Back at the practices of June ’07, A-Town was helping us to keep things reliably unreasonable. Rehearsing the 4-minute musical slur we called “Medley 3” one afternoon, the core five of us began working the build out of pre-meme OK Go (as spliced with then-hit “Tipsy” and Nirvana’s “Drain You”). Several moments before the drop into “99 Problems,” I realized Ace – who didn’t have a part in the song ‘til then – was nowhere to be found. The rest of us traded bewildered eyes during the last two bars before the transition, a moment penultimate to our imminent collapse, when A-Town came springing out of the bathroom with door swinging and mic in hand, to land room-centered right on beat and cue: “If you havin’ girl trouble, I feel bad for you son!” We hit the next section of the medley with renewed enthusiasm, and damn if the kid couldn’t out-cartoon a slave wage sweatshop when he felt like it.
Around this time I started to regret not having blown my life’s savings to have a production crew film every minute of work going into this show – for optically optimal hijinks like the above, in part, but mostly for all the grossly exaggerated stress and strife we self-inflicted along the way. Everyone involved had zero perspective in all the best and worst ways: we actually thought this show, if executed properly, could be the launching pad for a relatively direct and uncomplicated ascent to wider recognition. My recently abandoned record label had made a name for me in the vibrant pop-rock scene of Nashville (for a time, I was the stuff of barroom legend: the mysterious “Jacob Dorruff,” an enigmatic young teen who kept investing in local records and infiltrating all the otherwise inbred message boards with impassioned diatribe), and I figured I could leverage that into some gigs and regional success down there. (And while I knew the music we were doing then wouldn’t make the grade with anyone but impressionable school kids, I knew also that this show at Milkboy could give us enough local momentum to sharpen our adolescent focus, and arten up the grooves a little.) So we took everything deadly serious, in the kind of hyper-aware/oblivious way that makes the bands documented in DiG! so compelling, charming, and resolutely hateable. Even during the maddest moments of those long rehearsal weeks, I knew that if nothing else, we could’ve made for a deeply entertaining case study.
Many episodic trials came to pass, like when Jack and I got a little too obsessed with “live production” and frivoled half a day trying to learn how best to use the $200 bass pedal I had just bought,1 and Lupin and Dilan staged a brief mutiny during which they demanded we cover the Go! Team’s “Huddle Formation,” in its entirety, in lieu of a fourth medley.2 Dilan kept repeating, to no pragmatic end, that he’d need a “trash can drum” to pull off the song’s distinct percussive feel. I briefly considered the irony of being financially unequipped to indulge my drummer’s garbage yen,3 then stopped entertaining the idea at all.
Lupin’s infractions were mostly the product of a typical space case’s distance from terra firma (relative to everyone else’s in the band, this was rather remarkable), but Dilan’s growing recalcitrance was a direct function of the bitter choler he kept in cheek for having to practice two to six hours per day, as recently promised.4 I once had to dead a run through the gauchely obvious “Tainted Love”/”SOS” segment of our second medley because I noted, rather furiously, that Dilan was actually texting; and then once more because his promise not to fuck up the beat whilst doing so proved predictably brittle. Another time, amid circumstances I can’t recall, he left Summer to languish by her lonesome in the practice space for several hours, while he went to “handle some chores in the house” – the most pressing of which was a nap. I bristled at him on both occasions, blue flame for eyes.
One particularly painful-funny day came during that crucial week Lupin had disappeared to the south, and my attempts to get the band to rehearse without him were slain for their ambition.5 Pete and I crashed with Jack in his basement the night prior, having fallen asleep to a wax platter of either Stars of the Lid or early Elliott, anticipating the morning and the en route synth we had finally ordered for Pete. How we decided which keys to cop was fairly arbitrary, and typical of our approach in those days: I had managed to track down the guitarist of Family Force 5 on Facebook (circumventing his stage name and, doubtless, the recently estrogenic legions who wanted his hand in prom marriage), friended him, and solicited his general insight. He guaranteed me that with enough practice (and without having heard a lick of our music), we too could surely learn to rock out as pro as they did (which, before they went all electro-soft and Auto-Tuned, was damn pro) — and that felt like encouragement enough. He also gracefully answered my inquiry into what little synth Crouton (I think it was Crouton…) slung for their legendary Craig Ferguson demolition: “The Novation Bass Station.” We found it listed online for a pretty sober $200, so Jack comped it to his family’s plastic post-haste. The show was looming dangerously close for our keyboardist still to lack a keyboard, and if it was good enough for national TV, it was good enough for a gig at Milkboy.
