Archive for April, 2011

More About The Former Than The Latter

04/25/2011 – The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart w/ Twin Shadow @ Triple Rock Social Club, Minneapolis

Sometime recently I came to the conclusion that it is safe to say The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart are my favorite band of the last five years.  I own all their singles except for their first one, which I stupidly decided not to buy, and I have been a big booster of their self-titled debut and the i Highehr than The Stars EP, with excellent, jangly late 80s indie pop in the vein of a lot of good bands that I only recently got o like Field Mice and Another Sunny Day.  It is also safe to say that I have been working backwards in that regard, finding out more about the bands after I heard about them in reviews as influences, after their material began to see re-release do to vinyl being back, etc.  So it was reassuring when Kip Berman, their frontman, half-jokingly admitted that anyone who wanted to could hang out with them afterwards and chat about football or indie rock, punctuating it by noting he probably knew more about the former than the latter.  I guess it was just nice to see indie rock people who also seemed like real people.

As for the set itself, I wanted it to be better.  It was goof, with some surprisingly honest commentary at points, but it was not great.  Maybe it was the weight of two years of expectations, maybe it was the long drive from Seattle, maybe it was just that it wasn’t bacon night.  They did get better as the night went on, and they did play some stuff I really wanted to hear but did not expect like “Higher Than The Stars”, but mostly it consisted of a fair mix of newer material from Belong alongside the older stuff.  And the songs all sounded pretty good, just not great.  It didn’t seem like the best crowd, either; perhaps like me they were hoping to hear a few more tracks off of the eponymous release.

What redeemed it for me was when they came out for the encore and they pounded through that 7″ I am still kicking myself about, pulsing through their first single, “Everything With You” and the b-side, “The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart”.  It already is one of those great, head-scratching b-sides that makes you wonder why it wasn’t on the album, in the vein of a band like Deerhunter or Oasis where some of their best material is hiding on those interstitial releases.  I suppose it is a moot point in the modern age when anyone with flexible morals and a good Internet connection can find whatever they please.  Anyway, the point is these two tracks positively pulsed in a way the rest of the set did not fof whatever reason.  I believe it could, and I am sure someday when I see them again it will.  I have to remember to set aside my expectations when I see bands, try to judge them on their merits live, not whether they have made a 12″ that is the most frequent reason to switch my record player to 45 rpms.  And in that capacity, this long overdue set was good, but not great.  Even if I am ignoring outside influence, this is still the stage where I saw Mono, or where The Good Life played one of the most cathartic sets I have ever seen, and it trickles in.  A good show makex you think about other good shows, but a great show makes you think about nothing for just a little bit.

As for Twin Shadow, it seemed like more of the sold-out crowd was there for them.  I am pretty sure the guitars and keyboars were set to Cutting Crew for the duration of the set.  There is an inescapable 80s shimmer to Forget, drawing out many comparisons from a musically fertile decade, but to me, the way to best capture it is to say these songs sound like they would be at home in Vice City.  They did good work with the songs from their debut, and showed some pretty good wit interacting with an unusually outspoken crowd given how supportive they were.  At one point, someone asked the frontman if he had any shirts for anyond without chest hair (as he was rocking the v-neck) to which he quickly responded “Paint some on or become a fucking man”.  Not maliciously or anything, but it underscores his wit.  At another point, the lead singer noted his love for The Replacements, which got little response from the 18+ crowd.  No surprise there, I joked to the guy next to me, and we came to the conclusion that 75% of thd crowd probably had no idea who he was talking about.  Not that I should judge as I work backwards.  The band then led into “I Can’t Wait”, which made me smile, as it is a great song, but it’s no “Can’t Hardly Wait”.

