Adventures in bicycling: Introducing Bee

The summer after I graduated from college, I bought my first car. I’ve written a handful of posts about him; in August of 2012, when I drove Hazza off the lot, I assumed I would always need a car to commute to work. Last year when I moved to Rhode Island, I realized that if I ever wanted to live in a proper city, having a car wouldn’t be practical at all. It’s expensive, for one, and difficult, for two. It’s hard to find parking that isn’t on the street or outrageously overpriced. Driving in the city is Not Fun.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I had a quarter-life crisis in the spring and ended up selling my car, among making other major changes. Once we moved into the city, I started walking to work. It’s not a bad walk: 45 minutes one way, give or take, and a little less than that if I hustle. Since I sold Hazza, though, I’ve repeatedly said that I want to try bicycling again.

A few weeks ago, my partner acquired a new-vintage bike, rebuilt it, and turned over their five year-old Trek bike to me. Its name was Blue Steel and it was a little too short for me, had a quick-release seat that liked to fall as I rode (not necessarily because I’m heavy, as AR explained to me after a crying jag where I nearly convinced myself I’m too fat to ride bikes, but because quick-release seats just do that), and had a very, very heavy steel, step-through frame. I didn’t mind riding Blue Steel, though. Biking cut my commute time down, made me feel like I was accomplishing something with my under-exercised body, and re-introduced me to biking after over a decade of not touching a bike at all.

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Photo credit: AR.

Last week, AR acquired another new-vintage bike, this one a 1970s Motobécane with all original parts. It had sat in a shed in Connecticut for two decades and needed some serious love and attention, so AR took it to a local nonprofit where they had rebuilt their own bike and took parts from Blue Steel to replace parts on the Motobécane. (They called the process “Frankenbiking”, which is both appropriate and horrifying.) Last Tuesday, I rode the Motobécane for the first time and crashed thrice. Because I wasn’t there for the rebuilding process, AR had to guess on what height to set the seat at, and it was about an inch too high. You wouldn’t think that would make a huge difference, but I could barely touch the ground. It made riding really difficult and I reacted really poorly. I said I didn’t think I could get used to a bike with drop handlebars, that I didn’t want to seem ungrateful but I didn’t know if this was a good choice for me, and some other pretty rude things. Basically, I totally flipped out because I couldn’t immediately fix the seat height. Yikes. (I’m a drama queen. It’s a thing I’ve been trying to work on.)

The next day, I took the Motobécane — which I’ve affectionately named Bee — to a local bike shop and asked one of the employees if he’d mind lowering the seat. He did, at no cost, and also sold me a tea kettle-shaped bell to put on the handlebars so I can make noise at parked cars with drivers who try to open their doors as I’m about to ride past. When I rode Bee home from the bike shop, the difference was like night and day. I was no longer afraid of crashing, felt significantly more comfortable using the brakes on the drop handlebars, and had a whole new level of excitement. It was the first time I’d ever felt genuinely thrilled to be riding a bicycle. That feeling hasn’t gone away. Over the last week, I’ve grown more and more comfortable riding Bee around Providence, learning how to balance and speed up and slow down and react to high-traffic situations. I’ve ridden up major hills! It’s been one adventure after another.

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Today I took Bee back to the bike shop and had brand new yellow handlebar tape put on. For those wondering, I chose Deda Elementi padded foam tape for extra comfort (it’s so comfy); the tape that was on the bike when I received it was thin and black and falling off, and it hurt my hands to ride. I’ll admit some of that pain came from the first few days when I didn’t know how to grip the drop bars and still feel safe. That’s changed now; I’m making it a personal goal to get comfortable enough riding this bike to be able to actually get down and use the bottom parts of the drops and the front brake levers by the end of the summer. So far, I’ve just gotten comfortable resting my hands on top of the bars and using the inside brake levers. We’ll see how long it takes for me to move beyond that.

Riding this bike is a totally different experience from riding a modern bike, not only because of the drop handle bars but because of the gear shift. At AR’s advice, I’ve left the bike’s stem shifters alone for the last week. AR put the bike in third gear for me — a gear that’s comfortable for me almost all of the time — and I’ve just been pretending it’s a single-speed. But today, the stem shifters were jostled while handlebar tape was put on the bike. I was forced to balance enough to shift on my ride home and actually managed to do so successfully without panicking, stopping, wobbling, or crashing. I feel incredible.

