We all get strange: Portugal. The Man, moments of listening and the lead-up to Lollapalooza

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Portugal. The Man is at the perfect level of hipster. There are enough people who don’t know about Portugal. The Man, but there are enough people that do. Its cult following that is starting to expand out into the masses of indie fans with their most recent album Evil Friends. Whenever people ask me about the band, I always like to gloat and say “Oh yeah, they have a bunch of albums. I think The Satanic Satanist is my favorite.” I don’t even try to hide how smug I am. Yeah, I’ve known them for awhile. Yeah, they’re great. Yes. Yes you should listen to them. Join me.

I can’t really claim that I was a true hipster fan, though. I started to listen to them my freshman year of college. They were a little too bizarre for me in high school, so good thing to know that I’ve gotten even weirder as a person as the years have gone on. The first song I heard by them was “Lay Me Back Down” and I was uncomfortably drawn to it. I didn’t think like the wavering vocals but… but maybe I did? The psychedelic swirly sound? Was it musical or was it noise? What I did dig was the groove. So my senior year of high school ended with me listening to the band feeling confused… but glad that I was confused. Sort of explains how I felt for that year in general.

Then it was freshman year of college, the trial-and-error-and-cry-a-lot year. The year where you have extremely weird peaks of happiness and life fulfillment (“Oh my GOSH I love this TARGET RUN the school is doing for freshmen I’M GOING TO TARGET WITH MY NEW BRETHREN”) and extremely weird lows (“The dining hall DOES NOT HAVE ALMOND MILK my life is RUINED”). All in all, freshmen year is great but unsettling at times.

I was used to a pretty consistent existence. I never moved around as a kid (being eight-months-old moving out of the city doesn’t really factor into my memory) and the kids in the area were largely people I grew up with since I was little. They knew that I was sensitive and emotional and artsy and sporty. Everyone had context. Then I got to college and no one knew anything about me. I can’t begin to count the amount of people I have freaked out with my own freak-outs. The worst are the banal experiences that turn into catastrophes: burning popcorn and having everyone leave the dorm as the smoke detector goes off. Yep, that was me wallowing in my tears outside on the sidewalk. Oof, it’s painful to think about. It’s even more painful to think that I’m still that emotional at times.

As my life felt more surreal, I turned to the psychedelic sounds of Pink Floyd. If things were confusing for me, things were even more so for these guys. Listening to Pink Floyd my first semester set me up for the wealth of psych rock that I have grown to love and heavily listen to today.

Second semester, I needed a little something more than just one band. Experiencing winter was tough. I felt alone at times and I was far from home and needed to not feel alone. Why do we forget that so many people love and care for us? It’s like we shut off part of our brain that is filled with logic.

Claire, come on, you’re not alone, I’d tell myself.

I didn’t feel like that all of the time though. When I was sitting down with my head in my hands, it could take me a long time to be able to get back up again.

I tried listening to music and it’d sometimes work if it was calming enough or interesting musically. The best song, though was “Sleep Forever.” It just matched with how I felt. It wasn’t exactly an uplifting piece, but it was what I was looking for – it made me remember that I wasn’t alone.

After that, Portugal. The Man went from a casual listen to a band that I was affectionate towards. I got stuck listening to that one song for awhile, but as I continued to feel better and as winter dissipated, I started listening to “The Sun” and “Senseless” and a few others here and there.

Then, last summer, Evil Friends came out.

I found out about the album through the music video they made for “Purple Yellow Red and Blue.” For those that are unfamiliar with the video, this is how it plays out:

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Moody singer in a kitchen okay that seems pretty normal for a music video.

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Oh, I like this – cool composition with the screens and the silhouette.

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You… you having fun there in your… slumber party?

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You sure do like your blankies, sir…

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Your friends seem like they could use a bit of pep there…

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AH OH GOD oh I’m sorry total Poltergeist flashback geez don’t do that again please.

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SHIT THAT’S A LOT WORSE PLEASE DON’T STEAL MY SOUL.

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YEP BYE.

That’s not even the half of it, either. The music video for”Atomic Man” you say? Fluttering eyelids and distorted head movements?

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Just as unsettling.

But I loved it.

