The faith of Florence

Is there anything more exhausting and delightful than a post-concert hangover?

Not a hangover in a literal sense (though I spotted some inebriated folks who are likely feeling pret-ty fantastic this morning). I’m talking that residual rush of seeing a really, really great show — the kind that keeps the tunes ringing in your ears. One that makes you sing and holler so hard you can’t shake the scratchiness of your throat. A concert that finds you dancing so much your legs and arms ache.

And on a work night, too. I’ve still got it.

My sister, her boyfriend and I went to see Florence + the Machine in Columbia, Md., on Wednesday night. I’ve been a fan since seeing the British band perform “Shake It Out” on New Year’s Eve as the clock strung 2012. The lyrics really affected me; I found myself thinking about the song for days, and didn’t waste much time purchasing “Ceremonials.” Her music has been the soundtrack of my year.

Eric found out Florence was coming to town — on Tuesday. For the Wednesday night show. Unleashing this news on Katie, perhaps the biggest fan of all, meant we were scrambling to get tickets — and we somehow (how? I don’t know) snagged some just four rows up from the pit. (And very close to Cecelia, by some twist of fate! Yay!)

Divine intervention.

Florence is . . . how to describe Florence? Magical. Ethereal. Otherworldly. Intoxicating. Her show was an event, and I emerged from my dancing and singing and swaying as a sweaty in the cool, damp air of early fall. As the lights came up, I blinked like I’d emerged from a trance. Everyone else looked as exhilarated and bewildered as I felt.

The show was everything I love about live music. Florence was engaging and delightful, especially when calling, “Thank you, Mary-land!” (Our dear Flo is British, see; her pronunciation of my home state is much more lyrical than the local Murrland. Or, if you’re feeling fancy, Mare-lin.)

As we poured out of Merriweather Post Pavilion, I shouted to my sister, “I feel like . . . I’ve been through something. A spiritual awakening.”

“A revival!” she shouted back.


I’ve been to some shows where the band held a group under their collective spell (Hanson, anyone?). But that crowd? It was different. Everyone was bewitched by Florence — and it’s easy to see why. With her voice, style and the band’s hypnotic sound, the concert felt like a religious experience. Especially as our heroine entreated all of us to turn to those around us and offer hugs, handshakes, introductions. She wanted us all to be “friends.”

We did as we were told. When Florence said jump, we jumped. All of us. Everyone.

Driving home, my sister said sleepily, “Man, that crowd was ready to obey. She could start her own religion. I hope she uses her powers for good.”

And keeps making incredible music.

The things we do for love

From the time Spencer and I met last spring, he’s made no secret of the other woman in our relationship. Beautiful, talented and mean on a guitar, Nicole Atkins — a lovely musician from Brooklyn — has captivated my boyfriend’s attention. For years — years! — before he ever set eyes on me.

And, you know. Given my history with Taylor Hanson, I’m not exactly in a position to judge.

The woman’s got something, I’ll give you that. On one of our early dates, Spencer and I walked around a nearby Borders and found ourselves in the music section. That was my first introduction to Atkins: there in the middle of a crowded store in Annapolis, being handed her album “Neptune City” on a hot day in May. Had I ever heard of her?

I hadn’t, I admitted, and Spencer bought me her CD on the spot. We spent the rest of his birthday listening to his favorite singer — a woman he discovered years before and had already met. Much as I would wax on about one of my favorite singers, Spence gave me the rundown on Atkins.

And that’s when I knew I was in trouble.

She came in concert to the Rock N Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday night, and it was with no small amount of trepidation that we cruised in from the suburbs and caught a cab over to H Street. I was nervous, see — because we were out late on a week night — and I’m getting old and cranky; because the weather wasn’t great; because I get anxious when I can’t easily get to a restroom. (Have I mentioned I’m getting old and cranky?)

But if I’m being honest with myself, it was more than that. I’ve listened to “Neptune City” countless times and admired her silky, unique voice; I’ve watched as Spencer hung her album — signed to him in her curly script — on his wall. I’ve looked into her face countless times, always looking at the push of a bang or curl of the mouth.

Nicole has been everywhere. Unattainable.

And I’ve been jealous.

