Although Julie and Michael got married in Erie in May, they had a small reception/picnic back here at the end of July at a rec center nearby.

(Paul and I kicked off that weekend at a brewery that had this cucumber beer that I absolutely loved and sadly only drank that one time the entire summer.)

We were on cookie duty, as usual–Julie loves these strawberry ones I make, and his chocolate-chip ones are a family favorite–so that was how we spent our Friday night and Saturday morning before heading to his parents’ house for a nice dinner with nearly all of us. Emily’s girlfriend came to town, the two of us plus Jacob and Katie headed over, and we basically spent most of our evening in the pool. It was the perfect day for it, and we were content to cool off and talk.

The perk of having fallen so behind here is that in the couple months since, this information has since been announced officially, so I’m good repeating here.

So we were in the pool, as adults indulging in adult beverages, and naturally, I had to pee. I waited about as long as I could, then sucked it up and headed inside, where Katie and Jacob were, having just arrived. Katie said, “I have something for you!” and handed me this little bag with a smile on her face, and I was suspicious. Inside was a baby’s shirt–Katie’s pregnant! She’d already presented his parents with it, and my timing made me the first of the siblings/in-laws to find out.

And then my torture began. Of course I wasn’t gonna run back out to the pool and tell everybody, but that meant I had to go back, play it cool–which I think I did well, except for the occasional very impatient utterances of, “They need to get out here”–and wait for them. And they took their sweet time. Not necessarily intentionally to make me squirm, mind you, although Jacob definitely knew I was and definitely kind of enjoyed it.

When they did come out, they were kind of waiting for a good moment, and it never really came. It was kind of fun by that point–I knew and was waiting for when they’d drop the bomb, and if I remember right, Katie was gonna go use the bathroom herself when I was like, “Well, before you do…” so she decided to announce it then, and of course, only half of them were paying attention. Emily rectified that pretty fast.

They since used their anniversary to announce it on Facebook.

Typically, the etiquette would be to not announce this at someone’s wedding, even if it is a relatively informal reception, but Julie would much, much rather know than be made to wait. And she was so excited that even to me, it was worth it.

Paul and I are looking forward to become an aunt and uncle again, of course. In fact, if a sibling could have a baby every year or so until this becomes totally unreasonable, that would be super fun.

As for us, it just hasn’t happened yet. Not actively trying, not actively preventing, but I am a little surprised that so far, nothing.

The wedding party–they weren’t really calling it a reception–itself was laid back and fun with great food Julie and Michael made themselves. The favors were bottles of their homemade wine, which we still haven’t opened, but I look forward to when we do. I’ve spent a couple nights at their place drinking far too much of that wine.

And because I’m me, I had tickets to see The Struts that night. In my defense, I didn’t plan it that way. Julie was originally aiming for the following weekend and I already had the tickets when it got moved up a week, but because it started early in the afternoon so they could hit the road back for Erie before it got late, we had plenty of time to head home for me to cover myself in glitter to prepare. Turns out it probably wasn’t enough glitter.

Brandon was gonna go with me originally but ended up having drill, and Kelly was welcome to but didn’t, probably because of Eliana. So I got Paul to go instead. The Struts put on such a good show that I’m confident taking people who aren’t super familiar with them.

I’ve sung the band’s praises before and then did it again on my Medium blog, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, but shit, do I love that band, especially live. They’re so fun, so energetic, and have just the right amount of glam, hence my glitter quest.

And then, a few days later, Meri was back in town, so I went out with her and Marissa.

I have already mentioned this, but I decided to start writing about music over on Medium, and although current inspiration over there has run dry temporarily, I’m only just now getting around to the last few months, when I kind of dropped off other posting here.

One of those things that overlaps, though, was going to see Rocketman, which was very good, and driving to Ohio for Anberlin’s reunion tour.

I cover much of this in my post on Medium, but it went like this: my brother and I have loved Anberlin since we were teenagers, but they called it quits a few years ago and we never made it to the farewell tour. It never came to Pittsburgh, and neither of us was really in a position to travel for it. But one day, Brandon happened to notice that they’d mysteriously updated their social-media pictures, which these days only means one thing. Sure enough, they eventually announced a reunion tour, but like the farewell tour, there was no Pittsburgh date.

