6.29.2013

Concert Review: New Found Glory

Welcome to the second edition of my retelling of live music experiences in Seattle. Last time I talked about Lydia; this time around I'll be talking about one of my all-time favorite bands, New Found Glory. Once again, a bit of background before the highlights of the actual show.

NEW FOUND GLORY - 6/2/13 @ Showbox at The Market
w/ State Champs & Cartel

The faces of champions.

Few bands have been as pivotal as New Found Glory when it comes to my personal journey as a fan of music. I was a late bloomer with music; I never paid much attention to it until middle school. Even then, being raised in a Christian home as a pastor's kid led to me Christian music before any other type. We're talking D.C. Talk, Audio Adrenaline, Third Day, and of course - Newsboys. I was all about those Aussies.

When a friend showed me "My Friends Over You" by New Found Glory off of their 2002 release Sticks & Stones, I was blown away. What heavenly noise was this? What undiscovered portion of the sonic realm had my friend stumbled upon? When would the devil arrive to grasp me in his claws for once and all after my subsequent discovery of "secular" music? 

This song started it all. I quickly downloaded the rest of the album and blasted it multiple times daily. Of course, I didn't renounce my love of Christian music, but this foray into new territory sparked a whole new curiosity for music within me, leading me to all sorts of other terrible, angst-ridden bands that were oh-so-popular in the early 2000's, which meant that they would easily resonate with my fourteen year-old self. Disturbed, Taproot, Staind, Saliva, Seether, Linkin Park....the list goes on. However, alongside Tool and Chevelle, New Found Glory is one of the few bands out of my early experimenting that to this day I still enjoy listening to.

The song that started it all.

I'll admit, I didn't much keep up with the band following Sticks & Stones. I got excited after seeing the music video for their single "All Downhill From Here" from their 2004 release, Catalyst. It was kind of a weird video, but it prompted me to purchase the new album from Target. After that, I sort of lost interest. I later downloaded Coming Home, mildly enjoying it. As the years went by, I never listened to another one of their albums. The band kept going, releasing music while I ventured on into other areas of musical interest. I still to this day haven't heard any of their music after Coming Home. Am I a true fan? Probably not.

Back when MTV still played music.

I heard that New Found Glory was going on a nationwide tour to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the release of Sticks & Stones, in which they would be playing the album in its entirety. The fourteen year-old in me awakened, demanding that I attend. This was an opportunity I could not pass up - a chance to see the first non-Christian band I had ever listened to playing my first favorite album ever? Sign me up. I purchased a ticket months in advance in anticipation of this event. 

Now, I'm an avid live music fan. I've attended all manner of shows in all kinds of venues. I'm not as spry and reckless as I used to be, which meant that I no longer launched myself into the pit at shows where pits were the norm, nor did I force myself to the typical shove-fest that usually occurs in the front near the stage. However, I made it clear to my friends that I would make an exception for this show. It didn't seem like it would be possible, as my friend (now girlfriend) Blaire and I found ourselves near the back behind pretty much every tall guy in the room at the end of Cartel's set and prior to New Found Glory's sound check. 

Speaking of the opening bands, we purposely showed up late to miss them. We only caught about three of Cartel's songs, which was about three more than we wanted to. Thankfully they were short.

When NFG took the stage and launched into "Understatement" - the opening track from Sticks & Stones - all my teenage excitement returned from a decade ago and prompted me to act a fool. Blaire and I were pretty much immediately separated (I didn't see her again until after the show). Somehow, a near perfect alley to the front opened up and I found myself swaying with the motion of the crowd, squished together like sardines. I was about three rows deep from the front barrier, right in front of lead guitarist Chad Gilbert.

For the whole rest of the show, I screamed every lyric out at the top of my voice. Heck, I even knew all the vocal harmonies. I jumped when the crowd jumped. I clapped when told to by the band. I ate up every word uttered by them. I swear both guitarists and bassist Ian Grushka (who has an awesome stage presence, see below) locked eyes with me as I belted out the words to every song. It was the most high-energy and exciting show I've ever been to.

Picture this but without a shirt. That's how he showed up.

When they zipped through the album (pop-punk isn't known for its length), they stated that it would be wrong of them to only play songs from that Sticks & Stones. So they stormed back out on stage for an encore, playing old favorites, a Ramones cover, and some of the new stuff I hadn't even heard yet. 

Link to the setlist.

