Walking into the Pinhook in Durham was like walking into an episode of Portlandia. I kid you not. Never have I seen so many freaks and weirdos in one place. I loved it. In fact, I felt almost out of place wearing my painfully normal polo T-shirt and khaki shorts amid a sea of piercings and dyed hair. Misfits of all ages (but mostly twenty-somethings) had descended onto this bar-cum-concert venue for one purpose: to experience an indie pop/folk/punk extravaganza from three rising acts. And all three delivered spectacularly.
This show was different from any I’d been to before. It’s hard to pin down exactly why, but the word that kept popping into my head was “community”. There was a sense of belonging at this place, like we were all in it together. Maybe it was the close quarters. Or the sign above the gender-neutral bathroom (nicknamed the “gender neutral milk hotel”) that decried racism, classism, sexism, and ageism in one fell swoop. Or maybe it was the fact that during the show, a guy dropped his beer on the floor beside me and then picked it up and apologized. Who woulda thunk.
But the main thing that gave me this sense of community was the fact that the artists were almost a part of the audience. By that I mean they stood behind the merch counter selling T-shirts and records off to the side of the standing area when they weren’t performing. They weren’t actually standing with us, but they were really just a few feet away. I mean, at a U2 concert, you wouldn’t find Bono selling shirts and albums.
I was nearly dizzy with excitement when I walked up to the back of the crowd during Daddy Issues’ opening set to find Frankie Cosmos sitting and grooving along to the music only five feet away from me. This extraordinary musician, who was already one of my favorite songwriters of all time, was almost right next to me. At first I was in disbelief that it was really her. I creepily stared at her for a little while, trying to confirm that it was Frankie, and a few awkward eye contacts later, I was sure of it. My first thought was that I should get a selfie with her, but I looked around and nobody else was doing that. We were all equals. The musicians were there to play, we were there to listen, and nobody was being put on a pedestal.
Daddy Issues started the show. They were the only band that I hadn’t listened to beforehand. I missed the first part of their set, because I got there a few minutes late, but what I did hear really intrigued me. They performed a heady mix of indie pop and punk. It sounded like the kind of music that would never go stale. I made a mental note to check them out on Spotify.
Girlpool were up next. They may have been the best act of the night. Starting with “Ideal World”, the first track off their latest release, they barreled through a medley of tracks from their first EP and debut album. At times, it was loud and overpowering, but in a good way. They sang the hell out of their songs, with their characteristic whiny, girlish tone. They don’t have a drummer, which suits the stripped-back nature of their music. Halfway through the set, Harmony jokingly asked if anyone knew how to fix her broken iPhone screen. She couldn’t respond to her mom’s texts, and she didn’t want her to worry. Rock stars have problems too.
When Frankie Cosmos appeared with her backing band, I was kind of worried. The first few songs were fast, loud, punkish, and didn’t resemble the intimate performances on her records. Could it be that Frankie was living out her dream of being a punk rocker, and breaking free from her shy, awkward persona? I hoped not. But when the band played the familiar opening strains of “Leonie”, I realized that what I had heard before was just a soundcheck, and my worries were laid to rest. Frankie’s songs translated really well to a live setting. The loud parts were just as energetic and charming as in her recorded songs, and the quiet intimate moments of her catalogue featured Frankie singing alone without her band.
The night ended with a bizarre conversation. As I was waiting outside the Pinhook for my ride to get there, a middle-aged woman struck up a conversation with me regarding how chilly it was. She began talking about her drive to Durham to see the show all the way from Tennessee, which turned into a description of her house-hunting efforts in the area. This escalated when her husband came outside and joined her, and the conversation turned into a detailed narration of every single house they had looked at in every place they’d ever lived, including the square footage and price of all of them. They literally walked up to me and told me how much their house was worth, as well as every other house they’d ever considered living in. The couple’s daughter appeared soon after, and as the three walked away they asked me where I was headed to next. I said Pennsylvania, and the daughter yelled from a distance, “Lucky bastard! I love Pennsylvania!”
Yeah. Not sure what that has to do with the concert, but it exemplifies the strange togetherness that characterized that night.
On the ride home, I began to wonder whether I should have approached Frankie and said something. But what would I have said? That I blogged about her? That I thought she captured the feeling of being bored and rich better than anyone this side of Sofia Coppola? That my cat recently died and listening to her lamentations for her lost dog really helped me cope with it? That I think it’s cool that she doesn’t shave her armpits? Whatever. She probably wouldn’t have heard me over the sound of the guitars.
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