When Depressing Music Isn’t

04/16/11 – Low @ First Ave, Minneapolis

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To truly be considered Minnesotan, there are some things that you should do. I know I haven’t done all of them yet, and I’m sure if I put my mind to it, I could find a list of things that truly defined Minnesotan nature. And while my list would contain some obvious ones (see Lake Superior from the the south breaking into Duluth for example, Devil’s Kettle, Minnehaha Falls) and some non-obvious ones (the world’s largest ball of twine made by one man) there are also some more temporal ones. Everyone should see a show at First Ave, of course, but if this were 1984, the bands you should have seen were Prince and The Replacements, and that’s just not how it breaks these days. It’s 2011, and being this day and age, the bands you should see have accordingly shifted. For me, if I were picking two bands that you have to see at First Ave just for the experience of it, the Minnesotan-ness if you will, I would have to go with The Hold Steady and Low (with an honorable mention to Atmosphere), which are totally opposite ends of the experience when it comes to live shows. Consider last week, it was a raucous dance party with lots of sweaty people flailing everywhere and generally having a great time; this week, it was a rather polite group of people, not standing stock-still, but not doing much in the way of moving either. There was no pushing, no shoving, and I can’t speak for everyone else there, but it’s the kind of music that you close your eyes and take in. That’s what a Low show is.

Further considering that this winter never seems like it’s going to end and it’s hard to find a more appropriate band to listen to than Low? What is Low? The genre that they most easily fit into for a long time (along with such luminaries as Codeine) was slowcore, known for its relatively sparse arrangements, love of whole notes, and other minimalist touches. And while records like Things We Lost In The Fire and Trust still show a lot of that, but The Great Destroyer, their excellent Sub-Pop release, Low had grown up a little bit more. Two more records into Sub-Pop, they still sound unmistakably like Low, but for lack of a better term, the sound is much more lush on their latest, C’mon. But it’s still not a ton of instruments. Two voices, guitar, a few drums, and a bass. Live, though, Low augmented their sound with the addition of some keys and extra backing vocals by the drummer from Alan Sparhawk’s other band, Retribution Gospel Choir. And you can definitely see the changes. I’ve seen Low 5 times now, and the sound has grown just a little bit each time. The more Alan Sparhawk has let himself unleash it on guitar, the more it comes through. There’s still that sparseness where it should be, but it’s even more punctuated by his guitar work than it used to be. Add that to the fact that almost 20 years in, Alan and Mimi Parker’s vocals are still just as piercing as ever. The fact that they had someone playing keys live (as they frequently have on records) meant the songs were just a touch fuller, and seemed really alive in First Ave.

I don’t know if it was technically a sell-out, but it filled up nicely for Low’s set. There’s not a lot of movement on stage, and there’s not a lot of crazy banter, usually just one exchange or two, some acknowledgment that First Ave is pretty awesome, and some pretty damn good music. Given that Low’s new record dropped last Tuesday, obviously the set was going to be full of songs from the new album. And it was. The new songs, as they said in an in-studio on The Current, sound pretty, not that their catalog isn’t punctuated with pretty songs overall. It is. So they wove in some of those obvious choices from throughout the past four albums to go along with the new one, and played excellent tunes like “Breaker”, “Monkey”, and “Silver Rider” But the songs that I was especially pleased to hear were “Sunflower” (which I had never seen before) and the lone selection from Trust, a very noisy version of “Canada”. Overall, it’s just music that seems to serve a different purpose. Low makes cathartic music, and as much as I didn’t think I’d ever be able to appreciate it again, maybe I still am in need of catharsis, and I still am hurting and alone. Just in different ways than I was 4 or 5 years ago. I think many of us are always processing feelings like that, and while the time for a Low record isn’t necessarily that constant (thankfully), the need always finds its way back. There’s a lot of beauty in it too, if you stop to appreciate it, even if it’s painful, especially if it’s hard to listen to. Sometimes it just cuts deeper than you expected it too, and even a couple times live, I felt that way, more moved than I expected, being the cynical watcher of shows that I am. And maybe I need that.