We missed the farewell tour. We weren’t gonna miss the reunion. We narrowed down a few cities within reasonable driving distance but settled on Cleveland, in large part because it was July 3 and we’d both have the next day off of work. It’s also a pretty short, easy drive, considering.

My only concern was that by the time the show rolled around, Brandon would have a baby just over a month old and would have just returned from a nearly month-long military training trip, and although Kelly gave him the go-ahead and only asked that we not get a hotel and stay overnight, I thought maybe she’d change her mind, and honestly, if she had, I wouldn’t have blamed her. She was well, well within her rights to say, “You’ve been gone for almost a month and we have a new baby, you are absolutely not going to a concert with your sister while I stay home.” I even made sure to only do e-tickets in case she did change her mind, that way I’d have a much easier time reselling them. Not that she’s that type, just that, again, new baby. But bless her, it didn’t happen, and Brandon came to my house the afternoon of the show, we grabbed some supplies, and hit the road.

Now, ticketing apps haven’t been great with differentiating between when doors open and when the first band hits the stage. Generally, doors open an hour before, and because I couldn’t find a time listed elsewhere, I assumed that the time listed was the start time and that doors were an hour prior to that. I was wrong. The good news was that our supply run took longer than expected, so we got there later than expected, and rather than arriving after doors opened like I thought, we were actually there a half-hour before. I was pretty happy about this.

The show was amazing. We sang every word, we screamed, we danced, we gaped at each other with every beloved song in the set–including those really early ones that got us into Anberlin to begin with. It was a perfect night, really. We had so much fun, we were back in front of a band that defined our teen years, truly, and that we’ve never stopped loving, and it felt just like we were there again. And that’s not a matter of nostalgia or wishing we were still teenagers, because believe me, I do not wish I was still a teenager, but rather a statement about just how much Anberlin has meant to us over the years and how not only has that not changed, but the band played like they’d never been gone. At best, I was in my early 20s the last time we saw them, maybe even my late teens, depending on the tour, and here we were, both there again, this time with me newly 30, both of us with spouses at home–in my case, in our house–and him with a baby, too.

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It was worth the excitement, the money, and the drive. Worth the wait? Nah, I’d have much rather spent the last few years hitting Anberlin shows once or twice a year like we used to. But whatever. I’m glad they’re back, one way or another.

And look, it was a nice sibling night, too. I mean, outside of the show, we had a couple hours in a car each way and over an hour waiting in line, so plenty of talking was done.

We got in around 2 in the morning, which is honestly not terrible under the circumstances, and Brandon told me the next day he was still too amped up to sleep when he got home. As for me, I passed right out.

Paul and I spent the 4th chilling at home and running errands, mostly, and spent the next few days getting dinner in Washington, hitting brunch in Pittsburgh, shopping, and tending to the garden.

Friday 5: dd/mm/yyyy

  1. What’s a good song with a time of day in its title? “12:51” by The Strokes and “10:15 Saturday Night” by The Cure.
  2. What’s a good song with a day of the week in its title? “Monday” by Black English, “I Don’t Like Mondays” by the Boomtown Rats, obviously, “Tuesday’s Dead” by Cat Stevens, “On a Friday” by Blaqk Audio, and another obvious one, “Friday I’m in Love” by The Cure.
  3. What’s a good song with a month in its title? “Forget December” by Something Corporate.
  4. What’s a good song with a year in its title? “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” and I’m partial to Amanda Palmer’s version she did with her dad. And, of course, “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night) y the Four Seasons. And I’m gonna through in the “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovksy, my favorite composer. It’s looking like my second favorite is gonna be Camille Saint-Saens.
  5. What’s a good song with the word “time” in its title? “Foreplay/Long Time” by Boston, “Time and Confusion” by Anberlin, “The Times They Are A Changin'” by Bob Dylan, “Too Much Time on My Hands” by Styx, and, of course, “Time” by Pink Floyd.

Imagine if my full collection was on iTunes and therefore searchable…

As always, from Friday 5.

Months before my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I’d bought tickets to see Cher with my mom. After her appearance in the Mamma Mia sequel, she released an album of ABBA covers, and that is my shit. I didn’t fully appreciate Cher back when she was doing the farewell circuit, which is a travesty in itself, but I figured this was a spectacle not to be missed.

