The idea of being part of the mass media leaves me with onset anxiety most days. It's not just being a voice streaming in the babbling brook of blogs, magazines and op-ed pieces such as this, but it's also knowing that somewhere someone is pondering, questioning, agreeing or even disagreeing with your opinion. Once you write, record, film or capture anything and put it out into the world, it becomes part of a conversation that can run as smoothly as a pleasant game of bridge with the ladies or as insane as a 150 cap room during one of the most intense Trash Talk sets you've ever been a part of. There's reason and there's chaos. It's a spectrum that makes up the comment section of just about any given Monday of news and gossip to start off our week. It takes one voice to state an opinion and a million to deconstruct it and overly think outside the context of the original statement. We do it because we're human and we have to attach ourselves to something to express anything. It's the basic neurotic structure we are all made up of whether we are conscious about our actions and thoughts, or unknowingly living in our own shell of a lie. It's quite fascinating.
On Sunday I went to see the guys in Say Anything on their Anarchy, My Dear tour. I especially went to have a chat with a friend. See, every time I talk to Max Bemis or read an interview he's done where someone (which that someone has been me) grills him about the music industry, he always has something reasonable to say. (I can't say that about some rock stars out there who think they have a grasp on things, even as they're riding the "contemporary" sweet life as we see it.) Bemis has certainly been through the ringer: On top of his mental set backs and through an unhealthy bout with drugs, it seemed Bemis also struggled with what the industry and his fans wanted him and his music to be, and through it all, it's always been about what he wants it to end up being. He wrote a debut that many want him to still live up to as their standard of him as an artist. His new compositions have been met with a mixture of praise and loathing by not only critics, but fans as well - fans that feel like Bemis owes them a direct re-connect each round of songs he diligently works on - and not just for himself, but the "Song Shop" some fans directly pay him for. That has to be a lot of stress on a person who continues to get up and keep walking after every opinion in the world about his songwriting has been thrown as blunt stones of regress both on the Internet, in print and - I would presume - in a passive-aggressive smirk in person as well.
As I sat there on the bus talking to Bemis about how I'm still trying to find a grip with the "Why's" and "How's" of this industry on one level, and our attachment to music on another - he's still calmly stating a sense of comfortable numbness to all that's been plaguing my anxiety as of late. There's a state of nirvana when I spoke with him on Sunday evening that I now envy. But I also acknowledge that he's in a state of the "creation," while I'm in the state of "judgement." It's a bit easier to shut the world out and focus when you're not focusing on the world and your expectations as judge, jury and best new music floating around your head as some pedestal of what is it and what isn't it. The context changes depending on what shoes you're wearing - the ones on stage or the ones standing on the side of it.
In reading my favorite column this week, I began to ponder the above with the reasons for why we keep our opinions as sharp as knives in every thread of every site. (read: shit storm with a chance of "Spider-man Thread") We fight for what we feel is comfortable. In talking last week (or last month, or always) about the challenge our favorite bands have the ability to put us in, I didn't mention where the challenge actually lies. I think it's our level of comfort. It's that simple. It's why some of us drag our feet to impress a girl that wouldn't normally give us as much time in the same relationship we should end. It's why we're afraid to jump ship if a job is keeping us afloat. It's paying a bit extra on your re-lease for our apartment so we don't have to go through the hassle of moving again this year. It's our favorite shirt, and it's lying on the couch on our only day off watching Arrested Development Season 2 for the 18th time. When it comes to music, we want to feel the same warm blanket we needed last winter as we will need through this one as well. It's not that we want the same album twice, it's that we want the same level of comfort the last one brought us. That comfort can be measured from knowing we're listening to the most technical, new-age thing still, or we're going through a hard time (work, relationships, etc.) and we're lost without some new answers we're just expected to be given because they were all there last time.
Like music, when you begin to tear back the variables and subjectivity, our problems are quite universal. We all live through some sort of fear and are destined to feel love many times in our life at many levels. With the weight of social media and comment sections marinating our thoughts on every one of those feelings and what we should be and what we are meant to listen to and not listen to and what we should watch and not watch and what we should create and hesitate in building - it truly is why we fight. At some point we all lost the fact that each and every one of us has a story, a problem or an adventure to tell through words, music, fashion and hell - even baking one hell of a cake! I envy Bemis because he's one of the few people I've met in this industry that has seemed to figure out how to live the dream and not everyone else's version of it. As we grow older, we begin to grow into the shell that we fought in angst against when we were young. We become the noise we wanted to tune out. Lately, I've been tuning out. Apparently that makes me look concerned about things. Really - I'm just doing this. If we did more of that, our anxiety would probably ease and the comfort of a less than stellar radio hit might just be the most comforting thing in the moment...
Well, unless it's that Gym Class Heroes song featuring Adam Levine...
Standing in line, waiting in the crowd, generally hearing talk amongst the night's patrons - everyone seems to have an opinion of Max Bemis. In hindsight, it sounds like Bemis has made quite a name for himself both on and off record, but more importantly, made a name for the music both he and his band create that ends up connecting with thousands upon thousands of fans.
