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The SXSW Adventure…

12 Mar

I’m on a bus to the Austin Convention Center to pick up my music badge for SXSW…this little blogger’s life has just met a milestone.

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Do You Remember? (Pocket Vinyl Concert At My School on 12/7/11!)

11 Jan

So this concert review is about a month late, but I was just letting it marinade. But now? Get it while it’s hot!

Remember that rad band I met at the Bright Eyes concert in Vermont last summer, Pocket Vinyl? Those newlyweds who were two of the nicest people I’d ever had the pleasure of swapping stories with? Eric? Elizabeth? Yeah, those guys! Remember how awesome their live shows sounded, how I hoped to see experiences one one day, but knew that concert promises ne’er come to fruition? Well, have I got a story for you.

After the concert, Pocket Vinyl and I swapped contact info so that we might cross paths along the tour they were soon to be embarking on. Time goes by, I migrate south for the semester for school, and Chinese ink painting and linguistics take over my life. One day while coming up for air between classes and checking my email, I see a message from a certain band inquiring about setting up a certain concert. The ghosts from summers past turned out to be not so much ghosts as two artists alive and kicking and looking to play a concert in town!

Living in Amish Country, I have come to terms with the fact that I do not reside in a music mecca, a nightlife hotspot. Well, “come to terms” might not be entirely accurate- I know that this is the rep that my town currently has, but when by four years at school are through I’d like to see that stigma laid to rest, and a concert on campus seemed like the perfect way to get the ball rolling.

There’s a local club that serves as the venue for most lost musicians who find themselves wandering through town, but unfortunately they were booked for the day Pocket Vinyl was slotted to make their entrance. Fear not, I did, and I looked to other options. Just a week before, the Arts House, an off campus house for students to reside in, hosted an open mic night and a seed had been planted in the back of my mind. Is there a more perfect venue for an indie band than the intimate basement of a house of art? Answer: no.

After emails exchanged with the people in charge of the house, the gig was set for December 7th. A lovely date with the added bonus of doubling as the night before not one but TWO of my finals (don’t worry, I aced ’em both).

Days rolled by and the semester drew to an close, and before I knew it the 7th became known as “today.” Excellent weather for ducks, it poured all day and made me worry that I should have reserved a fleet of canoes for concertgoers to travel across campus. As evening approached I armed my person with galoshes, a feeble umbrella, and a pocket full of mint Hershey’s kisses and walked over to the radio station for my last show of the semester. With my usual flare for eclectic playlists and witty banter, I ended my show on a high note and went on my way to the Arts House to help set up.

Letting myself in the front door, I walked through the hallway and into the kitchen where I found two familiar yet strange faces- Eric and Elizabeth! They existed outside of Concert Land and the interwebz! We caught up on life and got to do the thing we’d most wanted to do since vowing to have this reunion so many months ago- tell the unlikely story of how this concert came to be to everyone around who’d listen.

Soon enough it was time to proceed into the depths of the basement and let the show begin. We were lucky enough to have two opening acts who set the stage for a great show, and made me all the more proud to study among such talented people.

But enough build up, time for the main event! Elizabeth set up her canvas and went to town dressing it with swirling greys while Eric pounded on his keyboard and belted out Pocket Vinyl’s discography. I can now say that they were as charming, as wonderful, as heart pounding, as perfect as I so hoped they would be. Eric was great with the between song banter which is such an important part of performing, and I was continually amazed at how Elizabeth painted away so calmly and boldly, adding a fun contrast to Eric’s eccentric movements (which made the concert one of those things you literally had to there to understand their brilliance!).

Time passed, and people steadily came in and out. I knew that holding a concert on a Wednesday night was a bold move, and had told my friends that I’d appreciate their attendance even for just a few minutes. I can honestly say that my heart when I saw so many of the people who promised me they’d be there actually show up. I mean, anyone in their right mind would go to a free concert with amazing talent, but we all know that few people maintain their right minds as finals approach. A chuck of us just wouldn’t budge, so Pocket Vinyl kept playing into the night, till past 11!

When the music stopped the good times did no such thing, and we had some nice chats and a heated auction for Elizabeth’s painting of birds in branches (we ended up splitting the piece and giving it to the Arts House).