I wasn’t sure if my mom was still gonna be up for going, but on our way to Kelly and Brandon’s baby shower, which fell about two or three weeks before the concert, I asked her if she was still planning to go with me, and she said, “Janelle, I have to.” Essentially, she needed to go out and enjoy herself for a night, and apparently, there’s a whole element of the impact of a cancer diagnosis on spouses and families that deals with continuing to, you know, go do fun things.

With it being a few days before Easter, Paul had the next day off, I took off, too, and he went out to spend the evening with my dad since he doesn’t like being alone right now and my mom came to our house to pick me up.

We had dinner at a hotel across the street, which does a very convenient buffet on event days, then spent our night dancing to Cher, who put on a great show. I was right about it being a spectacle, and I wouldn’t want anything less.

So with Paul already at my parents’ house, I just rode back there with my mom, and he and I spent the night, hung out for a little bit on Friday, and then headed home and spent our evening meeting with a company about redoing our siding. Gotta take advantage of those spring deals, you know? So we’re going ahead and getting it done, and I’m way more excited about that than I ever thought I would be about siding.

We’re currently under a tornado warning, so…that’s cool. A part of the country that almost never gets them. The sky is ominously black–this color is generally only seen in short, intense summer storms, and even then, it’s kind of rare. And just two or three hours ago, I commented on what a bright, warm day it turned into after morning rains. Figures.

Yesterday was Record Store Day, and not wanting Paul to miss his tai chi class or get dragged along for something he doesn’t really care about, I hit the record stores on my own. I strategized–I looked at the list of participating stores and figured Greensburg wouldn’t be as crowded as the Pittsburgh stores, so I decided to head that way, and then if I felt like it, hit Monroeville a half-hour away and then Pittsburgh on my way home, since I’d have to pass through the city anyway. It’s a very large, ambitious circle, but I was excited.

Turns out the two Greensburg stores were a bust–they weren’t actually participating. So I was annoyed at having wasted an hour. Had I known that, I probably would’ve just started in Monroeville, or even said fuck it and started in Pittsburgh. Monroeville is also annoying to drive in, strangely. There have been multiple occasions where we turn into the wrong plaza or parking lot and think, “Oh, it’s fine, they probably connect,” and they never do. And I don’t know if it’s because it was a nice day or because Steel City Con was going or what, but traffic was a bitch, too. Oh, and there was a shooting in the mall the night before.

So after some annoyances with unreliable GPS, those pesky not connected parking lots, and traffic, I made it to the one participating record store and did at least grab a couple of the things I wanted. Then I took myself to Panera Bread, got a chai, and finished it sitting in traffic coming back through Pittsburgh. I didn’t really feel like trying my luck in Pittsburgh, especially since I knew we’d be back for brunch this morning. I figured I’d just take my chances with it then.

Dom and Tina have been doing brunches all month long, but this is the first one we’ve been able to make it to. Last weekend, since we were going to the movies in the evening, we skipped it because it didn’t make sense to either drive out, back, then back out or drive out and dick around, and the weekend before that we were exhausted from a couple days of running errands and dog-sitting, plus Kelly and Brandon’s baby shower, and we agreed to meet up with Julie and Michael for coffee on their way home to Erie. We were glad to be able to go this weekend. It’s always delicious.

And with full stomachs, we hit the record stores on the South Side, and I redeemed my Record Store Day. First, Dave’s Music Mine, my favorite one in town, was mostly cleaned out of this year’s released but did have a good few from previous years, and I snagged a lot of Bowie releases and a little Cure, plus some CDs, including from some local bands. I try to keep up with a lot of them, but not as many places seem as dedicated to supporting the local scene. I was really, really happy to find a whole section to be able to grab albums from bands I’ve been streaming.

There’s one more store right down the road, and honestly, I think it gets overlooked by the Record Store Day crowds. But I came out with some of the popular and harder-to-find releases with the year’s Fleetwood Mac and Mumford & Sons releases.

When all was said and done, I spent a lot of money, but I was really happy. I haven’t actually gone out for a Record Store Day in a few years, maybe not since the year I spent it in State College. One year I was working that Saturday and didn’t want to bother with going afterwards, and last year, strangely, not many releases stood out to me. So I was glad to get back at it and come out with a lot of great stuff–almost everything on my wish list. There’s maybe only one I didn’t find, and that was the soundtrack to The Crow.

