Chapter I: Hours 1-6
It all started with my oldest friend in the world showing up on my doorstep last Friday morning, sporting a Pink Floyd shirt and a newly epic beard. This happy event set in motion a 5-day weekend for the ages. One which Pink Floyd would have heartily endorsed.
I’ve known Dave for 37 years, since we were kindergarteners at Bible Baptist School. We shared nearly every formative adolescent experience until our paths diverged at 22, and we criss-crossed for years after that. Then we saw each other maybe once a year for the past decade and a half, but we chatted sporadically across the miles. We both made many mistakes when we were 22ish that we tried hard to rectify by the time we were 32ish. And now we’re 42ish, doing our best to live our best lives.
It’s always been true that no matter how long it’s been since I’ve seen Dave, we will easily and naturally pick up right where we left off. We never have to warm up to each other. Because the fire of our friendship will always be warm, crackling like campfire logs in the wooded dusk along the Appalachian Trail (100 miles of which we once hiked together in a week, coming within 100 yards of getting crushed by a falling tree at one point).
So last Friday, I savored a morning with Dave. We did nothing but talk. Walk and talk, and sit on a bench and talk, and walk and talk some more. Oh, and we ate a bagel. While talking. In 6 hours, we probably managed to get 37% caught up. Which felt amazing after not seeing each other since last spring.
It was the most epic conversation I’ve had with anyone in a few years.
And yet it was not even in the top 3 most epic things I did last weekend.
That’s the kind of 5-day dopamine extravaganza I just had.
Chapter II: Hours 7-36
After Dave left, I packed my stuff and embarked on a “Daddy Kid Camping” (also known as DKC) trip with the kids. This is an annual event spearheaded by my Messiah College buddies, but it was my inaugural DKC year due to the kids being too young, and Covid being too prevalent, in the last few years.
I was reasonably confident the kids would love DKC, and they sure did. They loved camping in a tent (like we often do in our backyard), they loved playing at the playground, they loved walking around the campsite barefoot, they loved taking a hike, the loved climbing around on a vast boulder field, and they (well, mostly Vi) loved the water at the swimming pool. And to my great delight, Vi said several times: “I love campin’!”
Most of the other kids were older, from 7 to 15, and gallivanted around the woods having Tom Sawyer-esque adventures and joy-riding with one of the dads on our rented golf cart. My kids being younger, they opted to stay close to me. Very close. In fact, I could barely walk over to get something from the minivan without one or both of my kids shadowing my every move. It was good to walk a mile in Dani’s shoes (or Crocs in my case), since she gets shadowed nearly every moment of every day while I’m at work. Let’s just say the camping trip was not the least exhausting thing I’ve ever done.
But the 3 of us had a blast and a half in the woods. And by the time we got home on Saturday night, I felt like I had already experienced an entire weekend of good times and great conversations — with Dave, with my college buddies, and with Greyson and Violet too.
And yet, the fun had only just begun. The weekend promised to be a rager, as the kids would say.
(Not my kids, mind you. They don’t know about ragers yet.)
Chapter III: Hours 37-59
Once we got home, I put the kids to bed since Dani was in Toronto getting her beautiful face melted off at a Caspian show. (Oh, did I fail to mention that my wife hopped the border that morning to see her favorite band, which is also my favorite band? A band that is low-level famous for melting people’s faces off? That tiny detail must have slipped my mind. My bad.)
So while Dani was in a Caspian-induced trance in Canada’s largest city, I was playing Caspian’s mellow songs on my phone to lull my small kids into the trance of sleep after their unusually eventful day.
When I woke up 8 hours later on Sunday morning, I read the kids a few books and left them in the capable hands of my parents. Then I pointed my car in the direction of Motown and sped off to bravely embrace the same face-melting fate as Dani had endured the night before.
I drove, mostly barefoot, through the lush and contoured (and drearily Trump-monument-speckled) landscape of western Pennsylvania while listening to Sigur Ros and Caspian and feeling pretty close to invincible. So invincible, in fact, that I got on the wrong highway while sing/humming along to Icelandic rock and set myself back by a full 45 minutes and $9 of gas. But it didn’t faze me. Because nothing could faze me that day. And here’s another reason why I was unfaze-able.
