Category Archives: Reviews

Thunder-shirts and B-Sides: An Intimate Performance

The word “troubadour” calls images of medieval cobblestone trampled by soft, leather soles that cap colorful legwear. And, the outfit you’d find on my favorite troubadour often wouldn’t be too far off. But he’s very much a modern artist, dipping his enigmatic toe in and skipping across a spectrum of genre-pools. Who is he? Only the dude responsible for most of my pop-punk memories. You know, the “scene” of yesteryear. He was the front man of The Matches, my absolute favorite band of the early 2ks. They straddled the line of mainstream for years, which worked out well for me and the thousands of fans across the country who would file into mid-size venues like The Intersection and smash against one another to the tune of “Audioblood”, screaming along and living on adrenaline (and Adderall). Lyrics from that song perfectly sum it up, “…Sweating in the dark we feed on the forms in the light, on the floor we’re the flood.” It was an anthem. One I strongly considered tattooing on myself before settling on lyrics from “The Restless”, another song from their debut album. We did bleed audioblood, and understandably, were left lacking when the band officially went on “hiatus” in 2008.

The reason for the season.

The reason for the season.

Late last year, there was a brief “reunion tour” for the 10-year anniversary of their album, “E. Von Dahl Killed the Locals”, which I was able to catch in Chicago last November. It was everything I needed it to be and opened up the floodgates of nostalgia and the carefree recklessness that comes with one’s early 20s. But I was a month from 30 and learned the hard way that smashing against sweaty giants while we all jump up and down un-rhythmically for two hours results in three days of the sorest body I’ve ever experienced. I don’t work out. Thankfully, for me and hundreds of other hangers-on, this wandering song-maker has recently taken to the highways of the good ol’ USA with his beautiful wife, fur-babies and their all-chrome-home to bring his talents to the flyover states. Shawn Harris is literally making house calls.

Ten Year Anniversary live album. Can't beat it.

Ten Year Anniversary live album. Can’t beat it.

Last Saturday, I traveled again to Chicago and there I sat. Thighs burning slightly, perched half on a stranger’s end table and half on the edge of the couch, shifting uncomfortably and staring into the face of my favorite. For three hours. I had never heard of or the idea of established musicians playing acoustic sets in the living rooms of fans. But it happened. And I was there. Along with 30 other die-hards and my friend from high school who lives in Chicago and was kind enough to escort me into the unknown. She didn’t have any idea what she was walking into, but she’s a ride-or-die friend. You gotta have one or two of those so you don’t have to wander into some dude’s apartment in a sketchy neighborhood and figure out which window they want you to knock on for entry without a safety net. You do. I was anxiety-ridden and almost too nervous to go. I had no idea what to expect from such a small gathering, and I sincerely wish I had gotten a buzz on before we went. But it was actually great. Once we settled awkwardly onto the couch and struck up conversation with the girl whose thigh was pressed intimately against that of my friend’s, I learned that The Academy Is will also be doing an album reunion of “Almost Here” which is almost as delightful as last year’s news of The Matches. And I relaxed.

The best idea anyone has ever had.

The best idea anyone has ever had.

The entire three hours was like a dream I had once, where I sit around a campfire with my favorite musicians and we all have a Kumbaya-esque singalong to our favorite songs. It was a real-life jukebox that combines nostalgia with fancy footwork and retro charm. It was my actual favorite musician, performing all of my favorite songs from one foot in front of my face. It was ridiculous. And, to make it even more delightful and inclusive, those of us who lived and breathed the albums were able to vocally provide the bass lines and extra guitar riffs that Shawn’s oh-so-talented fingers couldn’t handle alone. Words are actually failing me at this point. It was just so…neat. Yes. It was neat. It was an experience I won’t be able to duplicate unless he agrees to come to Grand Rapids. (Hint – Hint)

I'm sharing this because I love it so much, I don't even care that you'll all see my double chin. Ten years in between.

I’m sharing this because I love it so much, I don’t even care that you’ll all see my double chin. Ten years in between.

