by Lee P. Doptera
I try not to look at them looking at me. They huddle together and speak for a bit, and then Adam Schatz walks over. I worry that he will, in his extremely polite manner, ask me to stop popping up at their shows because I'm starting to frighten them. He doesn't. He is as courteous and good-natured as always.
Adam: "You actually came."
Me: "It would be a weird thing for me to lie about."
Adam: "When did you get in?"
Adam: "Are you here alone?"
Adam: "How long are you here for?"
Me: "I leave early tomorrow morning."
Adam: "You're insane."
All I manage is an apologetic shrug coupled with a nervous titter. You see, I flew from Denver to Dallas to see Landlady. Mr. Schatz (Landlady's lead singer and front man) is aware of this because I tweeted about it (too much), but also because at this point, the band is probably worried that I have pillows stuffed with their hair and/or a shrine back home. How can I possibly explain myself? I can't, so I don't. I miss my opportunity yet again. The man that I have to admit is my favorite musician is attempting polite conversation and I am floundering so I stare anywhere but his face, stammer out a few sentences, then let him walk away in confusion while I hope to God he did not read the review where I said his voice tastes like grilled pound cake and lemon curd. Honestly, what's wrong with me?
Landlady is a hard-touring, far-traveling band from Brooklyn. We are just past the anniversary of their first album (Keeping it to Yourself) which was released December 1, 2011. Their second album (Upright Behavior) was released in 2014. If you want to catch them live, which I highly suggest, you won't have to wait long for them to come near you because they tour like they are pursued by some unspeakable evil. If you're impatient, like me, you can always take a trip to a nearby state. I promise it will be worth it.
The truth is that crowds terrify me. Finding my way around a city and its public transportation system terrifies me. If the bus driver sounds too insistent when calling out a stop, I jump off and walk. In fact, I walked several more miles than necessary to get to my hotel in Dallas for that exact reason. I am painfully shy and my social anxiety is nearly crippling but I always show up with a pounding heart and trembling body to see musicians take a stage. I dance too. I never mean to and I hope I never see myself doing it, but I dance.
When pressed, I tell people my weekend plans while staring at the floor and bracing myself for their disbelief and criticism; the shock in their voices when they repeat what I said back to me in incredulous tones. To me, my long-distance jags to shows make more sense than the more common road trips I hear about. People will drive or fly to see historical monuments or the world's largest whatever and this is considered reasonable. I think they are insane when they show me picture after picture of rocks and significant others awkwardly posing next to giant rubber band balls (for scale). I do not wish to see something fixed in time and history. I prefer travelling to see a living moment that never was and never will be again. I want to experience the songs I love in the most personal and unpredictable way that you can. I want to taste the cinnamon they sneak into the marinara. I go to concerts to have a different lasagna.
This is why I found myself in Dallas on a Saturday in October staring at a sickly oak tree wrapped in unlit Christmas lights in the patio behind the bar an hour before the show after waiting half an hour for the doors to open. This is the second time I have traveled this far to see Landlady. I will pause for a moment while you make skeptical grunting noises and pull up the video for “Above My Ground." Go on. New tab. There you go.
The song begins with dewdrops on a spider web. A military drum beat joins the reverb, and a bass note drops like a stone in a pond and ripples outward. Mr. Schatz's salted caramel voice joins in and the rest of the band harmonizes on a modulating minor chord that would make Ravel blush. The song builds upon itself, adding so many flavors and textures that I feel overwhelmed each time I hear it; clutching my purse with both hands to still my fingers from tracing the music in the air. This is a song you fall in love with. You drop it into every playlist you make and you force friends to listen to it; they wear that tired indulgent smile while you stare at them intently and wait for their life to change... well, I do that anyway. It is that good. I wait with finger-tapping impatience for it to be a chart-topper.
The lyrics are simple. You will have them down after about the second listening. The word "always" still makes my heart clench up each time I hear it. If you love the song, and I truly think you will, you must hear it live. Landlady is devastatingly good live. So many bands these days are reliant on a studio to smooth out their knots and rough bits, but Landlady manages to sound good even during their sound check. By the way, I think their Dallas sound check was the longest and most intense one I have ever heard, but that is just the sort of guys they are. It will sound perfect, they will dance, you will dance, you will sing with them. Even my socially awkward little heart felt a momentary fluttering of connection to my fellow concert-goers when Mr. Schatz brought us into the chorus. So what of the individual ingredients?
