Posts tagged ‘The Wrens’

What I learned in 100 Days

May 5th, 2009

Here goes: the last and final “What I learned…” post. But this time, for the whole 100 days.

This is the most exciting time in music that I’ve ever experienced
And I grew with Motley Crue, Guns ‘n Roses, R.E.M. Metallica, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2, Public Enemy, N.W.A., Run DMC, Red Hot Chili Peppers and more. These are all legendary, amazing bands. But I’m telling you – right now this is the most exciting time in music. At least for my generation and those younger than me. Here’s why.

The old music model is broken, but that’s okay: the power has shifted to the artist. The Internet is killing majors, but fuck majors. You don’t need them. But bands need you, now more than ever. Bands may not make any money selling records, but they never did anyways. Fans have the power to keep music alive by simply going to see live music, buying merchandise (and yes, records) directly from bands. This has never been more true than ever before. Fans have direct access to more music than any other time in music.

Some might say there’s no quality control anymore. But fuck that. You are the quality controller. You decide. Any band that has access to a computer can record a song, put it on the Internet and let the people decide if it’s any good or not. That’s exciting because there’s more of it, and you can decide what’s worth your time.

Not only that, but look at the music itself. Take the genre of “indie rock” for example. Listen, I hate genre monikers like this (remember “alternative rock”?) but it’s exciting when one “genre” can be as diverse as to include bands like Belle & Sebastian, Matt and Kim, Sufjan Stevens, Feist and Blitzen Trapper, alongside Animal Collective, N.E.R.D., Kings of Leon, The Avett Brothers, Of Montreal, Bell Orchestre, Black Lips, Wolff, and Wilco.

The ’60s sounded like revolution. The ’70s sounded like rock and disco. The ’80s sounded like pop, new wave, DIY and glam. And the ’90s sounded like grunge and hip hop. So what does the ’00s sound like? All of the above and them some. And that’s pretty damn exciting

People like to see other people do things they couldn’t imagine themselves doing
People remained curious about this project from beginning to end. At first, I think they wanted to know about the music. Later when they asked me, “How’s the project coming?” I think what they really meant was, “How the hell are you still awake or alive or sane?

People like being a part of something
This goes for all the friends who joined me on the journey, the musicians, PR contacts, managers, etc who I met, plus the random people who emailed me and generous people who sent donations. When I started out, I hoped a lot of my friends would go to some shows with me, but I figured I’d do most of it alone. Boy was I wrong. Friends came out of the woodwork for this, and it was awesome.

I also tried to meet as many musicians as I could. I would approach them after their set to tell them what I was doing. About 98% of the time the response was really great. A few musicians blew me off, but fuck them. They were too self-involved anyhow, so who cares. I got to meet some great people. And they were as happy to be a part of it as I was to be doing it. See The Wrens entry for an example of how happy.

As you know I also took donations. These were not only a way to help me get through the 100 days, but for everyone to get involved and feel apart of the 100 days. Some were as small as $1, some got as big as $200 or $250, but I appreciated them all equally.

Finally, I was fortunate enough to get on a lot of guest lists. Sometimes that was a result of me unabashedly requesting it, but more often than not they were offered up by different contacts I made, or people who contacted me along the way. The generosity of PR folks, band members, band managers, label people and so on was helpful, humbling and appreciated.

The band (almost always) starts an hour after the venue says they will
Keep this in mind if you’re going to see a show in NYC, at the Bowery or Mercury for example. If they say the band goes on at 8pm, they actually go on around 9pm – or later. This is just how it is, at least in NY. Why? Alcohol.

Venues want to get you in and sell you as many overpriced drinks as they can before you notice that you’re waiting for the band to start. And they’ve gotten pretty good at timing it out. Which meant I got pretty good at timing when I needed to show up. Unless I wanted to see the opening bad, then I was screwed.

But, there are a few exceptions:

The “Early show”
These is the show before the show that’s scheduled to bring in the real crowd that night. The doors for these shows are usually at 6:30pm or 7:00pm, and the bands tend to start 30 minutes after they say they will.

Europe
Shows start on time in Europe. I learned this one the hard way when I missed Ben Lee at La Fleche d’Or. But it wasn’t just France. Shows in England started at or near the listed time, too. Just a word to the wise if you’re gonna see a show in Europe.

Random, unforeseen bullshit
You show up hoping to see the band that starts at 10pm only to find out that they pulled out and aren’t playing. Or their timeslot got swapped with the band at 9pm. Or the band that was supposed to play at 8pm didn’t show up, and so each band got bumped up an hour. All of these happened to me, and it pissed me off, but what can you do?

