Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Lawrence Arms

Two days after I saw Th' Legendary Shack Shakers at the High Noon Saloon, E and I ventured out again to see the Lawrence Arms at a new venue in Madison, Journey Music, on March 18. The weather was very agreeable for mid-March that Saturday, and I trucked over to the Chalet late in the afternoon. I had been excited to see one of my favorite punk bands playing a small club here in Madison. While the majority of the live shows that I have seen in the last few years have all been rock and alt country, I do so enjoy the punk rock. I'll have to touch up a bit on the backstory:

Back in the day I was a musical neophyte. I listened to whatever was on the local alternative rock radio station, which didn't even come in clearly at my parents' house. Basically, I knew nothing about music. I missed out on the whole 80's thing growing up, and since I wasn't one of the cool kids at school I didn't have a bunch of friends to mimic. I came of age virtually a blank slate. I owned a couple of U2 tapes, and Use Your Illusion I & II, among other random things. Unlike now, music was not a big part of my life.

This all changed one day when I was sixteen. I had recently seen the music video for Blink 182's "Dammit" and bought Dude Ranch. I had previously purchased Dookie, and I soon found these two albums dominating my personal playlist. I didn't know a single thing about what else was out there, and I found myself wandering the aisles at the Exclusive Company. Then, on a whim, I picked out NOFX So Long And Thanks For All The Shoes. I don't know why I bought this or how I had even heard of NOFX, but it completely changed my musical tastes and to this day remains one of my favorite albums.

So what does this have to do with the Lawrence Arms? Here's how: the Lawrence Arms are signed to Fat Wreck Chords, which was started by the lead singer of NOFX. There you go. I came into knowing and loving this band one day while fucking about on the Internet instead of writing a mid-term back in the college days. I cruise on over to the Fat Wreck site. I watch this video for a song called "Porno and Snuff Films" by this band I haven't heard of. I love it. I go out and buy Apathy and Exhaustion it at B-Side. It quickly becomes one of my favorites, and following college it becomes my #1 album to listen to while on long drives.

So early this year I see their follow-up, The Greatest Story Ever Told, at B-Side and I snap it up. It is good. I bring it over to E Eugene, and he concurs with my opinion. It is at this time that I stumble across the news that the Lawrence Arms will be playing in Madison at this place called Journey Music. Now, I like to think of myself as somewhat "with it" when it comes to the Madison music scene, so I was a bit unsettle to find out there was a venue that I didn't even know about - and not some underground place like Mierda Verde. As it turns out, Journey Music is a fairly new establishment. So that's my excuse. I read up on the show. The Lawrence Arms are embarking on a small Midwest tour supporting the release of their newest, Oh! Calcutta! I went out and bought this the day it came out. It is the best punk album I have bought in the last five years.

Let's get to the point: E and I drive over to Regent Street, park, and find the place. It is underneath the old Urban Pizza at the Corner of Regent and Monroe, near Camp Randall Stadium. We walk in to the sounds of basement punk, sloppy and raw. As it turns out, Journey Music is one of Madison's precious few all-ages venues. This means the majority of the crowd in attendance is of the high school variety. Nothing wrong with this, but I haven't been to one of these shows since I was, well, in high school. Currently playing was one of the four opening acts, so E and I decamp to Lucky's for a round or three.

We come back and catch the last of the openers. It was a real trip down Memory Lane, bringing back all of the nostalgic memories of being a high school punker and hanging out at the New Loft. Back then you went because it was a social event, not necessarily out of a desire to see the particular band. It was a bit surreal to see the teenage boys with unbridled enthusiasm for the music, tentatively throwing themselves around in the impromptu mosh pits, unsure of their own strength. Was that me? Did I look and act like that ten years ago?

Thankfully, introspection didn't last too long. The Lawrence Arms came on, and I was sixteen again. I stood near the front, to the left of the intermittent pit, and sang along to every word. It was bliss. The Lawrence Arms consist of a drummer (Neil), a guitarist (Chris), and a bassist (Brendan). On the two older albums, Brendan and Chris alternated between lead vocals, while on the latest both seemed to sing together on each song. Listening to them live, it would seem that Chris had nearly blown his voice out. Yet that didn't matter, because the allure of the punk rock show is not in the tight harmonies, but in the raw waves of sound that drive you to a fever pitch.

The show was over early. One of the nice things about the all-ages venue is that shows aren't pushed late into the night as a means to sell more drinks. E and I walked out into the chilly night, the sweat on the back of my neck quickly stiffening up and pulling my shoulders together. We both agreed that the show was great, but there was something about the show that we couldn't quite describe. Maybe it was the abundance of youthful faces that made us seem old. Maybe seeing the incarnation our past selves acting like punks disrupted the self-images of our youth. Maybe we weren't as cool as we had once thought... Or maybe the Lawrence Arms kicked our fuckin' asses, and we were stumbling for metaphors to describe the experience. It doesn't matter in the end.


Blogger Belle of Madison said...

Great post.

7:01 AM  

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