“It’s fucking software” is what I first heard that morning as the last of a warm dream died, skin sickly sweat-welded to bare folds of basement couch pleather. My clarifying eyes registered inanimate violence as a compact disc struck the coffee table before me, and, identifying the familiar scowl above, finished focusing as I leaned peelingly to take a look. The disc laid in its paper slipcase, labeled simply: The Novation Bass Station.
“It’s fucking software,” Jack repeated. Pete and I could scarcely believe it, scoured the torn packing remnants and even the mailbox from whence they came, all glowers and hair-sieving hands. No dice: without realizing it, we had just scrapped a couple benjamins on a library of keyboard sounds for a keyboard we still didn’t have.
That’s when I first got that thought about the film crew. Every video camera on earth, in that moment, trained its gaze elsewhere; we went on living an unwitting movie, each comic gaffe unprovably worthier of cinema than some immeasurable everything-fraction of memory cards and oxide strips worldwide.
Sugar-shit soured to pure shitrot when Pete revived his just-bought, refurbished Macbook Semi-Pro to find the screen bleeding dark matter all over itself. Cursing loudly, he demanded to know who the fuck had served his new machine its scars in the night. I had just woken up from a deep sleep long uninterrupted, while Jack too denied any foreknowledge of foul play – and so the tragic turn was attributed to the power of strange, spiteful mysteries. It laid an even damper rag upon the day – hell, upon the entire whatever-shaped thing we shared daily – no doubt for Pete especially. He’d scarcely owned the laptop for a week, and it was supposed to last him all the college years ahead. No rest for the weary; no warranty for the refurbed…
Jack had recently brokered a two-ticket deal to see Panda Bear that night on the secondhand mercado, and somehow, for some reason, turned out unable to pick them up himself. Somehow, for some reason (perhaps related), Pete and I concurred it made some sense for him and me to drive into town and make the exchange on Jack’s behalf. He hit us with the $80 cash we’d need, and soon the Shitcopter was burning cheap octane down the summer-green freeway like it really mattered.
As we sat waiting at the agreed waiting place – the parking lot of an inner city Whole Foods; his choice – the tix pusher told me via cellphone that he was 6’6”, highlighted vivid salmon by his ur-brand polo. (“Can’t miss me,” he gloated deeply.) Pete and I rolled eyes, but the guy’s aim proved true when he arrived on foot, unmistakably distinguished by polar bear frame and rugby-pink machismo. Our exchange took less time than it had for him to tell me he’d be obvious-looking to someone looking for somebody obvious: exited car, cash for envelope, thanks a lot, enjoy the show – and as we reclined back into front seat fabric, I realized with sad anxiety that there was only one ticket enclosed. Moreover, the outsized bastard had disappeared into the adjacent convenience of the Whole Foods, only to emerge five minutes later suspiciously without shopping bag or 50¢ yo-yo in hand. He probably figured I would have scooted by then, I figured.
Instead, I was back at his almost-eye level in a snap, demanding answers. He kept composure, claiming the deal had always been for one ticket – and though I can’t remember if he relented to give us some cash back or not, I do remember thinking he may have been telling the truth when Jack, re-examining his email correspondence with the guy back in his family den, quickly X’ed out of the window and cursed the Lacoste-clad curd for his cunning.
Somehow Jack found another ticket with ease — but there was a bleak flavor to the day that just couldn’t be spat.