I chose my harp because of its bass. I played harp after harp, I listened to sellers play them over the phone, I walked away from a gorgeous Salvi Minerva (my dream girl) with extreme difficulty because she just did not have that warm deep sound I was looking for in her lower register. I tried to explain it. "You know, like when you grab a handful of sand in an ocean and you lift it out of the water or when you walk across a trampoline?" Silence. I'll never learn. Bass is important. It is the weighty undertone of a song; the distinction and gravity in a musical argument. Ian McLellan Davis's bass is a sweet and sulphury molasses that lingers richly on the tongue with a pleasant weight and pressure. There is an impossible largeness to it. God, I know that makes no sense but that is what it is. It is like the Robot from The Day the Earth Stood Still (the good, the old one). It is huge and imposing and terribly beautiful. Mr. Davis is capable of quite a bit of beauty, it would seem. He has written film scores and created arrangements for musicians that I greatly admire (My Brightest Diamond for one) and his band Relatives is a drift down a stream with your fingers trailing in the water. No wonder he packs so much tone and nuance into each bass note, the man understands how things should come together.
The drums are always perfect. They are clean and complex when they need to be, chaotic and gripping at other times, but always precise. The drummers (yes plural) are Ian Chang and the impossibly perfectly-named Booker Stardrum. He sounds like one of Ziggy Stardust's love children, but that is in fact his real name. My favorite conductor once said that percussion is the spice of the orchestra. The drums in Landlady bear the complexity of an Indian dish. Anything from the sweet nuttiness of a saag to the flaring heat of a vindaloo can be found on their albums. Mr. Chang can also be found providing the spice for Father Figures and Body Language, an impossibility I chalk up to the theory that there are ten of him.
Mikey Freedom Hart's (seriously, the names read like a Mad Libs) guitar has joined us from Mars. There is something of the '50's surfer reverb and the '90's alt roughness there but it is anything but familiar in the context of Landlady. There are shrieks and conversations. In fact, I think that often the guitar is used as a secondary vocal rather than for chord structure. Find him in Zongo Junction if you enjoy spiderwebbing out from one band to the kaleidoscope of bands each member is also in. I certainly do.
And finally (I have been avoiding it) I must try to limit myself when describing the dear Mr. Schatz. I mentioned that he is my favorite musician. I try so hard not have favorites, it is not fair because music preference shifts with mood, but there you have it. He is my favorite. The thing of it is, Adam Schatz keeps popping up in my favorite bands (*cough* Man Man *cough*). He has apparently mastered every instrument out there, can sing, writes very wittily, has a jazz project after my own heart (Search & Restore), and embodies everything that I want music and musicians to be. He is clearly in love with what he does and he does it so very well. I even, blasphemously, prefer his cover of Randy Newman's “God's Song" which I came across on YouTube. I swear that my Googling has only been cursory, it is just that the man has done so much that you have probably stumbled across something of his without realizing it yourself. His voice is sweet and crunchy on the edges but smooth and electric in the middle. So, you know, he's alright with me is what I am basically trying to say.
Seeing someone so devoted to crafting and championing music at such a breakneck pace that it's clearly more need than desire makes me want to throw the contents of my wallet at the band so that they do not stop. I have developed a sneaking suspicion that Adam Schatz is Batman and until presented with strong evidence to the contrary I will hold onto this belief. He is just too good at too many things. I'm onto you, Mr. Schatz.
I am intensely in love with music and this is something that garners a lot of strange looks and makes me a bit of an outsider. "Everyone loves music." That's what they say. Then we get into a conversation. Then they leave and I remember the promise I made to myself to stop before I reach the second sentence. "I love Landlady. They have that seaweed salad texture, you know?" No. They don't know. Nobody knows because that is an intensely weird thing to say. Sigh. Me and Ricky Gervais. We are familiar with everyone's "this is incredibly uncomfortable" expression. Before writing about any band, I become intensely focused on their music. I listen to the other bands they are in, I read what they write, I tweet about them, I ask everyone I know for their impressions of different songs. I try to musically cleanse my palate of anything else so that when I go to their show there is nothing to distract me from experiencing them as cleanly and completely as possible.
I will always be overenthusiastic to an extent that is likely unsettling for the bands I go to see. They will always think I am at least a little bit insane. I am okay with all of this. They should know that each time they play, there is someone who has moved heaven and hell to be in that crowd and does not regret a penny or minute spent to be there. They should know that if there is not, there is someone who desperately wishes they could be there. They should know that what they do is worthwhile and appreciated and important.
For more about Ladyland, you can find their music on landlady.bandcamp.com or see their Facebook page or official site landladyland.com
Also see our Man Man article.
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