd of thousands.
I’ve told the story of my first Radiohead show hundreds of times, but it bears repeating. They happened to be playing in Oxford, England the same summer that I was there doing a pre-college program. On the day of the show, a handful of us wandered down toward the concert site hoping to listen from outside the gates, but only three of us had enough money to buy tickets off the scalper who approached us. I actually didn’t have enough, but Tom, a boy I’d met that day, paid the difference–the first of many generous moments in one of my most cherished high-school friendships. The three of us sat on the grass and chatted while a little-known band called Sigur Ròs bowed their electric guitars to create long, keening whale-call notes (almost a decade later I’d close my eyes and let that sound wash over me as it filled the glorious United Palace theater). Almost from the moment Radiohead came onstage, I knew something essential had changed about the way I loved music. That sense of connection I felt at 14 was nothing compared to how I felt at hearing these guys transform the subdued tones of Amnesiac into a live set that crackled with energy. “Fake Plastic Trees” was the only song that I actually watched the whole night, trembling from vertigo while perched on Tom’s narrow shoulders. As they ended their second encore, we held hands and ran through an apocalyptic rainstorm to make it back to our colleges before curfew. I’ve rarely been as moved by a show as I was that night, and was euphoric for days afterward.
That fierce joy is addictive, and best when you least expect it. I found it at my first Of Montreal show, watching Kevin Barnes shake his hips to “Wraith Pinned to the Mists and Other Games;” bouncing around to Camera Obscura at the original Knitting Factory; flouting fire safety laws in Constitution Hall to dance in the aisles to Belle and Sebastian; hearing Morrisey launch into “There is a Light That Never Goes Out;” at the sound of several hundred hipsters belting out Mandy Moore while Girl Talk climbed all over his laptop; watching the near-orgy unfolding onstage as Devendra Banhardt and the Hairy Fairies closed out their set.
Last night was the first time in nearly a year that I’ve been to a concert, and there were times (like Michael Angelakos’ uncanny cover of the Cranberries’ “Dreams”) when I just stopped moving and closed my eyes and grinned from ear to ear. I missed this so much.
I’m an entertainment addict–I love film, and theater and television–but all those are such a one-sided consumption. The reason I’ve held on to the idea of being a music writer, despite lacking a certain technical vocabulary, is what music does to me. It brings me closer to other people, takes me out of my head, has the power to make me deliriously happy.
To quote The Office, “I’m gonna chase that feeling.”