DIY punk king Jeff Rosenstock and solo artist Laura Stevenson go way back- they met when they were teenagers, played in Bomb the Music Industry! together, and have supported each other for years. So it makes sense that they toured together this summer. They were originally slated to play 11th Street Records, but due to legal issues, that venue fell through. Thankfully, the folks over at the Zarfest Fairgrounds were nice enough to offer their home as a venue.
I showed up a bit early with a group of friends to meet up with another friend and her dad. My friend’s dad ended up being the most punk rock out of all of us- he made a beeline for the back wall of the backyard and was promptly greeted by a handful of young punks, all holding beers. Laura and Jeff, along with the rest of the traveling musicians, were attempting to offset the Vegas heat with a splash in the pool. My friends and I followed suit, dipping our feet in the water as we chatted and waited excitedly for the show to start.
By the time No Red Alice took the stage, the sun was just beginning to set but it was still mostly light out, providing the perfect backdrop for Sal Giordano and Chris Bitonti’s impeccable harmonizing. Despite being surrounded by friends, I couldn’t help but feel a lump start to form in my throat when they played “Theatricality and Deception,” especially during the chorus of “And I will wait alone / Til you realize I’m all yours / Baby, I’m yours.” The melancholy peaked when Sal added at the end of the song, “I waited, but she didn’t,” evoking a few sighs and other sounds of heartbreak from the crowd. Thankfully, No Red Alice closed out their set with “Marry Me!” so we had a bit of a break from sadness before Laura’s set.
Laura Stevenson has a knack for writing songs that sound cheery while being lyrically depressing, along with songs that are more transparently sad. On this tour, she was backed by members of Jeff’s band- Kevin Higuchi on drums and John DeDomenici on bass, who, by the way, are two of the coolest dudes ever. I’d seen Laura for the first time ever less than 2 weeks prior, at the Holland Project in Reno (I suppose now is the time to admit I saw Jeff and Laura four times on this tour, and their Vegas show was my third one), and was blown away by how fucking amazing her voice was. Vegas was no exception in that respect; actually, I’m 100% sure that Laura’s voice is actually so much better live than on recordings (not to denigrate the recordings, which I love!). In punk that’s especially rare.
During her set, Laura admitted that at that show, she was breaking for the first time her personal rule of “no shorts while playing,” but who could blame her? Playing an outdoor Vegas show in late July almost demands less clothing, and her fellow traveling musicians were certainly adhering to the idea: Jeff was barefoot, guitarist Mike Huguenor had his pant legs rolled up, and all of them were still wearing swimming trunks. Honestly, their (anti?) fashion choices made the show feel more like a punk summer party than anything, which made it all the more personal.
Clothing (or lack thereof) aside, I was surprised that Laura didn’t play “Master of Art,” which is arguably her most popular song, or “The Move,” which is about her husband and one of my absolute favorite songs by her. She did, however, play “The Healthy One,” with John beginning the tune on xylophone. Funnily enough, John and Jeff were there for her first tour, which the song “A Shine to It” is about. For the last few songs of her set, including “Torch Song” and “Jellyfish,” Jeff joined the stage and was totally killer on guitar. I’m no musician, but his technical guitar skill with Laura’s vocals made for a magical musical pairing.
Laura left the stage as Dan Potthast (yes, Dan P!) and Mike Huguenor came on for Jeff Rosenstock’s set. So many Jeff fans fail to realize that the entire band is essentially a DIY punk supergroup, but I digress. The sun had set at that point in the night, which, along with the Christmas lights at Zar, further contributed to the slightly surreal atmosphere. Jeff’s set started the same way his latest album WORRY. does, with “We Begged to Explode.” The band then pumped up the energy with the record’s second song, “Pash Rash,” which in other cities had sparked a pit, but this crowd was more cautious due to the rocks that made up the ground beneath our feet at Zar.
The set included a bit of anti-Trump talk, which perfectly complemented the political themes of WORRY. Of course, it was “Festival Song” that really had everyone yelling, including my friend’s dad. Jeff dedicated one of my personal favorites, “I Did Something Weird Last Night” to his wife Christine, and for a brief moment I genuinely believed in love.
My friend Kascha (the one with the cool dad, for those of you keeping track) had seen Jeff and Laura three times prior on this tour, and was finishing her showgoing adventures with the Vegas stop. A few nights beforehand, in Phoenix, she had talked to Jeff and he asked her which song she wanted to hear in Vegas. She opted for “80’s Through the 50’s” off of I Look Like Shit. Personally, I would’ve gone with something from the Summer records, since it was summer, but it was still dope to see Jeff and the band perform a song I’d yet to see them play. A pit finally opened up for that song as well, and continued throughout the rest of the set.
I Look Like Shit was Jeff’s first record under the name Jeff Rosenstock (as opposed to the Arrogant Sons of Bitches or Bomb the Music Industry!) so I was pleasantly surprised when the band played another song off of it, “The Trash The Trash The Trash.” It was followed by the last five WORRY. songs, which have beautiful transitions both on recording and live.
The set was perfectly capped with “You, In Weird Cities” off of We Cool?. About halfway through the song, Jeff grabbed his saxophone and climbed the tree in the middle of the yard. Nestled among the branches and Christmas lights, he played the saxophone as the crowd gathered around the tree and sang along. It’s already pretty fucking cool to say that I saw Jeff Rosenstock at a house show, especially when you consider the fact that the band was recently paid $7500 to play for Pitchfork. But it’s the offbeat touches like that (and swimming in the pool) that really made the show memorable. Hopefully we’ll see both Jeff and Laura roll through Vegas again soon.
Photos by Aaron Mattern | https://www.flickr.com/photos/akmofoto/