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Meeting Hanson, my idols — and how I lived to blog about it

You know, I fancy myself a sophisticated woman. I talk easily with most people and feel reasonably comfortable networking. I have a full-time job, write religiously and am devoted to my family and friends. Though I might not be the snappiest dresser around, I carry myself with an air of confidence.

In short, I think I’m a good person. And a grown-up. And a decidedly logical woman.

Until Taylor Hanson shows up.

Hanson is a real-life fountain of youth, my friends. One moment I’m 25 and chattering with my sister and boyfriend, and the next I’m 12 and wallpapering my bedroom with posters while listening to “Middle Of Nowhere” on repeat. It doesn’t matter how many concerts I’ve attended in the past (seven, I believe); heat overtakes my body the moment my favorite band appears.

On Saturday at The Sound Garden in Baltimore, Md., I arrived with Katie and Spencer to find a crush of girls milling around a makeshift stage in the tiny music store. It struck me immediately how much we all looked alike: young women in leggings, jeans or boots; some of us in glasses and some with ponytails; many in lightweight jackets or flowing tops. We were redheads, brunettes and blondes. We were all in our 20s.

We were all obsessed with Hanson.

Getting there early worked in our favor: we were right near the small stage for Hanson’s in-store performance. And as it drew closer and closer to 4:30 p.m., the magic time they were scheduled to appear, my eye rarely left the door. My attentiveness was rewarded with a glimpse of the Hanson brothers pulling up in a cab, then disappearing; my mouth opened and closed like a fish. Not my most glamorous moment.

“They’re here!” I hissed to Katie. I figured yelling that any louder would be the equivalent of shouting “FIRE!” in a crowded movie theatre and, you know . . . that’s illegal.

While we were waiting and my excitement was growing like a sparkly weed, I had this uneasy sense that I didn’t want Spencer to see me like this. I mean, I’m his girlfriend — a writer; a daughter; a friend. I pride myself on being level-headed and poised. As a general habit, I don’t run around screaming and crying over . . . another dude.

But, you know. Some things are beyond my control.

When Hanson finally made their way toward us, camera flashes exploded from all sides. Voices lifted up in madness, shouting and calling and whistling. Someone screamed. It was something about being soclose to them, and in broad daylight, that sent a serious tremor through me. Just to the right of the stage, I could have lunged forward and grabbed Taylor’s boot. And when they launched into “Shout It Out,” the title track from their new album, Katie and I were dancing with the best of them.

The performance went on this way: me singing and shouting; Katie and I grabbing each other when Taylor looked right at us and grinned; me worrying that Spencer thought I was a total nutjob.

“Are you going to break up with me after this?” I asked him between songs, taking in the scared deer-in-headlights look on his face.

“Yes,” he deadpanned.

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Dancing with Mr. Brightside

the_killersIs there anything better than wrapping up the summer at a concert, sweating and laughing and singing along at the top of your lungs to one of your absolute favorite bands?

No. No, there isn’t.

The Killers performed at Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md., last night, and my sister and I were there — in the second-to-last row of the venue, sure, but most definitely there! They were spectacular . . . even better than I had dared to hope.

I’ve been an enormous fan since I first heard “Mr. Brightside” back in 2004 and somehow really connected with the lyrics. Their album “Hot Fuss” became my summer anthem, pouring through my car windows as it lived in my CD player for almost a year. Thankfully, I got my sister Kate in on the act — and it became a band we both love. Follow-up albums “Sam’s Town,” “Sawdust” and “Day & Age” all have a special place in my life — and my heart! — too.

So I love going to shows, but somehow I’d never managed to see The Killers live! This is especially disappointing considering I have a massive, heart-stopping crush on lead singer, pianist and lyricist Brandon Flowers. (Yeah, he’s married with two sons, but a girl can dream!) He was in fine form last night, wearing an all-black ensemble and singing/dancing his heart out, but unfortunately I was way too far away to get any decent shots. I’ll just have to burn those mental images into my brain forever!

They sang all their big hits — “All These Things That I’ve Done,” “Somebody Told Me,” “Bones,” “When You Were Young” (for the encore) and, of course, “Mr. Brightside.” I don’t really remember what my life was like before that song . . . and when the first riffs started, I’m pretty sure I went temporarily insane. Like, insane. You don’t want to be seen with me or be associated with me in any way sort of insane. Luckily Kate is used to my antics and thought nothing of me screaming my head off, dancing around in an aisle and throwing my arms up like I was hurtling down a rollercoaster! Hearing that song live was just it. Amazing. I closed my eyes and couldn’t stop jumping . . . I had to move, and keep moving. I can’t listen to that song and stand still.

