In 2018, there are few bands whose live performance reminds you more why you love going to shows more than Jeff Rosenstock. Everything about his live show is so pure and sincere and beautiful in its rawness. He plays fast, he plays loud, but most importantly he plays from his heart. He’s been doing this for half his years and yet watching him play is like watching somebody play for the first time. He pours his heart and soul into every performance. It’s reminiscent of the Against Me! song “Reinventing Axl Rose,” in which the ideology of “wanting a band that plays loud and hard every night that doesn’t care how many people are counted at the door,” which is a pipe dream but felt like a reality when I saw Jeff Rosenstock, Laura Stevenson and Chris Farren play Paper Tiger March 7.
The first time I heard a Jeff Rosenstock song was in the late aughts after a night of drunkenness, I retired to my laptop and started surfing Myspace pages before I came across my friend Roy’s profile. An avid ska nerd, I was blown away by his profile song “Tell My Boss ‘I Hate You’” by Bomb the Music Industry. It’s a weird song that is both wacky and a toe-tapper. Digging deeper into the rabbit hole that is Myspace, I discovered that Bomb the Music Industry was the brainchild of songwriter Jeff Rosenstock. He had been a staple of the DIY community for years through BTMI as well as his former band Arrogant Sons of Bitches. Years later, I discovered that he started making albums under his own name that were just as energetic and raw, but with less ska influence.
I arrived at the Paper Tiger a little late, maybe a song or two into Chris Farren’s set. The side room was filled to the brim, something that is always reminiscent of the White Rabbit shows so long ago. I was familiar with Farren’s former band Fake Problems, a band that I regrettably missed so many opportunities to see live. To my surprise, he was performing alone with a guitar, drum machine, a plethora of switchboard pedals that provided loops, and one pretty dope homemade projection light show. Much like Rosenstock, Farren writes songs about feeling alienated and eccentric with a positive outlook.
His stage demeanor plays a part of a narcissistic rock star that is on point as satire as it is hilarious. At one point he played a projection of his face on the wall and serenaded it longingly. He even ventured outside during one song dragging his microphone as far as it would go before he realized he couldn’t hear the music anymore and wasn’t sure where he was in the song. It was fun as it was goofy and I loved every minute of it.
Laura Stevenson followed up with a more down to earth vibe alone with just her guitar. I’ve been a fan of Stevenson since I saw her open up for Against Me! a few years ago with her full band and it was interesting to see her songs stripped down to the bones. Her charmingly awkward stage presence became more comfortable as her set went on. The crowd response was great as shouts of support could be heard around. My favorite thing about Laura Stevenson’s music is how profound they feel despite how sad they can be sometimes. While not as energetic as Farren’s set or Rosenstock’s was to come, Stevenson’s set was not empty of emotion.
Her music transfixes you even as you’re just standing there being exposed to her voice and guitar alone. A complete contrast from Chris Farren’s egotistical rockstar parody, Stevenson was warm and genuine and it added to the atmosphere.
Rosenstock came on shortly after and completely tore the place down. I had seen him previously at The 1011 (before it turned into The Ventura) years ago, and while that was a great show, him and his band took it to another level. There is a sense of childlike bewilderment watching them perform where he borders on professionalism and just having fun. In between songs, he would cut from banter to jokingly playing the chords to “Brain Stew” by Green Day. This exchanged happened so many times that the rest of the band started playing the whole thing at one point, and he jokingly mashed up with other prominent 90s songs.
The crowd was great and really matched the intensity of the band’s performance. Getting swayed back and forth with the flow of the crowd is something I’ve always enjoyed about punk shows, like a wave pool of music fondness. It’s the closest thing I can think of to listening to your band or your friend’s band playing in a garage for fun. It doesn’t hurt that the band is genuinely friends with Chris Farren and Laura Stevenson, who actually went on stage to sing along with Rosenstock and co. at one point. He took a nod from Farren’s performance, grabbed a sax and went outside to perform as well. It was a great night for live music and a great night to be reminded why you go to shows to begin with.
At 30 years old, I’ve been going to shows for over a decade and a half and nothing makes me love a live show more than feeling like an artist is leaving everything on stage. Jeff Rosenstock does that and more on a daily basis. It’s performances like that that make me feel like a kid again going to shows for the first time and not just waiting to hear that one song I like so I can go home, but actually staying for the experience and the camaraderie instilled in music being shared and consumed. It’s a feeling that has escaped me as I’ve gotten older and I just wanted to thank Jeff Rosenstock for bringing it out of me again.