A few years back, Bemis decided to do a small solo show in his now hometown of Tyler, Texas. I hear it was quite an intimate experience for those who went. Seeing one of your favorite artists stripped down is quite an experience. What really makes a show like this an experience is the audience participation though.
With the crowd singing back-up during "Ahhhh...Men" and "Alive With the Glory of Love," to me, that trumps any old (but well done and thankful) rendition of Say Anything songs that never surfaced on stage before this night ("Slumming it With Johnny"). You can feel the intimacy as a musician walks away from the mic and is belting out against a wall that is yelling back at him or her. There's a feeling of that which we witness at many shows we go to, but at a solo show, it's almost tenfold.
Even when Bemis, on his final song during the evening, botched the second verse's line, the crowd had a good laugh, he joked it off and everyone went on to vocally end the night in chorus. Well, that says a lot about the staying power of not only one band, but one man, one singer-songwriter.
Hours before the show, Bemis and I were talking via text messages, and there was a bit of fear and worry with it being the first show of the evening for what was to be a big solo tour for many fans. After the show, he expressed how awesome he felt after the first song. He continued to announce that he already felt like doing this again in the future multiple times in the night and later via his Twitter. I could see it in his face though and in a bit of his own self-doubt and disbelief of the crowd as he was playing through the set. This is a man that still cannot believe he is in the position he is in, and as cliche as it sounds, it's just some guy writing passionate songs about his everyday life and convictions that just so happened to resonate with so many...it's really that simple, and that's really the greatest triumph.
I've been thinking about how to write this review since Saturday, and I don't even think I can come up with the right words to do this justice. Besides seeing my date turn into a 17-year-old girl again while hearing songs she hasn't heard in quite a few years, the nostalgic moment was certainly present in the room. With the craft of Bemis' new Painful Splits songs, potentially future Say Anything material/direction, the man's songwriting and truthfulness won't be ending anytime soon. No matter your opinion of Bemis, his music, past and present behavior, etc. - he generally just seems like a guy humble for his position as a leading man in the drudge that often seems like the scene these days.
I remember the first time I received an advance copy of Say Anything's ...is a Real Boy in my mailbox at KLSU. It was different, but you could still cling to the tunes. Hell, the more I delved into it, I didn't just cling, I rebelled with it. I'm grown up now, and last night, mashed between the crowd of die-hard Say Anything fans, I felt like that old guy.
Prior to the show, Max Bemis and I took a walk around the block for our interview. Though I turned the recorder off, I had asked Bemis why he wrote a chorus such as "Crush'd," he simply said that he wrote what he felt. It's the blunt of how he felt about his now wife Sherri DuPree at the time. He's always written what he has felt, and says artists shouldn't hide their lyrics, but just be straightforward. I respect that.
While waiting in line, a kid at the front, from what I could understand, was sitting there since 5 p.m. that evening, was playing Say Anything songs on his guitar. Eventually guitarist (Jake or Jeff?) Turner came out and hung out with the kid for some time and brought the kid and his guitar on the bus.
Miniature Tigers started things off with a solid set of songs off Tell It To the Volcano, and closed with a new one called "Lolita." Every time I see/hear these guys, I'm pulled in. Definitely worth watching coming up into the new year.
Moneen took the stage in mayhem - a la a typical show - and blazed through a short set that included songs from The Red Tree and The World I Want to Leave Behind. They ended with a Kenny Bridges crowd walk and "The Passing of America" onslaught. Moneen is one of the most underrated bands out there, and well worth supporting their whole discography.
Eisley played through an even set of old favorites and a few new tunes from the Fire Kite E.P., including a new song, "Smarter," featuring Max Bemis on guitar. I spoke with Boyd DuPree (the band's manager and father) and said their new album will hopefully see light sometime in late winter/early Spring of next year, and there will be a headlining tour in support of it.
Before Say Anything took the stage, I was already being crushed under the weight of fans singing acappella versions of the band's catalog. Needless to say, once the band went into "Fed to Death," I quickly took my old bones out of the pit, like the Danny Glover of the show scene. Man, did those fans get into it. With a solid set across the board, Bemis asked the crowd if they even liked the new album, and an emphatic praise rushed across the venue. The band were into it, the fans were into it and this led to what every band that night says was the best show of the tour - and it seemed genuine, so much so, that the band's set list said Bemis was to start the encore with "Crush'd," but instead played solo to "I Want to Know Your Plans," a number that turned the crowd into a Disney sing-a-long. Throwing out the next planned track, the band played "Belt" for the first time on the tour and ended with "Admit It!" to close out the night as Bemis just hugged the front of the crowd.
Seeing that encore, and seeing that crowd made me believe I was 18 again - not starring Zac Efron - and discovering Say Anything for the first time. Whether you like, love or hate the band's career thus far, there's no denying that they hold honesty and integrity in their music. I saw that last night in Austin. Time can only tell of longevity, but if this aura keeps up, I'd say the band is poised to leave its footprint for a while.