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As for Halloween, Alaska, they acquitted themselves well in the Main Room. The place was half to two-thirds full for most of their set, and I don’t think they were playing to that many people who are too familiar with their music. I first heard them described as a more adult version of the Postal Service…make of that description what you will. But it was 2004 and we were all groping around for terms. Back then, there was a palpable sense that there might be something bigger in store for these boys from Minnesota, what, with a song featured in The O.C. and a buzz around all things in the electronic-tinged rock spectrum. But nothing better ever came; there was no big follow-up for “Des Moines” or “Four Corners”. While they still put out good music after that, the window had closed. They soldiered on, and in support of Low, they were playing a lot of new songs from a forthcoming record (fourth, I believe), mixed with a couple killer songs from their first couple records. The new songs were good, but most people have already made up their mind about Halloween, Alaska. That’s just how it works these days. Or maybe it’s all swung back around and there’s space for people to notice them again. I hope so. It’s good music. But we do that well here in Minnesota, and even with file-sharing, people out there don’t get to experience nearly as much of a great scene as they could. So maybe they’ll just be another band that we tuck away, that we’re proud to call our own even when they aren’t our own anymore (though they still are). Maybe more people appreciate them than I think, it was hard to tell, it felt like there was only a smattering of applause, but they’re the kind of band you quietly appreciate, an apt opener for Low.

Lights And Music

04/09/11 – Cut Copy w/ Holy Ghost! @ First Ave, Minneapolis

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I am trying to remember the last time I saw a band bring a light rig into a club show like Cut Copy. They had a fucking door on stage. That’s a set-up. Of Montreal certainly had a crazy stage, but not so much on the powerful lights. Phoenix played a club show in Des Moines, but they had a light set-up for a theater, so it’s a little hard not to discount their set-up. And as I cast back into my memory, I can’t really recall, though I’m sure I’ve seen lights like that at First Ave before. But maybe not. I don’t tend to go to shows in the Mainroom that are designed to make me dance. For whatever reason, I’ve either already caught the band before or seen them in the Entry with a less epileptic, more music-based approach as small clubs just don’t support lights like that. I know, this is a lot of discussion about the lights, and I don’t want you to feel like this is some sort of feint, like there isn’t anything good to say about the music of Cut Copy, because there is.

As far as I could tell for most of the show, it was just four guys, and mostly live, which surprised me. It was the second kind of sold-out at First Ave, it seemed, where it actually filled up and stayed really full of sweaty, frenetic people. I can only assume that Holy Ghost! whipped everyone into a lather and Cut Copy just did more of the same, but I missed the opener. I guess I don’t know quite what I was expecting. I love their new record Zonoscope and In Ghost Colours contains some songs that everyone should own, but I didn’t know how well that would all go over live. I’ve seen plenty of electronic-based rock bands that either come out a little flat or come out too programmed, where there’s no sense of spontaneity or liveness to the show. As I thought after jj last year, it was like watching karaoke live, and that’s always a danger. Unless you know how to work an arpeggiator or similarly awesome 80s keyboards, in which case you are set. The boys from Australia had presence, a presence that truly reminded me of Depeche Mode. Yes, a lot of stuff is sequenced, but you still gotta put on a good show. And did they.

The setlist consisted of a pretty even mix of songs from the new record and their previous, and if they played anything off of Bright Like Neon Love, well, I wouldn’t know. On record, the newer songs don’t quite make you want to dance in the same way as before, with a little more of a 70s vibe. Not that the In Ghost Colours didn’t have it, but more ELOish touches, and an overall keyboard sound that I can only describe as The Who in the Tommy-Quadrophenia era. But live, tracks like “Where I’m Going” and “Need You Now” had a little bit more punch, more life than groove if you will, and they mixed in pretty seamlessly with bangers like “Out There On The Ice” and “Hearts On Fire”. Add to that a light show that’s not safe for children ten and under or anyone prone to seizures, and you have the makings of a pretty fun dance night at First Ave.