Another definite highlight? The refrain of “All These Things That I’ve Done” that’s become synonymous with the band, even getting printed on T-shirts: “I’ve got soul, but I’m not a soldier.” As I had hoped, Brandon let us sing it for a while . . . and the entire audience seemed to join in. It’s rare you see a group of, oh, 50,000 people completely in a moment as much as you did just then. Watching everyone’s faces staring up at the screen, looking at the hands reaching toward the sky, hearing the voices of a massive crowd all risen and pitched together to sing the very same notes — it’s like religion.

That’s why I can never get enough of live music — it feels holy, sacred. The feeling of unity you get at concerts is unparalleled . . . exhilerating, exciting, consuming, fantastic. And when the music you’re listening to right then, with that very band before you, has been your personal soundtrack through countless life changes, it makes you feel . . . invincible.

I know I’m really jumping off the deep end now, getting all pseudo-philosophical on you. Suffice it to say it was an incredible experience — an unforgettable one — which has to rank up there with the ever-growing Greatest Moments of Meg’s Life Ever.

Below is a video clip of one of my favorite songs, “A Dustland Fairytale,” captured by an awesome fan at my show! Have I mentioned lately how much I love the Internet? I can relive my exact fantastic evening through a series of YouTube videos and photos posted by others. Life is magical!

Meg’s brief history of dancing — and Britney Spears

Not me -- but remember this?!

Not me -- but remember this?!

Growing up, it seems like opportunities to awkwardly dance with friends, classmates and total strangers abound. Starting in the eighth grade, I was a frequent attendee of “dances” in the school’s gymnasium — times I could dress up in my little skirts, put on a pair of low heels and (attempt to) straighten my hair (Please note: I’ve since ceased all attempts at straightening my unstraightable hair. Forever). A sweaty 13-year-old would ask for my hand, he’d slip those beefy arms around my waist and away we would go! Of course, “dancing” then consisted of stepping back and forth and side to side. No pressure. Nothing much going on.

From those first, innocent days, we had the homecoming dances and winter formals of high school. Months of preparation were required to find the right dress and scrounge around for a date, putting out feelers through friends to see if some random guy who sat parallel to your table at lunch would be interested in, you know, taking you or something. When I was formally asked to attend my first homecoming dance with a date in my sophomore year of high school, I was ecstatic. Seriously. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that soul-soaring, overwhelmingly joyous feeling of being asked out of my very first date (aww). But, as the joy began to wear thin and the event drew closer and closer, the anxieties began to set in . . . Do I even really know how to dance? What is dancing? Do I just move around like a crazy person? Should I stand as still as possible, letting the guy do all the work? If we’re “slow dancing,” do I need to have my arms around his neck — or his waist? Do we stand close, or far apart?

What is happening?!

Britney singing "Every Time" -- and I know it's a terrible shot, but I tried!

Britney singing "Every Time" -- and I know it's a terrible shot, but I tried!

Dancing was, for me, a mystery. I survived that homecoming dance with very few bruises and fewer totally awkward dance moves — and was even asked to be someone’s girlfriend (that’s another crazed blog entry!). But I will admit that, to date, dancing is still a puzzle which I’m unsure how to begin solving.

Thankfully, opportunities to break it down in the present are pretty scarce. We have weddings to attend, but you don’t have to dance. No one’s going to make you. The bride and groom might throw you dirty looks for being an uncooperative party pooper or something, but hey — they’re your two left feet. My days battling the general nervousness and sweatiness of adolescence, and the accompanying proms, are over!

Until I go to a show.

So let’s jump into the presnet. This past Tuesday, I attended a performance in D.C. put on by the one and only Ms. Britney Spears. I say performance because, you know, it wasn’t a concert. She wasn’t singing live (save a few songs). But that’s okay with me, really, because girlfriend was working it out! I’ve never seen so much dancing in my life — and definitely not with such a complex array of performers gyrating around her, too.