As snow started falling, I made my exit with a smile on my face, music in my heart, and happy knowledge that sometimes, things just work out.

…And the best part? They’re coming back on January 20th!

Mama Says… (Disco Inferno Concert)

17 Aug

When Mama tells me about a free concert in my town, I’m there! The cover band Disco Inferno took the stage at a town park, where masses of residents swarmed in like mosquitos (and apparently drove the actual buggers out as there was a noticeable lack of buzzing in my ears and on my veins) down to the waterside to hear hits from the 70’s and 80’s performed by an ensemble whose energy was as present as their songs were cheesy (so, very high and extremely).

There was a woman on lead vocals with a man on backups, a drummer, brass section, and a couple of bassists and guitarists for good measure. I feel like cover bands have a bad rap, lots of bad connotations surrounding them. Being a skeptic, I went into the concert, well, skeptical. Was I going to feel embarrassed just listening , seeing them making fools of themselves singing songs whose target audience was more than likely too deaf to appreciate today. However, after all this negative build up I am pleased to report that they were anything but- they got the crowd out of their beach chairs and shakin’ their groove thangs till they just couldn’t boogie no more. Even I, the girl with the grace of a headless chicken, tapped a toe or two though the grin on my face did stay there the entire set. And, in fact, so did the bassist’s. Even from my viewpoint a ways away, I could see his pearly whites- I felt like he and the other members of the band were genuinely having a great time, and their enthusiasm was contagious.

The flow of the concert was an interesting one- instead of playing a song, waiting for applause, then beginning another, the band merged from one song to another. In a traditional concert where groups play their original material, I’d find that to be annoying because I might not be able to catch all the songs, I might not remember exactly what songs had been played, or even just be able to appreciate them fully. However, the songs on Disco Inferno’s setlist were all ones that are as familiar as old friends to many, so it worked.

I was especially impressed with the brass section. Crisp, clear, bright notes that took the performance from the casual, fun level to that of a band one would specifically seek out for their merit. During Boogie Oogie Woogie their section was featured, and the two trombone players and the saxophonist ventured out into the field and played among the people. Honk up-close-and-personal honk!

One funny little detail was the wardrobe. All the members of the ensemble were head to toe in black, aside from the male backup singer who sported bright white pants- I wonder how he pulled that one off!

Setlist (partial):

1. Turn the Beat Around
2. Shake Your Groove Thing
3. Funky Town
4. Boogie Oogie Woogie
5. Car Wash
6. Stayin’ Alive
7. On the Radio
8. Ladies Night
9. We Are Family
10. Get Down Tonight

Stoked… (Bon Iver at United Palace Theater Concert Review)

9 Aug

Life changed…

_______________________________
Ok, so that’s what I originally wrote on the ride home from seeing Bon Iver. I let it marinate for a few days, partially because I was away from a functioning internet connection, and partly because my feathers were a little bit ruffled. It’s daunting, trying to describe something that means so much to you in a way that others will be able to understand. I don’t think I’ll do it justice, but I’ll do my darndest to try…

The Rosebuds

While I hadn’t listened to much of their music before the concert, I had heard the buzz around these three, the comments about what great openers they’ve been thus far for Bon Iver. They have a folkier vibe about them, but complemented Bon Iver absolutely perfectly. When looking for an opener, I don’t think a band wants someone with their exact sound, though they probably look for common threads (because, as I’ve come to know, it’s actually very jarring when an opener is completely different from the main act- no matter how good they are at what they do, it’s jarring to be in the mood for one sound and have another thrown at you). Well, Bon Iver, mission accomplished. The Rosebuds had the comfort of Bon Iver, but with their own spin (which included female vocals, for starters).

On the left of the stage was the guitarist/vocalist, in the middle stood the gal on keyboard/vocals, and to the right was the bassist/fiddler. Lovely fiddle.

