What do you do when your favorite genre becomes a meme? I grew up with indie rock, but I’ve been feeling pretty disinterested with what it has to offer lately. I’ve spent a lot of time listening to the justified criticism of self-indulgent, guitar-strumming sadboys by former Arts editor Jael Goldfine ‘17. I’m experiencing general indifference for the most popular indie acts of the moment (Car Seat Headrest: fine. Parquet Courts: whatever. Father John Misty: no. Mac DeMarco: I don’t even wanna talk about it), I’ve been largely ignoring the scene lately. I have a few exceptions, of course. I’ll be excited about anything new by Waxahatchee, Grimes, Mitski, Pinegrove or Alex G. Recently, I had a chance to see the latter two artists live for the first time.
In fact, last Saturday I saw the best shows I’ve seen in the past year, for ten dollars total. I was staying with a friend (former Arts editor Sam Bromer ‘16) in Bushwick, from where we drove to Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Connecticut, for the WQAQ-sponsored Spring Fest. Quinnipiac has a gorgeous, cozy campus, but the show was held in a nondescript and exceedingly high school-ish gym, complete with pennants on the walls, a slightly weird smell (gym socks?) and stale pizza slices for $1. It was perfect. The first act was Half Waif, who set the tone for the show’s decidedly non-collegiate vibe: “Do you guys go here?” frontwoman Nandi Rose Plunkett asked the audience, to which the audience uniformly roared back, “No!” Even though there were only about five hundred people at the show, it did seem as if at least half the crowd had come from elsewhere.
Each set was incredible. I’d never listened to Half Waif or Crying, the first two acts, but both drew me in right away. Half Waif performed a quietly stunning set, made up of electro-pop beats and cutting lyrics — the most memorable song was about her dying grandmother, to whom she sang, “I’ll hold your hand while you leave your mind.” Crying, on the other hand, hit the ground running with their monster Guitar-Hero riffs and truly irresistible melodies, wailed by singer Elaiza Santos. Santos alternated between the crisp, clear howl of her singing voice and almost incomprehensible mumbling between songs, but she continued what Half Waif started by obliquely dissing the university: “I go here,” she said. “Just kidding. Fuck school.”
Pinegrove took the stage next, and seemed to be the main draw of the evening, based on the number of people who sang along to each of their songs. I’ve been listening to their album Cardinal for almost a year now, and it’s a gem for anyone who likes rootsy, sincere folk-rock. The band was machinelike onstage in the best way, playing with the tempo and arrangements of their songs without sacrificing the band’s tight harmony. Frontman Evan Stephens Hall also seems like a really nice guy, which went a long way as far as creating a communal and enjoyable space for the show.
Which brings me to the strange, confusing and incredibly compelling performance by Alex G, whose vibes were about as different from Pinegrove as possible. While Pinegrove tries to create a space in which the audience and the band share their songs by singing together, Alex G has all the edge and almost confrontational levels of apathy. “Thanks for coming and for listening,” he droned at the audience at least three times during his set. When he’s playing his beautifully fractured songs, he sticks his tongue up towards his nose, spreads his legs far apart, and rocks back and forth from leg to leg, though not in time with the music. In other words, Alex G doesn’t try too hard to perform coolness onstage. It’s incredibly difficult to read what degree of that is mockery or him just being himself. This culminated in a comment (joke?) that I still haven’t quite made sense of.
“My uncle won a billion dollars in the lottery,” Alex G told the crowd. “He’s giving me $3 million. I have all your names from Ticketmaster, and I’m paying everyone’s tuition. This is not a joke.” Nobody laughed, and then he played his song “Bobby,” and most people probably forgot about it. Then he brought it up again: “Thanks for coming and listening. And your tuition is covered. It’s not a joke. I know you think I’m joking. But go home and check your student loans.”
Now, I’m no more gullible than the next person, but when someone tells me that something isn’t a joke three times, I’m pretty much sold. I didn’t think I was going to benefit; I figured that he was covering the tuitions of Quinnipiac students, since it was a show at their campus. The two friends I was with scoffed at me for falling for it, and the Google search I just did for “Alex G pays Quinnipiac tuition” turned up nothing. I’m disappointed, since I wanted to believe that his crusty exterior hides a generous soul, and not a soul that makes jokes that are so weird and cruel.
As strange as that part of the night was, the four sets were supportive of each other, even though they were quite different. The singer of Half Waif is, sometimes, a member of Pinegrove, and even joined them onstage for a song. It reminded me of the special way that indie rock can be a community of artists and fans that gather to play and listen to music that is about revealing oneself, about honesty, about recognizing others’ pain and feeling some of it yourself. After the show, I felt real catharsis, something a show hasn’t done for me in ages. Don’t mess with me about that tuition money, though. That’s no joke.
Jack Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]. His column Despite All the Amputations runs alternate Thursdays this semester.