Monday, March 16, 2009

Where Hipsters Go to Dance: A Night at a Folk Rock Show

Three friends and I arrive at the intersection which was described in an email one of them received earlier that week. We pass by the bar on the corner and knock on the door next to it. A large, somewhat-frightening man opens the door, ushering us inside quickly so that he can close it. We’re in near darkness as he asks us for a donation and ID’s if we’re drinking. After explaining that we won’t be drinking that night, we each give him two dollars and wander up a few flights of stairs until we arrive at the third floor. The stairwell opens up to a hallway filled with people. We eventually navigate towards a door we’ve seen a few people walking in and out of, and upon entering we notice a crowd of people surrounding the area where a band is setting up—we’ve found the site of the night’s show.

We came to see Deer Tick, a folk rock band hailing from Providence who decided to play a secret show in their hometown while in the midst of their semi-national tour. Though it’s already almost ten on a Wednesday night, the show has yet to start and there are still three acts to go before Deer Tick will take the stage.

While we wait for the first band to play, I take note of my surroundings. For whatever reason, tonight seems to have a mustache theme, with a giant mustache sign which reads “The Magical Mustache Machine” hanging on the wall a few feet away from a mustache kissing booth. A few people walking around are even wearing fake mustaches. Perhaps this reflects the mustache’s position as an ironic symbol of hipsterdom; perhaps these people are just avid facial hair enthusiasts. I was left with little time to ponder the back story of these quirky decorations, though, for within a few minutes of our arrival the first band of the night began playing.

The mustache theme was never explained.

The Gambees introduced themselves as “a high school band,” an unsurprising fact considering that most of the crowd seemed to be made up of sixteen to eighteen year-olds. A few older people (between the ages of 18 and about 24) hung around the outskirts of the crowd, allowing the younger kids to dance, smoke, and drink their hearts out to the band’s bluesy rock.

The second band, Brokedown Serenade, was somewhat similar to the first, though they were much more danceable and featured not only a female lead singer but also a female lead guitarist. While some of the crowd formed a small mosh pit in front of the area of the room designated as the stage, reveling in the band’s upbeat songs, others were less than enthused with the rough sound and kept calling out for the next band.

At the same time as this juxtaposition of opposing opinions was occurring, the crowd was beginning to change over from high school kids to an older, more “hipster” group. This crowd was marked by a prevalence of facial hair for the men (including beards, long sideburns, and, of course, mustaches); trendy haircuts for the girls (such as short pixie cuts, bobs, or side-swept bangs); and flannel clothing, tight jeans, and leather boots for both. Though they would never admit it, they all seemed to put some value into the subcultural capital of fashion; having been to shows with similar crowds before, I myself wore skinny jeans and a keffiyeh I borrowed from my roommate (I left a note on the door that said “borrowed your hipster scarf—will return with it later”) in order to fit in. The two kids wearing baggy jeans and Sean John t-shirts clearly seemed out of place, and I’m fairly sure they left just an hour or two into the show.

Flannel dominates.

Besides similarity in dress, I noticed that while the crowd was split pretty evenly between men and women it was almost exclusively white and, I’m assuming, middle to upper-middle class. This could be due to the fact that much of the crowd seemed to be drawn from Providence suburbs and colleges, both of which are predominantly white, but I wondered whether there was some deeper reason. In my experience, nearly all of the folk bands I’ve seen have been made up of white members, which could correlate with having white fans; however, most of these folk bands have had some association with artists influenced by blues, a genre often associated with African-Americans, at least in its beginnings. While the cause of the racial homogeneity may be unexplainable, it might reflect the possibility that the music does not appeal to other races in the same way as it does to whites. However, this seems like an unsatisfactory answer considering what happened during the sets of the next two acts, Chris Paddock and Deer Tick.

Chris Paddock, a short skinny guy with a funny mustache, took to the stage with just an acoustic guitar and began playing songs that sounded like punk played with a folk style. Some songs were funny, others were romantic, others insightful. Many people in the crowd seemed to be already familiar with his work, and I overheard someone mention that he had written one of Deer Tick’s most popular songs, “These Old Shoes.” The intended listener seemed surprised, but their shock could not come close to what I felt when, midway through his first song, Paddock began playing part of “Juicy” by Notorious B.I.G., which is not only my favorite hip-hop song but also one of my favorite songs ever written. At first I thought it was unusual to pair folk and hip-hop, two genres that seem quite opposite, but upon further reflection I realized that it’s not such an odd pairing: both genres have a heavy focus on lyrics and use the music as a way to get their message across. The music itself may be different, but the basic ideals are the same.

By the time Deer Tick took to the stage, the crowd had become restless. The room was filled nearly to capacity as people stood on amps and tables just to get a better view of the band. From the first song onward it was obvious that the band played much harder live than on their album, which is both quieter and folksier. The band, along with many males in the crowd, had ripped off their shirts by the time the second song began. Everyone was dancing—everyone—and most people were singing along to every word. If I could describe the whole event in one word it would be “passionate.” Even with the intensity and emotion of the lyrics of their songs, the band still maintained an air of fun. For their finale, they brought Paddock on stage and played “La Bamba,” followed by “Juicy” in its entirety (though, admittedly, a few lines were forgotten), as well as a final song that I was unfamiliar with. When the show ended, friends were invited to stay while everyone else had to “leave strategically” so as to not draw attention to the place. We wandered out the same way we came in, and as we left the man at the door asked us not to loiter around the entrance but instead move at least a block away if we wanted to stand around and talk. As it was cold and past 1 a.m., we simply walked home.

Photos courtesy of Dani Lopez Goicochea.

(Word Count: 1234)

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