Highlights: Oh man, where to begin? Other than getting to see one of my favorite bands for the first time, I suppose there were some stellar moments. The band let a little kid (couldn't have been more than five years old) come on stage and sing some of the lyrics. Chad Gilbert rushed off the stage to the barrier and handed a little girl - who was on her dad's shoulders - his guitar pick. Jordan Pundik  giving MxPx a shout out as one of their original inspirations, teaching them that "it was cool to write pop punk songs about girls". Jordan's words before the song "Forget My Name" about how they were kids when they originally recorded the album and how they all moved out of their parents' houses to San Diego, leaving Florida behind. Seeing my friend Austin crowdsurfing to the front. Failing to do the same while almost landing flat on my back during the encore. Chad Gilbert going all Shai Hulud style on vocals for a few songs. 

Lowlights: I can't say this very often, but there were none. The show was perfect in every aspect. The band's energy was awesome, their performance was flawless, and the crowd was wild while maintaining a fun atmosphere. Had Blaire and I been stuck behind those tall dudes the entire show, it would have been a different experience. But when you're at a pop-punk show for a band you've liked for over ten years, you have to party. You have to.

I don't know that I'll get the chance to catch these guys again, but I'm glad I did this time around. It was a rush of nostalgia, reminding me that I'm never too old for certain things. May I never forget that!

Until the next show,

JDS

6.15.2013

So I Managed To Make It A Year

Seems I'm not the new guy anymore.

Since packing what meager possessions I owned and tossing them into my '99 Accord a whole year ago, I managed to weather twelve months of irresponsible post-graduate living up here in the Pacific Northwest. A few months after making it here, I decided it would be a brilliant idea to log my adventures in the form of this blog - if that tells you anything about my definition of the word "brilliant". It's at least my third attempt at maintaining a blog and definitely my only successful attempt, according to a recent poll taken by all three of my readers. 

It's largely known by this point to all those who know me that I am a fairly clueless person when it comes to life in general. I mean, we all are...but when I fell out of the sky I completely missed hitting the logic tree and managed to hit every branch on the nerd and dreamer trees on the way down. My dad always said that I was smart but that I had no common sense whatsoever. I tend to agree. I mean, I'm the type of guy who would cut my thumb replacing a tail light (there are witnesses and probably still bloodstains) because I don't know a single thing about cars. I used to think Pilates were a type of miniature pie you baked. I still don't know how the stock market works. 

I'm ok with not knowing.

It's been a rather eventful ride, and I'm not going to recap every single thing because I've blogged about most of them - not all of them, mind you. A man has to keep some semblance of mystery. Instead, I figured I'd just mention some of the highlights...and lowlights. 

I've been able to attend so many concerts up here. I always figured it was for all the shows I missed while I living in Texas. In order, I've seen Exotic Animal Petting Zoo, Circa Survive, Touche Amore, Balance & Composure, Freelance Whales, As I Lay Dying, Coheed & Cambria, Between The Buried & Me, Russian Circles, Now Now, Lydia, The Contortionist, Within The Ruins, Daughter, New Found Glory - those are just the ones I cared about. I currently am looking forward to seeing Eisley (2nd time), Misery Signals (4th time) and Between The Buried & Me again (5th time). I'm such a metal head....NOT.

A few of the memories:

Lydia 


Now, Now


Daughter

Going to Shi Shi beach last summer with a bunch of dudes was undoubtedly one of the best experiences I've had since moving here. Ultimate Frisbee, way too much cheap beer, sunburns, etc. Watching hermit crabs crawl everywhere in the tide pools while reading a David Mitchell novel. Climbing on top of a giant cliff in sneakers to watch the sun set, illuminating the Canadian Cascades. One Wing by The Chariot. Complaining about not having a backpack. Everything was magical, as magical as a weekend with ten other guys can be. Exhibit A:

Before I knew what "hard style" meant.

Of course, there are so many other things I could mention. Witnessing my friends Halye & Dakota get married. Being in awe of the crowd going nuts at Qwest Stadium while the Seattle Sounders beat Vancouver. Taking the ferry to Kingston (something about ferries are magical). The view from Gasworks - every single time.

And then there are the unexpected places I found myself. Observing the sunset on top of The Great Seattle Wheel while on a blind date with a Polish girl. Listening to a dude named Roland - whose regular face was a constant squint (think Renee Zellweger) - tell me that I am far too hard on myself for my age, while in an overnight safe house for the mentally unstable. Having to ahem - do my business in front of a sitter in the hospital while wearing one of those awful shirt things they give to patients. Getting a hummingbird tattoo on my leg with a bunch of guys I barely knew (still don't regret it). And of course, wearing tights and booty shorts while performing an interpretive dance in front of about a hundred people. Evidence:

I apologize.