Beer is only as good as the tap it comes out of
I drank a lot of beer over 100 days, which is why I’m not drinking any for another month or two. But I didn’t do this for me. I did it for you, the readers. Ok, that’s what I tell myself. But either way, I did it, and now I’m here to report back.

Here is your guide to the best/worst beer taps in NYC: (from worst to best)

Mercury Lounge: Shitty
The PBR is the worst, but it’s also the cheapest, which makes it tempting. Don’t do it. It tastes and smells terrible. The Bud Light is ok, but I would step it up if you’re at the Merc.

Bowery Ballroom: Just ok
Stella isn’t bad here, but can be a bit average, and lose some of the sweetness it should have. And it’s $7, which is bullshit, so they should clean the taps and figure a way of making it worth the price.

Webster Hall: Not bad
Plastic cups suck, but the beer wasn’t bad.

Pianos: Pretty Good
I drank mostly PBR cans at Pianos, but the times that I drank from the tap, I got a Stella and it was pretty decent – mostly because it comes in a glass, not a plastic cup.

The Bell House: Good
Didn’t really drink too much from the tap here, the cans are too cheap ($4), but the one time I did, it was good.

Cake Shop: Good
The music room may be a dive, but the tap beer is good.

Rockwood Music Hall: Good
Pretty decent, but I’d suggest getting a glass of wine instead. They pour them pretty deep.

Music Hall of Williamsburg: Very good
Probably because it’s new, but all the beer I drank here was good.

Le Poisson Rouge: Very good
I hate the stupid mandatory 20% tip if you use your card at LPR, but it’s a new enough venue that the beers come out of the tap tasting delicious.

Joe’s Pub: Excellent
It’s a nicer and more expensive venue, so naturally, they care about their bar.

Going to shows alone isn’t as bad as it seems
Before this project, I would go see a band alone, but not that often. And I’d feel sorry for myself, and hate that I didn’t have anyone to talk to, and waaaaahh waaaaahh waaaaahh… Then I realized, seeing a band can be like seeing a movie. Once it begins, being alone is fine. You shouldn’t be talking during the music anyhow. Granted, some bands are a lot more fun to see with friends. But don’t let the fact that no one else wants to go keep you from going. Just go.

Get to know unknown bands
It’s only natural to want to blow off bands you’ve never heard of before. You’ve never heard them, so why would you care? That is, unless you need to see music every single night, like I did. And sometimes there’s a night where you don’t know who to see, so you have to pick a band at random – as I did. And you know what you’d find out? It’s worth taking chances on unknown bands.

Music will never cease to amaze me
The fact that I can find live music in downtown Hartford, CT on a random Monday night amazes me. How I can still see Les Paul, the 93-year old man who invented the solid body electric guitar, every Monday night, have him flick me off for a picture and meet him afterwards amazes me. The fact that I can be asked on stage to perform with a band that’s been together for over 20 years, to a sold out crowd in NYC amazes me. And the fact that I can see 100 consecutive days of live music and still love music amazes me.

Thanks for reading. Now do yourself a favor and go buy a ticket to see a band, right now.

4/10/09: The Wrens @ The Bell House (78/100)

April 11th, 2009

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I’m having a really hard putting this show into words. I mean, how do you begin to write about being invited on stage to play a song with The Wrens at their sold out show on a Friday night in NYC? Seriously, what words can communicate that?

The words “thank you” come to mind first. Thank you to The Wrens. Thank you to Naomi for passing along my email to the band. Thank you to Kevin for getting in touch with me and offering to give me 5th Wren status for a night. Thank you to the rest of the band for letting me step on your stage. Thank you to the crowd at the Bell House for being so awesome.

What a fucking experience, let me tell you. But first, let me show you:


Video credit: Dave Pinke

This is what this project is about. Not me living like a rock star. But connecting with music. And you don’t get much closer than becoming the 5th Wren for a night. You don’t get a much better experience than looking out on a crowd that’s going crazy, not for me, but for the band, and the moment, and just how moving music can be. And that’s the thing: music is more than what we listen to. It’s what moves us. Not just to the beat. But the moment. Ugh…see? This shit is hard to put into words. But let me keep trying.

Let’s back up to the beginning.

I got out to Bell House in time to catch the last few songs of the opening band. The place was pretty crowded, but not as packed as a sold out show seemed like it should be. But don’t worry, it filled in. The opener finished up, and then I took a spot in the front row, waiting for The Wrens to take the stage. I’m not gonna lie, the butterflies were rustlin’ a little in the stomach knowing I’d be up on that stage in no time. Excited, but nervous.