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Transitioning from a driving commuter to a walking commuter to a cycling commuter has been really, really hard. I have a hard time adapting to new situations and until even a few days ago, riding a bicycle terrified me. I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable, but there are still things I need to learn and situations I haven’t yet encountered. I’ve learned that the main thing is that I just have to get on the bike and go. It’s okay to take breaks and to have doubts and to be worried and to react. But then I have to put my feet on the pedals and ride. It’s a very liberating thing, cycling. Now that I’ve learned how fun it can be, I’ve started to develop a passion for cycling and its history that I never would have expected to have. I feel like a new person. It’s awesome.

 

Adventures in bicycling: Introducing Bee

New to Me Music: Trophy Wives

Photo courtesy of Trophy Wives' website.
Photo courtesy of Trophy Wives’ website.

In December, AR took their younger brother to his first concert. The headliner was Transit and the venue was The Met in Pawtucket, RI. I received a series of texts about the intimacy of the venue (including several about how excited AR is to see The Front Bottoms there in February — after seeing the photos, I am, too) and about the crowd. Those were pretty standard — but what surprised me was that, maybe an hour after those initial texts stopped, I received several more (and even a video) about one of Transit’s opening bands: Trophy Wives.

Now, AR and I have both experienced shows where the openers were either amazing or terrible — and either memorable or non memorable because of it. AR loved Trophy Wives. In their review of the show, they said:

Their music is solid, punch-life-in-the-face-while-wearing-a-crewneck pop punk – I described them to my friend “like Pencey Prep and The Wonder Years had a baby”, high praise coming from me.

Since then, AR has played them in my car more than once and I’ve sort of fallen in love. They remind me more of Four Year Strong than anything, but that’s awesome — I think there needs to be a significantly larger number of posi-pop-hardcore-punk bands in the world, because the style of music is outrageously energetic and super fun. It’s good for a good mood and helps cheer you up when you’re in a bad mood — Trophy Wives make me want to crawl into a pit and punch ten dudes, but in a good way.

The band is based in Providence, RI, which is great because I’m moving there in March. I always like exploring local scenes and getting into small, local bands. Trophy Wives fits that bill perfectly. In fact, they’re opening a show at The Met at the end of February that AR and I are planning to attend just to see them. I’m stoked to see them play live, because I’ve heard such awesome things about them and their recorded stuff is really solid. It’s catchy and interesting, unique enough to keep my attention while also reminding me of bands on this scene that I’ve loved for years.

Of course, part of that is likely the fact that the first thing I ever heard by them was their cover of Sum 41’s “Fat Lip”, which they performed at the Transit show. AR sent me a brief recording of it (and it was apparent that very few people in the crowd knew the lyrics, which makes me feel so old that I can’t stand it) and it was incredible. After some research on the band, I discovered that their cover of the song won them the chance to open for Sum 41 at The Met (are you seeing a theme yet?) in September 2012:

It’s been a while since I’ve fallen so quickly for an opening band — especially one that I didn’t even get to see in person — so it’s nice to have this feeling again. It’s a weird combination of the satisfaction of a good discovery and the joy of knowing that there’s only more to come.  Long story short, if you need more positive, hardcore-esque pop punk in your life, check out Trophy Wives. I assure you that you will not be disappointed.

 

New to Me Music: Trophy Wives

Concert Recap: Manchester Orchestra, The Front Bottoms

Last November, I attended my first ever show at the infamous Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, RI. It was a great show, but for one of the first times ever, I voluntarily left early. Last night, I returned to Lupo’s — with the same company I had last time — to see a show with fewer bands on the bill and less speechmaking from the local radio station.

Last night totally redeemed Lupo’s for me. The space is small, reminiscent of other venues I love, but the sound is huge for such a little space and can sometimes be overwhelming. That being said, last night, The Front Bottoms and Manchester Orchestra absolutely slayed.

TFBI saw The Front Bottoms in July (at one of my favorite venues) and the crowd went absolutely apeshit. It was clear, at the July show, that everyone there expected that to happen. The Front Bottoms headlined, and the environment at the venue was one that encouraged pits and crowdsurfing and general rough behavior. Last night at Lupo’s, it was clear that tons of people either didn’t know the band or didn’t know the band’s audience — lots of people in the crowd were stunned and maybe a little terrified when the band took the stage and the pit exploded.

The set list was similar to the one the band played in July, but much shorter. Apparently, The Front Bottoms haven’t been playing “Rhode Island” on this tour but made an exception last night because. As lead singer Brian Sella put it, it “seemed appropriate.” The crowd reacted appropriately — everyone in the room who knew the lyrics were screaming them and it was so, so fun. The most amazing thing about seeing this band live is that everyone on stage looks so happy to be there. The more intense the crowd, the happier the boys are. I had an awesome time watching the band perform and I’m stoked to see it when it returns to Rhode Island in February. A.R. and I bought both albums last night at the merch table, since we’ve now seen the band twice and intend to see it a third time. We figure it’s time to own The Front Bottoms’ music rather than just streaming it on Spotify.

