I’m not a very religious person, but I do think that whatever I’ve lost from not going to temple I’ve gained back at all the live shows that hit me hard.
That’s certainly what happened to me last Wednesday night at at the small-but-mighty August Hall, where I caught Foxing and Now, Now on their joint tour.
Daddy Issues, a grunge rock band from Nashville, Tennessee, opened the show. To my great chagrin, I actually missed about half of their set, but in my defense, I thought the day that a rock show started on time would be the day the rapture starts for real.
I’ve been listening to Daddy Issues for a while now. Their menacing cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” was the perfect soundtrack to last August, when there everything felt as languid as their fuzzed-out take on Henley’s immediately recognizable riff. Their debut album, Deep Dream, paints a picture from the get go, one where failures seem inevitable, your small-scale destiny of mundanity is written in stone, and lying back in the sun with a hand over your eyes with this album growling in the background is the only possible solution to your ennui.
In person, Daddy Issues were delightful. They recently acquired a new bassist with infectious on-the-balls-of-her-feet energy, who had, apparently, skipped her graduation for this tour (who wouldn’t have?). As dark as Deep Dream may be, on stage the band exudes nothing but gratefulness, not only to be seen and heard for the slim half hour allowed to opening bands everywhere, but clear gratitude for their tourmates, a sentiment returned many times over by the headliners.
Something difficult, I think, about creating art of any sort is that you need to get used to the feeling of unloading your secrets over and over again. The veil of deniability is never as thick as you want it to be, and revisiting old work, whether it be a song performance or a drawing, can feel like picking at a scab. It was a shock to me when the band I thought would stumble onstage under the weight of their own malaise instead were laughing, giggling, joking, and, frankly, beaming— yet another needed reminder that knowing a band’s music is eons away from knowing anything, truthfully and fully, about its members.
Daddy Issues ended their set with “Dog Years,” a teeth-gnashing I-bite-my-thumb-at-you kiss off with the eminently quotable (if hissing into someone’s ear as they sleep counts as quoting) line we’re not gonna be friends/in dog years you’re dead. And while I was happy to have caught a favorite, the dreaded break between sets loomed heavy. I learned from some genial fans that Foxing was up next; having heard maybe a few bars of their most popular song and unfamiliar with the rest of their catalog, my hope had been that Now, Now would play first so I could get home in time to get some sleep before work tomorrow. I sighed and headed to the outskirts of the audience, sliding down to sit on the floor and prepare myself for an hour of waiting. Stage prep proceeded normally until the stage went dark during an old ’50s song — it kills me that I can’t remember what it was — and as the final note fell away, Foxing emerged in a blast of light. And so set the tone for what turned out, to me, to be a reverence-inspiring show.
Foxing’s first song plunged through August Hall like a cold wave. I stayed on my perch at first, but it didn’t take long for me to wander into the crowd, phone in hand as I tried to capture the sound and fury of Foxing’s frontman, Conor Murphy. Murphy is the rare sort of stage presence whose charisma almost overtakes his entire body, a red-hot coil reaching towards whatever divine presence grants him the energy to his thrash and claw his way through the set. His bandmates Jon Hellwig (drums), Eric Hudson (drums), Ricky Sampson (guitar), and their two additional touring members were all equally impressive – talented, confident, and here to deliver a hell of a show.
I was truly hypnotized by guitarist Hudson, who seemed to let the music pass through him like the fuckin’ holy spirit of rock n’ roll, the audience watching it all happen, biting their nails to see who would maintain control of the host body.
I’m just going to say it: I’ve never seen such sexy guitar playing.
August Hall itself was a character in all of this, its shining stained-glass coins of famous Bay faces observing us benevolently as we bounced on our heels, as we danced, as we chorused why don’t you love me back from “Rory,” in the show’s softest, slowest moment of audience-wide introspection. At one point, during the title track from their most recent album Nearer My God, blue stage lights arched above the audience while Murphy threw his hands up in supplication, asking God, Buddha, me, the sound people, the couple making out behind me…does anybody want me at all?
And, just like actually asking that question of God, Buddha, and the rest, there was no answer. So what does Foxing do? They enter a full-scale drop into roiling rock pandemonium.
This seems to be a favorite move of Foxing — lull the people into a moment of quiet, then let loose the mighty force of all six musicians on stage who fling the music out like we’re all trapped in some reverb-loving pinball machine. The drums were so loud, in fact, that a few times I found myself pressing my hands to my chest like there was a real possibility my ribcage would come unknit completely.
But no — I remained whole, perhaps even a little fuller than when I came in; it’s only been a few times I’ve loved a band based solely upon a live performance, and this was one such rarity.
Next up was Now, Now, presenting their most recent album, Saved – also known as 2018’s primo makeout album. The otherworldly tome of songs sound good no matter what you listen to them on, from vinyl to car stereo to shitty broken headphones.
I managed to finagle my way front and center during the break— a first! — inadvertently setting myself up for truly strange feeling of being feet away from those you are used to interacting with in ones and zeros. While I don’t know what its like to be a frontwoman, having KC Dalager three inches away from me while she curled her body around the mike only inspired the idea that my own emotions, on display in the presumed safety of the audience, were being watched, unnoticed, from behind KC’s curtain of orange-dyed hair.
Despite KC being on her way to losing her voice, Now, Now’s set was enjoyable, especially sexy album opener “SGL.” The set didn’t hit me like the last time I saw them live, when KC entered the audience for the closing song and proceeded to lie on the sticky beer floor to quaver out the album’s final words (loving me, baby, is easy/where do I begin), but I wouldn’t expect it to.
KC likes to hide, even on stage. Even when she was a few inches away, I was never sure if we had made eye contact, and she reserved her moments of true vulnerability for a few chosen members of the crowd. According to the overwhelmed fan next to me, whose hands KC had grasped a few times, KC’s gaze was so intense that she wasn’t sure where to look.
I wouldn’t have known either, but I do know this: it’s no mistake that Now, Now’s last album was called Saved.
Though none of the acts at that night at August Hall are explicitly religious bands, all three found ways to channel the divine into their live show, with performances of such spirit it couldn’t help but rub off on those that worshiped at their feet.