Here was my ticket into the fandom, my way into their weird world. The album’s composition was tight and each song was like a moment in their minds. So much of our life is about fulfilling a story but it’s nice to find those things that momentarily suspend that drive for a beginning-middle-end. Things that just are. And things that just are strange.

It became the soundtrack for the moments where I could turn off my brain and focus on an action rather than a thought. I ran with “Hip Hop Kids” in my ears. I commuted everyday on the train into the city with “Do You” playing as I stepped onto the platform to begin my walk to work. I didn’t have to think about anything in those moments. I didn’t have to plan or strategize or analyze. It was just me walking or running or sitting and just listening for the sake of listening.

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After having the comfort of those songs for a few years, it felt so rich to finally see them at Lollapalooza. My dad and I walked up to the edge of the field, the first sounds of the set beginning to echo through the park.

Was that…?

No. No way.

“…another brick in the wall!”

They were starting their set with a Pink Floyd cover.

“Dad! Dad they’re starting with Another Brick In The Wall!” I exclaimed, practically skipping to the stage.

“This is cool,” he said while looking to the stage, bolstering my excitement.

We got up close and met up with a few of my dad’s colleagues, all happy to be here and instead of at the Perry’s stage. They laughed at me as I kept inching closer and closer to the stage but making sure that I hung back enough to be with them.

“Claire, you can stand in front of us, it’s fine,” my dad sighed.

“Oh, okay! I’ll do that then,” I said, my mind off lost in the music.

My favorite part of the entire set was that a good twenty minutes of it is was a string of songs all blended together. I could pick out where one song ended and the other picked up, but it all remained so solid and the transitions were so fluid. I felt like I was lifted up into the clouds as the rain started to trickle down.

The pulsing rock never disappointed either and added to the pace of the songs, some songs more driving than others. It was a psych rock ballad pieced together like a montage of melodies and rhythms.

As they closed with a cover of Queen, I could feel the moment linger in my head after the music had stopped. I felt so in the moment and so in the present and nothing was in my mind. The rain felt so cold and the brisk air made everything smell earthy and so… real. I felt so real and it was so weird to be so much in the present but I liked it. I liked feeling so real. And I liked feeling so strange.

As the band says, we all get strange and we know it, but we’re cool with it.

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A delayed Lollapalooza post: Phoenix’s “Love Like A Sunset, Pts I and II”

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So I’m a bit late, but I have very good reason to be.

I’ve just finished my craziest and most bizarre summer, as I lived in East Village in Manhattan. It feels surreal, like it was a dream that didn’t happen. I’ve readjusted to calm suburban life, but I still find myself thinking about walking out of my door into that sea of life, that bustling Union Square and busy Fifth Avenue.

Also, I’m late because I wanted to let Lollapalooza sink in. I wanted to figure out what specific piece of the insane, beauty that is that festival I wanted to focus on. It’s always such a whirlwind of a weekend, and it’s always so worthwhile when I’m there. As much as I want to take photos and update Twitter about every song and band I see whenever I am at Lolla, at the same time, I want to put away my phone and my camera and I just listen to the music. I try to find a middle ground between the two feelings.

Fortunately, I was timely with my coverage of the festival, as you can see on Amplified Magazine. A lot of my reviews will be on their website from now on, but I’ll still use this blog as a way to inject into the internet personal essays and feelings about music and bands I experience.

The moment I want to focus on is a moment from the end of the festival.

It was when Phoenix played “Love Like A Sunset.”

I wasn’t sure they were going to play it, since it is largely wordless and it doesn’t have nearly as popularity as “Lisztomania” or “1901.” But, it’s definitely my favorite piece that I’ve heard by Phoenix. It was the first pair of tracks that I heard that exemplified the beauty of synthesizing electronic sound with live instruments. It was a blend and a saga of sounds, it felt like an epic poem but in music form. And a modern, relevant version of the classical symphonies of the past.

But then, they did.

It’s a good thing too, since I was about to leave and go see Knife Party and the Cure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to see Knife Party, but enjoying Phoenix’s set was worth it. And the crowning achievement was “Love Like A Sunset.”

There are a lot of bands at Lollapalooza this year where I had specific memories tied to particular songs. Phoenix wasn’t really one of them, I just simply liked Phoenix for the music. My most potent memory I have associated with a song they have done is “Love Like A Sunset” and it is a collection of memories of listening to it on the bus ride home after school. It helped cleanse the mind after a long day.