Normally, I take in my shows from the balcony by the small bar near the bathrooms, so facing the stage, I am elevated and to the right. I’ve found that it’s usually pretty easy for me to get line of sight there and I don’t have to mix it up too much. These days, I find myself wanting to do that less, so it’s a nice place to chill. Plus, it’s where the Galaga machine used to be…but, I actually ran into a friend at this show, and after talking upstairs for a few minutes, we made our way back down into the masses. I have to say, I should get down on the floor more for shows like this. The songs positively pulsed; the fact that one of the member’s of Cut Copy had a shirt that went from light gray to dark gray about halfway through the show gives you an idea of how hot it was in there, and everyone was just really into it. You could really feel everything down there, especially the booming bass. I was a little surprised that they even pulled out things like the colossal “Sun God” to close out before the encore, but anytime you can keep people moving for 15 minutes of one song, you know you’ve done something right. There was a lot of love there, and a lot to enjoy. The only thing I really regretted was that the show couldn’t go on for another hour, because I think they could have kept that energy level up like that. But thems the shakes on a Saturday night, gotta clear everyone out for a dance night starting at 10 pm, and while I rolled elsewhere, I’m sure plenty of people just kept on dancing.

Leave You Wanting More

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Let me just start this off by noting it was a strange show, and a strange night. I am sure the Superhumanoids set was odd, but had I left in time for it, I may have been the first person to stumble across a dead body which was directly in the path I was taking that night. Of course, I didn’t know that until after the fact, but I did know something weird happened in Minneapolis when the bike path was blocked and I was curtly told not to go that way and that I didn’t want to see what was up ahead. Anyway, back to the music.

Cults are a bit of an Internet sensation. Pitchfork said it best in their write-up about “Go Outside” that you can find more information on a candy wrapper than you can find about Cults on the Internet. And though there has subsequently been more information, and a solid release date for a full-length coming up here, they still only truly have 1 sold-out recording to their name, a 7″ that could either become the gem of my collection or totally worthless. It was tough to say after one show whether they had “it”, but they certainly were good. Outside of touring, Cults is just a two person band, but they augmented themselves with four other people live to fill out their sound. And “Go Outside” and “You Know What I Mean” give you a pretty good idea of what you are in store for. That is to say, 50s-leaning pop. Or maybe 80s-leaning, 50s-leaning pop. I’m not sure I know the difference. What separates them from a few other bands with that sound that I’ve had the chance to see is there’s a little more variety to it. And they put on a good show. Whether it’s the benefit of being film majors or just having pretty good stage presence for being a scratched-together sort of band, I don’t know. Maybe it just is the bell kit. All I know is that live the sound really filled the Entry, and what could have ended up sonically flat instead was filled in with a touch of an electric drum or a really fuzzed out Big Muff bass line

Of the stranger moments of the show, I would have to say the crowd surfing at The Entry takes the cake (and I’ll get to the other strange one in a minute). It’s one of those things that has thankfully died off (or I just don’t go to shows where crowds care to do that anymore). But there’s something magical about it happening in a 200 person club instead of some giant sea of people. So thanks for the stage-diving during the set, Superhumanoids. It was your last night on that bill, and you deserve it. As for the actual mechanics of the set, Cults probably played all 11 of the songs that are on their album, and they probably would have been better had we known where the hand claps go. Admittedly, that’s a pretty easy thing to figure out on the first pass, but they make the kind of music that begs for audience participation. Failing that, they make the kind of music that makes you think they could be playing at the Enchantment Under The Sea dance while you are dancing with your squeeze. They probably only played for about 40 minutes, again, another wise decision. ‘Tis better to play 40 good minutes than 60 mediocre ones. Most good shows should leave you wanting just a little bit more, at least when they are at the stage of playing the Entry. I’m not paying enough for tickets at this point to be demanding. And they left me wanting a little bit more, so I will think about seeing them again the next time they come through, which, gauging audience response (and of course, those ever elusive record sales), I’m guessing will be sometime before the summer’s through. In the meantime, there’s a sea of girl fronted Johnny’s back pop to wade through, and I’m sure I’m going to do it.

