don't you tell me how i feel.

White Birds Tour: The End by don't you tell me how i feel.
October 10, 2011, 8:23 am
Filed under: white birds tour

In which Lehtola reflects on a week spent touring.

After saying goodbye to White Birds, I went back inside Brooklyn Bowl and met up with my friends. We decided to walk to a bar on Grand Street for a nightcap. As we strolled through Williamsburg, I suddenly thought of the game Super Mario Galaxy, in which Mario launches himself through space from planet to planet. That’s exactly how I felt—as if I had just been catapulted from one world into another.

It took about 20 minutes to walk to Maracuja on Grand Street. We posted up at the bar, I ordered an Oktoberfest, and quickly realized I had left my debit card at Brooklyn Bowl. My buddy Phil walked back with me to get it. The journey was long, and I tried to make good conversation, but my mind was elsewhere. I kept thinking of a recurring shot in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. In it, all you see is infinite pavement rolling by, at night, as if you were looking at it through the eyes of a Jaguar’s hood ornament. The stripes on the highway look like a repeating message in Morse Code. But what is it saying? What did I learn on the road, over the past week?

It was late by the time I cashed out my tab. We journeyed back across Williamsburg, and stayed at Maracuja for another 30 minutes. My beer had gotten warm, but I drank it anyway. Another long mosey and train ride loomed ahead on the trip home to Bushwick. I had a computer, two bags and a lack of pep, however, so we got a cab. At a stoplight near Broadway, I heard the J train roar by for the first time in a week. It was not a good sound. Something seemed to settle over me, and I sighed.

Sleep hit me like a wrecking ball that night.

It’s been 9 days since the end of my adventure across the Midwest and Northeast with White Birds. I’ve listened to the EP every day, all the way through, in the close confines of earbuds and via the full-room vibrations of speakers. In my opinion, it’s a modern-day classic. That assessment also includes my feelings about the songs not on the EP (which can only be heard live, at press time). Details about the full White Birds LP are currently a mystery, but I have no illusions about its future heavyweight status. A generation could latch onto this album.

One of my goals with this project was to find out what it was like for a band to play live shows across America. Touring, my friend Adrian had said, is what the United States is all about. You have the freedom to travel from town to town, freely sell your wares and not worry about being persecuted for it. I agreed with that romantic sentiment before the tour, and still agree with it now. Why?

Can I tell you what it’s like to watch folded arms drop as their owners open up to new music? I saw it happen night after night with White Birds. I saw stiff body language soften and speak silent volumes. I heard baffled babbling at the merch table after the show. Yes, babbling. Like that couple after the set in Connecticut—they just went on and on about White Birds, barely coherent with their sentence structure, straight giddy about the beauty they had just borne witness to. You could see that look in their eyes. It’s a gleam that comes along with something shiny and new to believe in. How rarely does that happen? More importantly, how often can you see such a conversion take place with your own eyes and ears?

On the tour I found myself looking forward to the next show like a man looking forward to his next vacation; here’s a place where I can plant my feet and straight bask. Never mind the bewildering bonus of watching people react to new art—do museum curators feel the same way when they see visitors struck dumb by a new piece? And how do I describe this feeling to other people?

To help remember these feelings, I shot videos of White Birds over the course of the week. I’ve watched each one countless times since, wishing I were seeing it live. The chemistry of the band is obvious—they’re all close friends, they all live in the same house, and they each bring something unique to White Birds.

21-year-old Mike Cammarata, the youngest, has one of the most important jobs: beats. Since beginning in jazz, the drummer has played in an unusual style; head facing down, with a curtain of black hair hiding all facial expressions. Dude’s forever pushing his Frankenstein glasses (prescription lenses, Mom’s old 80’s frames, and Maui Jim wings) up his nose with one finger. Oddly, this extra move does not throw off his drumming, which is a heavily struck thing. I remember one sound man in Austin, Texas who yelled (after a show with his old band) that Mike had beaten the posture out of the house floor tom. Fun fact: Mike found his black drum set in a barn behind the band’s house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and says he’s never heard its equal.

Chris Radwanski says he’s rarely heard the equal of the song “Kettering” by The Antlers. We listened to it in the kitchen at the White Birds house (the same night he won $2 off me in a game of Texas Hold ‘Em). A skilled musician, Chris plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass, and keys throughout the White Birds set, and also teaches those instruments at the School of Rock in Doylestown, Pa. The road manager of the band, he handles the money, keeps everybody on schedule and prefers riding shotgun (so he can see everything coming). Raz wants to get two sailboats one day—one on his arm and one in the water.

Two brothers hold the stage-right and center spots for White Birds. The younger, Farzad Houshiarnejad, sings staggeringly high back-up vocals whilst working multiple keyboards, a laptop and other knobbed boxes. He produces bands on the side, drops bizarrely accurate one-liners in conversation, and strongly believes in Yanni’s show at The Acropolis. For dinner he digs on steak, cooked Delmonico style. You can often find him playing piano at the White Birds house, or working on his side project with Mike. Surprisingly, the two used to hate each other in high school. “We were rivals,” says Farzad.

Farzad’s half-brother James Harvey, the eldest of the group, wrote all the songs and lyrics for White Birds (in the wake of a bitter break-up). He sings and plays electric guitar (sometimes acoustic). The barrel-chested frontman trained for the opera during his formative years, but cared little for the curriculum. He said he might pick up the style again later on in life (once his tenor has matured more fully). In the meantime, however, James is busy making other singers feel bad. Hearing him project those rich sound waves every night—it’s like being behind a velvet rope. Dude can sing high, low, scary, long, falsetto, whatever. It’s amazing to behold a voice that versatile. He could cover Roy Orbison with ease, if the mood so took him.

For me, watching these four musicians perform together every night was like having Christmas morning on repeat. I feel like the luckiest music lover on Earth to have seen White Birds so many times. I believe in their music the way other people believe in religion, science or Facebook. In fact (this may sound a little crazy, but bear with me) I think White Birds represent some of the best things the United States has to offer.

Why? Our economy is almost destroyed. The country is regressing in almost every crucial category. Our elected officials can no longer accomplish the tasks set before them. Pollution is looking more and more like our most lasting contribution to humanity. Future generations will remember us as the people that let that shit happen.

But I think they’ll also remember us by the music we made. Music is the sill we lean on when looking back through the window of history. And as bad as things are getting in the United States, I think we still own shit when it comes to making music. Future folk will remember us by it. The question is, what songs will stick?

I think the music of White Birds will. Their studio recordings are excellent, their live show is excellent, and both versions are vastly different from each other. I’ve watched their music blow people’s minds throughout the Midwest and Northeast. In my opinion, White Birds are at the vanguard of America’s independent music scene. The songs they’ve wrought are powerful, transcendent, and built to last. I’ll be listening to them until I’m dead, and I think other people will be listening to them long after that.

I recommend seeing them intimately, at a small venue, while you still can. The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn, New York is a fine place to start. White Birds will be playing there with Guards, Races, Hands and 1,2,3, during the CMJ Music Marathon, on October 22nd (a Saturday).

(Thanks to Lehtola and White Birds for their contribution to DYTMHIF.)


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