The song is simply, to put it in a word, beautiful.

And the light show was so good with it. The different colors with the beats, like a sunset of color, the shots of landscapes.

And then, when the words come in, you sort of feel like you’re out of your body. Your identity fades away and all that you feel is the place and the music.

The night sky and the grass under your feet. The Chicago skyline, home after a summer of being in a new place, and a comforting song that soars the way that you had hoped when you listened to it the first time and thought, “I’d love to see this live.”

Live on Pier 26: The Gaslight Anthem & The Hold Steady

If it’s raining, the Gaslight Anthem is probably playing.

I’ve seen the Gaslight Anthem two and half times, and yet I feel like I need to still listen to more of their music. I went through a phase where I listened to American Slang through for a bit, but then I got lazy and didn’t bother to really get into the ’59 Sound.

You have those bands where you listen to and you go “man, they’re really, really good,” but then you get distracted by something. Not really anything in particular, but you’ll be sitting doing homework and you’re in the library and about to pack up, and all of a sudden you’ll go Hmm, I should have listened to the Gaslight Anthem. I need to listen to more of them.

Sort of random, but it happens.

Fortunately, these sort of thoughts are the precursor to an intense devotion to a band (or even other things like television shows or a type of food like cupcakes. Watch out if it’s cupcakes).

Anyway, despite the fact that I need to become more familiar with the Gaslight Anthem, I have a special place in my heart for them because they were the first band that I ever saw at Lollapalooza with my family, and it was raining then as well.

I remember it well – we walked into the park, and there were stages EVERYWHERE! It was calm in the park at this point, and there people milling about at this point. It was just after noon, and a little chilly and cloudy. The rain started as we were walking up to the stage and Gaslight was already playing.

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I don’t remember ever having a bigger or more carefree smile – this was the coolest thing ever, seeing the Gaslight Anthem play, being with my family listening, and knowing that this was just the beginning!

The second time I saw the Gaslight Anthem was also at Lolla, but it was in between sets and at one of the side stages. Personally, I think Gaslight is better with a big stage and a large, sprawling audience that they can croon to. Putting them off to the side in the trees is a disservice to their brawn as a band.

(I have to admit – during that set, it wasn’t raining).

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This past weekend, at Hudson River Park, was the best that I’ve ever seen them. (My only complaint was Brian Fallon throwing a hissy fit that the crowd wanted him to sing Bruce. You’re right next to Jersey, dude, and you’re a Jersey band. The comparison is going to be made, and is going to be made for a long, long time). Fallon’s vocals were amazing in the large venue. Along the water, the city lit up as night began to fall and a warm breeze came into the pier area, and the songs seemed to fit the scene so well.

The Hold Steady was also a ton of fun to watch. My favorite part – watching Titus Andronicus’ Patrick Stickles sing as a “birthday present.”

My goal? To actually give the Gaslight Anthem the attention it deserves. And be able to watch them for a full set without it raining.

Of Monsters and Men: The meaning of a band and the Aragon Ballroom concert experience

A few days ago my dad asked me which song defined my past year at school.

“It’s okay if you say you don’t have one,” he said.

I, being the motormouth that I am when it comes to things like movies, television, and music (good thing that’s my major, right?), rattled off a couple bands and songs that made up my experience, trying to piece together what was the one thing that defined the year.

What I didn’t realize, however, is that he was right. It wasn’t just one song or one band. But, there were a couple notable bands.

And Of Monsters and Men was one of them.

Before I saw them at Lollapalooza last year, I was like everyone else and had only listened to ‘Little Talks.’ Now I’m like everyone else and listen to the album on repeat. But it was that concert that inspired me to religiously listen to that band. I was so intrigued by their sound and their stage presence that I wanted to listen to them more. That, and I felt like they deserved my attention away from the concert experience, because, unfortunately, it was a pretty lousy crowd. My friends and I were surrounded by seemingly particularly-taller-than-normal guys that were quite crude, and, let’s face it, drunk off their rockers. There isn’t anything wrong with imbibing at a concert, but if you’re going to be one of the sardine-like moshers, at least have some consideration and try to attempt to sober up before you invade peoples’ personal bubbles.

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So, My Head is An Animal was added to my list of albums I played on repeat. What made this album particularly special, though, is that it was the perfect workout album.