I love Record Store Day. I really do. It’s perfect for music nerds, and if my initial Saturday trip had gone better, I honestly would’ve loved having a day to myself drinking chai and buying music. I love it. I loved the trip today, too, with Paul coming along, but having some me-time in the form of tea and music is a pretty great way to go, especially when the whole point of the day is to help boost sales of indie record stores. And I can assure you, they all benefitted from me.

Then we got groceries, hit the gym, which felt great after a couple of weeks of inconsistency workout time, and now the day’s almost over already. So here’s to hoping my evening isn’t interrupted by a damn tornado.

There are very, very few concerts I’ve been to where shit just didn’t go well, and even at that, even fewer where shit just didn’t go well to the point that it overshadows my memories of the actual show. Normally, maybe someone in the crowd is a dick or something and you move on and that’s it. But somehow, of the two times I’d seen Mumford & Sons in the past–who I adore–shit just marred the experience for me, and that’s hard to do.

The first time, I got tickets through a friend–more and more musicians are trying to find ways to shut out scalpers, but the problem is I have yet to see one that doesn’t inconvenience fans, too. So at the time, you had to sign up in advance for a lottery, and then if your name came up, you got the chance to buy tickets. I found it unfair, but the plan was a few of us would throw in and whoever came up first would buy tickets. So the friend who got them got lawn tickets. Now, I like to be as super fucking close as possible, except for bands I’ve seen a lot. But I get that not everyone is gonna throw down a few hundred bucks on tickets, so I was fine with it. Paul wasn’t going with me, maybe because he was still in school at the time, I can’t remember, so I was with friends and friends of friends, and this dude kept flirting with me and because I am a shy, awkward person, I just did not know how to handle it, and it threw the whole night off for me.

The second time, I was like, “Okay, I’ll redeem my Mumford experience.” This time, Paul did join me and I was the one buying tickets, so knowing I could easily find takers, I bought four. Terra and her brother were ultimately the ones who joined us, but finding the tickets a home proved harder than I expected. The show was in May, I believe the first show of the summer season at this outdoor venue, but it was an unusually cold day for that time of year, and it ended raining. Fortunately, our seats were under the pavilion, but just barely, so it was still cold and dicey. And then Paul was fresh off of his very first session with a new therapist trying a different, slightly more intense form of therapy, and so he was having a rough, depression-filled evening. I mostly remember him sitting there quiet for almost the whole thing, but he seems to remember more of the concert and was even recently talking about how they encored with a cover of “Wagon Wheel,” and honestly, if he’s more depressed in my memories than in his own, fine. I’d rather him look back on it as a good time than anything else.

So this time! This time I was really determined to redeem my Mumford experience. The setup was in the round and I bought floor tickets, bringing me closer to the band than ever before. I got excited. I took the day after off, the weather that day was not just the warmest, sunniest day that week but the warmest, sunniest day for probably the whole month of March, and damn it, this time, I was gonna have a great time with no hiccups.

I am pleased to report that I succeeded. Sure, there were hiccups, mostly in the form of the frustration that comes with floor tickets where people either lie about looking for their friends to cut in front of you or just straight up shove their way in front of you, but that happens at any show with general admission. The in-the-round setup was cool, and I think if they did it again, I’d consider getting seats, just to see how it looks from there. But it was a great concert and we had a great time.

And then I had a nice Friday at home, sleeping in and getting other shit done. And so if you’re keeping track, between that and dog-sitting earlier in the week, the only days I actually worked last week were Monday and Thursday.

We decided to have dinner at Mad Mex for our Friday night, I had my favorite tacos and a kiwi margarita, and we kicked off the weekend, because, you know, a girl who worked two days in a week really needed a break.

In the wake of the announcement that Paul’s employer will be moving his site’s operations to Mexico, employees have been moving on at an impressive pace. As many coworkers do, everyone’s been going out for drinks to send someone off, and it’s nearly a weekly affair at this point. We went out for a couple of beers Friday night and the place was packed, so much so that we didn’t even bother trying to order dinner–we stayed for a couple drinks, then ate at the brewery in town, which has been tweaking their menu ever since they opened. It’s definitely a good thing, as the quality and variety both seem to have improved. I still say they have the best pizza in town, though.

The best part of the weekend, though, was seeing Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness Sunday night.