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As for Magic Kids, they delivered the second (though sequentially first if you were seeing it live) strange moment of the night when some dude threw a beer at one of the guitarists. That in it of itself isn’t that odd, though it’s been a while since I’ve seen someone project anything at a band with any sort of malice. The leader singer, apparently feeling an affront to a band member is an affront to all, gave the audience a quick “be right back” before launching himself into the crowd to go after the guy that was already being handled by the sound guy/roadie for Magic Kids. Additionally, the perpetrator was fleeing the scene of the crime. If you’ve never seen a tall, lanky dude wearing some cowhide looking denim clothes (at least under the blacklight) launch himself after some douche, well, then you’ve never seen it. But this is about music, right? Music? Maybe. I don’t entirely think it’s their fault, but their set ended up being more memorable for the other things, including the violin/keys/guitar girl casually noting a couple times that they have no place to stay tonight and the previously miscreant chasing. I feel like their set was better than last time, or they at least played a little bit stronger. Maybe they were just better matched to the bill. But when I think about it, only a couple songs come to mind, one being their obvious stand-out track “Summer” and the other being a more ELOish tune that they closed with that sounded new. And at the end of the day, I don’t know if I’d go see Magic Kids again. Then again, both times I’ve seen them it’s because I’ve gotten there early enough to see a band they are splitting a bill with. They haven’t quite earned headlining status, but who knows, if they come back with yet another band I want to see, maybe a little bit more will sink in. They do an alright job with their (at least to me) early 70s radio-friendly sound. I think this is a band that could be bigger, but for whatever reason, they aren’t. Not that anyone’s asking my opinion. So yeah, I might take a flier on them one more time. Or I might just be hoping to see a tall lanky dude launch himself into the crowd at a small club, either to surf or to beat someone down. Time will tell.

Tuesdays At The Turf, Vol. 3

04/05/11 – Wye Oak @ The Turf Club, Saint Paul

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“Please don’t post this”

That was what Jenn Wasner implored the crowd not to do before they ripped into their super-secret cover. Even though it’s already been posted the night before by someone who caught them in Iowa City. And potentially elsewhere on the tour if you saw Wye Oak. Me? I respect that. Let’s just say it was a good 90s cover and move on with our lives. But it does bring up the ever-changing relationship between the artist and the audience. Even if it was just one of those anecdotes that bands share on stage, there’s footage everywhere, of all sorts of shows. They provide a nice account, don’t get me wrong. I posted a link to a pretty moving performance of “Good Night” after the last RAA show, and sure enough there were many, many other camera phones that captured it and put it on YouTube. It’s fun and great to share those things, but ultimately, the context is often lost. There’s always that element of having to be there to truly understand. And even then, the listener is quite likely hopelessly never going to understand the song the way the artist does. That hasn’t changed, but I think audience expectations in terms of what we should know and what we deserve have changed. A generation raised on reality television and commentaries, illegal downloads and a plethora of entertainment options, we expect it all. But there’s still that funny word, context.

So what’s the context for me? I was sipping $4.50 Gold Sovereigns, catching up with an old friend from college, and generally doing all those things that don’t comprise the Tuesday nights of a lot of people I know. I’ve recently realized I probably shouldn’t go to quite as many shows as I did last year, or at least I should approach it differently. And I really needed a good show. Does that change my ultimate impression of the show? Of course. But that’s true for any of us. And just because you are convinced you are going to have a good time doesn’t mean you are, as I’m sure most people can attest. Then again, I’d seen Wye Oak before this, at the Turf Club nonetheless, and I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from them. Did I get what I expected?