Sprinkling the minutes with stories of some of the song’s origins and otherwise just being charming, Shawn played tunes from all four of The Matches’ albums, including those from the unreleased and untitled fourth album. He also played “Fill the Lens”, a song from “Mania”, the debut album of his 2nd musical endeavor, Maniac. But without Jake Grigg, the other half of the duo, it just wasn’t the same. For me or Shawn. Peppering the set with songs from his latest band, Fortress Social Club, and those from his current solo triumph, St. Ranger, Shawn had something for every taste. But, as he put it, most of us were there for the obscure Matches B-Sides. The ones we didn’t have a chance to see live in our pop-punk days. And he certainly delivered, even ad-libbing lyrics about the house dog, Bella’s “thunder-shirt” when she burst through the performance bubble after a particularly harrowing bout of street-fireworks. It was funny. But I guess you had to be there.

Are you googling him yet?


Local 616

I’m a superfan. This is not a revelation. Everything I do and say is tantamount to my label. I understand and embrace it.  In fact, I’ve spent close to 30 years building the persona. Mostly, I drool and fawn over nationally recognized and sometimes synchronized-dancing men. But sometimes. Sometimes I get way too excited about people who live and work in my very own city.

Tonight, I had the pleasure of seeing a free show outside the GRAM, which is the Grand Rapids Art Museum, for those unfamiliar with acronyms. My favorite local band was playing, and despite my usual stoic and sarcastic demeanor, I was geeked. Vox Vidorra is a Grand Rapids band who you’d have to try hard to ignore. They’re everywhere. And thank Gos. (For those who aren’t sure, “Gos” is my half-assed way of using a recognized phrase that gels with my atheism. You know, like Ryan Gosling. On whom we can all agree.) This band is not trendy. They’re not something only millennial hipsters would enjoy, they’re an actual great band. They play soul music. Which is the kind of music you have to like unless you’re claiming not to have a soul. In which case, you have several religious groups with which to contend.


You feel dumb for not knowing them, right? It's cool. I get it.

You feel dumb for not knowing them, right? It’s cool. I get it.

Even if you don’t have a soul, Molly’s voice will make one for you. Against your will, even. It will cut through the cynicism. The raised eyebrows and the hesitance to dance in public. Her voice has a thing. A thing that makes me forget to hate pretty girls and those with more talent than I can ever hope for. I just want to be her best friend and listen to her sing, always. In fact, I told her this once when I ran into her at a party. We were all drinking, thankfully, and she has made no indication that she registered or remembers my very awkward conversation about how I would like to be her when I grow up, even though I’m a few years her senior. She’s classy like that. I usually hold my own with witty one-liners in the face of celebrities, but for some reason, when they’re just people I might run into during my humdrum life, I get weird. Maybe it was the cheap vodka, or maybe they’re just so good it brings out the awkward that no boyband has been able to grab. Or maybe I’m just a creep.

What I know is that my friend and I were chair-dancing like champs and singing along to most of the songs from Vox’s latest album, “Promise Land” tonight. Unabashedly, mostly. And of course, I was body-checking the drummer-slash-keyboardist, Theo. He’s cute. And that’s always on my radar. As we looked around, making eye contact with other groups in the crowd who knew the words and the times when pointing at the sky would look cool in tandem with Molly’s ridiculous range, I noticed other local artists who brought out the superfan in me.

Google her. Promise?

Google her. Promise?

Lady Ace Boogie was there. You don’t know her? You need to. She’s a local rapper and she’ll make you both nostalgic for and mad at Missy Elliot. She’s also an advocate for the #LoveGR movement, combating the worst billboard to grace the gridlock of 131. Look her up. Ajax Stacks was also there. His album, “Fruits of Labor” has been bumping in my old-ass car for the past few months. I don’t even listen to rap, but I made an exception and even made it less cool by learning the words to most of it. I don’t know him. We’ve never met. But I did stare at him weirdly because I couldn’t reconcile the fact that I hear his voice every morning before work, but it’s not socially acceptable to tell him that because he’s just a dude who lives in my city. Local art is odd like that. There’s a gray area, in the shade of stalker. So now I’m just that lady who stared at him for too long while Vox Vidorra played the best cover of “Back to Black” I’ve heard.

"I mean really tryna write things..." If he can make me feel cool, imagine what he can do for you.

“I mean really tryna write things…” If he can make me feel cool, imagine what he can do for you.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I got Thursday-buzzed at a local show and I loved every second of it. And I don’t know where to go with the love except for here. And yes, I’m listening to Vox Vidorra’s album in the background of my hiccups and dark bedroom right now. What of it?