Kevin (bass) told me they would call me up during the song “Hopeless” so I listened to it about a million times, but knew right when I stepped on stage, none of that would matter and I’d forget everything. And I was right. Damnit, I keep getting ahead of myself.

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Ok, so toward the end of their set, Kevin addressed the crowd with a shout out to the 100 bands project, and said they were going to bring me on stage as the 5th Wren. He said at some point, I’d come up and dazzle the crowd with my Elton John like skills on the keyboard. I don’t know about that, but I do that when I hopped up on the side of the stage, the crowd went nuts.

Man, that’s the kind of reaction I could get used to. Now I know why these guys have kept it together for 20 years. The energy you feel being up there is amazing. On stage, I took a seat next to Kevin as he began the intro keyboard/vox for “Hopeless.”

I whipped out my digital camera and began to film it, but then handed my camera down to a guy standing in the front row so he could shoot this for me (Thanks Dave). Turns out, he works in digital content at MTV, so I picked a great guy for the job. And, his friend Maryanne was snapping still shots (thanks for the pics).

As I waited for my moment to shine, Jerry (drummer) handed me “Flat Stanley” that he had the crowd hold up earlier to take a picture for his son. It was Jerry’s birthday, and earlier the band brought out a cake. Just an FYI. Anyhow, it was very sweet and I was honored to hold up the Flat Stanley for the front row to take shots of.

When the song got going, Kevin stepped away from the keys, and it was my turn to step up. I moved my chair forward, tried to mimic the chords I watched him play during the intro, but then realized that would never happen. So I took my limited knowledge of the keys and just hoped I didn’t fuck up the song. Which was entirely likely since I couldn’t hear a single note coming out of the keyboard. Oh well. Hopefully it at least looked like I knew what I was doing.

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I jammed on the keys for most of the song, looking up and actually not being as freaked out by the crowd as I thought I might be. Toward the end of the song, Kevin tapped me on the shoulder and got me to jump up and down with him, and the crowd went wild! A fucking dream come true, right? There I was, with the Wrens, jumping up and down at center stage at a sold out show. I pumped my fist in the air, gave Kevin a big hug, waved the rest of the band and jumped off the side of the stage into a crowd of people slapping me on the back, congratulating me.

Amazing. Amazing. Amazing.

As the crowd cleared out, I met some nice people who asked about the blog, and congratulated me some more. I chatted for a bit, then stopped by the merch table and introduced myself to, and thanking Jerry (drummer) and Greg (guitar). They were so nice, and thanked me for making their band a part of the project. Then I popped backstage to thank Kevin and Charles (guitar/vox). I asked them if I invited them to the 100th Day event I’m throwing, would they join me. They said they would – ending the best experience of this project so far.

Thanks again guys (in case I haven’t said it enough already).

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The 5th Wren

April 10th, 2009

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Ok, things just got interesting in the 100 Bands project. Check this out.

I did my thing where I try and get in touch with a band I want to see. This time, the band was The Wrens, who are playing at Bell House tonight. The show is sold out, so I wanted to know about getting on the guest list. First I got this response, from their publicist Naomi:

Hey Nick,
I heard back from the band, and we will be able to get you on the list for the show. Kevin from the Wrens loved the project and asked that you introduce yourself at the show. Have a great time! Good luck making it to 100 days!

Then I got a separate email from Kevin, in the band:

Nick,
How are you?
My name is kevin and i’m the guy who plays the bass in the wrens…..
First off, i just think your idea of a 100 days of music is beyond cool…. such a clever idea…. looking forward to meeting you on friday as well….. i know Naomi has set it up that you are on the guest list..

Listen, i have another idea for you and your rock journey… we do this thing called the 5th wren… its where someone joins us on stage for a song and plays a bit of the song… it would be a lot of fun to have you be the guest on friday…

trust me… it is BEYOND easy… as a matter-o-fact… all you have to do is literally “tap” three white keys on the piano…. if you play piano then great.. but if you can’t…. then it DOES NOT matter…my motto is, if you can point, then you can play piano………. also… i will mark the keys so you will know which ones to press…. we can also give a shout out to what you are doing….

it will be during the song Hopeless which we usually play towards the end of the set…. let me know what you think and i’ll give you a few more details….

best
kevin

Really? I’m playing a song with a real band on a real night, in front of a sold out crowd? I haven’t heard back again from Kevin today, but I’m getting nervous already. Check back for the full story