Phil from Caspian messaged me while I was on my unintended detour and said simply:
“Darkfield or Fire Made Flesh?”
For the record (so to speak), those are song titles. And Phil, the frontman for my favorite band on the planet, was asking me — this guy right here! — to pick one of the songs for their set list that night.
That is a thing which happened. Not in my fevered imagination, but in reality. And in addition to 70 bucks’ worth of gas and a million bucks’ worth of enthusiasm, that is what propelled me from Appalachia to Motown.
It’s an honor I won’t soon forget.
Before pulling into Detroit, I met up with my buddy Jonathan in Toledo, whom I had never met before but with whom I’ve enjoyed being social media pen pals for 3 years. We drove the last 90 minutes together and savored some sterling conversation. Social media may be a dumpster fire at times, but it also a place where connection is eminently possible. And becoming friends with Jonathan, a poet and philosopher and deeply sensitive soul, is proof of that. He’s a good man with a big heart, and it was a privilege to share my 9th Caspian experience with him.
It’s a fun added bonus that Jonathan happens to love all 3 of my favorite bands: Caspian, Hammock, and Sigur Ros. He even wore a Hammock shirt to the Caspian show (while I wore my Caspian shirt, spurning the lame advice of the “don’t be that guy” guy played by Jeremy Piven in PCU).
After all, when it comes to overthinking what shirt you wear to a concert?
Don’t be that guy.
Chapter IV: Hours 60-79
How do I love attending thee shows of Caspian? Let me count the ways. And then let me give up counting, because it’s too daunting of a task.
A Caspian live show is my mecca, and driving 8-9 hours for the experience is my pilgrimage. (Sorry to co-opt those words, but it truly does feel religious on some level. Or at least spiritual.)
But even before Caspian took the stage, a few things happened that set the stage for an epic night. First, I met all 4 members of Man Mountain, the Michigan-based instrumental rock band that opened for Caspian on one night only of this tour. Man Mountain is currently one of my top 10 bands, despite only having 1½ albums under their belts. Their music is pristinely composed, achingly earnest, and wonderfully heavy at times. I met Jake first, and then brothers Mike and David, and then Bryan, and all 4 of them immediately felt like my buddies. They were openly grateful for my fandom and impressed at how far I drove for Caspian, whom they also love.
I also met multiple people near the stage while we waited between sets, as I often seem to do. It’s one of the decided perks of being an extrovert. Jonathan and I chatted with our fellow fans, including about Hammock and Sigur Ros (the band I was slated to see a few days later).
But mostly we all gushed about Caspian, the guests of honor. Since they were the reason we had all converged in Ferndale, a working-class, bombed-out Detroit suburb.
And their 10-song set was the bomb. I guess you could say their engine was firing on all Pistons.
(As a hardcore fan of the Bad Boys during my entire adolescence and 20s, I’d be remiss not to make that joke.)
Listening to Caspian jam while pressed up against the stage is, quite simply, my happy place. And my lucid place. And my physically liberated, headbanging, no-longer-overthinking place. The experience of listening to them play live combines the communal joy of a sonically immersive worship service with the private clarity of a panoramic mountaintop epiphany. Admiring their sheer talent and watching their sheer joy, while in the company of a few hundred fellow admirers (who are basking in that same joy) is an experience of sheer connectedness.
On guitar, Cal is a soulful, impeccable technician and Jonny is a kinetic, virtuosic performer. Jani anchors the wrecking crew with his monster-fuzz bass riffs (incidentally living out my dream career). Justin pounds the skins with relentless fire and fury. And Phil, the soft-spoken leader of this band of brothers, always thrills and throttles and throws down with the best of ‘em.
There were times when I thought Phil’s Jazzmaster might impale me as he and I were both headbanging within 4 feet of each other. Heck, it might have been an honor to get in a minor collision with that Fender. But the guys made optimal use of their minimal real estate on that small stage, and they carefully spared the necks of us front-row bangers as they mashed and pummeled us all into happy oblivion.
To briefly get a bit more granular, “Arcs of Command” and “The Raven” and “Collapser” and “Fire Made Flesh” — the one I hand-selected! — each created a punishing wall of sound. “Nagoya” was a shimmering prologue, and a happy surprise since it’s a new-ish song that has never been recorded in studio. “Division Blues” is always a visceral thrill since it’s an underrated, time-signature-shifting gem and also my anthem for the bruising Covid era. (Plus, Phil said from the stage “this is for our boy Jeremy”! For the second time in 9 months. What a feeling!)
