It's been an uncharacteristically busy year for this Stranger, which has led to what I will assume is a statistically significant reduction in the number of shows I've attended in 2019.
One of the main culprits is the recent combining of households with my ladyfren and usual live music sidekick - and that process seems to have eaten up a LOT of time over the past three-four months with searching, looking, saving, packing, moving, unpacking...etc. It's the damn worst. Further, my "show list" palate has expanded - and now includes more non-music/concert forms. For example, we recently saw Hamilton at the Hippodrome in Baltimore, and we saw Hannah Gadsby's latest "comedy-turned TED talk" at the Kennedy Center in DC last month.
But things are starting to settle down. And last night I experienced what was probably one of the best shows I've seen in 2019.
I wanna say the Get Up Kids first hit my radar in 1999 or 2000 - whatever the year, I know that my best college bud is responsible for turning me on to the band. In the early aughts, I started listening to more emo-tinged bands (i.e., Thursday, Sparta, et al.) and the Get Up Kids were more intriguing because there were heavier doses of pop punk in their sound. Soon after I moved to Arkansas, already knowing that the band was from Kansas City (some three hours north), they broke up. I missed their reunion show at the Record Bar in 2008 - but members of my former band, Damn Arkansan, went,and definitely rubbed it in that I missed a hell of a show!
I say all this to say that after nearly 20 years of listening to this band, last night was my FIRST TIME seeing them. And last night was SPECIAL™.
I've had a couple chances to see Matt Pryor solo (the last of which I didn't do because I was still in recovery from my car accident), and I missed them in DC last year because I was out of town in Raleigh NC to see Father John Misty play at the NC Museum of Art. But - despite being exhausted from work, moving, and general other shit, I wasn't gonna miss the show last night...and I am SO glad I went.
I think I'm comfortable saying that the Ottobar in Baltimore is my favorite regional venue. It's an easy drive from Frederick (~ an hour), light on traffic, and in a hip area of the city that has good eats and other amenities (record and book stores). The venue itself also has a great layout. Two stories: a lounge upstairs with a bar where they host comedy, small shows, and trivia, and the main floor with a bar/merch area in the back, and the "stage room" which is a split into a stage floor and balcony/loft on stage right. Along the wall on stage left, there are two tiered risers - almost like bleachers - that are at the same height as the steps leading you down from the bar area to the stage room floor. I note this because whether you're up front, on the back or sides on a riser, or in the balcony/loft, there are few *bad* vantage points in the room.
I posted up in the back corner of the room, stage left, parallel to the sound man, and at a great vantage point to get the mix from ALL the PA speakers. I arrived a song or two into Seattle Washington-based opener Great Grandpa's set.
Here is what Pitchfork reviewer Ian Cohen had to say about the Great Grandpa's debut record, PLASTIC COUGH in his 6.7-rated review:
"Familial band name with twee sensibilities, quippy grievance airing over fizzy alt-pop: thanks to the revolution started in Great Grandpa’s hometown of Seattle, this sound provided quite a few Buzz Bin hits and resultant entries in used CD bins in 1997 and has somehow become the sound of indie rock in 2017."
I mean, I *think* Cohen wants that to be a dig at the band - but for 41 year-old Gen Xers who still go to shows (and I'll tell ya, if you averaged the demographics of this crowd, I was the mean/average to the letter) we couldn't have asked for a better opener (not named Reggie and the Full Effect or Saves the Day).
Great Grandpa's lead singer, Alex Mennes, is a tiny woman, but has an absolutely HUGE voice. I had to do some double-takes when her howling vocals smacked me in the face through the PA. After doing some research, it looks as though the band is usually a quintet, but tonight was a 4-piece, with Mennes also playing bass (usually tackled by Carrie Miller). The two guitarists really added a nice, grungy layer to the songs - several of which were in alternate tunings. This definitely changed the sonic palate and allowed for a richer sound coming off the strings.
I think maybe the a good shoot-from-the-hip description would be this: Great Grandpa sounded like if an emo Delores O'Riordan fronted Pavement - if Pavement were from mid-1990s Seattle.
Roughly 45 minutes after Great Grandpa started, they exited the stage and made way for the Get Up Kids. By this point, the stage room floor had filled up. Even I was shoulder-to-shoulder with some folks back in my corner vantage point.
After a "hello Baltimore!" around 9:15 PM - wasting no time, Matt Pryor hit the chords and opening lines to "Satellite" - the opening song off the Get Up Kids latest (2019) record PROBLEMS. The song was explosive, and the near-packed house was here for it. If Craig Finn was right, and the "sing along songs" truly "will be our scriptures" then this crowd was definitely in church this particular Wednesday night.
The band played about an hour and a half (excluding the 5 minute break before the encore) - and covered ALL their records. It was great to see the band members' reaction to the crowd singing along to the older songs. Pryor remarked on more than one occasion "shit, you guys sing LOUD!" Guitarist Jim Suptic noted "we don't get to Baltimore often enough...but we're definitely coming back!"
Highlight songs included the appropriate opener "Satellite" which has an "old school" Get Up Kids sound for being new material. "Martyr Me" - which is one of my favorite cuts from THE GUILT SHOW - absolutely smoked. "Holiday" from SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT (talk about a dang sing-along!) "Don't Hate Me" from FOUR MINUTE MILE (which had a fun false-start where Pryor had to stop and restart the band). Also "Lou Barlow" from the new record PROBLEMS and "Stay Gone" from ON A WIRE were a thesis on how to masterfully create pop groove on a bass guitar.
Let's talk about bassist Rob Pope for a minute. Not only is he a founding member of The Get Up Kids, but also has been playing with Spoon since 2007 (he actually just quit) - and he really does add an incredible layer with his bass playing over the Get Up Kids songs. His playing got more dynamic with the release of ON A WIRE - a record that did not sit well with fans who were more into the band's emo leanings on the first two records. Considering I just started playing bass - despite the fact that my current outfit’s music does not sound like the Get Up Kids - there is a lot to be gleaned from Pope's playing in regard to how to craft a low-end melody through a song. It was a joy watching him do this live last night.
The hour-long opening set closed with "Action & Action" if I am recalling correctly - and the whole crowd was screaming along with Pryor on the chorus line "I playyyyed the fool!!!" It was cathartic and joyful. The encore was about 6 or 7 songs, and given the crowd response on the night, I wouldn't be surprised if the band had planned on playing a shorter encore. Suptic led the band on his cover of the Mats' "Beer For Breakfast" which the Get Up Kids released on their 2001 LP of covers and rarities, EUDORA. They also obliged a member of the crowd who shouted for "Mass Pike" by playing a rousing rendition of the song. The closer was "Ten Minutes" from SOMETHING TO WRITE HOME ABOUT. Man...if the foundation of the Ottobar wasn't a concrete slab, that floor would have been bowing last night.
I am usually not one to break his phone out a lot during a show, but I captured several songs on video last night because I really wanted to document this experience. I can't remember the last time I felt like I was in a room full of so many people whose expectations seemed to immediately be met and continued to be exceeded - the band's included - as the night wore on. It was an all ages show, and I saw what appeared to be lots of dads and daughters enjoying the show together, which was pretty rad.
The band is off to play two nights in New York next - at the Bowery tonight and the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn tomorrow. If you ever enjoyed this band, I highly, highly encourage you to go check them out if they come to your town on this tour. They're seemingly are firing on all cylinders right now.