The Rosebuds Setlist

1. I got into my seat just as it was ending, so I missed this one.
2. Limitless Arms
3. Boxcar
4. Cemetery Lawns
(the band dedicated this song to Justin Vernon who helped record this song
and played guitar on the recording)
5. Leaves Do Fall
(folkier, behind his long hair I could see the bassist grinning during the girl’s solo about half way through the song)
6. Life Like
7. Second Bird of Paradise
8. Come Visit Me
(the trio was joined by guitarist Mike Lewis, the fiddle sounded almost like the Psycho theme at times though strangely comforting)
9. Woods

Bon Iver

Let’s start off with the fact that there was a 9 piece band. 9. piece. band. 9. p.i.e.c.e. b.a.n.d. Guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, sax, clarinet, trumpet, these guys had it all but the kitchen sink- and I’m pretty sure they would have included that as well if they’d found one in tune. Founder, songwriter, and lead vocalist Justin Vernon is just that kind of guy: out there, but in a way that makes one simultaneously sigh and smile.

To set the scene, let’s jump to “Towers”. On this song, the break-down of musical duties was: 1 bass, 1 fiddle, 2 drums, 2 bari sax, JV on guitar, and 2 trumpets. One more set of strings and another stage would have been needed to hold all the talent.

The song I was most excited to hear live was “Hinnom, TX”. On the album version of this track, Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals and layered over his super low voice and I was so curious to see how it would be executed in a live setting- I mean JV is pretty talented, but I don’t think simultaneously singing two parts which differ by about two octaves is on his resume yet. The drummer on the right of the stage was one of the main backing vocalists, and he took the reigns on the high singing part while JV crooned down low. I swear, if velvet had a singing voice and had one song to sing, “Hinnom, TX” would make the shortlist.

I once read that Bon Iver used to have difficulty translating their songs to live settings that they gave out sheets of music to audience members so they could sing along and help out. With bigger venues and a tighter band those days are gone… almost. Before starting in on “Wolves (Act 1 and 2)”, JV addressed the audience by saying, “we need all of you to sing, a sort of encompassing thing, where if all of you don’t do it, it doesn’t work”. He asked us to hang tight until about halfway through the song, before which the band would “twiddle our thumbs, looking important, then you’ll scream ‘what might have been lost’”- starting low and raising the volume with each repeat. When Justin Vernon calls upon me for help I answer, and boy did we the audience answer. The energy. Oh, the energy. The lighting had been spectacular throughout, but during this song the lights were literally pulsing with the drum beatings, illuminating the black stage with bright white. I felt like the driving bass was literally beating my heart for me, it was so intense.

For the finale, Bon Iver took a calmer route with “Skinny Love” which featured JV sitting on a chair with his guitar, while the band (minus the drummers) gathered around two microphones to sing backing vocals and clap. I though that it was a nice spin on what seems to be popular in recent years, where just the lead vocalist will sing one of the closing songs. I liked the intimate feel that this set up lent itself to, but the fact that there still were some drums-a-drumming. It was a nice last image to close the night with.

I think I heard that this was the biggest venue Bon Iver’s headlined to date, and they held their own without a doubt. I’d seen JV on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Colbert Report in recent months so I knew his unique vocals still held up without electronics, but it was really something else experience them in person. So worth the traffic on the way home.

This was during “Blood Bank”- what prefect lighting


Bon Iver Setlist

1. Perth
2. Minnesota, WI
3. Holocene
4. Towers
“This is one for the dormitory peeps.”
(especially lovely bass on this one)
5. Beach Baby
“This song is about making out on a beach, or wishing you were making out on a beach with someone you used to or never did.”
6. Hinnom, TX
7. Wash.
(lively yet soft drums here, so nice)
8. Blood Bank
(there were blood red lights illuminating the stage,
they killed it (pun intended) with the energy and drums)
9. Who Is It (Bjork Cover)
(the guy with the ‘fro did some impressive beat boxing)
10. Michicant
JV: “How is everybody tonight?”
Heckler: “Good, how about you?”
JV: (laughs) “I don’t know, I’m trying to blink. Fuck. It’s so pretty; the building, all the people.”
11. Re: Stacks
(just JV on guitar and a clear and bright voice which was, literally, perfect)
12. Flume
(so much French horn love)
13. Calgary
14. For Emma

Encore:
JV: (referring to leaving the stage and coming back for an encore) “That whole scene is getting pretty weird, you know, but it’s party time.”
15. Beth/Rest
(lovely sax)
16. Wolves (Act 1 and 2)
17. Skinny Love

(I officially get the “Set List Queen” award with this, I think. No one dares to challenge my sharp elbows or my puppy eyes!)

