Thursday, March 30, 2006

Grizzly Bear + The Books / CVILLE, VA / Satellite Ballroom 3/29/06


The exclamation rose from somewhere in the middle of the room and near the front of the stage. We (the audience) were all thinking the same thing after the last note of the first Books song of the night had just been performed. Two men seated before microphones, one holding a guitar and one holding a cello sandwiched in a large mixing board while their film projector dispensed moving images. No really, MOVING images. The un-band end result was like listening and watching nature do the things it just does (meant to do) like an earthquake rumble and shake things or a river rush past while shushing you on the way.

I wasn’t planning on writing a review at all as I had seen Pitchfork’s senior contributor Mark Richardson greeting The Books moments before they took the stage and shortly following Grizzly Bear’s Beach Boy harmony overkill and affects pedal extravaganza. (yawn) Needless to say I am guessing Pitchfork will be offering readers a more formal review of the show but I had such a personal reaction to the event I knew I was going to go home a write about the evening regardless. A memory from childhood long forgotten came flooding back to me as the words Holy Shit!!! evaporated out into the air and into my ears. Doe eyed and open mouthed my flashback began.

My mother rarely cursed but the Pine Barrens of NJ were on fire. I mean seemingly every inch was up in blazes during an usually dry year and Holy Shit!!! was the sentiment my mother used as flames arced from one side of the two lane highway to the other. Wind was carrying the colors of orange, red, blue and black above our car; colors and a heat I had previously only seen / felt in miniature via a fireplace or a campfire. Real live larger than life fire was racing thru the forest and closing down just about every possible route in or out of the retirement home my grandparents lived in. My mother and I frazzled and fearing for both of our lives were stopped time and time again by road blocks, policemen, firemen, ambulance crews and the occasional helicopter sweeping in with useless drizzles of water. As I child everything already felt larger than life and humbling yet this supernatural event which looked both decadent and devastating captivated my attention and left me in a state of utter shock. I was sickened and excited, a deadly combination on a stomach filled with Capri Sun juice packs and pretzel rods. (my car travel food at the time) I was in complete sensory overload as I listened to a chorus of crackling, something like a million candy bars being unwrapped at once as sirens wailed, chopper blades thumped, wind whipped, the taste and smell of burning introduced itself to my nose and lungs, and ashy grey clouds stung my eyes (even with the windows up)… all the while my mother driving in tears quietly cursed.

Like most children I reacted in the most human of ways, my bladder told me I needed relief and my stomach told me I needed to purge. This magnificent display of sight and sound is my earliest memory of being completely over burdened with something inexplicably moving. I can’t explain exactly how I was moved as a child of 4 or 5 but I felt unbelievably alive, miniscule, human, and overcome with emotion.

We eventually broke free of this maze of fire, timber, and emergency crews arriving home several hours later safely. My body however chose to end this story with an upchucked exclamation. This was a pint size version, my version of HOLY SHIT!!!

I have only relived a feeling this obtuse in relation to seeing a band once before. A few weeks after September 11th I drove back to NYC to see Bjork perform at Radio City Music Hall in support of her album Vespertine. I say back to NYC because I had recently just moved from NYC to Richmond a mere 10 days prior to Sept 11th. It was obviously an emotional time for the whole country and I drove up to NYC via the Holland Tunnel shocked to see an unfamiliar still smoldering skyline of a city I no longer called home. Watching Bjork perform a nearly perfect night of music along side images was moving to the point where it took nearly ever ounce of strength to hold back tears and ignore my urge to either be sick or pee. I was a child again in awe of something one thousand times bigger and more stunning than I could ever possibly be a part of or create. It may not have been a supernatural event but it sounded and looked pretty damn close.

Fast forward 4 and half years and I was standing against the stage The Books were sitting upon and faced yet again this combination of man verse something naturally massive. It wasn’t déjà vu, it was the return feeling of a small girl being swallowed whole by her surroundings. We all have our dream combination of sounds and mine includes strings (cello + guitar), glitchy beats with samples, and gentle male vocals all accompanied by visuals (found footage and home videos) where on a huge screen examples of familiar life scenes play out and synch up to the music EXACTLY. It is impossible to fathom how two human beings can create something that naturally seamless and gorgeous.

After 4 soda pops and the old familiar feeling of sensory overload, a spoken Holy Shit!!! and the perfection that is The Books triggered this childhood memory of heady awe balanced with a body reaction of ache. I survived this show with all my body fluids in check but my gut reaction was still primal and childlike. This sensation of awe (a rare and sacred occasion) felt as massive and as moving as a sky papered in flames and while I can’t promise you anything close to my personal reaction to their performance if you see The Books play live, I can almost guarantee you the feeling of Holy Shit!!!

PS: Any of you Jersey types who were raised in the state during the 70’s and 80’s will cry for joy as brief footage from Action Park’s number one ride (and most deadly) The Alpine Slide offers a return ride down it’s twisting and turning cement trough. I never thought I would experience that part of my childhood again either. Amazing!

PPS: If you see The Books (please please do) pray they play their Nick Drake cover during the encore.