MOFollowing The Front Bottoms, Manchester Orchestra took the stage. The band opened with “Shake It Out” and the intensity of that song set the tone of the whole night. I never would have expected Manchester Orchestra to go so hard — nor would I have expected the majority of its audience to be drunk frat boys wearing flannel, but I digress. I’ve listened to Manchester Orchestra for years, but never listened to them obsessively. Seeing them live was an awesome experience, though. The band is ridiculously talented and clearly very, very, very into the music. There was so much energy in the room — coming from the band as well as the crowd — and it was a really cool feeling to be surrounded by it all. I only sang along to a handful of songs, but that didn’t limit my enjoyment. I went to the show for The Front Bottoms (admittedly), but I stayed for Manchester Orchestra.

At one point, a crowdsurfer actually stood in the middle of the pit and the band saluted him for the effort. Lead singer Andy Hull called for the crowd to find out if the fan was “actually Jesus Christ” and said he’d “never seen anything like that before”. It was a good moment. Another fan did the same thing several minutes later — in the same part of the pit — and the staff at Lupo’s seemed exasperated by the whole thing. People putting themselves in danger isn’t necessarily cool (Hull told the second fan to get down before they hurt themself) but it was really cool to see how into the show the crowd was. The band-fan interaction was awesome.

I’m not sure if I’ll go out of my way to attend shows at Lupo’s, even though I’m planning to move to Rhode Island in March, but I really enjoyed myself last night, and A.R. and I stayed for the whole show (save the tail end of the encore, because we were beat). Other highlights included dozens (and I do mean dozens) of people trying to get into the pit and encountering the railing we were leaning on — their faces were hilarious, every time — and talking to the super sweet merch guy for The Front Bottoms afte the show. Fantastic fucking night.

Concert Recap: Manchester Orchestra, The Front Bottoms

Concert Recap: Local Natives, Superhumanoids

Photo from my Instagram.
Photo from my Instagram.

AR already beat me to the punch in writing about last night’s Local Natives and Superhumanoids show at Fête in Providence, RI, but that’s okay. Their recap can be found here, and it’s pretty thorough. Our thoughts regarding last night are very similar. We attended the show with two of our friends and had a fantastic time — though the night was pocked with some interesting misadventures.

Protip to anyone attending a show at this gem of a concert venue: parking is easy to find and decently priced. There’s street parking, as well as an “official lot” and even valet. Though Fête is located in a semi-sketchy neighborhood, I felt completely safe while there and the venue itself is absolutely beautiful. It has two main rooms: a lounge area with a small stage and a bar, as well as a ballroom with a full balcony (and bars on each level). Local Natives performed in the ballroom. I’m not sure if Fête ever hosts shows in its smaller lounge area, but if it doesn’t, it should. The space is intimate and small, perfect for an acoustic show.

We spent the evening on the balcony, which was great because it offered an uninterrupted view of the stage and pretty solid sound (though there were some issues with the treble during the opening set and a few “too-loud” moments during the Local Natives set, as well — for such a small space, the sound was really intense). The only downfall of being on the second floor was the fact that when the room got hot, we roasted. The venue’s bars only accept cash and the only ATM in the building was out of service, but luckily the bartender gave me a cup of ice for free that cooled us down enough to make the heat bearable.

Superhumanoids opened the evening and although I think the band’s music would translate well on a recording, it did not translate well live. The crowd didn’t seem to be feeling the music. It was very techno-based, which is fine in most live settings, but as AR pointed out in their recap, the band just seemed too invested in its instruments and not in the crowd. The lead vocalist had a stunning set of pipes and the little crowd interaction that did take place was great, but the music was slow and sad enough that it needed some energy to back it up. Unfortunately, that energy wasn’t there. I was disappointed in the performance from start to finish.

Whether due to sound issues or some other unknown problems, Local Natives didn’t take the stage for more than half an hour after Superhumanoids left it. During that time, the heat started to rise and the crowd started to get restless — us included. But once the band took the stage, everything got progressively better until we left the venue proclaiming the night to be a total success. It was a great show. Why? Because Local Natives owned the stage and gave the crowd what it wanted.

Despite proclaiming early into the set that it’d be playing a lot of tracks from its new record, Hummingbird, Local Natives actually played a massive selection of old favorites from their debut record, Gorilla Manor. I’m not sure if the set list was planned that way or if the band adjusted according to audience response, but I can’t help but think it was the latter. Hummingbird is a gorgeous album, instrumentally and vocally, but it’s also very slow and kind of dark in comparison to the more upbeat tone of Gorilla Manor. The crowd at Fête was obviously more interested in the dancier, more fun tracks — people started to shout for the classic “Sun Hands” not ten minutes into the set.

