On Wolf Parade, writer’s block, and a little saline in Salt Lake City
As sweat seeped out of me in a tinbox of a club in Salt Lake City, I noticed that despite this considerable swelling of heat around me, my thoughts were strangely serene. As if I’d purged a bad humour, in old-world speak, and was now bathing contentedly in its lazy afterglow. I hearkened back to that Death Cab line, from the opening track on Kintsugi: I don’t know where to begin; There’s too many things that I can remember.
As I’d walk home from the concert, an hour or so later, I’d notice that these lines constituted the impasse I often feel when trying to find the words to describe a great concert. Where could I even begin?
I’d flown to Salt Lake City on May 23 for a Wolf Parade concert. Ostensibly, I was there to get a feel for the city itself, but as I wandered about, sampling good coffee, eating good barbecue, waiting for my room to be ready so I could take a f***ing nap :), my mind was always dancing toward the songs I was going to hear that evening. Three bands in one setting. Pretty sweet deal, especially considering the headliner that night featured Spencer Krug, a hero of mine as I made the sticky transition from teenager to my twenties.
Sunset Rubdown came crashing into my life in the narrow confines of a college dorm. I didn’t even think of what to make of the wreckage; the power of those lyrics, and that sound, saw me throwing on headphones and listening non-stop to these songs that were so unabashedly ambitious. It was like every neurosis I kept carefully hidden, for fear of exposure in the harsh light of collegiate peer review, came bursting forth to frolic in the span of each song. I could live in this world, I’d think as I moved about campus.
It’s interesting to read a bit about Wolf Parade these days. Krug acknowledges that the band’s reunion, after a hiatus of several years, is firmly in place, but Sunset Rubdown is probably finito. It’s as if that sonic experiment could only exist for the half decade or so it did before it had to bid us adieu. But the songs remain, at least as long as there’s a digital mainframe, and that’s enough for me.
Having Wolf Parade back certainly helps. I’ve seen them perform twice this year, the Salt Lake City show included, and each time I have been transported to a very pleasant place, far far away from the tedium and blandness of everyday life. It was not as if I needed to see them in a different setting, in a different city, to keep variety’s spice going strong, but the decision, like every one I make, changed from crippling fear at the prospect of doing something new to serendipity once I found that the water, here, was warm.
The venue, Urban Lounge, just a few blocks from the hum of downtown, was very small, so small in fact that during Wolf Parade’s set, I came within a hair’s breadth a couple times of bassist Dante DeCaro swatting me by accident with his instrument. A happy accident it would’ve been, too. :)
Before they began, Krug took a look around the intimate club, already sufficiently steamy from the exertions of the previous two bands, and lots of stomping around from fans. (Tends to happen when Japandroids go on just before, too.) “I might end up sweating on a lot of you in the first rows,” Krug said, which was met with wild applause. “Only setting where that gets cheers,” he added, chuckling. (I was amazed by the amount of sweat that pooled upon DeCaro’s bass, by the time the set was done.)
I have been to arena rock spectacles, and the kinds of big-name draws that fill seats in the thousands in venues around the Bay Area. But there’s nothing quite like the intimate venue, in my estimation, for delivering the pure catharsis one always hopes for, and sadly rarely achieves, at the live music experience.
On the way back to the hotel, walking through a couple leafy neighborhoods, then a still-lit-up downtown Salt Lake City, I was imbued with the sense of calm that only comes from a great rock show. A therapeutic cleansing of whatever wound. In large part, it came from Krug, who was one of the first artists to give me a voice. There was the sound he made, and the lyrics attached to it. Somehow, even as a teenager, I noticed that combination’s devastating potency. How it can transport you to a state outside of yourself, this totally subjective form of art allowing you to reflect upon your current self with ultimate objectivity. A way to marshal your emotions and move forward with a bit more confidence than you had before a set of songs began.
I thought about this the next day in the airport, on my way back home to San Francisco. How so often these days I can’t get going with writing. Then, how a concert can unlock something within you, leading to a brand of confidence I remember reading Colin Meloy discovered when he’d work open mics in Portland. No one was listening to him then, so he decided he’d just start singing what he wanted to sing. Then, it became what John Mayer wrote once: when you start dancing in your own corner, making what you want to make, people will eventually sidle along to it and check out what you’re doing. Chances are, some might like it.
So you start writing again. You remember what meant the world to you, then and now. How it can give you the confidence to begin saying what you want to say. Maybe that’s enough.