The Venue

I’d been to the United Palace Theater once before for Fleet Foxes earlier this summer, but I was just as in awe at the venue’s beautiful murals, stained glass, and architecture. For the most part I like intimate, standing venues so I get right in front of the music makers, but exceptions can be made. United Palace is the perfect place to sit back and relax, sink into the plush seats, and let elegant sounds wash over you. For an act like Bon Iver, I’m not in the pushing-and-shoving-to-get-to-the-front-where-I’ll-probably-have-someone-elbowing-me-the-entire-time-while-twenty-other-people-have-an-Olympic-class-shoving-match-around-me mindset; I welcomed the seats so I could could focus all my attention on the masterful instrumentation and not on jumping up and down so I can see over a giant’s head. My one non-raving comment about the venue, though: turn down the damn bass! It was crazy loud during Fleet Foxes and again with The Rosebuds especially, it seemed like someone like to dose out too much of a great thing. In this case, more isn’t less and less isn’t more- just enough should be just enough.

Listen to Blood Bank by Bon Iver

Listen to Re: Stacks by Bon Iver

Listen to Calgary by Bon Iver

Listen to Hinnom, TX by Bon Iver

Listen to Beth/Rest by Bon Iver

Listen to Woods by The Rosebuds

A Time to Live in Dreams… (The B-52s Concert Review)

8 Aug

Call off the search parties! Bring in the sniffing does! Cease your googling of “Is blogonlyknows dead?”! I was absent for three days (three times longer than my previous retreat) while renewing my beach bum license (I passed, thank goodness, and am set for another year), and your patience is not going to be in vein- your reward is the news that the as well as me, The B-52s are still alive and kicking.

A town near mine has a concert series called “Alive at Five” where they bring acts that people would have killed to see 15-35 years ago (so basically groups that are right up my alley). A couple weeks ago it was MC Hammer, and this week it was The B-52s’ turn to play to the mothers and fathers of more the conventionally aged concert goers…

The eighties never left The B-52s, and The B-52s definitely seem to be doing their best to stay in the eighties. The hair, the miniskirts, Fred Schneider’s voice- none of it’s changed a bit.

Alive at Five is an outdoor event, in the middle of a patch of grass (featuring a large tree smack dab in the middle) surrounded by pavement. When I saw MC Hammer I was to the right of the tree, close but not all up in his grill. The crowd for The B-52s was a much less intense one (and probably had a median age of about 40 years older), so I was able to wheedle my way up to about three people from the front. Groovy! I got there a little early, and noticed that while the band was setting up, no less than 6 guitars were leaned up against the side of the stage. 6! …Really?

After a short wait, the gang took the stage and we partied like it was 1979- tinted glasses and all. Aside from Fred (sporting short blond hair and a black tee), Cindy Wilson (who still had long, lush blonde hair which complemented her tinted circular glasses and flow, hippie-dippie outfit), Kate Pierson (still a flaming redhead who will more than likely go to the grave in a miniskirt), and Keith Strickland (the cool dude on the bass), there was a woman playing bass, a guy on drums, and a couple other miscellaneous people floating around the stage. It’s a B-52s concert, who really focuses on details such as people on stage? It’s a par-tay, and pretty much everything goes- including a bright pink wig for good ol’ Fred’s head. Oh Fred.

One of the women next to me was simultaneously a uber-fan and uber-drunk, one of the funniest combinations I’ve come across in a while. She knew every word to every song, and heckled for “Give Me Back My Man” to be played- which they eventually did (if only to keep her quiet). ;)

Final thoughts: I’m in love in the year 2011, and tonight it was the spirited B-52s who were the objects of my affection.

Setlist
(partially incomplete and out of order, I was having too good a time to keep close track)
Pump
Private Idaho
Mesopotamia
Wig
Funplex
Ultraviolet
Give Me Back My Man
Deadbeat Club
Love In The Year 3000
Love Shack
Rock Lobster
(This was the song that everyone was really waiting for, and it didn’t disappoint.)

Let’s Go Trippin’… (Sufjan Stevens Concert at Prospect Park)

3 Aug

“Tonight we celebrate Brooklyn, we celebrate the rain, and we celebrate ourselves!” These were Sufjan Stevens’ words of wisdom near the end of his set tonight in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. As he said this during the Celebrate Brooklyn festival, in the rain, talking to a crowd of devoted (and drenched) fans, it was very fitting. Afterwards he apologized for quoting too much Walt Whitman; then proceed to quote some more. But hey, that’s just Sufjan.