Wye Oak is a duo from Baltimore (Jenn Wasner, guitar, vocals, Andy Stack, percussion) who can superficially be compared to another duo from Charm City (Beach House) in that they both have smoky-voiced lead singers, and their debuts hinted of greater things to come. But Wye Oak isn’t dream pop, even if it wasn’t entirely clear what direction they were heading after their first LP, If Children. Their second LP, The Knot cleared up where things were going with a more guitar heavy sound, but it was really their last EP, My Neighbor/My Creator and their most recent full-length, Civilian that made one thing clear. Jenn Wasner is going to melt your face with her guitar playing. The woman shreds. And that is mostly what they did over the course of their set. Pulling material mostly from their most recent (and strongest) LP, they played a set that was definitely rocking, and when they pulled songs from their previous releases, they had a bit more punch. They didn’t really dally on stage, but they were certainly playful enough to banter with the crowd. It was a respectable 3/4s full in the Turf for the majority of the night, which was a lot more than I expected in there on a Tuedsay. I don’t know their music well enough to give you a setllist (though I’m sure you could find that). I don’t even listen to them that much, which is criminal considering how good their music is. But I do know they had my attention for about an hour. And as I wonder what else to say about the evening, I can’t help but think that this isn’t much of a review. There isn’t a play-by-play or specific items that can make me say this was a really good show and you should have been there if you have any love for Wye Oak or music in general. Everything just came together and made for a good evening, even in the face of my expectations. Had you been there, the entire experience may have been different for you. But I still maintain that Wye Oak would have rocked you.

Confidence Game

04/03/11 – Toro Y Moi @ 7th Street Entry, Minnepolis

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One of the frequent (and deserved) criticisms of music in 2011 is that artists can make great music, but they lack the musicianship to actually back it up on a stage. Bedroom pop, in all its wonderful, revelatory, DIY glory, has produced a series of artists who are really great at twisting knobs and tweaking levels in the comfort of their own home. The result on stage? A bit more of a mixed bag. I’ve seen a variety of artists who have made this leap from Internet sensation to live performer, and of the younger batch, most have not acquitted themselves all that well. It’s the ones who’ve been in bands, who’ve done that grind irrelevant of how successful it was in the past, that understand how to take it to the next level. A show has to be about more than a collection of good songs, though that’s certainly a starting point. A show is an experience, and that experience needs something, whether it’s improvisational mastery on the guitar or the mic or just a knack for working a crowd or any of the other myriad skills that can make one a good entertainer; without it, the good songs can fall flat. Doing nothing, standing like monoliths and pounding out sounds, that can be an act all the same, but it generally only works in certain genres, where virtuosity doesn’t require all sorts of jumping on stage and bringing the energy that way.

In the specific regard of Toro Y Moi, the first time I saw the Chaz Bundick, he was riding that bedroom pop chillwave straight out of South Carolina and onto stages opening for bands like Phoenix. He was restrained, and quiet, and the accompany instrumentation was minimal, which was odd considering how big the songs on Causers Of This could sound. Standouts like “Blessa” still just felt glossed over. But maybe he picked up something in the intervening 8 months since I saw him open for Phoenix. People want to dance. Maybe it was the budget that you’ll never get in your bedroom. Maybe it was just an honest expression of a different direction that led to this year’s well-received Underneath The Pine. But whatever it was, it made for a much better show. I’m glad that I didn’t dismiss one admittedly boring set and not take the chance again for another 8 dollars.

