Assuming my body allows me (the road to recovery after a Sunday wedding can be a long one) and the show doesn’t sell out before I hit “publish,” I’ll be dragging what’s left of my body across town to check out Unknown Mortal Orchestra tonight. That probably means little or nothing to you (unless you want to come?), but what’s more interesting is how I came to know the band. It’s a lost art, but one that I assure you stands the test of time.
I use quite a few methods to discover new bands: friend recommendations, music blogs, podcasts, the radio from time to time (*gasp*), occasionally just running down a list of albums released that week and picking out names I like and listening to their albums (a method that’s surprisingly not terribly reliable in its yield). Whatever the means is, there’s probably a 99.8% chance I’ve listened to a band a good deal before I’ve encountered them live. Why pay to see an act if there’s any question it will be worth the money? That’s what the movies are for. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. And so we dive into some of the most memorable bands I saw live before I knew them.
Exception 1 – DeVotchka
There’s a decent chance you already know DeVotchka; they did the score to Little Miss Sunshine, and elements of their full-length songs are littered throughout the soundtrack. Well, about a month before that movie came out, I had the pleasure of seeing them live, and they were unlike anything I had seen before. It was the Thursday night of my second trip to Bonnaroo (2006), which is typically where they cram in the stuff people won’t really care about. But my friend (Mike Z, if you need to know), had been talking up DeVotchka on the ride down, so we went to check them out.
They were nuts. The lead singer was drinking wine straight from the bottle, they had strings everywhere, they had a tuba instead of a bass. I remember standing there thinking I would see DeVotchka every single time they came to Boston from that moment on. And guess what? I haven’t. For whatever reasons (sold out shows, being afraid to go alone, generally being a loser), I’ve missed them every time they’ve been in town. But next time, DeVotchka…next time I’ll be there (possibly). There are a ton of great options to showcase the band, but I’d be a fool not to share “How It Ends” here, as I genuinely believe it’s one of the greatest songs of all time.
Exception 2 – Janelle Monae
This is a bit of an odd story. So, I used to be heavily involved on an internet message board…to the point that it kind of consumed me at times. But I got so many great things from there (music and other entertainment recommendations, my exposure to sabermetrics and other sports analytics, which – no joke – helped me get my first real job…that sorta stuff) I couldn’t give up on the place until my life was somewhat in order (internal dialogue: Sarcastic LOL here, Mike? Nahhh, people won’t know if it’s sarcastic or not…and neither will you).
It was right around the time of the end of my days on the board (2010) that I got really into this Of Montreal album called False Priest. I’m trying to figure out how to write this next sentence without making it sound like I was conducting a slew of sexperiments in my life (I wasn’t…am not…will not be…everything’s fine, mom). It was the heaviest period of transition of my life – everything was changing. Including my openness to going to a concert without someone I know. See, this guy from the message board had an extra ticket to the Of Montreal show at the House of Blues (by the way, that band has absolutely no business headlining at the House of Blues), so I went.
I knew they were going to be super weird – dancers in inexplicable costumes, people dressed up like pigs taking each other to the sty, so to speak, over their clothes – but I didn’t know anything about their opening act, Janelle Monae (I know my commas and hyphens are a grammatical atrocity right now, bear with me). If you don’t know Janelle, I don’t know what you’re waiting for, but she put on an incredible show that night and it turned me into a loyal fan. She was promoting the album this monster came from (and had a couple guest spots on the Of Montreal album being promoted). In case this is your first exposure to her, try not be distracted by her hair and just accept its greatness.
Exception 3 – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Hey, it’s the band I started the column with! A few years ago (okay fine, 2012), Grizzly Bear came out with Shields, an album I completely fell in love with (and sort of fell out of love with over the years). There were also rumors swirling this would be the last time we hear from them in a while, so I had to get tickets to their show at the Orpheum. Somehow I landed a pair in the first 10 rows of the theatre, which isn’t something that typically happens for me, so I was all kinds of pumped for the show. And the show absolutely delivered from performance to visuals and everything in between (sidenote: Daniel Rossen from Grizzly Bear is absolutely perfect live and has one of the best voices around – he did some solo stuff the same year that’s well worth a listen).
At first I wasn’t totally swept off my feet by the opening band, but by time the set finished I realized I had just heard a big pile of very good tunes. Maybe I was overlooking them at the start because I just wanted Grizzly Bear, but when Unknown Mortal Orchestra released their second album the following year it all hit me – these guys are fantastic. They’re the type of band that makes you feel like you’re in a different era (a trippier, more drug-fueled one…unless you’re currently leading a trippy, drug-fueled life, in which case it feels no different than any other day…unlesssssss you just listen to EDM, in which case I have absolutely no idea what you normally feel, and I hope you have pretty frequent visits to the doctor). More than any of their other songs, this one has grown on me consistently for a couple years now (and I look forward to seeing it tonight…if I didn’t just jinx myself too aggressively):
Bonus Exception – Joywave
Last year Converse (yeah, the shoe people) started a series at The Sinclair in Cambridge called Rubber Tracks Live. Apparently it was just a trial run for a much bigger string of Rubber Tracks shows this year (just assuming that – because it’s late, and I’m devastatingly tired, and I’m running out of word ideas), but it was a free show with one fairly well-known band (Holy Ghost! (the ! is actually part of their name, calm down everybody)) and a couple openers. Well, the second opener, Joywave, stuck in my head. They somehow felt like a band I could have really gotten into as a teenager, which for whatever sick reason still means I can kind of get into them as an adult. That might speak more to my mental state as an “adult” than anything. Anyway, I’ve played everyone else’s most popular song up to this point in the post, so why change now?
Happy Tunesday, folks.