Even with the CMJ badge, the bouncer wanted his $5 for the door, and my ID, this West Virginia rectangle, knew criticism unlike others. This is after the prior, mistaken stop at Glasslands, and Kansas City Chad, the biology major, telling me he was “looking to find some chicks.” It’s after the Tuesday night, drunk on gin, I thought of throwing myself in front of a subway train, tired off all the college outcasts fucking their way to the big time. It’s the night, a Thursday in October, I saw Speedy Ortiz play 285 Kent, and I remembered there was a chance.
If you read the article linked above or search at all on Twitter, it’s clear 285 Kent, a venue in Williamsburg, meant something to someone.
I’ve thought of it as a chance backdrop for a realization once made with one, mere experience there, but it appears others saw it higher - like an institution, of some sort. Which is interesting - that this random series of anecdotes just happened to revolve around this hallmark I knew nothing about.
The night began bored at a Bored Nothing show, and the bartender, after handing me a beer, asked if I were with the band. “Yeah,” I told him, and the beer was free til I left.
We weren’t in Brooklyn yet but the Lower East, and Jimmy and John, my pals on this trip, were on cruise control, stunted by their free-fall of booze and handshakes earlier in the week.
We claimed the couches away from the stage, but this kid with a stuffed backpack, heavy coat and long, tangled brown hair walked toward us. This was Kansas City Chad, and after a slight introduction, he handed us each a white business card stamped with his station’s call letters. It was a common practice that week. We never did call him.
He had this airy voice, and he mentioned he’d been sent to CMJ, college radio’s only festival, alone. I guess we looked like the guys he’d want to hang with, and I could relate, so we talked.
"So … what’s this band called?"
"Oh, yeah, yeah. I’ve heard they’re good. Someone told me they’re good. You’re going to see them?"
We would have this little exchange a few more times. Nothing seemed to stick with Kansas City Chad - except that he was from Kansas City, a point he made often. Still, there was something about him I liked. Maybe the idea of this random character hopping his way into my story, knowing by the end of the night he’d be an anecdote. Or maybe he was just another weirdo to try to read. I invited him along.
As per the scenery, I recall nothing particularly memorable about 285. I see the wide space and the cardboard box-like stage, but I cannot remember whether or not I hit the restroom, and the crowd looked like any you’d see in Brooklyn in 2013.
That simple, heavy door guarding the entrance, though, is a takeaway because it wasn’t marked, and it could have easily been some backdoor into an old apartment building. It lent that “danger” described in the Pitchfork piece, but more so, when it opened and you slid through and the space expanded - and in my situation, the band literally just kicked into their set, like some coming-of-age movie shit - you felt as if you’d made your way into something only set aside for few.
The denial of the CMJ badge - even though labeled a CMJ show - screamed this. It didn’t matter who you were, name tag or not. You were to fuck off and pay.
That’s a special mood to set for a venue because deep down every show goer seeks it. We all want that night - that night we tell the kids about, the one where exclusivity was ours in the face of a thin line waiting to trip us up. A time when romance was possible, and the cops were at the door.
Walking in provided some of that, and it seemed to hang as Speedy tore through their performance. They played as a group, thrashing about both self-aware and invested in their actions. There was fun to be had, with nothing to prove, testify or say, and this made them seem capable of leaping off the stage, still playing mid-jump, crushing beer cans on their amps or, shit, having a laugh between songs.
Bored Nothing was absent.
Tenni walked around in her bubble, and the crew surrounding looked like accessories on-call - wherever they went. She played a key role in radio promotion, and the scene - mostly the college kids desperate for music industry sign-off - beckoned for any bit of her attention. It was this clique based upon nothing but connections, just like the sad, old world that’s inescapable, and it scrubbed away college radio’s texture of anythingness.
The image came captured on a subway, right when she handed me a pin decorated in her own caricature.
"Wear it," she instructed.
I didn’t. That wasn’t an endorsement I was willing to make. Her eyes fluctuated in response.
This was the same night I drank the gin. That Tuesday. I remember the rail tracks curving even though they lay spiked to the filth in the tunnels, and I wanted some part of their stretch. Something about them lead somewhere, even if it was dark and hoarding the city’s rats. It was but one, quick roll over the edge and nothing would be contained.
Jimmy and John, I think, knew what was in my head, and they were freaked when I didn’t get on the train. They would be distant in the morning.
I sat against the wall before strolling back to the hotel, alone.
Kansas City Chad seeped into the crowd, and I felt bad about that. When my badge was denied, he covered my cover, pushing me in at the nick of time to watch the one band I gave a shit about that week. It was a ditch move on my part, but maybe, deep down, it was a sign of confidence in his ability to wander off and survive.
Jimmy fell back too, courting some girl from a label. And John … he flew home earlier in the evening as per his plans. I just straddled the front, right by the stage, feeling it out.
They were a tight act, truly working their material as a unit. Mike Falcone, the drummer, had that same stance as Jason Gerycz from Cloud Nothings, like some top-heavy basketball player protecting the box, and Sadie Dupuis, the guitar and vocalist, didn’t care if her voice cracked when singing a line like “freaking the fuck out.” It made sure you knew.
The highlight came when some crowd member called out, “No Below!” A request for the hit single.
"We’ll play it … don’t worry," Dupuis insisted. "When we’re good and fucking ready."
Thank God. Not a crowd pleaser. Not another ordinance.
The show ended, and Kansas City Chad found Jimmy and I on the corner. He liked the show. I watched him shrink through the rear window of a taxi cab as we pulled away, not knowing if I’d ever see Kansas City.
At this point Jimmy, sober, went hysterical, punching the cab door as he laughed.
"What the fuck is so funny?"
"Touch my body!"
"She was singing … touch my body!"
"What the fuck are you talking about? No she didn’t."
"Touch my body!" … "Touch my body!"
He repeated it over and over. I’m not sure what he really heard, but his laugh still hangs with me now, months later. It was the sound of something wound tight snapping.