This time, instead of a two-piece it was a more standard four-piece, drums, bass, guitar, and lots of keys. There was constantly a quasi-psychedelic light show going on. Instead of a quiet, reserved kid meekly sharing his wonderful bedroom pop with the world, this was a funky, confident man, ready to make you move. There are obvious 70s touchstones here, from the overarching genres of funk and disco to more specific elements like the wonderful uptempo keyboard work that Stevie Wonder unleashed on the world then. Less of an 80s leaning feel, much more of a 70s leaning feel, and Chaz and company kept it funky and kept it moving. They blasted through their 40 minute set with a lot of panache. There were no moving speeches or silly antics or anything like that, and when they were done, they were done, the sound man put the music on and implored you to get yourself somewhere other than the 7th Street Entry by turning up the volume. Or maybe he just wanted us to keep on dancing. So maybe I am contradicting what I set up just two paragraphs ago, but I don’t think so. What Toro Y Moi did was get 200 people to move, and that cannot be understated. That, of course, isn’t the effect intended at every show, and I doubt I’m going to see anyone busting out any moves at Wye Oak tomorrow night. But when you have a nice, funky record, that’s what you should be doing. I wasn’t even sad not to hear “Blessa”. As great as that song is, it just had no place in the set of wonderful, dance-oriented material. It’s amazing to think that it’s only been 8 months since I last say Toro Y Moi considering this felt like an entirely different band. The only real criticism I can muster from last night is that there was a bit of sameness to the show, but hey, if you do one thing well, it’s never a bad thing.

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As for Braids, this is the first time I have seen them (since I skipped the last show they were at that I had tickets for), and I finished that set feeling the same way I did when I saw Young Prisms. The pieces are there are record, but live, it’s just a mess. I don’t know if it’s too many studio tweaks, or just an inability to bring those songs to life as fully live as on record, but they just fell flat. It wasn’t the lead singer’s bronchitis, either; she powered through that pretty well, and on the whole, the crowd was attentive at least, though by the end of the set, they’d lost half the room based on the conversations I was hearing around me throughout the night. There was a sameness to both sets I saw that night, but there was no life to Braids set, and they didn’t even stop between songs a lot of times. Personally, unless you want to be as unhelpful as a band like Emeralds and not throw your audience a bone, it’s never a bad idea to let people clap, and absorb distinct entities for what they are. Otherwise, the songs start to run together, and then instead of this really great 4 or 5 minute song, you have this pastiche of songs stitched together. Add that to the fact that they sounded like they were openly auditioning to be Peter Gabriel’s back-up band, and you get a set that’s memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. They didn’t leave me with any compelling reason to go pick up their most recent LP, Native Speaker, and that is a cardinal sin of an opening band. Maybe Braids will finally be back and they’ll get a crowd that just wants them or that, and already has that intimate experience with their music, but me, I’ve heard a song here, song there, and none of it stuck out, either in the blogs or in person. Who knows? Maybe their apprenticeship to Toro Y Moi will work out like it did for them.

The Difference Between Knowing And Understanding

People have been asking me lately how I feel, not in the general regard of how I’m feeling (really, not that great, but a problem for another time), but in the specific regard of how I am recovering from that good old $62,000 shining star that was my gender reassignment surgery. And I have to say, three months out, I am feeling pretty good. But it’s all still a little confusing, you know? Maybe you don’t.

See, I read a lot about the process of transitioning, and much of that touches on the specific process of the surgeries themselves. What they can do for you, the limitations, etc. I know a fair amount about surgical options in regards to going from female to male as well, though not nearly as much because there was much less reason for me to personally learn about that process. Over the past couple years, I spent a decent amount of my time visiting websites, reading up on how a vaginoplasty works in general and taking some time to learn about the various surgeons out there before, for myriad reasons, settling on Dr. Bowers. Whatever else you want to say about her (and there are many things that are worth noting), she definitely knows the work end of this surgical process, and she does a good job. Lots of people will tell you that. Whether it’s because of a sheer inability to otherwise judge, a self-created sense of wanting to be happy with the results, or just the fact that she does good work is hard to say beforehand. Afterward, I’d say it’s because she does good work. Anyway, anybody who knows me knows that’s what I spent the beginning of 2011 doing, and there’s not a whole lot of need to go into details. Besides, I don’t know any more about the surgical process than I did before. I went through it, sure, but I was rather unconscious for the surgery portion, and so that same knowledge that I had beforehand is all I really have to go on in regards to how the surgery actually works. Which I can tell you in some detail, but you probably don’t want to hear. Especially if you are a guy. Because most guys don’t want to hear the verb invert in regards to their genitalia (alright, unfair dig). In seriousness, though, it is absolutely true that I know nothing more about the surgery now than I did beforehand.