And I’ve never seen so many skinny girls in their twenties dancing in one place ever. Definitely not at the homecoming dances, not at the proms — not at the formals. Just dancing. Everywhere. So much so that the Verizon Center was shaking. When Brit launched into “Hit Me Baby One More Time,” I was pretty sure the rafters were going to come down.


Pussycat Dolls

And there I was, acting ridiculous. Hip checking my sister. Waving my arms above my head. Dancing along to opening act the Pussycat Dolls’ rendition of “Jai Ho” (good God, I love “Jai Ho!”). I wasn’t thinking about those homecoming dances where I stood in the low heels and the little skirts with some weird guy’s arms around me — I was shaking my moneymaker. And any worries I had about looking totally ridiculous faded out when the heavy beats kicked in.

I have a long history of dancing like I have no sense at concerts. Put John Mayer in front of me and I worry that you’ll never want to be seen with me again. I’m usually hesitant to attend with anyone other than my sister, who’s typically as excited as I am, and usually feel compelled to worn boyfriends about my impending deranged behavior. I try to be kind and give them an out before the event actually begins. If they see me in all of my full-concert-dancing glory, I fear I will have changed in their eyes!

But hey, it’s a good time. If you’re not going to leave your inhibitions at the venue door, why bother going? Like homecoming dances and the Prom, we’re all here to have a good time. Maybe that’s why everyone’s always downing so many beers at these things . . . ?

Loving the one you’re with — and Maroon 5

As usual, the weekend absolutely flew by — but at least we had some fun! Saturday night was the Maroon 5 / Counting Crows / Sara Bareilles concert out at Nissan Pavilion and, thanks to the trusty GPS, we made it there without any problem. There was a brief moment of tiny terror when Marcello the Garmin told us to take a left when signs for the Pavilion clearly indicated we should go right, but we never should have doubted Marcello. He was spot on!

So the show was great. My sister and I saw Maroon 5 when they opened up for John Mayer back in August 2004, but we weren’t necessarily huge fans then… now, pretty huge fans. They performed all of their hits — “She Will Be Loved,” “Sunday Morning,” “Harder to Breathe,” “This Love” — plus some of the newer songs I love, especially “Won’t Go Home Without You.” Our boyfriends were pretty good sports about the whole thing, even though they had Counting Crows to look forward to. We stayed for most of that show before heading out around 10:30 p.m. Traffic at Nissan is notoriously horrible, and we managed to emerge mostly unscathed — and get back home with no trouble! Coming home from a show in Falls Church in May, I somehow managed to take Kate and I onto 395 . . . without any prayer of finding 495 again. Definitely won’t make that mistake again! And not at 2 a.m.

So Maroon 5 was awesome. I didn’t get that same head-over-heels, suffocating with excitement feeling I get when I go see John Mayer, but that’s just because I have an inexorable crush on John Mayer and listen to his music obsessively. While I’m not necessarily obsessed with Maroon 5 in the traditional sense (I only have room for one serious musical obsession at a time), I do really like them. So we had fun dancing in a few empty rows, generally being silly and eating candied pecans. Yes, candied pecans.

Still waiting to hear back from about six agents concerning my queries. I’m not too concerned — it’s only been about a week since I sent out the last batch. Most agencies said they’d get back to me in two to four weeks . . . I’m still right on track. I tried not to think about it much this weekend . . . that’s more of a work-week dilemma for me.

And now it’s Monday — the day after my aunt’s birthday party. I spent most of yesterday eating really delicious party food, watching the Olympics and reading.

I just finished “Love The One You’re With” by Emily Giffin, and I liked it. I can’t say it changed my life or anything, but it was interesting for any woman who’s ever wondered what life might have been like had they tried to rekindle an old flame. Or, well, not even that — for anyone who’s ever needed closure, I suppose. Lord knows I have. Main character Ellen hasn’t ever really gotten over her ex Leo, her “first love” and one who changed her views on pretty much everything. The thing is that he’s pretty much a jerk and she needs to get over him. He wants her back when she’s in a stable, loving and committed relationship — when she’s married. WTF? Jerk!

But I guess that wasn’t really the point — the point, to me, was that it really comes down to choosing to choose love — and the acknowledgment that we can love and be loved by many people. No two loves are the same. My mom has told me — and I’ve never doubted her — that we can fall in love many times in one life.

And if it turns out we can’t, I’m definitely in trouble.