Now, after moving six times, visiting the ER three times, attending ten concerts, going on way too many blind dates (we all go through phases, right?), three jobs and several failed interviews, changing churches a few times - I seem to have made it out alive, with no small help from God. He assured me that I would have friends, a roof over my head, a job to support me, and a place to worship. Looking back, that's all I asked for.

This blog may have my name on it and may be my idea, but it's hardly about me. Very few of the best things I've experienced this past year have been just about me. I moved here alone but I'll never be able to escape without knowing I'll have to visit frequently because of all the fantastic people I've met here. I wish I could mention all of you by name - but that'd be far too lengthy of a list and I'd undoubtedly leave someone out and hurt their feelings. So I'll simply say that I am truly thankful to all of those who have made this transition worth it. Don't know where I'd be without any of you. Probably dead in Texas or rotting away in California. No one will ever know.

Oh yeah, I love this city. Quite a lot. Don't see myself leaving soon.



Cheers and thank you, everyone.

JDS




6.03.2013

A Masochist's Confession: Game of Thrones, You Cut Me Deep


DISCLAIMER: If you haven't watched the latest episode of Game of Thrones, this post contains HUGE spoilers. Steer clear at all costs!

We all have our favorite characters when it comes to books/movies/TV/video games. There is always someone we're rooting for and someone we hope dies a horrible, painful death (I mean, at least I feel that way most of the time). For every hero or protagonist, there's usually a slew of characters who don't deserve the air they breathe. The creators of such characters have accomplished a difficult task by evoking such strong emotions in us, especially when they are reactions to fictional situations. It takes a lot to develop a character that can bring out those kinds of emotions in us.

Nobody likes flat or boring characters. The world has enough Qui-Gon Jinns and Rand al'Thors. We want our protagonists to have substance of some sort, rather than being poor emulations of cardboard cut-outs. Unfortunately, often these underdeveloped individuals populate the fictional worlds we enjoy far too much.

Every once in a while a character comes along that we cannot help rooting for. On the other hand, we also encounter a character who we love to hate. A perfect example of this would be Joaquin Phoenix's character in Gladiator, Commodus. He's cruel, arrogant, sadistic, uncaring, etc. - all the traits a person who deserves our spite should possess. As far as I can remember, he was the first character I absolutely loathed. I hoped that he would get what he deserved by the end of the film. Spoiler alert, he did.

Oh, how I hated you.

Then we have characters like Upham, the hapless translator in Saving Private Ryan. The dude's an absolute simpering pansy in the film's constant combat situations, which causes us to be sympathetic towards him but at the same time frustrates us because of his inability to overcome his fears. Spoiler alert, he does.

You're not a bad guy, you just cry too much.

The greatest accomplishment for any writer creating a character - whatever the medium may be - is crafting an entity that we can connect with. As in, achieving the monumental task of making the viewer/reader actually care about that character. Why should we care whether or not Luke defeats Darth Vader? We do because we are sympathetic to his plight, and we can't help but cheer him on. We feel his anguish the moment he finds out who sired him. From that point on, we want him to win. That's good character development (Mark Hamill's acting skills are debatable, but that's besides the point).

Hate to tell you this, but...

Justice occurs on screen all the time, and it's sweet when it does. The bad guys usually get what's coming to them in the end whilst the heroes walk away from an explosion in the background with an emotionless expression on their faces. Yeah, that's exciting, right? Other times, we have to suffer through seeing our favorite characters die. Maximus may have killed Commodus in Gladiator, but not without losing his life (it was a cheap shot). The squad led by Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) in Saving Private Ryan gets weeded out one by one throughout the film, until the climactic end battle where most of the surviving members die, including Hanks' character. William Wallace in Braveheart. V in V For Vendetta. Rue in The Hunger Games. That one red-headed kid in Harry Potter. The list goes on.

SHE'S JUST A KID!

As most of you know, I am a huge fan of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and the HBO television adaptation, Game of Thrones (named after the first book). I picked the first volume up on a whim in a used book store back in 2009, not knowing what I was getting myself into. Since then, I've read all of the books that have been published (five of them) twice, while also deeply enjoying the TV series as it approaches the end of its third season. 

