With Wendy Eisenberg, Spring Silver, Billy Capricorn, Squirrel Flower, Carol, Melissa Lozada-Oliva, Suzie True, and Squitch
February 14, 2021 on The Internet
Amidst a swirl of Valentine’s Day loneliness, I sat down to watch the only thing I would ever want to watch on such a special day: the Disposable America Valentine’s Day Party Online, featuring, among a long list of incredible acts, Northeastern alumna and star of my heart Sidney Gish. Gish, who graduated with Northeastern’s class of 2020, has been fairly quiet since the release of her 2017 album No Dogs Allowed. Although there are no signs of a new release coming any time soon, she’s stayed engaged with a series of outstanding online performances since the pandemic began, and this one was no exception.
While online concerts are a weak substitute for the real thing, they’re all we can cling to for the time being. Allston record label Disposable America is one of the many institutions keeping the scene alive through this sad time for music, hosting regular Q&As and shows on their Twitch page. Sure, you won’t taste anyone else’s sweat, or get a black eye from some forty-year-old man who thinks he has some special power over the mosh pit, but there are still a few nice things about an online show. For one, the general atmosphere was kind and caring. When one user had to go to bed because “it’s 1am in Spain and I work early tomorrow,” they were sent off with a fanfare of “goodnight” and “have a good day at work !!” Nobody would ever wish you a good day at work at a live show in between mosh pit arm-flails.
Improvisational songwriter Wendy Eisenberg started off the evening, referencing an endearingly messy five-subject notebook as they worked through a set full of sparse and floating acoustic songs. Highlights included a delightfully wacky banjo improvisation, and an announcement that Eisenberg’s baby cousin had been born that day. Sidney Gish, hiding in the shadows as she waited her turn to perform, wished the baby a happy birthday.
Rocking a vintage knit sweater and shorts, Maryland post-emo guitarist Spring Silver was up next. Their set was brief but resonant, and Sidney Gish gave it her approval with a “wooo” in the chat. Next was producer Billy Capricorn, supported by friends from Virginia experimental collective Tribe 95. This set revealed another treat of virtual performances – the little glimpses we get into an artist’s home. Billy’s webcam showed a room full of friends, some seemingly unaware that they were on camera, lounging on couches and sipping mixed drinks. Billy’s trip-hop was a nice break from the indie-ness, and earned another stamp of approval from Sidney Gish (“woo0oo0ooo”).
At long last, Sidney Gish took the stage (screen? airwaves?). In true Gish fashion, she sported an eye-destroyingly flashy pink screen overlay. As one well-spoken commenter put it, the setup was “extremely Early Internet.” Gish spent a while bantering about her tech issues, which was a performance all of its own.
I must admit, however, that if Gish hadn’t been the one performing it, her set would have been a bit disappointing. It was just three short songs, all covers, and it was over in 12 minutes. But Sidney Gish is so good at themes, and embraced the spirit of Valentine’s Day so thoroughly that it was hard to complain. Her first selection was a cover of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” adapted for Gish’s funky bass over a very Gishy drum loop. This was excellent. Next, Gish introduced us to Britney Spears’ “E-Mail My Heart.” In her own words, “it’s about emails, ‘cause everybody’s been doing emails!” Gish’s drum-and-bass composition was delightful, and led one spectator to note that “this could singlehandedly free Britney.” The set finished with Jonathan Richman’s “Not So Much to Be Loved As to Love,” done in the same style.
Gish’s set was short, yes, but this brevity was almost a statement of its own. She gave us just enough to satisfy our thirsty tongues, but no more. Her performance stood as a singular statement of theme: Look at this, she said. This is Valentine’s Day.
The night finished as strongly as it began. Sitting cross-legged on the floor surrounded by candles and wine, Squirrel Flower played a delightful set, which ended with her cover of Caroline Polachek’s “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings.” Next was a bright and ringing set from New-York-based solo artist Carol, followed by a handful of profound readings from poet Melissa Lozada-Oliva. Effervescent LA-based punk outfit Suzie True followed up, and Boston’s own Squitch ended the night with a pair of solo sets, one from guitarist Em Spooner and another from drummer Denzil Leach.
Despite a lineup jam-packed with amazing talent, this show did feel a bit exhausting. There’s only so much TV-watching one can take, and four hours (four hours!) definitely crosses that line. That said, it’s not like I was locked in the usual cage of sweat and arms. I could easily take a break whenever I wanted, or even just turn off the show, but I do wish I could have focused my listening energy on just a few of these amazing artists. It’s okay, though – hopefully, the virtual concert won’t be our only resort for too much longer. Until that day comes, however, be prepared for some serious eyeball fatigue.
The DA Valentine’s Day Party Online collected donations for Black and Pink MA, an organization working for abolition of the criminal punishment system, which disproportionately impacts lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex people, as well as those living with HIV.