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Caroline Rose @ Beachland Tavern (May 9, 2019)

There’s this shirt Caroline Rose sells at her merch table. Across a black background in red gothic script, as if plucked from a Hot Topic catalog of yesteryear, it reads: “NICE IS THE NEW PUNK”.

Spend five minutes in a room with her band and you’ll understand it as more than a snappy slogan. It’s an ethos the entire Caroline Rose crew live by.

Last week’s show in Cleveland arrived on the final leg of the LONER LOSER FREAK TOUR, wrapping up the album cycle that began in early 2018 with the release of LONER, a triumph of indie pop-meets rockabilly-meets trip-hop-meets riot grrl feminist surf punk and my favorite album in years. The band (including Abbie Morin, Willoughby Morse, and new member Mike Dondero) has toured virtually nonstop in that time—a long stretch to be playing the same dozen-ish songs plus a Britney Spears cover, but you’d never know it from their energy onstage. For as long as they’ve been on the road, they manage to bring the same beer-chugging, wise-cracking, dance party zeal to every show.

If you’ve never seen Caroline Rose live, picture David Lynch doing stand-up comedy on a gaudy ’70s porn set, complete with feather boas, piñatas, and an animatronic cat, and you might reach an approximation. Caroline’s shows are so off-the-wall vibrant that it feels wrong to edit photos in black and white, but hey, shitty bar lighting, what are ya gonna do?

I’ve seen Caroline four times now in three states, and not just because LONER is permanently burrowed in my brain. It’s also that this band has more fun on stage than any other band I’ve seen. They’re living the best-friends-hit-the-road-together dream from my wildest middle school fantasies, and in the fiery horror movie hellscape that is our modern world, it’s nice to see that kind of camaraderie play out in real life.

And yeah, the whole nice-is-fucking-punk ethos has a lot to do with it, too.

Even at 26, I still waste an infuriating amount of time worrying about being “cool” enough to fit in. I’m still hyper-aware of how I come off to other people, convinced that every interaction will reveal me as a fraud. So when LONER dropped and Caroline talked in interviews about “dismantling [her] ego”—unlearning the instinct to take things so seriously—that resonated with me in a big way.

I was fortunate enough to spend time with the band when they kicked off their tour in Pittsburgh last year, and that serendipitous encounter was the catalyst that led me to brush the dust off my camera and start taking pictures at shows. If I were to draw out the timeline that led me to music photography, the thing I now love most in this world, it would start with Caroline Rose.

Isn’t that great? That living your own best life can inspire others to go out and do the same? That’s exactly why I’ll keep hitting up shows as often as I can.

My camera is yours whenever you want it, guys. Thanks for keeping it real.

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