For starters, anytime I can see a musician twice in the span of the year is great–we last saw McMahon in a more acoustic set last April. This time, he was at Stage AE, a bigger, generally more mid-size rock-oriented venue–it’s where a lot of well-known acts play when they come through who aren’t, like, arena-sized acts.

I think sometimes, as someone who goes to several concerts a year, I forget how excited I can get. I still love going–it never gets old, no matter who I’m seeing, and if I miss out on one because of money or scheduling conflicts, I’m bummed. Like, short of major life troubles, missing a show in town is one of the biggest downers for me. But there’s a certain thrill that comes with seeing someone for the first time or from seeing someone you really, really love, whose music really resonates with you.

Maybe I underestimate just how much I love McMahon’s music. I don’t know. But I was pumped for this one, and I had a shit-eating grin on my face probably the whole time. I’d call part of it nostalgia, especially when he plays old Something Corporate songs, but I know myself well enough to know I’m not a particularly nostalgic person and that alone isn’t gonna get the reaction I had. I just really fucking love these songs. It’s not that they remind me of a certain time–well, they do, but it’s not that they’re sort of stuck in that mental space for me. It’s that I can still put on Something Corporate’s Leaving Through the Window or Jack’s Mannequin’s Everything in Transit and still feel a rush when my favorite songs play, still belt every word in the car, still say, “I love this song so fucking much,” to my husband, who does not have the history with these songs that I do, and mean it every bit as much as I would have if I were still 16 and listening to them in my CD player on the bus to school. That sounds like nostalgia, but really, it’s a love that has never faded.

So this show. It was great. One of the things I love about McMahon is the energy he has–I love watching musicians beat the shit out of their instruments, and I love the way he can hardly sit still at a piano and has multiple microphones to sing into because he’s constantly moving and could never be tethered to just one. He’s such a talented musician and songwriter, too. I mean…obviously.

Some of the coolest moments, though, involved the crowd in ways I haven’t seen many musicians do. For starters, at one point, he had the crowd pull blue fabric over their heads in the center to look like water, and he went down under and sang through the crowd–in fact, he sang from the pit more times than I’ve seen anyone do that’s not in a punk band. My favorite, though, seems to be a fan-initiated thing. When we were in line to get in, people were passing out these little colored circles of paper with instructions to hold them up to your phone’s flashlight during a song. True to form, my phone was dying–our power had gone out in the afternoon and we were stuck charging our phones in the car, but that’s a whole separate tale–but I watched others do it, and the effect was instead of your usual lights in the crowd that would be held high during a ballad, you saw a bunch of different-colored lights throughout the venue. It looked fucking amazing, and it needs to be a thing at every concert forever. There aren’t a whole hell of a lot of ways, at least outside of arenas, where people are getting creative and creating a really cool atmosphere, so to be at a show and see a few things I’m not seeing other people doing right now was great.

And McMahon seemed to speak really genuinely from the heart about the fan response in the city, too. I cannot wait for him to come back. My top five live acts is basically a revolving door as it is, but hot damn if Andrew McMahon isn’t sitting pretty there right now.

Unfortunately, we did duck out early, during the encore. As we were sitting up in the balcony, I was thinking back to the hot mess we had after The Struts, where my brother and I had dead cellphones and missed the last subway out of the city by minutes, and I’ll be damned if I was gonna go through that again. So I looked up the last one out, and we left around 15 minutes before it was due to show up. It’s the first time in my life I’ve ever left a concert early and I fucking hated it, but don’t ever say I don’t learn from my mistakes.

We have tickets to see The Struts again at the same place and also on another Sunday night, and I’m debating if it would be better to risk traffic and drive to that one. For bigger events, they’d run more trains, but rock shows apparently do not qualify.

But hey, we made it home without incident…except for the fact that the power was still out.



Friday 5: Movement

  • What’s a song that recently moved you? On my way home last night, one of the local classic-rock stations played Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.” That song gets me every time in an exciting way, and as much as I normally can’t nail down one single song by any artist that I consider to be my favorite, I just might be able to say that this is my all-time favorite Elton song.
  • What’s a song that recently moved you — right out the door? I haven’t had a strong negative reaction to a song in a while. If I don’t like something, I just kind of ignore it, and if I’m somewhere where I can’t escape it, like in public, I tune it out. Tell ya what, though, I’ve tried and just cannot enjoy Cardi B. At all.
  • What kinds of dance performances interest you? Ballet will always be my first love, and that’s the one that I’m most interested in. But outside of that, all dance is kind of even. I love the way dance makes the human body itself an art form, and I’ll gladly watch anyone do what they want with that.
  • What’s a good song with the word move (or some form of it) in the title? The first one that came to mind is “Move Along” by The All-American Rejects, who I still love. But I’m also partial to Elvis’ “I Shall Not Be Moved,” particularly from the Million Dollar Quartet session, with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.
  • How do you feel about prunes? Never had them and don’t intend to.