Without “King and Lionheart,” “Mountain Sound,” “Six Weeks,” and “Lakehouse,” I would have never lost the weight that I did.

Of Monsters and Men had spirit and optimism that’s rare to find. It incorporated wanderlust, love, inspiration, friendship all into an album. There were the strong percussive songs like “Six Weeks,” and the uplifting trumpet solos in “Lakehouse.” I got a boost of confidence and courage every time I listened to them, and when you’re trying to establish a healthier lifestyle, incorporating uplifting music into your routine is some of the best advice I can give.

They also were just fun. They were perfect to walking to class or running to on a sunny day. Also, the album was very dance-able, which is a plus in my book.

So after nearly a year of becoming incredibly endeared to this band, I saw them again, and was determined to give them my undivided attention.

The opener was Half Moon Run – a band neither my brother, dad nor I had heard about before we went to the concert. We were pleasantly surprised, however, as their sound reflected my sort of style of bands that I enjoy.

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“They kind of remind me of Local Natives!” my brother said.

It was just four of them, and they knew that not everyone in the crowd knew who they were, but that didn’t stop them from head banging and jumping around on stage. Their set was short and sweet – only a half an hour long. They were gracious and fun, with an impressive variety of songs. One song was dance-y and the next had people swaying and slowing down.

My brother and I then moved from the outskirts of the crowd on the right of the stage into the heart of the crowd, centering ourselves right infront of the stage which donned a large curtain. The speaker system filled the room with various French female vocalists, and I was convinced they were all Edith Piaf.

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“No, Claire. They aren’t all Edith Piaf songs. That’s just the only French singer you know,” my brother said.

He was right, I have to admit.

After about a twenty minute wait, the band came out from behind the curtain, their shadows showing up in blue lighting. They started “Dirty Paws” and then…

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The curtain came down in a flourish, revealing the band and their set.

The backdrop for the show was made up glowing hanging orbs, which would change color along with the rest of the lighting. It was beautiful, and the array of shades and shadows that played on the stage was also a visual delight.

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The band pretty much went through their entire album, and while not in order, they did start with their first song and end with their last song for the encore. In the midst of the show, though, they did play a few unreleased tracks. Needless to say, I was giddy when they played the new songs.

As much as I love standing and dancing to bands, I would really love to see Of Monsters and Men in a more intimate setting. A small lounge set up, with people all sitting around the band, enjoying the music and maybe getting up to dance for songs like “Little Talks.”

Despite this, I still loved the show. I’m always a sucker for clapping along to a song, and especially if the rhythm isn’t just a basic clap-a-long. Variety in clapping styles is something I appreciate.

“Lakehouse” was the best song they performed.

“This is a song about the summertime,” Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir said before leading into the song. There were some hoots and hollers from the crowd, from those excited for the next couple of months to come.

The song starts out so simply, so calm. And then there’s the switch of vocals and the building percussion, and then – it gets soft again, but not as soft as the beginning. And the song just swells and swells and swells into all that’s left to do is sing “La la la la” because the song has reached a new level of euphoric instrumentation and sound.

It made me think about all the good in my life and all the excitement that I have in store for me. The unknown, the future. But also, it made me think about the happiness of good memories and the friends and family that I have and hold so dear. If bliss was a moment, it was dancing to that song.

They of course “ended” their show with the ever effervescent “Little Talks,” and then came out for their encore, which was “Yellow Light.”

“This is our last song, it’s a lullaby.”

Funny, because usually when I listen to it, I’m usually waking up.

Not only is this an album that is perfect for working out to, but it is also a perfect album to fall asleep and wake up to, especially for long train rides. I don’t sleep well on trains, so having at least one enjoyable element to an overall non-enjoyable sleeping experience is nice to have. I’ll put on “Dirty Paws,” and before I know it, the train is rocking and moving along the countryside as “Yellow Light” begins to play.

Out of all of the visual effects the concert incorporated, the fake, falling snow with the encore was the best. It just gave a peaceful, passionate feel to the performance, and nice ending touch.

We left the concert satisfied. It was just a good experience, and sometimes you need that good, solid experience. It helps put everything in perspective.

Especially to the travelers out there, with songs like “From Finner.” You can find happiness and inspiration anywhere.