Like vegetarianism, nomadism, and Red Sox fandom, being a fan of Sufjan Stevens is a lifestyle. One has to be prepared for feathered wings, elephant sized beach balls, and Walt Whitman quotations when at gatherings of other like-minded souls (such as concerts like this). One’s mind has to be open to beauty in it’s most conventional (Sufjan’s lovely face) and strange (that robot / clown / ??? costume he wore during the encore) forms- and love them all equally.

Diamond Rings

The evening started at 7PM with Diamond Rings as the opening act. Wearing clothes of black and hair of peroxide, he sure made a statement. His wardrobe started off including a white jacket with red randomly angled stripes, shades, and a black hat with spikes on the front (kind of a take on Lady Gaga’s sunglasses, those ones that look like they have sparkly mirror shards jutting out of them). About two songs in they all came off, and a human emerged from under the accessories! I’d never heard of him before, but I’d give him a listen. Great energy with lots of grooving (think the robot, but more fluid) and a nice mix of guitar and synthesized instruments (such as drums that took the form of an electronic square panel).

It was raining pretty heavily during his set, and a fair number of people had their umbrellas out, a field of plastic flowers. He saw a rainbow one in the back and took a liking, dedicating the second song to it. Now I can officially say I’ve wished I was an umbrella, if only for a moment. ;)

His neck. That neck. I had a little giggle because of how active it was; first like a chicken going forwards and backwards to that techno beat, then side to side like the most hip bobble head I’ve ever seen. In the words of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Willow, “I make my own fun.” :P

Diamond Rings Setlist
1. Play By Heart
2. On Our Own
“Let’s have some fun now, eh?”
3.  You & Me
(after this song he talked a little, musing that we were “probably conserving yourselves for the madness that’s going to be behind me”- he looked to Sufjan’s setup and already glowing equipment)
4. Wait & See
5. Something Else
6. You Oughta Know
7. It’s Not My Party
(this one was nice and low, I really dug it)
8. All Yr Songs
9. Show Me Your Stuff
(at the end there as a sort of free-styling portion which I’m dubbing “glitter rap”- it was sparkly and exciting and catchy and used a fast pace of speech)

Sufjan Stevens

The crowd thickened, the rained persisted, the spirits remained undampened. Sufjan Stevens took the stage. He took the stage, took my breath, he stole my heart. A flash, a burst, and Sufjan emerged a winged man. Huge, fluffy wings. I’d heard that he was quite the performer and saw a sneak-peek of his dance routine on Pitchfork, but I don’t think even a video of a prior concert could have prepared me for this experience.

He started out with the old favorite “Seven Swans”- I’d heard that on this tour he used very little of his old material, so I was pleased that this made the cut. For the most part, Sufjan was in the middle of the stage by a keyboard, piano, or mike for guitar, but when he sang his older more folky material he always walked out to the far end of the stage where where was a short cat walk. He separated himself from the rest of his band, the dancers paused.

…THE DANCERS! My oh my, do they have my admiration. There were two on either end of the stage towards the front with two in the center of the stage in the back to assist with backup vocals as well. I was lucky enough to have the choreographer right in front of me, I liked having the original show me the moves. At first I thought her moves were fluid but random as she’d sway to the left, step to the right, sway, it seemed like she was making it up as she went along. Imagine my surprise when I looked across to the other side of the stage and saw the other girl doing the exact same thing! I think it was one of those “the easier it looks, the harder it actually is” moments. Sufjan did join in some of the dancing, the culmination being “Vesuvius” when everyone made mountain shapes with their arms, reached towards the sky, saluted nature.

Where does the neon human end and the neon screen begin?!

The lights were brilliant on their own, but the wardrobe designer deserves major props for this show. All of the band members wore black with glow-in-the-dark (or blacklit?) duct tape in interesting patterns on their clothes and instruments. On of my favorite examples was the trombone player, who had pink burst lines on the horn of his instrument and on his sunglasses. Gotta have your glow-in-the-dark accessories match, it’s an artist must.