“Malacoda” was an unexpected throwback to my favorite Caspian album, 2009’s Tertia, a song that for me evokes Colorado. A simpler time in both my life and the world in general. Meanwhile, the perennial set closer “Castles High, Marble Bright” radiated joy and longing as every Caspian song — even the most blistering scorchers — somehow manage to do. (“Flowers of Light” and “Gone in Bloom and Bough” exude that same buoyant hopefulness too. There, I managed to mention all 10 songs they played!)
At the end of Caspian’s set, while the crowd was ovationing (ovating?) wildly, Phil gave me one of those bro-shakes — like a vertical hand clasp — from stage. Yet another honor to add to my list. It meant a lot to me to know that it meant a lot to them that I drove 9 hours to see them play. They are as grateful and down-to-earth as rock bands come.
Afterward I soaked up every fragment of conversation I could, from the Man Mountain guys (again); to Mirza, the Arms & Sleepers guy who also opened for Caspian; to Jonny from Caspian, who was decompressing outside.
And then, with a guitar-induced buzz in our ears, Jonathan and I drove back to Toledo and bid farewell. Happily exhausted, I crashed for 4 hours in the tilted-back driver’s seat of my Caliber in a Target parking lot, just like I loved to do in my free-wheeling, road-tripping, shoestring-budgeting 20s. I slept until the sun dawned on western Ohio.
It was, in the end, a night to end all nights.
Chapter V: Hours 80-111
But then there was another night to end all nights, 2 nights later. Don’t worry, I’ll keep this one shorter.
After getting home and enjoying a good night of sleep (in a bed, not a car) and taking Greyson and Vi on a hike (on White Rocks Trail), I abandoned them once again (sorry, kids!) and drove to Philadelphia on a Tuesday afternoon. I met up with my college buddy Nate, whom I’ve known and loved for 22 years. We grabbed some delectable Malaysian food (props to Penang), managed to find free parking rather than using the $50 lot most people were stuck with (way to know the city, Nate!) and headed to an opera house called The Met to have our minds blown by Sigur Ros.
Suffice it to say that the show was a hyper-generous 165 minutes in length, and every one of those minutes was transfixing. No one stages a soul-exhuming sound-and-light show quite like Jonsi, Georg, and Kjartan, the preeminent purveyors (along with Bjork, that is) of Icelandic musical magic.
It’s also fun when you expect a show to be 90 minutes, and then 85 minutes into it, the stage goes dark. And you think “Ah man, it’s almost over.” But then a word appears on the screen above the stage.
It was only halftime! I got double what I expected, including most of my favorite songs in the second half. So that made it even more thrilling than it already would have been.
I savored the time with my buddy Nate, one of the truest, bluest guys I’ve ever met. I’m honored to known him and to have over 2 decades of epic memories with him, from concerts to canoeing trips to campouts. (And I’m grateful he drove us to the Sigur Ros show since city driving gives me anxiety, and since I never would have found free nearby parking in 3 hours of white-knuckle searching.)
At the show, Nate and I also met up and enjoyed chatting with a nice guy named Mike who, just like Jonathan, I only knew through social media. Maybe that realm isn’t quite the unredeemable dumpster fire we’ve made it out to be.
As far as 21-song Sigur Ros setlists go, this was the best possible one.
And as for Tuesday nights (not usually exciting), this was the best possible one.
And as for 5-day stretches, this ranked very high. After all, I had…
2 heart-bolstering convergences with long-lost best friends.
2 soul-inflating concerts featuring my favorite rock bands on earth.
1 camping trip with 2 wonderstruck, wide-eyed, wild-place-loving children.
And between Dani and me, about $250 worth of gas-guzzling road-trips.
That last thing wasn’t quite as fun. But you know what it very much was?
2 thoughts on “111 Hours of Giddy, Glistening, Gas-Guzzling, Guitar-Grinding Pandemonium”
Thanks for this. I think I was probably standing next to you at the Caspian show. I was wearing a Caspian shirt too.
That’s awesome, John! I was one of the handful of headbangiest people in the front row. What was/is your favorite Caspian jam?