This is How We (Rock &) Roll

In the nearly 6 years since our first child was born, there have been not 5, not 4, not 3, but exactly 2 weekends that my wife Dani and I have gotten away from the kids for more than 1 day.

Two weekends. In 5 years and 9 months. That’s an average of 1 kid-free multi-day getaway every 34 ½ months. 1 every 1,035 days. Despite me being a wanderlust-addled former road-tripping vagabond wannabe beatnik. And despite us both being people who appreciate seeing the wide world.

I’m inclined to place all blame for this on the Covid era, that eminently blame-able epoch of epidemiology. And without question, Dani and I have vigilantly quarantined ourselves, carefully trying to protect our kids at any cost. (Including possibly, at times, our sanity.)

But really, our sleep-dependent babies were the adorable culprits long before coronavirus started sabotaging our travel plans. It’s tough to have a baby-free getaway when your baby won’t let you freely get away for more than a few hours. (Our answer to every Southwest Airlines commercial is YES PLEASE.)

Thankfully, babies get older, slightly more independent, and notably more inclined to stay at Grandma’s house. So both of the getaway weekends we finally scheduled — those glistening oases! those desperately needed release valves! — took place in the last 7 months, with the kids at 5 and 3 years old.

Both trips took us to the Boston area on a mild, sun-dappled, fall/spring weekend.

Both experiences involved downtown Airbnb spots. And top-shelf pizza joints. And first-time meet-ups with Massachusetts friends.

Both road trips were comprised of playlist-enhanced 7-hour drives through PA, NY, NJ, CT, and MA, the backdrop for long (and long-past-due) adult conversations, between a pandemic-weary man/dad and an equally pandemic-weary woman/mom, dialogues which were blissfully uninterrupted by rapid-fire toddler queries.

But most notably, both getaways featured the same radiant, reverberating, deeply rejuvenating (and somehow reassuring) singular human experience as their centerpiece. The same road-trip destination. Namely…

An eardrum-pummeling, head-banging, mind-blowing, heart-swelling, soul-restoring Caspian concert.

Here are the exact specs, for the sake of posterity… on the last day of September and the first day of October 2021, we watched Caspian headline back-to-back shows at the Sinclair in Cambridge. Then in April 2022, i.e. last weekend, we watched Caspian play an opening set at the Roadrunner in Boston (after watching Scotland-based Mogwai play at Paradise Rock Club the night before).

Both pilgrimages to the Boston area, and all 3 mecca-like nights of music, for us had a spiritual quality. In fact, Dani wrote on Instagram after the last concert: “Spirit restored.”

For us, this music is both transfixing and transformative.

Transcendent, even.

So what’s so great about this band, you might ask? Why have I never heard of them, you might query? Are they a C.S. Lewis tribute band, you might wonder? Great questions! Thanks for asking.

First, Caspian is my favorite band on this (or any other) planet.

Second, Caspian also happens to be Dani’s favorite band on this (or any other) planet.

The two of us have wildly different personalities, and fairly different musical tastes. She loves Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and Fleetwood Mac, and her mid-‘90s musical obsession was Def Leppard. I love Sigur Rós, Jimmy Eat World, and Hammock, and my mid-‘90s musical obsession was Steven Curtis Chapman. Not too much commonality there, right?

But where we (magically! thankfully! and pretty understandably) overlap in our musical proclivities — that hallowed common ground of interest which is so satisfying to find in any marriage or friendship — is a 5-piece instrumental rock band from Beverly, Massachusetts. A band that plays cathartic, cinematic, masterfully layered rock music featuring 4 guitars and drums.

Both Dani and I, not as a mind-melded unit but separately as very distinct entities, are enamored beyond words with Caspian’s songs. Both of us see their 6 studio albums as the apex of compositional precision, melodic beauty, granite-hard rock intensity, and ocean-deep emotional resonance.

And both of us are not only willing but doggedly, stubbornly dead-set on driving to see them anytime they come within 8-10 hours of central Pennsylvania.

I discovered Caspian in 2009 when a guy I worked with, to whom I now basically owe my life (even though I’m only 60% sure that his name was Ryan), burned me a CD of their album The Four Trees. I introduced it to Dani when I met her a few months later; in fact, I slotted a Caspian song at track #1 on the first mix CD of dozens that I made for her, before I had even played her a Caspian song in person. That was how emblematic their music was of what I wanted to show her about myself in our very early days of dating.

