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.

Now, Now / Daddy Issues @ Mr. Smalls Theatre (April 23, 2019)

Wind the clocks back to 2009, if you will. I’m 16 years old, and like many a mid-aughts teenager, much of my life revolves around MySpace. In its heyday, the early social network was the place for music. Big-name artists and local basement bands alike could showcase their songs to a worldwide audience, where new discoveries were often just a few clicks away. On MySpace, regardless of your personal taste or talent, music was king; the track you chose to feature as your profile song was oft considered the most important part of any page.

Of the bands that once dominated my own MySpace (and believe me, there were a lot of them), Now, Now is one of only two that I’m still listening to a decade later.

A lot can change in ten years. That’s certainly true for Now, Now, who in that period of time have shortened their moniker (dropping the latter half of their original name Now, Now Every Children), welcomed and parted ways a third permanent member, and took a five-year hiatus between albums to regroup, reevaluate, and ultimately evolve their sound.

Where 2012’s Threads is heavy on guitar (and references to sleep), the band’s most recent release, Saved, trades fuzzy emo riffs for bright, unabashed pop hooks (and manages to restrict the sleep references to the opening track). Largely unburdened by an instrument, KC Dalager is free to roam the stage in a way she never has before, alternately jumping around, crouching, high-fiving bandmate Brad Hale, and tossing a middle finger in the air whenever the music calls for it.

It’s striking, how confident the band has grown, especially compared to the first time I saw them. That show, funnily enough, was also at Smalls—opening for hellogoodbye in early 2011—and featured a young, uncertain duo too shy to look the audience in the eye, much less hop off stage to serenade the crowd from the floor. Seeing them here again in their current iteration certainly makes it feel like their journey has come full circle.

Daddy Issues, meanwhile, is a band I’ve seen three times in the past year alone. And you know what? I wouldn’t hesitate to go see them another three times. They exude the kind of easy energy that makes going to shows fun, and it doesn’t hurt that they’ve got some rock solid jams too.

(And for anyone wondering… yes, this show was co-headlined by Foxing, but I had to skip their set to not miss my last bus home. Yay, Tuesdays.)

Lady Lamb @ Club Cafe (April 13, 2019)

I sometimes have difficulty talking about things I love without feeling disingenuous. It’s not that I make things up—it’s just that the words I use can feel so insignificant compared to huge things they’re meant to describe.

I’m going to try here anyway, though, because holy hell do I love Lady Lamb.

The first time I saw Aly play was two years ago in Cleveland, in the back of an antique shop, strumming a banjo to a roomful of floor-dwelling strangers on her Tender Warriors Club living room tour. It was beautiful and intimate and everything I tend to look for in a live music experience, and solidified her position as one of my favorite artists making music today.

The Even in the Tremor tour is different. This tour gets the full band treatment, and it goddamn rips.

Aly’s music isn’t easy to categorize, which is one of the very best things about it. She can rock an acoustic jam with the best of them and then shriek and shred her way through six minutes of intricate indie rock goodness in the very next song. (Looking at you, “Bird Balloons”.)

What remains constant throughout is her empathy and intensity. She isn’t afraid to meander, to observe, to dig deep into the crux of a problem until she reaches a point of irrefutable, poetic clarity. In this, we are kindred spirits.

From my experience, you tend to weave in and out of infatuation with the things you love most. It’s not that you ever stop loving them; it’s that they become such a part of your life that you stop noticing so much, as familiar to you as the steady rhythm of your own heartbeat.

It took seeing Lady Lamb live again to remember just how much her music means to me. It brought me back to that very first listen, which I still remember distinctly after several years: walking home in a light rain after a string of emotionally devastating weeks, feeling the first few plucked lines of “Crane Your Neck” immediately cut through to a deep, animal part of me and open the door to healing. For that, I’ll always be grateful.

Aly Spaltro’s brand of vulnerability is something the world could use much more of. I’m happy to take those small moments of tenderness wherever I can find them.

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