Behind the band and dancers, there was a screen that had images being projected on to it. For the most part they were brightly colored shapes and solar scenes with a few spurts of what I could best describe as dancing .gifs of Sufjan and his friends. To add another layer (pun intended) to the scene, a mesh screen was lowered in the front of the stage for even more images to be projected on to.

With the mesh screen:

Without the mesh screen: 

Towards the end, two stage crew members carried out a huge (about 15 feet, probably) hexagonal object, which they set down and Sufjan hid behind.

When he emerged, he was, well…

Yeah, probably a more rainbow-infused, latex-rich, version of Cousin It. It. Was. Amazing. Just… how? Why? The dancers changed outfits about three times, but they were always dressed in dancing-appropriate gear, just different colors and styles. This getup of Sufjan’s, however, was truly inspired. I believe that this was the time when the huge beach balls were thrown into the crowd and all heck broke loose. Everyone went wild….er.

That white blob in the lower right is Sufjan…

Being the wonderful human being he is Sufjan didn’t make us wait long for the encore, and at long last we were finally rewarded with “Chicago”. Thanks, man!

He even put on a cowboy hat for the occasion, because Illinois is the state most associated with these here ol’ cowboys. Right? ;)

…Illuminated like the angel he is.

Oh yeah, and buy this time I had weaseled my way into the front row. Per-sev-er-ence. And sharp elbows. ;)

I love this one.

Sufjan Stevens Setlist
1. Seven Swans
2. Too Much
3. Age of Adz
“I encourage you to move your butt, dance is healing power!”
4. I Walked
(This was a change in the setlist order because his guitar was out of tune and it wasn’t jelling.He tried the next song and proceeded to forget the lyrics. Or, as Sufjan put it, “it just goes to show that I don’t own the song. It belongs to the world. You can have it.)
5. Now That I’m Older
(Please note that the title of the song whose lyrics Sufjan forgot. He did, and joked that it may have been a senior moment.)
6. Get Real Get Right
7. Heirloom
8. Vesuvius
9. I Want To Be Well
10. Futile Devices
11. Impossible Soul
(This might have been my favorite song of the night. Not necessarily my favorite song of his, but Sufjan’s energy and joy and passion were more evident then ever here, and the crowd emanated all of it.)
Encore:
12. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland
13. The Dress Looks Nice On You
14. Chicago

Can you believe I got the only setlist? I’m going to contact about the Guinness Book of World Records regarding my streak. ;)

Before “Get Real Get Right” (such a tune), Sufjan talked about one of the main inspirations for the record, Royal Robertson. Royal was an artist who painted space, talked about being visited by aliens, and fascinated Sufjan. He called the evening a cosmic space prom, and I’m inclined to agree. A prom where everyone had a couple thousand dates, the dancing wasn’t awkward, and the DJ didn’t suck.

The Man with All the Toys… (Maintaining Humility with Success)

2 Aug

It isn’t necessary for an artist to have a conscience or a soul to sell records, but it’s always a plus.

The first time in recent memory when this topic came up was at the first James Blake concert I attended, back in February at the Bowery Ballroom. The concert came, the concert went, and it was time for his encore. The crowd cheered, he came back out, and ended the night with a couple more songs. Before he got down to them though, he paused for a moment and told us, the audience, how much it meant to actually be called back for an encore. In recent years, it’s become almost expected for artists to come back on stage after shows for a couple more songs, but James maintained that it isn’t a given, that it still means a great deal to him. He recalled being back in clubs, back when he was just James Blake and not ZOMGITSJAMESBLAKELUVHIM, and how grateful he was to have made it this far. It was sweet.

Conor Oberst gave a similar shout out at the concert on Friday. Before “Another Travelin’ Song”, he dedicated the tune to all those artists still struggling to get their music heard, sleeping on couches while on tour, rolling with the punches of life on the road, making music for the joy of it. There were some whoops of understanding from the audience, and a big chuckle from Eric and Elizabeth as we’d just been talking about some of their road stories. Conor said that Bright Eyes took that couch-hopping, ramen-eating, playing-to-audiences-of-single-digit-people-and-still-jamming-away route for a while- it’s easy to associate them with success now as they’ve gained notoriety and a fan base, but I like knowing that they still remember their roots, where they came from, where they started out. And even that they still couch surf on occasion.