Local Natives had massive energy throughout the entire set and the band interacted with the crowd constantly. It was impossible to take my eyes off the stage for longer than a minute, even during tracks that I didn’t recognize or couldn’t remember well enough to sing. By the time the band finally played “Sun Hands” — as the very last song of the night — everyone in the room was screaming at the top of their lungs, dancing, and jumping around. The energy in the room absolutely vibrated with its intensity. It was a great way to end a show that started out slowly enough for me to worry it wouldn’t be enjoyable.

I’d love to see Local Natives live again, whether in an intimate setting like the one at Fête or a broader, more expansive setting like a festival. The band clearly knows how to play a room and I respect that. Local Natives’ music is meant to be played loud and shouted at the top of your lungs, so it’s absolutely perfect live.

Concert Recap: Local Natives, Superhumanoids

Concert Recap: Passion Pit, The Joy Formidable, Ra Ra Riot, Roz & The Rice Cakes

On Wednesday, Nov. 28, I had the extreme pleasure of taking my best friend to their first venue concert. The show was Rhode Island’s 95.5 WBRU Birthday Bash and it featured Passion Pit as the headliner. Also playing were Roz & the Rice Cakes, Ra Ra Riot, and The Joy Formidable. Prior to last night, I had seen all of these bands except Roz & the Rice Cakes in completely different settings.

For my first time at Lupo’s, a venue I’ve heard rave reviews about from friends for years, I had a really wonderful night. The venue is intimate in a way that can be either really good or really bad — I experienced both last night, as the show was sold out and there was an intense number of people pressing against each other to ward off the slight winter chill that still permeated the building up until Passion Pit took the stage at 10:30 p.m. Crowded shows are both a blessing and a curse because they are so packed full of energy — but also packed full of people who are obnoxious twats, 90 percent of the time.

Roz & the Rice Cakes brought a really energetic set to the stage. I was impressed by the band’s sound — an odd combination of Marley-esque rock and Letters to Cleo-style vocals. The lead singer, though she couldn’t have been more than 5′ tall, brought down the house. I had never heard of the band before seeing it at last night’s show but I am definitely interested in hearing the recorded music and seeing the Rice Cakes live a second time to get a better scope on the sound.

Ra Ra Riot were absolutely lovely. I first saw this band open for Death Cab for Cutie at a small venue in Reno, NV in 2009. I had barely heard of the band then but after seeing its set and hanging with the band for a bit after the show, I became a fan. I’ve since listened to Ra Ra Riot’s music fairly often and seeing the band again was really fantastic. The cool thing about Ra Ra Riot’s music is that it’s all incredibly mellow (almost just plain slow) in the recorded versions, but live, there’s an energy that’s undeniable. I loved getting to hear “Can You Tell” and “Dying Is Fine” live — the band played a solid mix of tracks from its first two records and its upcoming new release.

I first saw The Joy Formidable by accident. I was at Bamboozle New Jersey in 2010 and happened upon the band’s set while I was waiting for Good Old War to take the adjacent stage. Much like Ra Ra Riot, The Joy Formidable has a sound that is much mellower recorded and much more intense live. At a setting like Bamboozle, that energy worked because it was in a big open space with a fair number of people who either knew or didn’t know the band. At Lupo’s, the energy was almost too much. It’s possible I’d just started to reach my exhaustion limit by this point, but my friend and I only stayed in the venue for part of The Joy Formidable’s set.

Sadly, we also bailed early on Passion Pit. Despite absolutely loving this band and looking forward to seeing them for the second time for weeks leading up the show, the band took forever to actually hit the stage and my friend and I had both reached the point of grumpy exhaustion that not even really great music can cure. We stayed for the first quarter of the band’s set and then left feeling pleased and excited, but also very ready to get home. Even that quarter set was incredible, though. The first time I saw this band was at UNH in 2010… The show sold out but hardly anyone in the crowd knew more tracks than “Little Secrets” and “Sleepyhead.” The great thing about seeing a band again at a venue that’s packed full of fans after seeing it in a venue that’s packed full of bored college kids is getting to absorb the energy of fellow fans and soak in the experience.

Overall, the night was really, really good. I’d definitely like to try attending another show at Lupo’s — maybe something a little more indie and a little less rock? — and I’d love to experience Passion Pit at a larger venue with more room to dance. At any rate, even having left early, this show was more than worth it.

Concert Recap: Passion Pit, The Joy Formidable, Ra Ra Riot, Roz & The Rice Cakes