As far as I was concerned, Caspian was my business card. My avatar. An emblem of my best self. The greatest jaw-dropping beauty I had yet found, back before true love and fatherhood dropped my jaw even further.

For her part, Dani liked the band and appreciated them quite a bit for years. But she didn’t fully tumble down the Caspian rabbit hole until the pandemic began in 2020. At that point, I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone become more single-minded about any earthly thing — with the exception of our 5-year-old son and his various single-minded obsessions — than Dani and Caspian.

It was a wonder to behold. Heck, I almost felt jealous.

And what’s wild to me, although not truly surprising, is that just 2 years later, Dani’s knowledge of Caspian has now fully eclipsed mine. Our love for the band is precisely equal (there being no need to rank such things anyway). But as for comprehensive knowledge of them? She knows them inside and out and is essentially a steel-trap archivist of Caspian facts and lore. She is more familiar with the timeline of their career than almost anyone but the band members themselves.

(Well, besides them and our friend Todd Harrington. Shout-out to you, Todd, if you happen to be reading this.)

Dani listens to Caspian during every single run and every single grueling workout she does, which adds up to roughly 75 minutes a day. Each of us at this point have listened to every single Caspian album at least 50 times, and maybe closer to 100 in some cases. We are among the truest, bluest fans there are.

With all of that as a backdrop, I want to explain exactly how we roll when we see Caspian play live (and beforehand). There is a certain methodology to it that might interest not just other Caspian fans, but everyone who has ever deeply admired a band.

Everyone who has ever been called, positively or pejoratively, a “groupie.”

Every die-hard fan who understands the fine art of musical admiration.

Everyone who… you know… gets it.

So this is how we roll, Caspian-show-wise.

First, we buy as much merch as we can, including CDs and vinyl. We purchase it directly from Bandcamp or from the band’s own site. (Although we use iTunes, we wouldn’t dream of buying a Caspian album from money-grubbing juggernauts like them or Spotify.)

We also both follow their feeds closely. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. We grab concert tickets as soon as they’re available — once we book my mom’s ultra-premium babysitting services, months in advance. Not just when they hit Philly, but also Boston. (We could have seen them in Brooklyn and saved 3 hours of driving, but who wants to find parking in NYC?) We even toyed briefly with the idea of hopping the border to see them headline this June in Toronto, which is roughly the same distance away as Boston. But we nixed that idea. For now, seeing Caspian play in another country remains on my bucket list.

Additionally, I comment on every Caspian tweet and Facebook post I can. Not just out of fawning love for the band, but as a pragmatic display of support. Algorithms are brutal these days, especially for hardscrabble working-class bands who don’t have money to throw at ice-cold billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey so they’ll kindly deign to “promote” their posts. Bands need every bit of traffic and traction they can get from their fans. And it’s my pleasure to give them that traffic.

At all times, we keep our finger on the pulse and our ear to the ground.

Fast-forward to the day of the show, which finally arrives after what feels like a painstaking half-decade of waiting. We arrive at the venue as early as possible. This is not something to toy around with. Because if you don’t get in line before the doors open, you could very easily cede the best (non) seat in the (standing room only) house to someone else. The primo spot in question is the invaluable real estate right next to the stage.

For all 3 recent Caspian concerts, Dani and I managed to nab the stage-center-left spot, right below Phil and Cal and across from Jonny and Jani, with Justin on the skins in the back. We laid claim to that spot right after the doors opened each night, and through careful space-holding we retained it through multiple opening acts and multiple restroom visits.

As for said visits to the head, and I can’t stress this enough, always go one at a time. Then while your partner visits the restroom, your mission is to preserve your full 2-person space on the floor. To do this you have to make yourself a bit larger, with heightened awareness of possible interlopers and a wider, more menacing stance. Kind of like when you see a Grizzly bear in the wild… but without all the yelling. (In my personal experience, there’s usually no need to yell at anyone at a concert.)

Just remember: Preserve the real estate, no matter what.

Next, the opening act(s) do their thing. Always show them lots of love. Openers are in the precarious position of playing for a crowd that often consists mostly of people who have never heard of their music. Thus, their songs often get loudly talked over — or even heckled.

So when I’m a fan of the headliner, I consider it my duty to enthusiastically support their supporting acts. Even more so in the case of Caspian, who hand-selected the openers (Junior Beef and Circus Trees, both wonderful) for their fall tour dates. And it’s always satisfying to hear a local, lower-level band give admiring shout-outs to the mid-level headlining band they’re opening for. Because they often feel as grateful to that band as you, in your loyal fandom, have felt for years. And solidarity is a good feeling.