From Friday 5.

I’ve undoubtedly told this story before, but it’s a good time to repeat it.

For a few years, one of my family’s Christmas traditions was going to see local singer B.E. Taylor’s annual Christmas concert. It started with my mom’s friend Fran, who she met through work, inviting her one year, and even after just that first year, both of my parents were adamant that I would really enjoy it. But I resisted. It really didn’t seem like my thing, even though I love Christmas music, so year after year, they’d go and they’d say, “Janelle, you really ought to go next year.” I think I finally caved after my brother went one year and said the same thing.

This is probably a whole separate thing worth exploring, but I think sometimes we resist things our families thing we’d like even though they’re totally right. Like, especially between my parents and brother, I don’t think they’ve ever really been wrong about something like that.

So finally, I relented and went, and sure enough, my family was right. I’m not sure what I expected–and regardless I have such eclectic taste in music that you’d think I’d at least have been more open-minded, but no–but it definitely wasn’t what I got.

And so our new tradition became meeting up with Fran and her husband, often for dinner nearby beforehand, and going to the concert. And the thing is–possibly a crucial thing–this is nowhere near unique. They often played two shows at Heinz Hall in town, often packed with families and friends going together, often for another consecutive year.

I myself did this for a couple years, maybe two or three, before B.E. Taylor died in 2016. I remember sitting across from my best friend out at lunch when I saw the news, and she was home in the middle of marital issues that ended in a divorce, so great year all around, that was.

This year, B.E. Taylor’s son and drummer, B.C., decided to continue the tradition of a Christmas concert, reuniting all the members of the band that had become so familiar to so many people over the years–I may have enjoyed only a few, but the concert itself was a tradition going back something like 20 years. So once again, we all got together. While we didn’t go to dinner, my brother and I met up in the South Hills and took the T and we met my parents and Fran like we had plenty of times before.

The concert was as much as Christmas celebration as it was a tribute to B.E. Pictures and videos flashed in the background, and for a couple of songs, the band played to a track of B.E. singing from a recording of one of the annual concerts. And it included a lot of the elements that made the concert memorable and won me over that very first time, like a local high school drum line coming onstage for a few songs and a local steel-drum band playing along with “Mary’s Boy Child,” which has been one of my favorite Christmas songs since I first heard it and naturally became one of the highlights of the concert for me.

A church choir was also one of the staples, and in the final years of the original concerts, their director had a stroke, and his son now fills his role.

And so it was hard not to be struck by two things.

One, how despite so much familiarity and all the same band and all the songs everyone loves, the concert is really different now, with two big parts of it gone. In a way, it probably reflects the lives of the audience, too. From the start of going to the concerts to now, my brother and I have gotten married, we’ve lost our grandfather, I bought a house and he got an apartment, and now he’s expecting his first child in the spring, and then there’s everyone else in the audience, too, and how their lives look different now than they did even a year ago.

But two, these two men were now onstage following in their fathers’ footsteps, and that the concert is as much a tradition for everyone on that stage as it is for everyone in the audience and they were continuing it. And the concert always was a family affair, but perhaps even more so given that fact.

It was nice to be back after a couple of years without it, and I hope to see it continue.

And so, enjoy my favorite, and one that wormed its way into my head for a few days but stars Jeff Jimerson, perhaps best known as the Pens’ anthem singer.

For a music lover, I have a hard time getting excited about new stuff these days. I don’t know if it’s my eclectic taste or what, but it seems like it’s really difficult. It’s not that I don’t like a lot of what I hear, it’s just that I don’t love it. I’m rarely impressed or engaged enough to buy an album or song–or even put it on a playlist. Most of the big names right now? Don’t care for ’em. I just don’t find them interesting.

So when something does catch my attention, I get excited. It’s a nice change.

Enter The Struts.