Nighttime likewise skimped on its tongue scrapers. I recall collecting Mixtape again in a funk, driving with him and the others while he fed my tape deck a playlist of early Panda Bear.6 One of them was called “Inside a Great Stadium and Running a Race,” and for a ride used to utilitarian rock-outs like Year Zero and Pinkerton, the track’s laptop brittle of shits n’ squiggles just wasn’t a proper fit.
“This is the stupidest crap I’ve ever heard,” Pete finally fumed from the passenger seat, rubber sole pressed impatiently against the dash. His freshly tarred computer was probably still fouling his mood, but yeah: it was some pretty stupid-sounding music.7
“No no,” Mixtape persisted, barely comprehensible as he thumbed a boundary in the conceptual topography of bleeps and bloops mapped before us. “Panda Bear is great. He was just entering The Stadium before – now The Race has really begun.” I was trying to keep an open mind, smiling and pissed.
After depositing Pete somewhere proper, we manent three sauntered into the ground level Sanctuary at the Church, a space typically reserved for more sit-and-think music than the kind ritualized in the sweat-thirsty maw below (where we had recently witnessed Cold War Kids and Sunset Rubdown). Most of the frontmost pews were claimed by the time we arrived, so we staked out some fire hazardous space on the aisle carpeting to keep close to the stage, as had a few dozen others. I remember the moonlit opener being some Asian longhair maybe named Scott Mou, who unfurled upon the silent crowd an interminable loom of warble and noise.
Nowadays a drone tapestry has to be immaculate to sway me, but back then I wouldn’t have suffered it quietly for Boris, Merzbow, or Thurston himself. Sprawled out on the rug-floor in very physical exasperation after what felt like at least an hour, I wailed long, screaming protest into the dark of the sound and the cathedral. They took turns swallowing me whole, my voice too quiet and throat muscles too dimly lit for even the kid closest to notice.
Sometime long-feeling later, the ardent antimusician departed the stage to let Panda do his thing. I had earlier seen a YouTube or two of his live act courtesy Jack, and was disappointed to find what he was doing before me no different: the fellow simply stood in front of an effects board, occasionally twisting a knob, often wailing kind of like I had against Mou, strumming an intermittent chord or two on the guitar every odd interval. I’d seen a guy going by the nom de noise Animal Hospital put the live solo loop game over the top in a Philly basement about a year prior, and I found Panda, racing in his stadium once again, unfit to keep pace.
After a while, I felt comfortable folding. I left Jack and Mixtape to stew in the unhappening of it all8 as I favored some late chew in Chinatown, turning around to drive back and pick them up again as soon as I had finished dyeing my last napkin. Sitting alone for those two brief rides and a distended lo mein, I contemplated how I was in a bad mood per the music. Panda Bear’s, sure – but with four days left before our big show, I had to admit mine was bothering me more.
- For a moment, we actually considered setting up a “mixing table” of effects pedals onstage, which Pete or I would man for the entirety of the set – though of course, this was well beyond our means at the time. [↩]
- This met with an instant veto from me and Jack, seeing how non-medley covers offended the sensibilities of the band we wanted to become. And also because “Huddle Formation” is a song so reliant upon its studio stratagems that even the Go! Team, a band whose career depended on figuring out how to play it live, couldn’t figure out how to play it live. [↩]
- I correctly divined that a dumpy, metal cylinder sufficiently musical in tone/timbre would cost something, if not mostly time and creativity. [↩]
- The true average ran much closer to two, but a few real marathons did happen. [↩]
- An exaggeration, though only slight: I remember coaxing a couple lackadaisical practices out of Dilan that week, but the rest of it disappeared quietly into the etch-a-sketch. [↩]
- His more recent solo breakout Person Pitch was defining a lot of sensitive kids’ summers at the time, and though I wouldn’t give it the time of day, it really is a nice record. [↩]
- I had no idea what to do with it in 2007. Now it just sounds like egregiously novice minimal techno del Berlin. [↩]
- Summer would later remind me she was there too, her virginal absinthe experience having left her in a dumb reverie. I vaguely remember her staring across the aisle at me, trying well to mask the colorful feelings blooming from the stems of her every third nerve. [↩]