Then comes the moment of truth. Your favorite band takes the stage. Hopefully you’ve hit the restroom recently enough that you can stand for 90 minutes without interruption. And if you’re like me, you have your one and only beer of the night (because I’m frugal and never want to be drunk again for the rest of my life), but have just begun to drink it. That way, you can nurse it gently through the duration of the band’s set, which in Caspian’s case is a decidedly un-gentle one.

So beer-wise, that’s how I roll. By sipping. No need to pound anything, other than the air drums.

In addition to the huge benefit of proximity, the other reason I find it imperative to nab a spot right up front is that I can rest one hand on the stage so as to fortify my center of gravity for some seriously cranium-shaking headbanging. I’m 42, not quite as young as I used to be (although eternally 27 in my mind), and that helpful point of contact goes a long way to stabilize me.

It connects me in a tactile way to the floor, to the stage, and even to the band. It makes me feel solid and steady while my body hums, vibrates, reverberates, and syncs itself with Caspian’s ground-shaking, sky-scraping songs.

Through that subterranean physical connection, which defies reductive explanation, I throttle all of my self-consciousness. All of my latent Baptist-boy fear of dancing. All of my residual loathing of the body that I was raised to think contained primarily sin and carnal impulses.

Through that deep physical connection, I momentarily exorcise all the fatigue demons of this enduring pandemic. Of the eviscerating last presidential term (which still haunts my bones). Of the endless emotional exhaustion known as parenting.

Through that deep physical connection, I briefly transcend my mortal coil. My body and my soul align with a higher, holier realm.

Art, melody, ferocity, beauty.

The musical stratosphere.

Maybe even life itself.

*long exhale*

This is a lot to put into words. Especially since it’s not something that even lends itself to words. Music is a grid that goes well beyond language. As someone once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” You can’t explain what happens when your body or your heart responds to a piece of music that you love.

But I suppose there’s no harm in trying. After all, I’m not a composer of melodies but a writer of words. So words are all I have.

*long inhale*

As euphoric as a Caspian concert is for me, the post-show experience might be even more meaningful to me on a fundamental human level.

After all 3 recent Caspian concerts — and also before and after the Mogwai concert I referenced earlier, which the Caspian guys attended as fans — I had the pleasure of talking to most of the guys: Phil, Jonny, Cal, and Justin. Everyone but Jani (who I envision being the most introverted of the group). And let me tell you: All of these guys are legit. The truest, bluest rock stars imaginable.

In the last half-century, rock & rollers have developed a pretty well-established reputation. The bigger they are, the more drunk on the excesses of fame (and drunk on, you know, alcohol) they often can be.

So it is a profoundly refreshing thing to meet a bunch of guys in a rock band and find out that all 5 of them, in addition to being deeply badass as rock craftsmen, are also deeply likable as humans. And down-to-earth. And good-humored. And hard-working. And grateful for every one of their fans.

It would be one thing if Caspian were simply the purveyors of my favorite music on earth. The modern equivalent of rock legends like Led Zeppelin or The Who, with backstage (and hotel room) horror stories you try not to think about too much because you don’t want it to spoil the perfection of their music.

But Caspian is a deeply principled band of brothers. They are human beings I respect. They are people I want my son and daughter to emulate. Both in terms of their tenacity in pursuing their dream to the ends of the earth, and their warmth in not letting that dream impede any of their basic humanity.

I could get more specific about what I love about each of the guys, to the extent that I’ve gotten to know them a little bit. But I’ll let those conversations remain personal. (Until I write their unauthorized biography, that is.)

For now, I’ll just say to my Caspian guys, if any of them are still reading this epic missive…

“Go… all… the way.”

For our part, Dani and I will go with you all the way, as will a dozen other Caspian admirers we know personally (and tens of thousands more worldwide).

We’ll be the ones down in front, stage left, eyes glistening in the glow of the house lights.

Hearts aflame in the incendiary heat of your jams.

Minds blown by the complexity of your compositions.

Bodies pulverized by Phil’s, Cal’s, and Jonny’s electrifying guitar prowess.

Eardrums shredded by Justin’s eviscerating drum carnage.

Bones rattled by Jani’s endlessly sick bass line.

And we have but one humble request.

Rock on, fellas.

(Forever, if at all possible.)

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