Went There



by Luke Pyenson

This Winter/Spring, a few New England bands are coming through/have come through London, and I couldn’t be more thrilled. But I haven’t fully benefitted from this. Like a moron, I accidentally screwed up the night of the Happy Jawbone show and missed it. And, unfortunately, I’m gonna be in a lava field in Iceland when Quilt plays about 10 minutes from my apartment in early April. Luckily, I was in town when Speedy Ortiz came through late last month, playing two outstanding sold out shows, and making me feel at once way more and way less homesick. What follows is a short account of the first night, February 18th at Birthday’s.

The club is in a neighborhood called Dalston — there’s not really a Boston equivalent (definitely rhymes with Allston though), but it’s basically London’s Bushwick. The room is in the basement, and spatially feels like Middle East Downstairs, maybe about 1/3 smaller. The stage is a little shorter too, which, when the music is in full swing, makes it feel like an honest to goodness basement venue! I showed up early-ish, after slipping out of school halfway through an evening lecture about niche tango dancing tourism in southern France.

After a couple forgettable bands, Speedy triumphantly took the stage to an absolutely packed room full of people who were very clearly incredibly stoked to finally see them live. They opened with “American Horror,” off the new EP, an extreme ripper if there ever was one. The moment when everything comes in was totally perfect—so much energy from both them and the crowd. The rest of the set was peppered with songs from all of their releases—heavily Major Arcana with a few from Sports and apparent crowd favorite “Taylor Swift.” People were going nuts and everybody seemed to know the words to every song—it was totally surreal, probably much more for them than for me. This one ~16 year old next to me was absolutely freaking out the whole time, in the kind of way that he was still trembling after each song. And let me also say, it’s really something to hear people calling out “No Below” in exaggerated, caricaturish (but 100% real) British accents.

Towards the end of the set, people started getting really rowdy. A smoke machine was going the whole time (Mike spent most of the night shrouded in a thin mist, his arms occasionally jutting out to hit cymbals), and being that it was in a basement, it got super hot. At one point an older man taking photos in the front row got pushed over onto the stage and had to take refuge stage-left with Speedy’s tour manager, who was crouching like a ballboy at Wimbledon ready at any moment to fix a broken guitar strap or unplugged instrument. I got shoved over several times, on one occasion knocking over Sadie’s monitor. I was shocked at how much I felt like I was in a Boston basement—watching Speedy, getting pushed around, feeling uncomfortably hot. It was amazing.

They closed with “Tiger Tank,” but the crowd was not satisfied with what has to have been the longest set I’ve ever seen them play—13 songs and about 50 minutes long. I was hoping they’d do “Indoor Soccer” for the encore, and sure enough, when Darl’s heavy bassline and Mike’s tom thumping emerged out of some messy guitar feedback and distorted noodling, I knew I’d hoped right. This was one of the best Speedy sets I’d ever seen, made even better, perhaps, by the fact that I’d hardly been seeing any shows in London. It’s like how great food tastes even better when you’re really hungry, you know?

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