On the other hand, I understand a whole lot more what I was getting into. Transitioning, if done under the auspices of medical professionals, is a tedious, expensive, and somewhat mind-numbing process. In addition to the feeling that the end goal (whatever that may be) is interminably far away, there’s all the hoops to jump through, from the most basic one of going in the first time to some sort of clinic and actually telling someone that you need some helping figuring this all out to the endless paperwork, phone calls, and last minute expenses of your surgery. Sign here, initial here, and please make sure that all payments are submitted in time. There’s lots of appointments and the whole process reinforces a couple basic facts about how life works, namely, that you don’t get what you don’t ask for and that you’ve gotta learn what you want before you go out there and get it. I was not really bugged by the fact that as I started the process of transitioning, many of my goals just seemed so far away, and beyond the time commitment, I just wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted or if they were even possible. As things start to draw toward a conclusion (whatever that may be), the feeling can be a little different. I am tired of the paperwork, and the phone calls, and the endless back and forth. I am almost (but not quite) done with all of it, still waiting for all the payments to be finalized and hopefully waiting to get some money back if I understand all the paperwork I’ve received so far from doctors, hospitals, and insurance. I knew this was going to be the case. I have good friends who’ve had this specific surgery. I have good friends who’ve just had surgery in general. As far as I can tell, anyone who’s had anything done at a hospital gets to learn the pace of the insurance game, how it works, who pays what when, and how it all takes a long time. Though a bigger, singular event, all the doctors visits and other appointments leading up to surgery were good for preparing me for the realities of how these sorts of things play out in terms of processing, payments, etc. That was all knowledge that I’d gained the old-fashioned way, in addition to all the second-hand sources one picks up information from. I was well-prepared for that aspect of surgery in respect to both understanding and knowledge.

Now if you’d like to talk about the physical aspects of the surgery, in that respect, I was a neophyte. I had pretty good working knowledge of the fact that I was going to feel pretty damn useless physically for 4-6 weeks afterward. I knew people who’d personally told me that in regard to other surgeries and this one in specific. I knew (obviously) that things were going to be different in a lot of ways. I wanted that difference. I accepted then (and still do now, by the way) that yes, I was giving up a lifetime of easily peeing standing up. I knew (and wrote about) that even having a vagina was not going to solve all of my problems, but I felt then (and again, still do now) that it would be a more accurate reflection of who I am. I knew all of that, and I still know it, but I also understand it. Though I still don’t really understand this whole concept of having a vagina. It’s a little weird, even if it’s what I wanted. It’s a little weird to think that science has gotten to a point where that’s a viable option. It’s a little weird to think that I’m now going to have to sit down (or hover, though I’m generally a pretty brave person) to go to the bathroom in a portable toilet, which is usually a non-starter. It’s a little weird how everything down there still works and feels. I have a body of knowledge based on things that are mostly still there, but in a vastly different arrangement. But like anything, I’m getting to know how things work now. I would say the first couple weeks of dilating were just really truly bizarre in terms of sensations, and while it’s still not old hat by any means, it’s getting there. I feel well and everything seems to have healed well. I’m almost back out on my bike, and have been exercising pretty regularly for the past month or so. I understand how draining surgery can be now. But like I said at the beginning, it’s all still a little confusing, and there’s gonna be more times where I might know how things should work, should go, etc, but I won’t understand until I get there. And there are certain things that I’ll never understand, irrelevant of the shape of my genitalia, not in the same way as a lot of other people. Conversely, for almost everyone that I ever meet, there are things they will never understand about me. But at least you’ll know.

 
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