It was very apparent early on that Martin has no intentions of following the tried and true method when it comes to crafting a story. As in, the good guys get screwed just as often (if not more) than the bad guys. Honestly, I didn't believe that Eddard Stark was really dead in the book when it happened. I kept reading on in innocent curiosity, hoping he'd turn up a few chapters later, allowing me to exclaim, "Ha! Oh George, you had me going there for a second!"

Yeah, that didn't happen. He was really dead.

Half the time you don't even know who is good or evil. Everybody just seems human, if not a little messed up. Some of them are sick bastards (Joffrey), some of them are deeply naive in their understanding of the world (Sansa), and some of them possess noble qualities, but to a fault (Eddard). But the best part about these characters is that they are so well developed that I quickly found myself attached to to them. Sadly, I was hardly ever accurate in my predictions of who would live. It's a huge drawback that the characters are all so well developed because once one of them is killed off, it hurts a heck of a lot more than if it were some underdeveloped mannequin. Put bluntly, no one is ever safe in this series. No one.


*SPOILERS BEGIN*

Last night's Game of Thrones episode contained one of the most controversial, shocking, and unexpected scenes in recent television history. I mean, I had read the book twice. I knew what was coming. Unlike a lot of readers, I didn't throw the book across the room or into the fire once I read that chapter. Honestly, when I read the events of what is now infamously known as "The Red Wedding", I was in a state of shock more than anything else. I didn't want to believe it, but by that point I had grown accustomed to Martin's evil ways. So I read on. 

Upon learning that The Red Wedding was going to occur in last night's episode, I maintained a smug know-it-all attitude. I knew that my friends would be horrified to see several main characters killed off all at once. The Red Wedding has jokingly been referred to as the deciding factor for readers. As in, if you get through it and continue to read, congratulations. In the words of Greatjon Umber, your meat is bloody tough and you've become a true fan. If you give up on the series, then we don't blame you.

I was eager to watch last night's episode. Remember, I knew exactly what was going to happen. Of course, seeing it on screen would be a completely different experience than reading it. Perhaps I underestimated how big of a difference it truly was. 

I've got to be honest, the episode horrified me. It was right up there with The Passion Of The Christ as far as one of the hardest things I've ever watched on-screen. It literally made me sick to my stomach. I was haunted all night with the images of Lady Talisa getting stabbed multiple times in her pregnant belly. Robb Stark being filled with crossbow bolts and then getting stabbed in the heart. Robb's direwolf Grey Wind getting shot to death in front of Arya's helpless eyes. Catelyn Stark losing her mind after watching her son die, only to have her throat slit, moments after she slit the throat of Walder Frey's young wife.

I've made posts here and here about films that affected me in powerful ways. Both of those entries were reflections on the circumstances that I face every day as a result of my mental illness, making it a very realistic viewing experience. Last night's events are in a whole new ball park. Sure, I knew it was coming...but did they have to stab her that many times? Oh God why..

Oh, and if you think I'm being ridiculous, watch this compilation of people's reactions to the show:


If you've been on Twitter/Tumblr/Facebook today, chances are that you've heard about this infamous "Red Wedding". Do yourself a favor and stay naive. Don't come over into the dark. There's nothing but broken souls nursing shattered dreams, while rocking back and forth in the fetal position.

*SPOILERS END*

At this very moment, I'm still recovering from what happened. I'll probably watch it again, because I hate myself. And I'll feel horror all over again, no doubt. But even after all the madness, I can't help but love Martin in a very confusing way. Only he could have achieved making me feel such intense emotions about fictional characters. As I said, we all have the characters we root for and the ones we hope get killed off, but I have never cared so much for a cast of imaginary people as I have until I started this book/TV series. In my opinion, that's the penultimate achievement for a writer. The moment I start caring is the moment that the writer has done their job. And in this case, the job was done very well.

You are one sick man, Martin. And I can't help but love you for it.

I'll be where the rest of you are this week, sitting in the corner humming "The Rains of Castamere" while chanting Arya Stark's hit-list over and over in a Gollum-like voice. 

And then come Sunday night, I'll be right back on the couch for the season finale. Hopefully you're all brave enough to be doing the same.

The North Remembers.

Cheers,

JDS


PS: for some fantastic further reading, check out some of these articles. INCLUDES SPOILERS.



What The Red Wedding accomplished in the television world - http://www.esquire.com/blogs/culture/red-wedding-triumph