So, after a long stretch of exclusively listening to my own music collection in the car, I was like, “Man, I’m so out of touch with the rest of the music world,” so I decided to prioritize radio for my driving–if nothing good is on, then I switch to a CD or my phone, and honestly, that rarely happens, which is kind of awesome. I almost certainly was listening to local alternative station The X when The Struts caught my ear. I don’t even know what song. But it was the kind of rock I’m drawn to, with electric guitars and a hook.

Said local alternative radio station announced their annual Kick Ass Christmas Show with The Struts as their headliner, and although I’d only really kind of dabbled in their music, I liked it enough that I wanted to go. And although my brother is often busy, when I mentioned it, he was in. And then when I shared the flyer on Facebook, his wife’s sister and her boyfriend were interested, too, and the great thing about general-admission tickets is that even though I already bought our tickets, they could get theirs and we could meet up no problem.

I kind of joked about this being a throwback show, because for starters, my brother and I haven’t hit a small-to-mid-size local show in a few years, easily, and it was something we did a lot in high school and college. And second, what that means is four bands on a bill, general admission, standing for a good few hours. Neither of us has done that in a while. A lot of what I’ve been going to lately has been in seated theaters or big stadium shows, so this really was like old times. Especially with four bands, because that’s starting to take up a chunk of time. Two is pretty common, three happens often enough, and then when you hit four, it’s starting to become a different beast. In the end, we were on our feet for about 5 1/2 hours, and the next day, Brandon sent a, “How does everyone feel? I’m exhausted,” message. But…worth it.

Because, see, The Struts put on a show.

The opening bands were all great, for starters, and I’m also a firm believer that way too many people are dismissive of opening acts, thinking of that time as a buffer for getting stuck in traffic or not having to wait in line to get in or to just keep tailgating. Some of the best new bands I’ve heard have been openers, and if you go to concerts even just on occasion, it’s one of the easiest ways to discover something new. I believe so strongly in this that I’d love to pitch a column to a music publication that solely reviews bands I’ve seen as openers. I could give you full lists.

I figured everyone would be good. It was just that kind of all-around vibe, where I could just tell it was gonna be high energy. But like…I didn’t expect the showmanship I got, I guess. From the second The Struts started, it was a fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll party, with the glam look and attitude that I’ve probably been wanting but didn’t know it. I haven’t seen a rock band with a male lead singer come out in glitter and makeup–and multiple wardrobe changes–in a long time, looking kind of like Freddie Mercury, and they won me over so hard like halfway into their first song. I was sold. I loved it. They were one of those acts that’s great recorded but even better live, where all the songs are enhanced and more fun, and that’s my favorite kind of show. (Related to that, the very first time I saw Fleetwood Mac, they played “Second Hand News” so wonderfully that the recorded version isn’t the same anymore.)

And they played a solid, long show. With a big-ish bill, Brandon and I kinda figured their set would be an hour, hour-and-a-half tops, but fuck no! Two hours. And it was great the whole time.

My favorite part, though? They did this stellar cover of “Dancing in the Dark” that had even security bobbing their heads, and about halfway through, the frontman announced he’d be bringing his very own Courteney Cox onstage. And I was a little concerned, to be honest, because rock music still has a sexism issue and stuff like that can delve into weird objectification territory. Now, I don’t know how this goes on a nightly basis, but for this show, his pick was this little girl in a homemade Struts shirt that was maybe 10 years old tops who was, so, so excited to be pulled onstage. She was adorable and her excitement was infectious. It was cool to watch this kid–who said she’d seen them six times!–get brought up to sing and dance with the band. The gimmick was that they’d get the crowd amped then have a dance-off center stage, and in the middle of that, she did this backflip and the crowd went fucking nuts. We all started chanting her name. It was impossible to watch her without a shit-eating grin on her behalf the whole time. She’s gonna remember that for the rest of her life.

I found out at the end that of our group, I was the only one who was seeing them for the first time. A couple years ago, Brandon and his sister-in-law Katie saw them at the same Christmas show except as one of the openers, and while he hadn’t seen them since, she was going for the third time and introduced them to her boyfriend, Gage, who was seeing them a second time. Brandon ended up sending us all a Snapchat of a list of tour dates with an Ohio tour stop this weekend, and honestly, if I wasn’t going out of town with my mom already, I’d be seriously considering it.

Needless to say, a great time was had by all, and we anxiously await their next Pittsburgh show.